Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lucky thirteen

Thanks to the unusually balmy weather, we had an excellent turnout last night despite the fact that six of our regulars were out with shows (a very nice problem to have!). Thirteen people attended the meeting, and that included three new actors: Robert, Elizabeth and Jonathan (Jonathan is also a writer and promises to bring one of his plays next time). And we ended unusually early--around 8:30pm--as we had only four plays.

We opened with August Mergelman's melodramatic adaptation of Dracula. This month he brought a couple of scenes centered around Van Helsing's investigation into the mysterious Count, culminating in a groundskeeper being killed by a wolf. There was some discussion about the best way to stage this attack, but overall there weren't a lot of comments as August continues to crank out some really strong, well-polished stuff.

After that we read two new scenes from Tim Phillips' religious drama Christian Death. The first scene featured three of Tim's hand puppets, comically brought to life by John Elwick, while the second scene centered around a manipulative elder planting suspicions in the head of the minister. The puppets were a nice, theatrical touch, and the audience offered several ideas for punching this part up even more.

Next up was a new scene from my museum farce I Want My Mummy. Here the hapless security guard develops a plan to defeat the robbers, but is unable to convince anyone to remove the rope those robbers tied him up with. The audience offered several suggestions for strengthening the dialogue. And while this scene got fewer laughs than the earlier ones, it relied more on physical humor, which is always hard to gauge in a reading environment.

We wrapped up with a rewrite of two scenes from Sue Bachman's mother-daughter drama Faith. This time we watched a touching scene unfold as the faithful Faith made soup for the lonely mother, only to be interrupted when the ungrateful daughter came home. Everyone found the mother very likable and sympathetic, but it seems that Sue wanted her to come across a little more bitter and may rewrite it further.

We'll see you all at our next meeting on January 12. Until then, have a safe and blessed holiday season.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NT Live and TheatreWorks present Skylight on Nov 15-16

As you know, I've been pushing TheatreWorks a lot lately because I believe that we need to support them as much as they've been supporting us. I've heard back from some of you and it seems that cost is the main factor preventing you from seeing more shows.

I get it. Theatre isn't always cheap. And when it is cheap, it isn't always good.

Which is why I'm happy to promote this weekend's NT Live event through TheatreWorks. NT Live is this amazing program that broadcasts videotaped recordings of recent (read: this season's) productions from London's National Theatre.

It's the best of both worlds. The National Theatre is the official state-sponsored theatre of the UK and it's truly one of the great theatre companies in the world. But because it's a broadcast, the price is cheap: just $15 a pop.

I've been to several of these and I have yet to see a bad production. The plays often feature big name actors, and the camerawork is top-notch, giving you a better-than-front-row-seat view of the show.

This weekend, TheatreWorks will present the latest addition to the series: David Hare's Skylight, a romantic drama featuring Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy. For the full scoop, click here.

The broadcast is at Centennial Hall on the UCCS campus. Times are 7pm on Saturday, November 15 and 3pm on Sunday, November 16. And no, you don't need to buy tickets ahead of time. There will be plenty of room.

If you're serious about being a playwright, there's no better, cheaper way to know what kind of plays theatre companies are doing today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stormy weather

Well, we only had seven people show up for a meeting last night, the second lowest number since our second meeting three years ago. But then people had a good excuse. The first winter storm of the season hit late in the afternoon, plunging the temperatures into the mid-teens and turning the roads into skating rinks. Still, we soldiered on, and the die-hards who did show up were able to get through six plays.

We started with Chuck Cabell's 10-minute comedy, A Priest, A Rabbi and a Horse... I missed most of this because I was tied up in traffic, but everyone seemed to love the humor.

Next up was the beginning of Sue Bachman's family drama, Having Faith, with Sue again finding inspirations in the travails of her childhood. In it, a young woman tries to help an old woman banished to her dark, drafty apartment by her adult daughter. Everyone enjoyed the dramatic tension but wondered whether the daughter was too unlikable.

After that, we read the beginning of Tim Phillip's religion drama, Christian Death. It's about a fundamentalist pastor forced to confront his past when his wife and former followers turn on him. It's a great concept, but people thought Tim should up the stakes, making the pastor a child molester or something instead of just a distant, judgmental clergyman. I also thought the pastor shouldn't be so passive when his accusers first confront him.

Next we read the first scene of my drama Final Edition. This was a script that I started years ago as my eulogy for the newspaper industry, but subsequently abandoned. People liked the punchy dialogue, although people thought that the interplay between the editor and the crusty crime beat reporter should have been more smart assy.

We followed that with the start of Jess' Weaver's drama, which for now remains titleless. Jess intends to submit it to next year's Rough Writer's contest at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, which is asking for plays related to Georgia O'Keeffe. Jess has never liked O'Keeffe's flower paintings so she decided to write a harrowing tale of kidnapping and drugs inspired by the artist's paintings of skulls and desolate desert landscapes instead. The audience loved the tension and theatricality of the piece (at one point, an hallucination of a giant jackalope makes an appearance) and we all look forward to seeing the rest of the play.

We wrapped up, appropriately enough, with the finale of Chuck Cabell's full-length comedy Diabolus Ex Machina. People loved the irony of the ending, in which the fictional playboy character accepts the novelist's original vision of him as a kindly Alpine woodsman (a la Heidi's grandfather) only to have Heidi rebel against her role. I thought, however, that it wasn't a strong choice to have the characters spend the entire play inside the computer. They should come to life outside the computer so that they can mess up the novelist's life in a visual way.

Our next meeting is Monday, December 8. See you all then!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fine Arts Center announces new Rough Writers Contest

Two years ago, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center launched a new playwriting contest which promised a full production to one full-length play and one short play. And although the contest attracted submissions from all over the country, it was won by two Drama Lab members: Marisa Hebert and Sue Bachman.

Well, the contest is back with a new theme and new rules. Here's the scoop:


The theme for this year's FAC Rough Writers New Play Festival has just been announced. As part of the FAC's "Year of Georgia O'Keeffe", this year's submissions should be related to the life and/or work of O'Keeffe. The plays may utilize Georgia O'Keeffe as a character, use her art as a springboard for the story, or, in a larger sense, explore the lives and art of groundbreaking women.

Submissions for this year's festival are due March 1. The submissions may be full-length, one-act or 10-minute plays or musicals. Submissions must be in a state of development and not have a history of productions. The Rough Writers New Play Festival will be held between June 4 and 14, 2015.

Please send cover letter and copy of formatted script (along with demo CD for musicals) to:

Nathan Halvorson
Associate Director of Performing Arts
c/o The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
30 W. Dale St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80903

or via email to:

Good luck!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Drama Lab on Stage

Drama Labbers are busy busy busy this month. Here's a list of local productions featuring your fellow members as writers, directors or actors:

Hamlet / Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
This weekend is your last chance to catch these two plays in repertory. Both productions feature Karann Goettsch, Buck Buchanan and, in his acting debut, Tim Phillips. Hamlet is Friday, R&G is Saturday. Black Box Theatre.

Features Jess Weaver as Mina. This opened last weekend and runs Thursdays to Sundays though Nov 2. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

Our Shorts are Showing 2
A HUGE Drama Lab effort. Includes short plays written by Sue Bachman, Charlie Ammen, Jess Weaver and me. Directors include Sallie Walker and Tracy Hunziker. Actors include Karann Goettsch, Barbara Summerville, Ashley Crockett, Sue Bachman, Grant Swenson and Roy Kieffer. Wed, Oct 22 through Sat, Oct 25. Black Box Theatre.

Million Dollar Meatballs
The world premiere of my latest farce. Thu, Oct 23 through Sat, Oct 25. Discovery Canyon High School.

Oh, and be sure to listen to the KCME Culture Zone on 88.7 FM at 5pm on Sunday, Oct 19 and 7pm on Monday, Oct 20 to hear director Amy Keating, two student actors and myself discuss Million Dollar Meatballs.

Finally, I'd like to send out a big congratulations to the multi-talented Sue Bachman, who has just won the PPAC Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress for her role as Linda Loman in TheatreWorks' production of Death of a Salesman. Great job, Sue!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The write stuff

Last night, we had an unusually subdued meeting, largely due to one of our smaller turnouts in recent months (15 attendees) and, I suspect, getting used to our new meeting room. All of the other classrooms were in use, so we ended up taking Room 165 at the back of the building. The layout of the room was longer and skinnier than we're used to, making it a little harder to hear from the back, but it was set apart from the rest of the rooms so it was pretty quiet. I'll check with Drew to see if we can get that room reserved for us from now on.

We got through eight plays, which we would not have been able to do without the new critique forms that I created with input from the writers. It worked pretty well, I think, but I'm sure we'll make tweaks as we get more practice with it.

Not that we did away with all discusssion. We had about 5 minutes to discuss each play, but with eight plays even that added up to a big chunk of time, and we didn't get done until 9:45. If we start getting even more scripts, we may have to do away with the discussion entirely.

We opened with a 10-minute play from Grant Swenson titled Distant Memory, which cenetred around a group of nursing home residents. The audience found it moving, especially the way one of the characters pretended to be a child in order to help another regain her youthful memories.

Next up was a rewrite of Sallie Walker's short play, John & Marsha. Here we eavesdrop on a guy attempting to pick up a girl in a bar, represented by a pair of actors portraying their outer, polished selves and a pair of actors representation their inner, snarky selves. People found it inventive and fun. Buck and Karann did a great job with the

After that we read the end of Tim Phillips' Prohibition-era romantic drama Notes from the Heart. Everyone liked the upbeat ending as Paul and Abigail head off into the sunset together but thought there should be some sort of twist at the climax.

We then read a rewrite of the end of Sue's one-act drama Best Friends Forever. Here Sue took last month's comments to heart, changing it so that the two elderly friends never do recognize each other. Several people took issue with this, thinking that the characters should perhaps fashion a new friendship at the end, recognizing something in the other that subconsciously reminds them of their long-ago youth.

We followed that with two new scenes from my museum farce, I Want My Mummy. People thought it was funny but said it was hard to follow the plot threads when a play this long is broken up over several meetings.

Next we read some new pages from Chuck Cabell's full-length comedy Diabolus Ex Machina. Everyone liked the flamboyant personality of the author character's fictional alter ego Sebastian. Some of the monologues came across as a little long, however.

After that we read a rewrite of Sallie's short play Three Men and a Cross, an ironic, almost snide, reenactment of Jesus' last moments on the cross. Everyone agreed this was a great concept, and felt that the commentary by the cyncial their was particularly well-done.

We finished up with Tim Phillips's short comedy Night Time with Baby Bear, about a child's beloved teddy bear fighting off a terrible monster under the bed. This one was a lot of fun, and everyone enjoyed Buck's comic, child-like portrayal of the bear.

Our next meeting is Monday, November 10 at 7pm. See you all then!

Friday, September 19, 2014

An innovative Ludlow, 1914 opens at TheatreWorks

In tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre, TheatreWorks and Denver's LIDA Project have created Ludlow, 1914, a piece of experimental theatre that opened on Thursday, Sept 11 and runs through Sunday, Sept 28.

I saw it last night, and while I can't say it was a success -- I left the theatre knowing not much more about the tragedy than I did going in  -- the storytelling style is very innovative, and I recommend that the play be seen by any writer interested in exploring the latest theatrical techniques in their own plays.

To buy tickets, visit the TheatreWorks box office page.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Great Divide

Last night was one of those good news/bad news nights. The good news: we managed to get through a record number of plays: ten, to be exact. The bad news: we had to split the group into two rooms to do it.

I thought it would be worth an experiment, and I'm glad that we did it. But in our end-of-the-evening talkback, the response was loud and clear: nearly everyone hated it. With a total of 20 people attending, we ended up with only 10 people were in each room and most felt that this alone significantly lowered the energy level. Some also complained that they had to miss out on half the plays while the small-cast group felt like second-class citizens being shuttled to a smallish conference room for the readings.

I hear you. As we continue to grow, we've got to figure out a way to handle the burgeoning number of scripts. But clearly, this isn't it.

Surprisingly, several people said they'd prefer to go to twice-monthly meetings, if needed. Unfortunately, this would pose a huge time commitment from everyone and I think there's good change attendance would drop, putting us right back in the same low-energy boat again. But I'm always willing to try new things, and it might work just fine, especially if we move the second meeting to an off-night like Tuesday, allowing people who can't make our regular night to attend.

But the best idea, I think, came from Jess Weaver, who is fresh off a reading at our neighbor to the north, Denver's Rough Draught Playwrights. Jess said they do some things poorly (for one thing, they cut off your reading at 10 minutes, no matter how long your play is), but there's at least one thing they do very well: feedback. Instead of giving the audience as much time as they want to discuss a particular play, each person is given a handy dandy little notecard to write their comments on.

So we're going to try that next. I doubt it'll allow us to double our throughput like the other options would. Most of our time is taken up by the readings themselves, and I refuse to cut the page counts. But it should allow us to get through more than the 6 or 7 plays we've been doing lately.

Another challenge of the evening was the fact that one of the UCCS classes was using our room until 7:30pm (between the late start this caused and our extended post-reading discussion, the meeting didn't end until about 10:15!). I'll see if we can get that room at 7pm next month. If not, there are at least three other classrooms we can use.

Anyway, on to the meeting. As I said, we read ten plays in two rooms, with the groups divided by cast size.

Our regular classroom (Room 109) held the large-cast plays. We opened with some new pages from August Mergelman's The Tragedy of Dracula. Next up was Sue Bachman's short comedy, BFF's Forever? After that , we read a couple of scenes from Tim Phillips' Prohibition-era romance Notes from the Heart. We followed that with the latest pages from my museum farce I Want My Mummy. And we closed with a couple of scenes from Jess Weaver's sex comedy Just a Game.

The conference room next door was where we read the small-cast plays, in a session that was capably led by Grant Swenson. There we started with some more pages from Chuck Cabell's fantasy comedy Diabolus Ex Machina. That was followed by Grant's short play Career Move. Next up was Barbara Summerville's one-pager Radiation! And we ended with the first two plays that Sallie Walker has ever brought us, Three Men and a Cross and John and Marsha.

We were also thrilled to welcome two new actors to the fold, Stephanie Schlis and Char Rozina. They both did a fine job and I hope they come back.

Our next meeting is Monday, October 13. And I promise we'll be one big happy family again. See you all then!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Staged reading of ISABELLA & THE DUKE on Aug 30

This Saturday, Black Box Theatre will present a staged reading of August Mergelman's new play Isabella & the Duke, a lighthearted adaptation of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.

The play is a humorous satire about the Duke of Vienna, who leaves the city in the hands of his deputy, only to disguise himself as a friar so that he can spy on the city in his "absence". The cast includes Drama Lab regulars Karann Goettsch, Teri McClintock and Jenny Maloney.

The reading is at 7pm on Saturday, August 30 at Black Box Theatre, 1367 Pecan St. Tickets are $10 or pay what you can. All proceeds will be used to help Black Box with the repairs they've had to make this year.

To learn more, visit Black Box's ticketing site.

I hope you can all turn out to support August, Nancy and the rest of the gang!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Staged reading of PACT FOR A STRAY CAT on Aug 23

Springs Ensemble Theatre is presenting a staged reading of Jess Weaver's full-length play Pact for a Stray Cat at 6:30PM this Saturday, August 23. The reading takes place at Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache La Poudre St. A $5 donation is suggested (cheap).

This is a big deal as this is the first time SET has performed a reading by a local playwright. If they get a big turnout, they'll do more. And next time, it may be YOUR play they do.

Pact for a Stray Cat is about a troubled teenage girl who seeks a partner for a suicide pact. The play was developed at the Drama Lab, and anyone who attended the meetings in which it was read knows how innovative and powerful it is.

Hope to see you all there!

Monday, August 11, 2014


Well, the illustrious Murray Ross, founder and artistic director of TheatreWorks, discovered us last night. Apparently, as he was leaving the Dusty Loo (you know, that would take on a whole new meaning if you didn't capitalize it), he saw his old friend Chuck Cabell waiting for our meeting to sbegin and went over to talk to him. Chuck must have done a good sales job because Murray wanted to sit in and see what we're about but was unable to do so last night. I fully expect we'll see him pop up soon.

Likewise, we were discovered by somewhere less famous, perhaps, but equally important person, a young woman named Nicole who'd been looking for an adult acting class and, finding that there was none in town, decided to give us a try. She provided lots of great feedback to the playwrights and we can convince her to participate as an actor in the future.

And that, I think, has been the key to our growth. As word gets out about our group, both long-time theatre personages and newbies are discovering us and both, it seems, are able to fell at home with us. If there's one thing I am most proud of about this group, it is that.

Needless to say then, we had another full night. Twenty-one people attended and we read six plays, including one from our newest writer Anne Krill and one from Chuck, who came to our first meeting three years ago and hasn't been back until now.

We opened with two new scenes from Tim Phillip's Prohibition-era romantic drama Notes from the Heart. Here the obnoxious millionaire suffered a well-deserved heart attack, while a mysterious figure arrives to interrogate piano-player Paul about his relationship with the rich but unhappy Abigail. The audience liked these scenes a lot but felt the conflict could be heightened even more.

After that we read a new scene from August Mergelman's adaptation The Tragedy of Dracula, in which Van Helsing begins to grow suspicious of the vampire. August has given the material a fresh twist by making Van Helsing a woman, and Ashley Crockett's expert portrayal brought out all the wit and charm in the character.

We followed that withsome more pages from Deirdre Gilbert's dystopian comedy By Hook or By Crook, By Nook or By Book. This time the work took a decidedly darker turn as our heroine is questioned by a nosy government inspector, but Deirdre did a great job maintaining a humorous undercurrent throughout. Audience members suggested some tweaks to amp up the humor, especially around the heroine's efforts to hide her book in a laundry basket.

Next up was the opening of Chuck Cabell's play Diabolus Ex Machina. This full-legth comedy is about a struggling writer who discovers his computer has a mind of its own and proceeds to battle the machine over the plot of his new book. Everyone seemed to agree that the play was a hoot, injecting clever humor into a smart commentary on contemporary literature and the creative process.

We then read the latest pages from my museum farce, I Want My Mummy. Here the pushy reporter gets locked in the sarcophagus, and her frantic rapping on the lid leads the other characters to believe that an angry mummy is inside. The audience was a great help in identifying places where the pace slowed. In particular, a couple of characters were too chatty when talking to themselves.

The evening wound up with Anne Krill's reading of her own play, And A Shall Leave. This was an experiment as in the past I've discouraged writers from performing their own pieces. I want the Drama Lab to focus on the writing, not the performance. But this was a special request from Anne as she had received extensive notes from Ashley Crockett the night before, leaving her script an indecipherable mass of scribbles.

In any case, her performance was like a bomb going off. The play is a stream-of-consciousness memoir based on Anne's own experience as a child molested by her father, and no one in the audience breathed as Anne went from gentle to raging to gentle again in a heartbeat. The script has a lot of work ahead of it--the audience agreed that Anne needs to give it a stronger spine--but I think everyone was left deeply affected by the rawness of her emotions.

Our next meeting is on Monday, September 8. See you all then!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Western plays Jul 26-Aug 3 in Woodland Park

August Mergelman's full-length comedy A Midsummer Night's Western will be performed this weekend and next by the Jr. Woodland Players, a children's theatre run by Teri McClintock. This is a smart, funny play that combines Shakespeare, cowboy poetry and Native American folklore.

All performances are at the Woodland Park High School, 151 N. Baldwin St., Woodland Park. Show times are:

7pm, Saturday, July 26
2pm, Sunday, July 27
7pm, Saturday, August 2
2pm, Saturday, August 3

Tickets are just $8 for adults, $5 for seniors and students.

Let's all turn out and support August and Teri and the wonderful work that the Jr. Woodland Players are doing.

I'll be driving up on Sunday, August 3. If you'd like to ride along, send me an email.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Audition opp

Auditions for Craft Production Resource's evening of short plays, Our Shorts Are Showing 2, will be held 1pm-4pm this Saturday, July 19 at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Ave. The show runs Oct 23-26 and includes plays written by Sue Bachman, Charlie Ammen, Jess Weaver, Phil Ginsburg and myself.

To reserve your audition time, message Jess on Facebook (her Facebook handle is a very Boston-y "Jess Weavah").

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bursting at the seams

It's a nice problem to have. Since our move to the TheatreWorks building in March, word has gotten out about our amiable group and we've been blessed with all sorts of new people joining us.

Last night was no exception. We had 25 people show up, and were lucky enough to add actor Jenny Maloney of Springs Ensemble Theatre and writer/actor Anne Krill, a long-time acting teacher from San Diego, to our growing family (Anne told me Annette Bening and Brian Stokes Mitchell were two of her students.)

We also had a great big bunch of plays: 7 this time, which we got through in just over 2 1/2 hours.

We opened with the beginning of Deirdre Gilbert's intriguing dystopian comedy, By Hook or By Crook, By Book or By Nook. In it, she shows us a future world in which all books but the electronic Nook is banned by the government. Deirdre made the bold choice of having the dead-tree books portrayed by actors. Deirdre is considering changing the title to the metric equivalent of Fahrenheit 451. How does Celsius 233 sound?

After that, we read the hilarious comedy Expectations by Grant Swenson. This short play centered around a jerky guy being visited by the women of his past. This premise has been explored in film before, but the witty dialogue ("I couldn't handle the drama and I was a theatre student!") made this feel fresh, with Grant making effective use of oblique dialogue. The audience especially loved the sharply-drawn contrasts among the characters.

Next up was a new scene from August Mergelman's Dracula adaptation The Count. In this version, Van Helsing is a woman--an interesting choice brought humorously to life by Ashley Crockett. Although August maintained the verse form that is his signature (iambic heptameter, for you poetry geeks), it was much less noticeable here. August said that his composing partner may not want to continue with this project, so August will probably make this a straight play.

We followed that with four vignettes from Sue Bachman's heartwarming play about a mother and daughter in the 1950's, tentatively titled Mother Hunger. Sue did a great job balancing the mother's inner warmth with a tough outer shell, avoiding the syrupiness that often weakens works like this. And kudos to Sallie Walker for capturing both sides of this fascinating woman. The audience enjoyed the good-natured rivalry between Missy and her mischievous little brother--a new addition this month--and hopes to see more of the boy

After that we read a short comedy by Jeff Schmoyer titled Bubble Boy Dates, about a smart alecky "bubble boy" who ventures forth in his protective suit to find a date, including one girl who has an aversion to being touched (making her the "perfect woman" for him). People liked the ambiguity regarding his last "date", as it wasn't clear whether the girl really was from Alpha Centauri or had only been told that by her parents. Lots of laughs in this one.

Next came a couple more scenes from Tim Phillip's Prohibition-era romance Notes From the Heart. I'm not going out on a limb here to say that the scene between Tracy Hunziker's society matron Abigail and Roy Kieffer's piano player Paul was the steamiest one we ever had ("Did someone turn the heat up?" Charlie Ammen wondered.) The discussion itself also got a little hot. Some audience members argued that Abigail should be given a big explosive moment with her husband over the abortion he forced her to have, while others said that, considering the times, it should be handled more delicately.

We finished up with the beginning of my new museum farce I Want My Mummy (I promise I'll change the title to something more original). We were introduced to all of the characters, including the meek security guard, two stupid robbers, a hard-driving newspaper reporter and three teenage filmmakers. Ashley Crockett did an especially commendable job bringing out the wackiness of the Egyptian priestess Pei-Nin-Dah-Nekh. I also got some great suggestions for plot twists which I'm now considering.

Our next meeting is Monday, August 11. See you all then!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Eight is just right

Wow. That's the only word to describe last night's meeting. We had 23 attendees--the most we've had since last June--welcomed one new writer and two new actors and read 8 plays. And yet, we still got done around 9:30pm. The discussion was lively and constructive and did not run overlong for any of the plays.

We opened with Bell, Book and Kindle by our newest writer Deirdre Gilbert. This short comedy centered around an older woman dealing with the trauma of replacing her beloved book collection with a Kindle given to her by her devoted husband. It's a clever idea that was charmingly executed in this little nugget of a play.

After that we read the finale of my restaurant comedy, Million Dollar Meatballs, in which the stolen diamonds are discovered and the bungling thieves get what's coming to them. There was a lot of discussion about the huge number of stage directions. I felt they were needed because the play is a farce with tons of physical comedy, but some of the actors felt they got in the way of the reading, making it impossible to tell if the dialogue worked on its own.

That was followed by Sue Bachman's short slice-of-life dramedy, Giving Her the Raspberries. The play was based on an old memory of Sue's in which a young girl (Sue?) ran away from home after being scolded by her mother. The audience felt this play presented a beautiful picture of a mother's love and thought that Sue nailed the childlike cadences of a 2-year-old's speech. Jess Weaver did a wonderful job capturing the innocence of the child.

Next up was the beginning of August Mergelman's adaptation of the Dracula story, The Count. The play featured August's famous rhyming couplets, which resulted in some sing-songy presentations, but August informed the actors that the rhyme scheme should be ignored during delivery. The audience was torn about the heavy use of narration, but everyone seemed to like the creepy mood that was set.

We then read a couple scenes from Tim Phillip's romantic drama Abigail Finds Love. Here Abigail knocks out her domineering husband so she could meet the young piano player Paul. The audience as  intrigued by this developing relationship and were really looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

We followed that with the finale of Grant Swenson's Oz-reboot, And Your Little Dog, Too. The story wound up satisfactorily, maintaining the playful spirit that has been the script's biggest strength since the beginning. People also liked that rather than staying home, Dorothy and Toto were ready to go out on more adventures at the end.

After that we read a rewrite of a scene from Jess Weaver's sex dramedy Just a Game. It got a ton of laughs, especially during an explicit scene at the breakfast table. The consensus was that the dialgoue was sharp and the characters were all very well-drawn.

We finished up with Grant Swenson's 1-minute comedy Sampled, in which two fathers reflect on life as their children whack away at a pinata.  The idea was fresh, and the twist at teh end got a big laugh form the assembled throng. The problem? 1-minute plays are so short, it's hard to find anything to discuss.

Our two new actors were welcome additions. David Olson excelled in roles ranging from a hard-nosed cop to Dracula himself. And Megan Rieger brought a sassy spunk to her portrayals.

We'll be getting back together on Monday, July 14. See you then!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Free preview of THE GOAT

The good people at Springs Ensemble Theatre are offering all Drama Lab members a killer deal: a free ticket to the preview of Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

Not sure if you're a Drama Lab member? Let's put it this way: if you've ever attended one of our meetings, you are!

Edward Albee is one of the great American playwrights, best known for his 1962 drama Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? The Goat is one of his more recent works, having premiered in 2002. An unflinching exploration of contemporary social taboos, this Pultizer-nominated, Tony-winning drama is about an architect whose marriage crumbles after he falls in love with--you guessed it--a goat.

The preview is at 7:30pm on Wednesday, June 11. To reserve your seat, call the box office at 719-357-3080 and tell them you're with the Drama Lab. Only 25 seats are being held for us, so you'll have to act fast.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Springtime in the Rockies

I don't know if the surprise spring snowstorm kept people at home, but last night we had just 11 people attend. Still, it was an extremely productive meeting. We read five plays, had some of our deepest, most passionate discussions yet, and put away a boatload of cookies.

We started with a 10-minute play from Barbara Summerville titled Auntie Verna. This touching drama vividly portrayed the troubled relationship between a hard-nosed older woman and her niece, a frustrated actress.

Next we read the opening of Tim Phillips' new romantic drama, Abigail Finds Love. The play is set in 1920's Chicago, and the audience loved how it evoked this setting through both action and dialogue. Tim told me that the play is based on the Biblical story of David and Abigail, but this is handled so subtly you'd never guess.

We followed this with four more scenes from my restaurant farce Million Dollar Meatballs. Here the bumbling jewel thieves figure out where the diamonds are hiding. Fortunately, most of the gags seemed to hit their mark.

After that we read a new scene from Jess Weaver's meaty drama Just a Game. Buck Buchanan was hilarious as a touchy-feely therapist trying to bring peace to the married couple at the heart of the piece. Some fairly raw emotions were on display, and Karann Goettsch made the most of a monologue in which her character rails against the husband for breaking the bizarre rules of their sex game.

We wound up with a rewrite of Charlie Ammen's short relationship drama Then and Now. This play melds two separate plays Charlie brought previously, and the audience loved how the two scenes worked together to deepen the other. Roy Kieffer was especially moving in a final monologue that took place at his late friend's grave.

See you all on June 9. And I promise that next time, we won't have any snow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An untaxing evening

It seems that everyone got their taxes done early, because we had an excellent turn-out last night, the night before tax day. Seventeen people showed up and it was an especially rambunctious bunch. We read five plays, ate lots of cookies, and witnessed some of the most moving performances we've seen all year.

We opened with the climactic scene from Grant Swenson's take on The Wizard of Oz, titled And Your Little Dog, Too. The pacing was excellent, keeping the action moving swiftly from the heroes' entrance into the castle to the final demise of the Green One.

Next came the finale of Tim Phillips' teenage relationship drama, Never Said. The interplay among Seth's three spiritual guides--Eros, Loki and Saint Augustine--was lively and fun, though some people felt there should have been more of a blow-up between Seth and the girl that he loves.

After that we read a couple of scenes from my restaurant farce Million Dollar Meatballs, which I'd first brought to the group two years ago. Several people wondered why the owner kept her addition of the ketchup secret and gave me some excellent suggestions for providing a stronger rationale.

Next up was a rewrite of the last two scenes from Sue Bachman's family drama Torn. The dialogue was very realistic and bristled with conflict. Roy Kieffer gave an electrifying performance as the troubled alcoholic, and much of the discussion centered around how to provide a stronger motivation for his seeking treatment at the end.

We finished up with Jess Weaver's 10-minute drama, If Stars Should Change, about an elderly couple reminiscing on their front porch. Jess had entered it in the Six Women Playwriting Festival but did not win, and the feedback she received suggested that the play may be too static and predictable. The group last night disagreed wholeheartedly, saying that they didn't see the twist coming and some of the attendees said they were brought near tears by it.

Our next meeting is Monday, May 12. See you then!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A full night

Last night, we returned to our old new home in the TheatreWorks building on the UCCS campus. A whopping 21 people attended, which is the most we've had in over a year and a half.

We had a lot of plays as well, managing to squeeze in seven before we called it quits at 10pm. The writers included Marisa Hebert and Maria Yost, both of whom have read for us before but never brought their own writing. Their plays were very good, and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

Unfortunately, this was the first time we had to leave a play unread  (I told the playwright ahead of time that their play would be on the waiting list). As I've mentioned before, this is an issue we're going to have to address as we continue to grow. Once we get 9 or 10 plays per meeting, I'm going to talk to Drew Martorella about getting us a second room.

I know that some people don't like the idea of splitting the group, and I understand their concerns. But I think it's the only fair way to handle it. It will enable me to achieve my main goal, which is guaranteeing that every writer who wants to bring something will get their work read. Plus splitting the group will even out reading opportunities for the actors.

We started the evening with a punchy 2-minute play by Charlie Ammen titled Clean Slate. In it a bitter young coke addict decides to turn his life around after getting fired from his job at a head shop. The characters were very well-drawn, and the protaganist was (surprise!) likable despite his faults.

That was followed by the first scene from Maria Yost's full-length comedy Illusions to Ashes. The play takes place at a doomsday expo and the audience loved her quirky characters and the wacky dialogue between them.

Next up was a rewrite of a scene from Tim Phillip's teenage elationship drama Never Said. This tim ehe experimented with giving the protaganist Seth three spiritual guides: Eros, Loki and St. Augustine. People preferred to the earlier incarnations, with one person commenting that this keeps getting better and better with each rewrite.

We followed that with the first three scenes of Maria Hebert's gritty prison drama At the End of Me. The dialogue was often very raw, and the gradual revealing of who the two main characters seemed to suck everyone in.

After that, we read the next couple scenes from Grant Swenson's Toto-centered twist on The Wizard of Oz titled And Your Little Dog, Too. Here the well-loved characters begin their campaign against the Wicked Witch of the East, sneaking into her castle with the help of Brains, Heart and Courage. The comcial bickering between Brains and Coruage was especially well-done.

Next we read a short relationship drama from Jess Weaver titled Just a Game. She said it was inspired by one of Sue Bachman's short plays, but Jess took it in an entirely different direction as an dissatisfied wife introduces her husband to the man she's going out on a date with. This very unusual and awkward situation led to a lot of great gags.

We finished up with the last scene of my full-lentgh comedy Rumpelstilitskin, Private Eye. In this scene, Ugly Duckling takes the reins, solving the series of crimes right from under the crusty old detective. Beofre the reading, I told the group that I hate writing these scenes as there is so much exposition to get through, but the consensus was that I threw in enough humor to keep it light and deasily igestible.

Our next meeting is Monday, April 14. And please, get your taxes done early. We don't want to miss you!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A new home

Last night, we met for the first time in our new home: University Hall on the UCCS campus. TheatreWorks arranged for us to use a classroom just outside the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre, where the theatre company performs all of their shows.

The space worked out amazingly well. With a minimum of effort, we were able to rearrange the desks to give us an open space for our actors. It was warm, well-lit and quiet. Most importantly, the acoustics were excellent, making both the readings and the discussions easy to hear. And I don't know if it was the novelty of the space or the college atmosphere, but our discussions seemed especially animated and constructive last night.

We had 20 people attend the meeting, including one new actor, Deirdre Gilbert, who decided to join our merry band, and two other people who sat in for the first time: Karen Hamer, director of Tin Roof Productions, and a teenage friend of Victoria who got drafted into one of the plays.

Playwright Jeff Keele made a welcome return after an absence of more than a year, and although he didn't have new writings to share, he did read with us for the first time and did a great job in a couple of oddly dark roles.

We opened with a short monologue by Charlie Ammen titled So Long, Bobby. Set at a gravesite, this touching monologue was performed to great emotional effect by Roy Kieffer.

Then we read a rewrite of the first two scenes of Sue Bachman's one-act family drama Torn. Several people liked the realism of the dialogue and relationships while others thought the goals and conflicts needed to be heightened.

After that, we read the end of the first act and beginning of the second act of Grant Swenson's twist on The Wizard of Oz titled And Your Little Dog, Too. Here we saw the group plan their assault on the Witch. People really enjoyed the interplay between the well-known figures of the story (The Tin Man, The Scarecrow) and the brand new characters Grant introduced in his version (Heart, Brain).

Next we read a short comedy that Jeff Schmoyer wrote for Black Box Theatre's FIVES contest. It was very well-received, getting a ton of laughs for the quirky characters and the unexpected twists of the plot.

That was followed by a short comedy that Tim Phillips wrote for the same contest. This also got a lot of laughs, especially for the over-the-top attitudes of the characters in the beginning.

We wrapped up with a couple of scenes from my twisted fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye, with our hapless detective finishing his interrogation of Snow White and moving on to Cinderella. The audience thought the pace moved briskly and they seemed to like the gags.

Due to our new relationship with TheatreWorks, we've been able to drop our dues to just $15 per year. If you haven't paid yet, please bring a check or cash to the next meeting. If you don't know when your renewal date is, email me and I'll let you know. Thanks.

And we'll be seeing you at our new home on Monday, March 10!

Friday, January 24, 2014

TheatreWorks to sponsor the Drama Lab

As you all know, the Drama Lab has been trying out different venues to figure out where we'd like to meet on a long-term basis. Over the last couple months, we've met at the Manitou Art Center and Springs Ensemble Theatre, and while both venues were functional, neither one was perfect.

Well, now we have one more venue to consider. And I think it's a no-brainer. TheatreWorks (yes, that TheatreWorks) has agreed to sponsor us, which will provide us with a whole host of benefits.

First, we'll be able to meet in University Hall for free. Our only cost is $30 per month for parking (paid to UCCS, TheatreWorks gets nothing). This is $20 a month less than we paid for rent at the MAT and SET and will allow us to drop our dues to $15 per year.

We won't be able to meet in either the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre or the Osbourne Theatre (downstairs) because they're both almost constantly in use. Instead, we'll be meeting in the classrooms, which are quiet, well-lit and warm. Most importantly, the acoustics in the rooms are excellent, so we should have no problem hearing the actors.

Over the last year, we've been growing slowly but steadily. This is a wonderful thing, but it does mean that we'll soon hit a wall in terms of the number of plays we can get through in one night. We've considered several options (lengthen the meeting to 3+ hours, meet twice a month, limit writers to 10 pages per meeting, limit the number of writers to six per month), none of which were acceptable.

The only way to deal with this fairly is to split into two groups which meet in different rooms at the same time. Not only will this guarantee that all writers get their scripts read, but it'll give more actors an opportunity to perform. The great thing about TheatreWorks is that they can get us an extra room or two at no additional cost. This is something no other venue has been able to provide.

And here's the kicker. TheatreWorks will include all Drama Lab members in their Industry Night discount, allowing each of us to buy a ticket to the first Thursday performance of each show for a measly $20. Take advantage of this benefit just once and you'll pay for your annual dues.

Finally, it's just a good thing in general to be associated with one of the two professional theatre companies in the region.

I think this is a fabulous offer and I'm grateful to Drew Martorella and the rest of the TheatreWorks crew for supporting us in this way.

See you at TheatreWorks on Monday, February 10!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Say hello to The Goodbye Project

Drama Lab member Jess Weaver is seeking monologues and 2-3 character plays exploring the idea of "goodbye". She plans to take everything submitted and turn it all into a performance piece. If this is something that gets your creative motor revving, please like her Facebook page, The Goodbye Project.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New blood

Last night's meeting was our first one of the New Year and our first at Springs Ensemble Theatre. As the theater was being used for rehearsal (Paul Vogel's Desdemona opens there February 6), we met in their lobby. The room has a comfy assortment of sofas and armchairs and was a lot warmer than the space at the Manitou Art Center. But we had so many attendees, there wasn't enough room to arrange the chairs as we normally do (one long line of chairs for the actors facing several rows of chairs for the audience), so I decided to have us read in a circle.

It soon became clear that this posed both advantages and disadvantages. The after-reading discussions were especially lively and high-spirited last night, but the readings themselves seemed less effective. The actors sat far apart from each other, resulting in little interplay. Also, following the dialogue was, in the words of one attendee, like "watching a tennis game". And while the noise from the rehearsal was quieter than I expected, it was still somewhat distracting (I suspect we were even more distracting to them).

After the meeting, I expressed these concerns to SET President Steve Emily and he said said they should be able to get us into the theater next time (if that's how the vote goes) although he can't make any permanent commitment.

I think the average age of our group dropped by about 20 years last night. We had 18 people show up, and that included one new writer, the illustrious August Mergelman, as well as three new actors, each of whom were quite talented and ridiculously young. These included Adam Blancas, Caroline Carr and my daughter Ashley.

We started the evening with Jess Weaver's new 10-minute pet comedy The Addition, which she wrote for Black Box's FIVES contest. It had some cute humor, and the characterizations were especially well-done. Although the various species involved were left unmentioned in the play, it was easily to tell who was what by their behavior and dialogue.

We followed that with a cutting from August's play Isabella and the Duke, a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. He did a great job updating the language while maintaining Shakespeare's famous wordplay and wit.

After that we read more scenes from Tim Phillip's teenage relationship drama Never Said. His rewriting has paid off as everyone agreed that the narrative flows much better now.

Next we read the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs scene from my full-length comedy Rumpelstiltsking, Private Eye. Most of the gags worked, but I need to tighten some of the dialogue and rethink a couple of my characters, especially Hungry and Nerdy.

We followed that with a rewrite of Sue Bachman's short drama Out of the Cold. Although quite dark , people liked it for its realistic dialogue and unflinching depiction of a disintegrating marriage.

We ended the evening with Grant Swenson's short baseball drama My Life in Right Field. This one was quite unique as it gave us three parallel viewpoints of a key moment in a young boy's life, one from his 20-year old self, one from his middle-aged self and one from his elderly self.

Our next meeting is on Monday, Feburary 10, but the location is up to you. If you haven't emailed me your vote as to where you'd like to meet (Manitou Art Center or Springs Ensemble Theatre), please do so over the next few days. I'll share those results as soon as I hear from everybody (or at least a quorum).

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Black Box launches new playwriting contest

Nancy Holaday has announced a brand new playwriting contest called FIVES. Submissions must be 10-20 minutes with a cast of 5. Deadline is March 5. Five winners will earn $100 and be produced at Black Box Theatre in June. Sounds like a great excuse to start writing!