Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Storm warning

Fortunately, we missed a winter storm that was originally forecast to come through last night, threatening to disrupt or even cancel our monthly meeting. But the storm decided to hold off until morning instead, giving all of us lots of fluffy white stuff to shovel when we woke up.

What with all the holiday shows going on in town, we were missing quite a few of our regulars last night, but we ended up with a respectable turnout anyways, with 13 people attending. The play count was down again, however, with only three plays read.

Before the readings, we spent some time discussing what we could do to take the Drama Lab further. There's been a lot of interest in providing collaboration opportunities for writers and actors, as well as producing our own evening of short plays. There's no consensus yet on which direction we're going to take, but we're open to ideas. Let us know what you'd like to see!

Our first script was Quest for the Golden Fangs, another in Grant Swenson's series of four short plays representing different literary styles. This one represented irony and focused on four teenagers who are given a quest to steal a rival school's mascot head (a walrus). The ironic turn comes at the end when Julio, the leader of the quartet, decides he doesn't want to steal the head after all because his father had done the same thins when he was in school. Some people thought that the language was too mature and sophisticated for teenagers, but everyone loved the characters.

After that, we read a 10-minute romantic musical comedy by Howard Kirstel titled Reno. Here, we see a recently widowed Jewish man dip a tentative toe back into the dating pool, only to find himself winning the hearts of, not one, but two women. The script includes lyrics to a song that the multi-talented Howard still needs to wrote the melody for. The audience liked the story but thought that the relationships moved too fast. They wanted to see the characters fall in love.

We wrapped up the evening with the beginning of my large-cast comedy Trouble in Paradise Junction, a satire about a reality TV crew that invades a near-perfect, Frank Capra-inspired town. I was worried that the beginning might be too hokey, but people thought it worked because the townsfolk truly believed that their town was perfect.

Our next meeting will be postponed by one week since several members are going to be in rehearsal for my play The Last Radio Show. We'll see you on Monday, January 18!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Back to school

Well, it was fun using the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre for the last two meetings, but in practice, it didn't work as well as we thought. There was little room for the actors to sit between the edge of the set and the house, and the sound wasn't as good as we though.

For this reason, we moved back into our old classroom for this month's meeting, and will continue to meet there from here on out. This also allows us to go back to our second Monday of the month schedule, since we're no longer dependent on the move-in/move-out dates of of the shows in the theatre.

We had an excellent turnout, 16 people, which was our best turnout in months. And we only had four scripts, our lowest count in months. I've got to admit, it was nice having time to discuss each of the plays in detail, and still getting out by 9pm. Whether it makes sense to reduce the number of scripts per meeting is something I plan to explore.

We opened with the beginning of Sue Bachman's new drama, Ladies of the Chameleon. In it, the recently widowed Cynthia dishes to her best friend Maggie about the man who has swept her off her feet. Some said it was suspenseful and that they liked Cynthia's nervousness, while others thought it needed tightening. One person suggested that it might be fun to add a dash of alcohol, with the women revealing more and more about themselves as they get drunk.

Next up was Grant Swenson's 10-minute comedy Quest for the Golden Moustache. He originally wrote it for a collection of four short plays that start the same and end up going in different directions, with this one being the comedic one. Here, a teenage girl is sent by her father on a quest for happiness, only to find her real father at the end. The audience thought there was a nice contrast between the flippant attitudes of Tessa's teenage friends and the serious theme of parental abandonment that the play addresses. But some thought the characters weren't differentiated enough, and several thought that Tessa accepted her new father too quickly.

After that we read Snow White - Alternate Ending, the rewrite of a 10-minute comedy that Jeff Schmoyer brought to Drama Lab a year or two ago. He did a great job beefing up the humor, as both the audience and actors laughed a lot. Everybody liked the rapid-fire dialogue and thought that the Disney-with-a-twist-of-sass characters were fun. There was some concern that the contemporary references might quickly date the play, but others said those could easily be generalized in the script.

We finished up with the next scene from my old-time radio farce The Last Radio Show. In it, we get a Frankenstein spoof called "The Thing with Two Spleens". The consensus was that this show-within-a-show was not as funny as the previous three and that it needs to be to keep the energy rising. The audience also didn't like ending of this show, feeling that it was anticlimatic to have the Monster merely dent the wall of the lab rather than burst through to cause even more havoc.

Our next meeting is Monday, December 14. See you all then!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Drama Lab is cancelled for Monday, November 16

Due to the poor weather conditions, Drama Lab is cancelled for tonight. I'll see about getting a space for next Monday. Otherwise, we'll wait until December. Check back here for updates.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

High spirits

Appropriately for this spooky time of year, we met last night in the shadows of TheatreWorks' set for Ibsen's Ghosts.  There weren't any spooky plays. Instead we read a raft of comedies, five in all. And we did have some very "spirited" discussions (sorry).  Total attendance was a healthy fifteen.

We opened with some pages from The Goblin and the Gremlin, the last of August Mergelman's short plays exploring different theatrical traditions. This one gave us a taste of English mummer's theatre, which August explained is full of "cheese and corn". In the play, August deftly mashes up two popular stories from England, the romance of Pyramus of Thisbe from A Midsummer Night's Dream and the legend of St. George and the Dragon. The audience thought it was a lot of fun and that the rhymes worked really well.

After that we read Deirdre Gilbert's short play Requiem for Octavia, the humorous tale of a funeral at which an older couple is shocked to learn that their son's deceased mate was an octopus. People loved the naivete of the mom and dad as well as the clever puns (e.g. the son met his girlfriend in a "dive"). There was a lot of discussion about when people first realized that Octavia was an octopus and whether that should have occurred earlier or later in the story. 

We next read the beginning of Tim Phillips' fairy tale comedy Grimmland. Tim first brought it to Drama Lab three years ago, but Black Box Theatre director Nancy Holaday has been bugging him to finish it so he decided to bring it back. The play gets off to a comical start as the rank-smelling Bearksin kidnaps Jacqueline, a young girl who gripes non-stop about her captor's aroma. The audience agreed that the scene had nice, sharp dialogue but wondered whether some of the action might be too violent for children.

Next up was the beginning of Young Love, a romantic comedy by our newest writer Will Prenevost. In it, an older couple, patterned after Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, try to seduce a younger couple, based on Jimmy Stewart and Carole Lombard. Everyone loved the characters, but several people were confused by the seeming anachronisms in the dialogue. Will explained that while the play is meant to convey the tone of a 1940's screwball comedy, it's actually set in the early 1990's.

We wrapped everything up with some more pages from my old-time radio farce The Last Radio Show. Here the hapless cast loses three more actors as Roxie loses her glasses, Rita gets stage fright and Maggie is forced to fend off the hamsters who have invaded the control room. We also get a western drama, Tex King, the Humming Cowboy. The audience enjoyed the humor, although some people pointed out that there were anachronisms (middle school and duct tape) and another person felt that the character descriptions weren't accurate.

There was an extra treat this evening as Chuck Cabell went over the critique he received from Linda Seger on his assisted suicide comedy, Hemlock (Linda is a screenwriting guru had a successful career in Hollywood working on films like Harrison Ford's Witness). Linda's comments matched many of those made during our meetings, including the fact that much of the most interesting action happens offstage and we never see the thug who serves as the main antagonist. Linda also pointed out that it's hard to get the tone right in a black comedy like this and that Chuck might want to try making it funnier. Chuck admitted that many of her comments were dead on and is seriously considering the rest. For more info on Linda's services, visit her website at

Our next meeting is Monday, November 16. See you then!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Last Radio Show auditions

I'll be directing the world premiere of my old-time radio farce, The Last Radio Show, in January. Auditions are scheduled for 1:00pm to 4:00pm on Sunday, October 18 at Library 21c in Colorado Springs. For complete information about the auditions, please visit the play's blog.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Movin' in

Last night we had out first meeting in the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre, just steps away from the elegant set TheatreWorks created for their production of Noel Coward's Private Lives. The ambience was fabulous--we're ina real theatre now!--although it appears that we still have to figure out the seating. For this meeting, we set up chairs in a row in front of the house seats, and while that made it easy for the audience to hear and see the actors, the actors themselves complained about not being able to hear each other. Some alternative seating arrangements were suggested and we will be exploring these in the next few weeks.

We had a decent turnout, with 12 people showing up, including our newest writer Rebekah Shardy, as well as TheatreWorks' new managing director Will Prenevost, who has extensive experience in acting and promises to bring some of his own writing to future meetings.

We opened with the beginning of Tim Phillips' historical drama Celtic Warrior Queen. In it, real life figure Bodica tries to inspire her subjects to revolt against the Romans, with the would-be queen finding her greatest opposition in the practical-minded gladiator Lugaid. The audience liked the Shakespearean scope of this action-packed story. Tim said that he doesn't have a theme that he's working towards but expects one to naturally come out of the work by the time he's finished.

After that we read some pages from August Mergelman's A Comedy of Pairs. August originally intended this commedia dell'arte twist on Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors to be one of his series of show plays exploring world theatrical traditions, but in writing it, he found he had so much material that he decided to make it a longer, standalone play. Here we see Dottore hypnotizing Pantalone's jewel-crazy fiancee Adriana to make her less materialistic. The humor was great and the characters well-drawn.

We followed that with Rebekah Shardy's An Honest Woman, which was inspired by the life and writings of Dorothy Parker. The play featured an array of quirky characters including Death, an outspoken evangelical housewife, actor/writer Robert Benchley and a version of God inspired by 1920's jazz singer Josephine Baker. Rebekah did a great job hitting the high points of Parker's life while maintaining Parker's wonderfully snarky tone throughout. I'm sure everyone is looking forward to seeing more of Rebekah's work.

Next up were some more pages from my old-time radio farce The Last Radio Show. Here we heard an episode of Clint Hazard, Wardrobe Detective in which the stalwart gumshoe tries to find out who's responsible for a woman's missing sock. After that, the hapless radio crew loses another actor as Maureen suffers a debilitating allergy attack. People liked the fast pace and the humor, although there were several gags that could be tweaked and at least one anachronism that I may or may not keep (Kenny G?).

We wrapped it all up with the first scene of a Time to Live by Howard Kirstel. Howard has participated as an actor for several months now, but this is the first time he has brought his own writing. Not only is he a talented writer, but he's a gifted pianist as well and he put those gifts to good use in this work, creating a musical that explores a family that is threatened to tear apart on the eve of the daughter's wedding. Everyone enjoyed the mixture of poetry and prose, with the poetry serving as the lyrics of the songs which Howard says he has already written.

Our next meeting is in just three weeks. I look forward to seeing you all on Monday, October 12.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

New venue

Exciting news! Thanks to the generosity and support of TheatreWorks, especially their new managing director and Drama Lab member Will Prenevost, our group will now be meeting in...

Drumroll please...

The Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre!

The classroom served us well for a year and a half, but I'm excited about our move into the Big Room as it represents a whole new level of commitment from TheatreWorks and should make our readings a whole lot more professional and fun.

Of course, the Dusty Loo is a busy place, so from now on, we're going to need to be flexible with our meeting dates. The second Monday of the month will continue to be our default date. However, I may move the meeting forward or backward a week as needed to get the theatre.

Our meeting dates for the next six months are:

Monday, September 21
Monday, October 12
Monday, November 16
Monday, December 14
Monday, January 18
Monday, February 22

As always, the latest info for the next meeting is shown on the right side of this page.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Private Lives opens September 10 at TheatreWorks

Next up on TheatreWorks's season is the classic Noel Coward comedy, Private Lives.The play offers a biting and hilarious look at modern relationships as it follows a divorced couple forced to reexamine their failed marriage after booking adjoining rooms with their new spouses on the French Riviera. Showtimes are 7:30pm Tuesdays through Fridays, 2pm and 7:30 pm Saturdays (no matinee September 12) and 4pm Sundays through September 27.

This month's Prologue promises to be a special one. John Lahr is perhaps most famous for being the son of actor Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. But he's also a respected show business personality in his own right as the longtime theatre critic for The New Yorker and biographer of such theatrical luminaries as Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams. A discussion Lahr starts at 2:30pm on Sunday, September 20 in the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre. Afterwards, Lahr will sign his new book, Joy Ride: Show People and their Shows, a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most important playwrights of the last 70 years.

See you there!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Feast to famine

Okay, that might be overstating things a bit, but last night's abbreviated meeting (it was barely two hours) certainly felt like a famine after the lengthy meetings of the last few months.

The problem wasn't the quality, of course. The scripts were as good as ever. The problem was the quantity. We only had five scripts to read, and one of those was only 2 pages long.

The shortage of material was due to the fact that several people were traveling on vacation--I guess it's still summer for some of us--while others were in rehearsal for Craft Production Resources' upcoming Our Shorts Are Showing 3. And that hurt our actor turnout as well. Only nine people showed up, and five of those were playwrights so a lot of the writers pulled double duty last night.

And while we're on the subject, next month is expected to be even worse as all of the Our Shorts Are Showing people will be in rehearsal on the second Monday, and that includes almost all of our members. For this reason, I'm postponing the meeting to the following Monday, September 21.

We opened the meeting with August Mergelman's The Magpies, another in his series of short plays exploring various theatrical traditions. This one takes a look at Greek comedy. In it, we see the famous muses of Greek mythology trick Orfeo into signing a peace treaty. August explained that the muses were not part of the original story, but that he added them in order to pad out the cast for female-heavy high school theater departments. They worked well, and everyone liked the humor and the fast-paced dialogue.

Next up was a rewrite of the end of Sue Bachman's family drama Torn. This scene features the alcoholic son prodding his AA partner to apologize to the woman whose son he'd killed in a car accident. Sue rewrote it in order to better portray the reality of restorative justice today, and while there was some discussion about what the mom knew or should know about her son's death, everyone agreed that the scene was more powerful now and the mother's reaction was more genuine.

We then read Chuck Cabell's short play Something Like A Star. It's about a high school AP class discussing Robert Frost's poem Choose Something Like A Star. The characters were well-drawn, with unique viewpoints and strong personalities, and the dialogue brought out some interesting points about the poem. But some wondered whether it was really a story, since the characters don't really change or grow.

After that we read the ending of Tim Phillips' Prohibition-era romance When I Met You. Here, Paul the piano player's ex-fiancee Iva returns to reveal a picture of their 2-year-old daughter, convincing Abigail that she should let Paul go to Hollywood without her. Everything wrapped up nicely, although some thought that Abigail should show more emotion when she learns about Paul's child.

We concluded the meeting with another section from my old-time radio farce, The Last Radio Show. These pages gave us our first show-within-a-show, Good Doctor Goode, a parody of those hospital dramas featuring a man with a pineapple growing out of his head. The audience seemed to like the humor and the rapid-fire pace, and there were several suggestions for ways to punch up the gags.

If this month's meeting showed us anything, it's that we can always use more members. I've already invited a new writer to the group, and I expect to get one or two others. Please invite any actors you know to join us as well. We're open to all!

Oh, and for an extra treat this month, here's a fantastic podcast from one of my favorite blogs, The Producer's Perspective. In it, Ken Davenport interviews Theresa Rebeck, author of the 2011 Broadway play Seminar and creator of the TV series Smash. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream opens July 30 at TheatreWorks

The new theatre season opens next week as TheatreWorks presents a brand new interpretation of that most magical of Shakespeare's plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream. This version promises to be especially magical, with hip-hopping fairies and the enchanting atmosphere of the Rock Ledge Ranch.

Showtimes are 7:30pm Tuesdays through Sundays through August 22. To get to the venue, head into Garden of the Gods park and turn left at the first driveway, which leads to the parking lot for Rock Ledge Ranch. Signs will direct you to the tent where the performance is taking place.

Oh, and this month we get not one but two Prologue Lectures. Nationally renowned artistic directors Tina Packer and Jon Jory are back once more, this time to discuss the state of the American theatre and women in Shakespeare's plays. This starts at 6:00pm on Monday, August 3 in the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre.

That same night, at Rock Ledge Ranch, TheatreWorks artistic director Murray Ross will give a short talk about A Midsummer Night's Dream and Shakespeare in the Tent. This starts at 6:30pm.

See you there!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Springs Ensemble Theatre launches one-act play festival

Colorado playwrights have a brand new opportunity as Springs Ensemble Theatre has announced that they are now accepting submissions for their New Short Works Playwriting Festival.

SET is seeking 20- to 60-minute scripts on the theme NEW BEGINNINGS (whatever that may mean to you). Scriptss cannot have have received a full professional production, although previous readings or workshops are fine. Selected plays will receive a staged reading at SET on November 13-14, 2015. The deadline for submission is September 22.

I know that some of you responded to their earlier call for works by submitting a script. The word from SET is that they've read all of those submissions and will not be performing any of them. However, if your script meets the requirements of this new opportunity, you're free to resubmit. Note that some of the works that were previously submitted are ineligible for this festival.

For complete submission info, visit SET's web site.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A long night

Our attendance this summer hasn't been as big as last summer, when we were bursting at the seams, but it has held steady, with 14 people showing up for last night's meeting.

We got through six scripts in 2 hours and 45 minutes. The discussion went a little long on a couple of the plays and people seemed really tired by the end of the meeting. I'll try to rein things in a little better next time. 9:30 seems to be the point at which people (including me) stop functioning.

We opened with the beginning of my old-time radio farce The Last Radio Show. This section had a lot of setup as the various characters were introduced, but the audience loved the humor and breakneck pacing. The play should be a breeze to produce (the set and lighting requirements are minimal), so I'm planning to produce it and direct it myself at Black Box Theatre in January. Look for more info on this as we get closer to the performance date.

That was followed by the second half of August Mergelman's morality play, A Merry Interlude at Camelot, part of a series of youth plays exploring different theatrical traditions. Here Pierre is tricked by two of his customers and the clothier gets his revenge by playing a trick of his own. Everyone agreed that the play was a lot of fun.

After that we read the beginning of Deirdre Gilbert's Disciples of the Book, a funny look at a (mostly) woman's book club. The audience loved the richness of the characters and thought that the dialogue did a great job capturing the cattiness these groups often display. Deirdre originally wanted to include 12 characters as a metaphor for the Last Supper, but she now thinks she'll limit it to 8 in order to make it less unwieldy (more wieldy?).

We followed that with the conclusion of Chuck Cabell's dark comedy Hemlock. Here we see brothers Bryce and Neville hatch a scheme to get out from under the thumb of Fredo, the mobster who's calling the shots in their assisted suicide business, but the scheme falls apart when another mobster bumps off Fredo. For the most part, people felt unsatisfied that the brothers weren't victorious at the end and there were several suggestions for endings, but the audience got a kick out of discovering that Neville's airhead girlfriend Bunny turned is not such an airhead after all.

Next we read a rewrite of the end of Sue Bachman's family drama Torn. This included a moving scene in which a teenage alcoholic faces the mother of the boy he killed in a car accident. Sue did a great job depicting the raw-edged emotions of the characters, although some thought the mother should react more violently at first and others thought that a slight reordering of the actions (including a hug and a slap) would heighten the emotions further.

We wrapped everything up with three rewritten scenes from Tim Phillips' Prohibition-era romance Abigail Finds Love. In one scene, we see Clara confront Abigail about her scandalous liaisons with piano-playing Paul, with Clara claiming that Abigail could lose her ex-husband's fortune taken from her because of it. There was some discussion about whether this could happen, but people felt that the scenes keep getting better each time they're rewritten.

Our next meeting is Monday, August 10. See you then!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

June is bustin' out all over

We just completed our wettest month ever in Colorado Springs, so it's been nice to enjoy some warm summer weather and see the trees bustin' out with leaves at last.

And our meeting was bustin' out with energy and enthusiasm. We had 13 attendees last night, with the welcome return of many of the actors we'd been missing in recent months. I got to tell you, this made casting a dream, and I was thrilled with the dynamic performance of my own play last night.

We opened with a new comedy from August Mergelman's burgeoning collection of short plays exploring different theatrical traditions. This one was A Merry Interlude at Camelot, a medieval cautionary tale about the travails of a henpecked husband. Going into the reading, August was especially concerned about the pacing and although some thought it was a little long, others pointed out that the farce-like dialogue would go a lot quicker when rehearsed.

Next up was the beginning of Grant Swenson's high school fable Four Seasonal Quests. In it, four heroes pursue four quests, each with a different type of ending: comic, tragic, heroic and ironic. The sassy interplay between hero Julian and the feisty heroine Ember, who demands the right to pursue her own quest, was particularly well-done. As for the character descriptions at the beginning, one commenter suggested that the emphasis should be on the different personalities of the characters, rather than their ages,

After that we read the end of Sue Bachman's one-act family drama, Having Faith. Here we learn that the elderly Evelyn's difficulties are due to the onset of Alzheimer's. The audience really liked how the story wrapped up, with an upbeat yet realistic resolution, and felt that the emotions, as always in Sue's writing, are admirably true-to-life.

Next we read several new scenes from Chuck Cabell's dark comedy, Hemlock. In these scenes, we saw the financial noose tightening around the neck of hapless heroes, Bryce and Neville, as they're forced to borrow money from a loan shark to keep their death-oriented business going. Everybody loved the humor, and more than one person commented on the delicious irony in the fact that while the brothers are helping kill off others, they refuse to honor their own mother's request for a physician-assisted suicide.

We finished up with the ending of my cocktail party farce Butterfly Effect. All of the plot threads led to a final, shocking twist as one of the characters died a violent death and another character turned out to have plotted the whole thing. Before the reading, I was afraid that the ending might be too dark or that people would hate it because they're left with no one to root for. The consensus was that yes, it was dark, but the farcical elements were so over-the-top and the characters so nasty that it worked.

One side note. Longtime member Jeff Schmoyer brought one of the print-on-demand books he designed for local novelist Bob Spiller. It looked very professional, and I'll be talking to Jeff to see what he can do for my own novels, which I recently made available through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. If you've got a manuscript that's been sitting around, I strongly recommend that you talk to Jeff to see what he can do for you.

For more info, check out Jeff's website at

See you all next month! Have a great Fourth of July!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spring is in the air

We've had an unusually wet May, with a surprise hailstorm and one last (let's hope!) snowstorm on Saturday, but there's no mistaking the generally warmer temperatures and the budding leaves on the trees. Springtime is here!

We had a great meeting last night, with 13 people attending, including two new actors: Danine Schell, who is well-known for her performances in numerous local plays as well as the Colorado Renaissance Faire, and Scott Loring, who was the drama teacher at Widefield High School for 20 years. Scott is also a writer, and I encouraged him to bring some of his stuff to the next meeting. Greetings and a big Drama Lab welcome to both of you!

We moved along at a good clip, reading six plays in two and a half hours. We opened with the first scene of Hemlock, a hilariously dark comedy by Chuck Cabell. In it, a pair of brothers find a solution for their struggling funeral home business when they realize they can make more money if they control the "raw materials". The hook is a great one and the characters were very well-drawn.

Next up was Penny from Heaven, the latest in August Mergelman's series of short plays exploring world theatrical traditions. This one was a vaudeville version of Pinocchio. People loved the rapid pace and the continuous flow of gags.

After that we read the next scene from cocktail party farce, Butterfly Effect. Here we saw the pompous boss Henry down an entire pork roast after a misfired rescue flare cut off the cottage's power. There was one question whether the pork would be that raw if it had been in the oven for an hour. Others commented that the play continues to move along well but that this section seemed less British than previous sections.

We next read Sue Bachman's short family drama, What A Mother Knows. This play started out as several loosely related scenes about a Depression-era girl named Missy, but after receiving some helpful feedback from Jess Weaver, Sue decided to use them as flashbacks, tying them together through the framing device of a grown Missy facing an unwanted pregnancy. Everyone agreed that the scenes worked much better this way, with the framing device lending them a deeper significance.

This was followed by a couple of new scenes from Tim Phillips' Prohibition-era drama, Abigail Finds Love. Here we're introduced to Iva, the former fiancee of piano player Paul, who has now joined the Salvation Army and wants to make sure Paul is staying free from worldly temptations. The audience liked the addition of this character and suggested additional directions that she could be taken.

We wrapped up the evening with a rewrite of Deirdre Gilbert's short comedy Capsaicin. This time, she relocated the play to Indiana, which allowed for some fun wordplay centered around that state's unusual use of the word "mangoes". Commenters liked the mother's struggle to accept her granddaughter's unusual name, Tasman, as it seemed to symbolize her struggle to accept the many difficult changes in her life, something with which many people could relate.

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

Friday, May 1, 2015

Drama Lab members win two local contests

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has announced the winning plays for their Georgia O'Keeffe-themed Rough Writers New Play Festival. Eight plays were selected, including four from national playwrights, but it was a Drama Lab sweep for the local slots with all four going to longtime members of our cozy little group.

The winners are:

Sue Bachman, Georgia On His Mind
Jess Weaver, The Last Rabbit
Grant Swenson, Mary and Georgia
Todd Wallinger, The Real Meaning of Things

You can catch all four at the same time as the FAC will be reading them together as part of a single program. The reading is at 8pm on Saturday, June 7 and Saturday, June 13 in the upstairs Music Room. To learn more, visit the FAC website.

Just as exciting, Black Box Theatre announced that Lulu's Box by Drama Lab member Tim Phillips was selected to be performed at the Fives New Play Festival on June 25-27. We're all very happy for him!

Black Box's Nancy Holaday sent word that she could really use more guys to audition. Auditions are May 11-14. For more info, visit the Black Box Theatre website.

I highly encourage you to attend to one or both of these festivals. Not only will you be supporting these local playwrights, but just as importantly, you'll be supporting theatre companies that support local playwrights.

See you at the theatre!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Liar opens next week at TheatreWorks

A reminder that The Liar opens April 23 (the Bard's birthday!) at TheatreWorks. This is a wonderful adaptation by David Ives of Pierre Corneille's 1644 masterpiece. The Liar is a hilarious farce about a charming young rogue with an unmatched gift for stretching the truth--and the troubles he gets into when he meets the woman of his dreams.

The play runs through May 10. Showtimes are 7:30pm Wednesdays through Fridays, 2pm and 7:30 pm Saturdays (no matinee on April 25) and 4pm Sundays.

Also the associated Prologue Lecture promises to be a fun one. Bill Lepp, fine-time winner of the West Virginia Lying Contest leads a workshop on how to tell whoppers. That's at 2;30pm on Sunday, April 26 in the Dusty Loo.

See you there!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Or at least that's what we were when our April meeting started last night at 7pm. Eight people were there, but those eight included all six of our writers and two dedicated members who normally participate as audience members. And that's a problem because we had an unusually large number of large-cast plays. Later, a couple of our talented actors did show up shortly after the meeting started, and we were able to make the readings work by doubling up on the 10 people who attended the meeting. (Of course, some of our writers are excellent actors as well. You know who you are!)

But seriously, we need more actors. If you're an actor, and you've never attended one of our meetings because you weren't sure how much reading you'd get to do, let me tell you now: you'll get a lot.

The good thing is that our discussions were longer and more constructive than last time. At the beginning of the meeting,I had suggested that we try to target 5 to 10 minutes of discussion per play and we hit that target well, wrapping up the meeting around 9:30PM.

We read six plays, starting with a couple of scenes from Sue Bachman's relationship drama Having Faith. Sue rewrote the scenes to make the adult daughter less mean. It worked, and the daughter, while still frustrated by the infirmities of her aging mother, is at least somewhat sympathetic now. Special kudos to August Mergelman for bringing the mother to hilarious, spunky life--Brooklyn accent included.

We next read the beginning of August Mergelman's youth play A Commedia of Pairs, a funny mash-up between the Plautus's Menaechmi and Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. Everyone loved the humor, feeling that he only thing to fix--and August agreed wholeheartedly--was the title, as the current one is a bit clunky sounds more like a sub-title than a main title.

After that we read the beginning of Deirdre Gilbert's family comedy Capsaicin. In this play, a father and son struggled to get the cranky; judgmental mother to enjoy a family vacation on a South Carolina island. The audience said that the characters all felt very distinct and well-drawn. Deirdre was still trying to make up her mind whether to make the family Southern or something else, and by the end of our discussion had pretty much decided to give them a Midwestern flatness.

Next up was the middle section of my cocktail party farce Butterfly Effect. Here things are rapidly going from bad to worse as Philip and Roddy sneak a string of ancient rescue flares outside so that they can launch them. People liked the humor and pacing, and did not seem to have any issues with the few Americanisms in the script as it made the dialogue more approachable.

We then read the end of Chuck Cabell's medieval fantasy Jurgen the Pawnbroker. Everyone liked how the book wrapped up with Jurgen returning to his loyal--if shrewish--wife, deciding to be satisfied with his lot as it was. Some people felt that his moralizing at the end was a little heavy-handed, but others thought this fit perfectly with the medieval setting of the story.

And we finished up with a rewrite of Tim Phillips' Prohibition-era romance, Abigail Finds Love. The story continues to get better with each version, with the audience really liking the scene in which Abigail knocks out her arrogant husband by tainting his food so that she could have a rendezvous with her lover, the charming piano player Paul.

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

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Days opens next week at TheatreWorks

We're all familiar with Waiting for Godot, but how well do you know Samuel Beckett's other works? Well, you can find out next week as the playwright's Happy Days opens at TheatreWorks. It's a bleak, surreal play featuring a talkative woman half-buried in trash.

The play runs March 21 to April 5. Showtimes are 7:30pm Wednesdays through Fridays, 2pm and 7:30 pm Saturdays and 4pm Sundays.

For this month's Prologue Lecture, Murray Ross and Kevin Landis will lead us in a discussion of the absurd twists and turns of Beckett's genius.

I hope to see you at both!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Spring ahead

We set our clocks ahead on Saturday, which means it was still light out when we gathered last night for our monthly meeting--always a welcome change. The weather was nice too, sunny and cool but with the promise of spring in the air. Living in Colorado, we know there are some snowstorms still ahead of us, but after the cold winter we've had, we'll take any relief we get.

And that may be the reason we had such a healthy turnout last night, with 16 people showing up--the most we've had since September. We also had a lot of scripts--seven, to be exact--which we got though at a healthy clip, wrapping up the meeting around 9:30pm. Of course, it helped that discussions were kept to a minimum. I don't know whether people felt rushed or they just didn't have any comments to share, but I plan to encourage meatier discussions in the future.

We opened with August Mergelman's original folktale Tricky Tommy and the Tuffet Monster. In line with his published work for schools, August is trying to put together a collection of short plays for students exploring different cultures and theatrical traditions. Here we see a tricky spider using reverse psychology to dissuade the other spiders from eating the big juicy fly he has his eye on. Everyone enjoyed the humor and the sassy dialogue.

Next up was Grant Swenson's short comedy Yes-man, in which a stressed-out engineer learns to take control of his life. The audience loved the lively dialogue and the realism of the characters, with more than one attendee saying they've known people just like them.

We then read the first half of Deirdre Gilbert's one-act drama A Frame of Mind. As her entry to the FAC's Rough Writers Contest, it's centered around artist Georgia O'Keeffe, in particular the time that photographer Ansel Adams took her and the Rockefellers on a camping trip. The play had a lot of humor and heart, especially in the conflict between the haughty O'Keeffe and the more down-to-earth Rosa, an Hispanic guide who Deirdre invented for the piece.

After that we read more of Chuck Cabell's Jurgen the Pawnbroker, running out of time just a few pages from the end. The witty dialogue continues here as we see the clever Jurgen con his way into becoming emperor, pope and then, for a brief time, God, before deciding that the latter role wasn't for him. Lots of fun, as always. People especially liked the elevated, very theatrical language throughout.

We followed that with a rewrite of the beginning of Tim Phillips' Prohibition-era drama Abigail Finds Love. This part neatly sets up the budding romance between Abigail, the wife of a wealthy industrialist, and Paul, a struggling piano player. Many people remembered the original version and thought this version was much stronger and tighter. The characters were also richer, with Paul being more interestingly ambiguous now.

Next we read another scene from my cocktail party farce Butterfly Effect. In this scene, a disastrous chain of events is launched when the neurotic Philip randomly tosses the olive from his martini. I was concerned that some of the actions might be too over-the-top, but the consensus was that this kind of thing is expected in a farce. The audience said they loved the humor as well as the breakneck pacing of the piece.

We finished up with Sue Bachman's short drama Georgia on his Mind. This was also written for the FAC Rough Writers contest but focuses on a different time, specifically the beginning of O'Keeffe's relationship with photographer and future husband Alfred Stieglitz. The scene where Stieglitz's wife catches the two of them in bed was poignant. And it was interesting to see how O'Keeffe's artistic vision evolved and grew in the subsequent scene as she and Steiglitz struggled to make ends meet.

See you all at our next meeting on Monday, April 13!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Contest season

Quite a switch from last month. In January, we were forced to postpone our meeting for the first time due to a late-day snowstorm. Yesterday, on the other hand, we enjoyed unseasonably balmy weather, with a high of 64 degrees. We had a good turnout as well, with 13 people attending, even though three of our regulars couldn't make it due to rehearsals or teaching classes.

We opened with the beginning of Grant Swenson's relationship dramedy Cassiopeia. The play centers on a hard-working sister and her ne'er-do'well brother. After a brief scene between the two of them, they go their separate ways and the subsequent scenes in which they meet old flames are played simultaneously on opposite ends of the stage. Grant was concerned that this might be confusing, but the consensus is that it worked well, drawing an intriguing contrast between the ways the lead characters handle their romantic relationships.

Next up was Barbara's 10-minute entry into the FAC's Rough Writers contest Georgia and Beck. The play centers on Georgia O'Keeffe's relationship with Beck Strand, who followed O'Keeffe to New Mexico and was inspired by her famous friend to take up glass painting. This setup allowed the play to explore a lot of interesting ideas about art. Barbara said she weaved in many direct quotes from O'Keeffe, and everyone agreed this was particularly well-done as they did not stand out as quotes.

After that we read the beginning of Act II from Chuck Cabell's fable Jurgen the Pawnbroker. Here the wisecracking hero is allowed to go back in time to when he first met his formerly beloved wife Dorothy, leading to an hysterical sex scene in which his wife all too quickly returns to her aged, present-day state. As before, everybody loved the rich characters and witty dialogue.

We next read the beginning of my cocktail party farce, Butterfly Effect. I first brought the play a couple years ago but hit a wall when I reached the midpoint. I've rewritten it extensively since then, and am now determined to complete it this year. My main concern with this section was whether the main character was likable despite his faults. The consensus was that he isn't but could be if I cut out his berating of his wife and better sell his position as an underdog vs. his rival.

We wrapped up with Tim Phillips' entry, which will not be summarized here because it's going to be submitted to a playwriting contest that requires anonymous entries.

I'm glad to see people bringing their contest entries to our meetings and I'd like to encourage everyone to enter at least one of them. I keep up with playwriting opps around the country, and let me tell you, we're lucky to have three contests in a city our size.

Our next meeting is Monday, March 9. See you then!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

FIVES Playwriting Competition returns to Black Box

Nancy Holaday has announced that Black Box Theatre is now taking submissions for their 2nd annual FIVES Playwriting Competition. This is an excellent contest that not produces the top five plays but also awards $100 to each of the winners. And if you saw last year's festival, you know what a great job they do with the plays.

Following the theme of fives, all entries must have five characters, the deadline is March 5 and an announcement of the winners will be made May 5. The submission fee is $10.

One note. This year, Drama Lab member Buck Buchanan is participating as one of the judges. In an effort to keep his evaluations unbiased, he has asked that if you bring a script to Drama Lab that you intend to submit to the contest, let me (Todd) know and I will make sure that your script is read at the end of the meeting so that Buck can leave before that.

For complete contest rules, click here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Due to the nasty weather last Monday, we postponed our January meeting to last night. I was worried we couldn't get many people, partly due to the change in date and partly due to the fact that a couple of our regular writers, Sue Bachman and Jess Weaver, had other, theatre-related gigs. But we actually had a healthy turnout, with 11 people attending. This included one new actor--Howard Kirstel--and one old friend--Bob Spiller, a successful novelist who was a regular attendee a couple of years ago. We look forward to both of them becoming more involved.

UCCS did not have class yesterday because of the MLK holiday, so we were free to meet in our favorite room--Room 132, the big, wide one  near the building's entrance. I don't know if it was the room or the people who came, but the meeting was unusually animated, with lots of laughs and a very lively atmosphere.

We opened with the beginning of Chuck Cabell's full-length fable, Jurgen the Pawnbroker. Chuck explained that this is an adaptation of a novel published in the 1920's by his distant cousin James Branch Cabell. a highly respected novelist at that time. The story is about a pawnbroker/poet who loses both his wife and his livelihood on the same terrible Wednesday and goes on a quest to regain both. In the scenes we read last night, the hapless Jurgen meets a helpful centaur and a mischievous satyr. Everyone loved the rich language and clever wit, and many people commented that they can't wait to hear more.

After that we read a 10-minute comedy, Banana Split & Fruit Fly. which Tim wrote for 24SEVEN. He brought it last night because he was wondering if it was worth rewriting so that he could submit it to contests. The play is about a pair of goofy superheroes who are unable to fight crime because their capes are in the wash. The audience agree that it did not need rewriting, although some suggested that the chattier parts could be trimmed and that the copyrighted  lyrics would need to be rmoved entirely.

Next up was Something, a 3-minute play that Tim Phillips wrote for the FAC's Georgia O'Keeffe contest. In it, two art critics argue about the sexual and feminist subtext in one of O'Keeffe's paintings, while the artist herself insists she meant nothing of the kind. Everyone agreed that the play had a lot of promise. The debate was an interesting one, getting to the heart of what art is, and the dialogue was quite funny. It was felt, however, that the play should be expanded to 10 minutes for maximum impact.

We wrapped up with the finale of my museum farce, I Want My Mummy. Here the robbers finally got their comeuppance, while Melvin the cowardly security guard not only proves his worth but wins the girl: Penny, the pushy reporter, who played the most important role in capturing the robbers. There were a lot of questions about motivations and set-ups, but I think I was able to show that everything fit together in the end. There were also a lot of suggestions for punching up the gags, and I'll be using many of these in the final draft.

If the weather allows, we'll be meeting next month at our regular time on the second Monday, which is February 9. However, it has become clear to me that more and more people are having to drop out due to conflicts on Monday. Therefore, I'll be sending out an email soon asking people if another day would work better. Look for that in your inbox soon!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Detroit opens next week at TheatreWorks

Detroit is one of the newest plays in TheatreWorks season this year, so if you want to know what kind of works contemporary playwrights are doing, you won't want to miss this comedy/drama about two suburban couples from different worlds.

The play runs January 22 through Feb 8. Showtimes are 7:30pm Wednesdays through Fridays, 2pm and 7:30 pm Saturdays (no matinee on January 24) and 4pm Sundays.

The associated Prologue Lecture features none other than the author herself, Lisa D'Amour. This is an exciting opportunity to hear one of this country's up-and-coming playwrights discuss playwriting and what she thinks about the state theatre today. The Prologue starts at 2;30pm on Sunday, January 25 in the Dusty Loo.

See you there!

Monday, January 12, 2015

January 12 meeting is cancelled

Due to deteriorating weather conditions, tonight's meeting is cancelled. We will meet next Monday, January 19, at our regular time and place (7pm in the TheatreWorks building).

Everybody stay safe out there!