Monday, March 24, 2014

High School Musicals!


I seem to have been spending a lot of time in the mid-twentieth century over the past several months, beginning with my book How I Grew Up, continuing with Eli’s Heart (my second novel, which is waiting for me to re-read … kind of a daunting prospect), and a high school production of the musical Bye Bye Birdie. A different kind of visit to the days of rock ‘n’ roll, a spoof on Elvis Presley’s being drafted into the Army.

Bye Bye Birdie is a kinder, gentler version of Grease, the musical that seems the one most people favor that tries to recreate that era. I like the characters in Birdie. There are nice teenagers and bewildered parents. Conrad Birdie (a play on the name of an Elvis wannabee, Conway Twitty … whatever happened to him, anyway?) is really a delightful character who gets to rock his way through some pretty nifty tunes. It’s a super high-energy show and the cast of our production had a great time over performance weekend. The audiences had a good time. It was funny, silly, goofy and just plain old-fashioned fun.

I’ve been directing musicals since 1984, and for the first time EVER I missed both dress rehearsals of a production. I was hit with one of the worst cases of flu I’ve ever had in my life. I dragged myself to the first two tech rehearsals to be sure all the tech elements were in place (avoiding the cast as much as I could), and then went home and hardly moved for two days. I hoped to get to the final dress, but I was still feverish, achy and having chills, and it was a miserable night, chilly and rainy. I had a great time opening night seeing how far the show had come over those two final rehearsals. They always do. I’m lucky enough to have terrific theater techs, a wonderful directing staff, and great kids who know how to give the audience a show they thoroughly enjoy.

Being back at the high school for the performances was a good thing. Teens … at least the teenagers I work with in musicals … are pretty great young men and women. I appreciated their excitement, enthusiasm, and energy, and I started to feel better as soon as I walked into the school. They put on one heck of a show, for sure … and they did it for three days, impressing me and every other adult who was part of the production with their consistency.  Every audience saw a fine performance.

Illness has been rampant in our high school this long, dreary winter, but every kid was on stage for all three performances and they seemed great at the cast party afterwards. We’ll all miss the eleven seniors in the cast … some of whom have been in the productions for all four of their high school years, quite a feat because these are some of the busiest kids in the school. It’s been fun to watch them grow as performers and as young men and women over these years. At least a couple of them are planning to major in theater or musical theater in college. I wish them the very best.

They are bright, talented, focused, and energetic. So are the thousands of other graduating seniors with the same hopes and dreams. They will always find some way to enjoy their love of theater and of performing, whether professionally (which is at best a very long shot) or in community productions in the future. Or maybe … just maybe … directing other high school students someday. It is well worth the time and effort, and one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Show Program: a Thorn in My Side


Now that it’s nearly ready for the printer, I would like to say a few words about the printed program that is handed out to the audience members who attend a theater production – specifically, a high school musical. I was whining to a friend earlier today about how much I dislike putting the program together, and she reminded me I’ve been complaining about it since 1979 when I was involved in my first community musical theater production. I wonder how many people realize those programs are produced through great effort and take huge chunks of time.

It’s tremendously time-consuming, and I was spoiled because an extremely capable and super nice mother handled assembling the program for our high school for three years. I still had to keyboard all the information, but I didn’t even have to think about layout, or worry about getting the ads in, which is a big job in itself. It’s nice when the director can concentrate on directing and not the eight zillion other jobs (or so it seems) associated with getting a high school or community production up and running, where you either do it yourself or beg friends to handle something for you … such as the set. The set always scares me. At our high school, we either have to depend on the kindness of strangers (or preferably, friends and/or family) for set design, construction, decoration, gathering properties (which usually includes furniture … and believe me, the shows that don’t require a bed are few and far between), being in charge of costumes, make-up, promotion and publicity, and on and on.

I’ll stick to the program for this blog entry. Our program includes advertising (which we ask the cast members to try and sell, and about a third of them actually bring in ads and money), the cast list, a list of the instrumentalists who play in the pit orchestra, a list of scenes and musical numbers, the names of the production staff, a list of the school district administrators and school board, photos of the cast members, bios of the cast members (which I generally have to threaten to write myself with kids who inevitably drag their feet -- and I promise them if I write their bio they will not like it), a list of seniors, acknowledgements of the nice people who lend us that furniture and other items … in other words, a lot of information that has to be gathered and then keyboarded so it looks nice, and then the book (because it IS a book, this year’s is a total of 28 pages) must be laid out. Oh, and those photos: finding someone to take them, and then keyboarding captions (name of actor/role) and checking to be sure Johnny Smith’s name doesn’t go under Susie Jones’ photo. You get the idea.

And generally all this can’t be done too far ahead, because many of those names (acknowledgements, technical staff and stage crew, etc., even cast list because people leave the show for various reasons or changes are made) aren’t available until the week before tech week, and I always try hard to get the program to the printer the Monday before performances begin on Friday. Partly I have to admit I keep hoping some wonderful person who loves to put programs together will appear miraculously at a rehearsal and offer to take care of the program. No such luck this year! There are such people. I knew one years ago. You guessed it, she was my BFF.

If all I had to do was the program, or I have to admit, if I were paid to do it, it would be different. But just when I have to be thinking about those pesky little details like seeing that the set is built and painted and all the trillion hand props are gathered and that bed is finally found and we’ve figured out how many microphones we need to rent and making sure the tickets have been printed and the newspaper ad has been ordered  … that’s when the program rears its ugly head, demanding to be attended to. So I settle down and get started on it, fuming and whining. I’m terrified I’m going to leave a name out of the program. For the one I am working on now I almost forgot a courtesy ad had to be included and sent to the printer (it had been e-mailed to me some time ago) … yikes. Fortunately writing this blog jogged my memory!

I’m always sure a glaring error will leap out at me the minute I pick up the printed programs. Nobody wants to proofread the darned thing. I wish I could look at it as just a program for the musical that nobody will ever look at after they come to see the show, but I can’t do that. Maybe from the years at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival/Edgecliff Academy of Fine Arts when I was paid to typeset the programs (well, it was part of my job), and I wanted them to be beautiful and wonderful. Old habits are hard to break.

If you live near East Stroudsburg come and see BYE BYE BIRDIE at South high school next weekend. The kids are terrific, and the show will be entertaining and fun to watch, and you’ll see some amazing young performers. And if you find a typo in the program, do not tell the director about it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


When I wrote HOW I GREW UP, I wrote it because it was a story that needed to be told. It was a story I had been a part of. I had always wanted to write a book. You’ve heard all this before. Once I had completed the book, I wanted to see it in print and fairly quickly, so I opted to pay a Print On Demand company to publish it for me. I was happy with their services and with the fee, which was quite reasonable. It was exciting to see my book … MY book! … listed on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. It was exciting when people started telling me how much they had enjoyed reading my book. I especially liked that they found it a “page-turner.”

Even before HOW I GREW UP was in print I had started writing ELI’S HEART, and have nearly completed work on my second book. Right now I am very busy with a high school musical production, so ELI’S HEART is going to sit quietly on my computer for a few weeks. Once BYE BYE BIRDIE has hit the boards at East Stroudsburg High School South, hopefully with much success, I will print out ELI’S HEART and read it. I will no doubt make changes, even though I have rewritten this book several times over during the process.

I love writing. I loved writing both of these books, and found I could immerse myself in the story I was living as I wrote about it. Now I find I’d like more people to read my books. What I’m trying to learn is how to market them. Amazon, after all, seems to have well over a million books … maybe closer to two million … listed on their website. Mine is one of very, very, VERY many books. My new goal: become a writer people like and want to read.

How to do this? I’ve learned that whether you are successful in securing a contract with a major publisher (a process that can literally take years) or choose to be an independent writer, unless you are John Grisham or Stephanie Meyers or Stephen King, you have to do your own promotion. One thing I frequently read is “write another book.” If people liked my first book, it seems the idea is they will want to read the second, and tell more people about it. I also am advised by these same writing gurus I need a “platform.” So my current quest is to figure out my platform. I just read that the basis for a writer’s platform is the writer’s stories, images, beliefs, and emotions that stem from her core philosophy. The other part of the platform is finding ways to reach readers in whom my writing strikes a chord (pun intended).

What do my two books have in common? Music, and how it can touch and change people’s lives. In the case of HOW I GREW UP, music and a musical theater production help a high school girl deal with a horrific tragedy. In ELI’S HEART, music brings a young man and the love of his life together, and helps them deal with the challenges they face living with his defective heart and the probability of his early death.

One of my favorite quotes, by my favorite composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff: “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is never enough for music.” I’ve often said to my voice students, “I am so grateful that I’ve been able to live a life filled with music.” Something else I’ve said to them: “You don’t choose music. It chooses you.” As a high school student, I gave serious thought to majoring in history in college … for about fifteen minutes. I knew I belonged to music. My years at the College-Conservatory of Music were in some ways the best years of my life.

So now I think I have the basis of my platform as a writer: The power of music in a life, or two lives, or a group, or the universe. And people who share this belief, this feeling, are the people who will appreciate reading what I’ve written. They aren’t a particular demographic so they will perhaps not be easy to find. Hopefully, they will find me, and HOW I GREW UP, and ELI’S HEART, and whatever else I have time to write. Because I certainly will continue to write! Maybe non-fiction next?