Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Excerpt from YOU ARE MY SONG

One Tenor’s Journey

When the reader first meets Jamie Logan, he is at the lowest point in his young life. How he moves beyond that and eventually to a career as an opera singer is a compelling story. Jamie’s path is not easy. He faces personal and professional challenges, including family crises, a jealous rival who attempts to undermine him, a hate crime. Striving to overcome his own self-doubts is a continual struggle for him.

Here is the opening chapter of You Are My Song. The book is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and paperback copies can be purchased locally at the Pocono Community Theater whenever the theater is open. The purchase price at the PCT is $12.00. 

Please visit my Amazon author page:


Jamie Logan found a parking spot not far from Al’s Bar and sat in his car for a long moment before leaving the air-conditioned comfort of the ’58 Chrysler Three Hundred. It wasn’t his car; it belonged to the dealership, and he’d just grabbed the keys because he needed wheels. His car, a ’54 Dodge Royal, was in the shop awaiting repairs.
     It was a sweltering, steamy evening in East Tennessee, and even though Jamie had only a short distance to walk, he had just left his office and was dressed in a suit and tie, hardly comfortable attire for the weather.
     He’d found himself making this stop more and more frequently over the past six months or so, reluctant to go home, now that “home” consisted of his old bedroom in his parents’ house. Walking into that house was a daily reminder of the marriage which had ended so badly after beginning with such high hopes.
     He sighed, opened the car door and stepped into the heat, pushing his way through the door to Al’s into what was inevitably a smoky atmosphere. It wasn’t much cooler than it was outside; the air conditioner in Al’s never seemed to work very well. The jukebox was turned down but he recognized the tune; Jerry Lee Lewis, “Great Balls O’ Fire.” Regulars in the bar waved at him as he came in; they seemed to regard him as one of them.
     He returned the waves, walked to the bar and ordered a draft, whatever was on tap. It didn’t matter; beer was beer. The envelope in his inside jacket pocket felt bulky. When he got home he’d take it out and look at the divorce papers inside.
     Jamie glanced around the room and realized he was quite possibly the youngest man there. How had he come to this; how was it that at twenty-two he was dealing with a situation which seemed to happen more to men at least twice his age?
     The beer was icy cold and tasted good to Jamie. He wasn’t going to rush to sign the papers. It was a formality anyway; the marriage was over. After what Sarah put me through, she can damn well wait.
     The song on the jukebox changed; Dean Martin, “Return to Me.”
     “Hey, Jamie! How about helpin’ ol’ Dean out? You gotta know this one!” Jamie didn’t even turn around.
     “Throat’s kinda sore, Les. Anyway, Dean’s doin’ just fine on his own.” This happened from time to time; people who remembered Jamie as a singer from four years earlier, when he’d had the lead in the high school musical. He’d loved to sing back then, and people liked to hear him. But Sarah hadn’t wanted him to sing, and whatever Sarah wanted, he had tried to give her.
     Jamie drained his beer mug and ordered another. Summertime, he thought. I always loved summers when I was a kid.

 Cover design by Tristan Flanagan

Monday, March 23, 2015

Swan Song

The Final Curtain

When my oldest son Stephen was eighteen and a senior at Stroudsburg (PA) High School in 1984, he came home one day and told me his class needed someone to direct their class play. Would I do it?

I’d just been part of a community theater production which I’d directed, sort of, by default. Our organization had hired a young man from a nearby college to direct Babes in Toyland, and after about six weeks, family crises forced him to withdraw. My directing experience was limited but when the group asked if I’d take over, I took a deep breath and plunged in. I didn’t feel it was “my” show, but it turned out pretty well. So I told Steve sure, it sounded like fun. I like directing, and it seems I have a talent for it. I've learned a great deal over the years.

The principal, superintendent and activities director asked me to do a musical rather than a play, and since that’s my inclination, education and discipline I said "sure" again. So we presented Babes in Arms, a show I thoroughly enjoyed. The young man who played Valentine White is presently in his sixteenth season as a Metropolitan Opera Chorus member … and another cast member appeared for a time in Hairspray on Broadway some years later. So we had some talented kids on stage for that show, and it launched a revived musical program for the school.

A few years later, in 1991, I began directing at East Stroudsburg High School. The first show I directed there was Bye Bye Birdie; the second was Babes in Arms. (I like Babes in Arms.) I spent a lot of years at Eastburg. In 2000, the school was bursting at the seams. A new high school had been built and the district now had two high schools: North and South. Our last show as one school was Brigadoon. Our first show as ESHS South was Fiddler on the Roof. Over the years highlights for me were Brigadoon, Into the Woods, The Secret Garden, Les Mis Student Edition, Oklahoma!, Carousel (twice) and this year’s production, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. These are the productions I took the most pride in. Excellently written shows with good scores, and everything  about the productions worked.

So it is with a sense of real satisfaction that I am closing the curtain on my life as a high school musical theater director. Tom Sawyer was a first rate show: the kids performed really well, the production level was high. My lighting designer and I did some pretty nifty stuff. The musical director was exceptional. The costumer outdid herself. The set was beautiful. It was all good. I wish we’d had bigger audiences, but those that came loved what they saw.

Directing is a fascinating process, especially with high school students. Over the years I worked with some incredibly talented young men and women … some of whom made this their life. Two students from our 1997 production of Into the Woods are still performing professionally; one has been part of the Wicked family for I believe at least eight years. Another has performed continuously in regional and off-Broadway productions. A 2006 graduate from ESHS South attended University of the Arts and has worked continuously from the second semester of his senior year. Another, who also is a graduate of UArts, has performed, taught, coached, and had a life in musical theater since his graduation from ESHS in 2000 (he was Charlie Dalrymple in Brigadoon, and is an outstanding performer/teacher/coach).

And many, many students have commented over the years on their experiences as part of the school’s annual musical show. It’s a unique experience, being more than a team member, having for a time a true sense of family with their fellow cast members. It’s different from being on a sports team, or even being in choir or an instrumental group. Each show is a re-creation of a different time and place …and for the audience to accept the shift in reality, the cast has to experience it. Our best efforts produced our best performances, always.

I have many great memories of the places we visited in our collective imagination and the lives my casts shared on stage. Despite some offstage drama, the performances brought out the best in even the most difficult cast members, and I like to believe they learned and grew. I know I did. I thank all of them, and all of the caring, nurturing, dedicated adults who contributed so much to each and every production.

It was a good run.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

It Just Won't Stop!

The Winter of Our Discontent

Well, it’s definitely wrenching the meaning of this quote from the Bard a bit, but it expresses pretty well the plight of more than just this high school musical director. I know I’ve addressed this in a recent blog: “spring musical” is a misnomer. And that was just reinforced for me when I opted to cancel our scheduled opening night performance for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer because of a looming snowstorm tomorrow … all weather sources point to an all-day event and temperatures falling below freezing, with a projected high of thirty-three. In “the elevations” around this part of the Poconos, that means many places will remain at freezing or just below. All of which points to messy roads and difficult travel.

I’ve been directing high school and community theater productions since 1984 and this is the first time I’ve ever been forced to cancel a performance. We had our final dress rehearsal last night and I warned the cast this could happen, so they were prepared when the announcement was made this Thursday morning. It seemed the better choice to try to get the word out to the public as early as possible. We re-scheduled our opening “night” for a Saturday matinee, and the two other performances should proceed as planned.

We had another first in our dress rehearsal last night. During the show we are using a chemical haze machine in three different scenes. Having fog onstage has really changed since my early days as a director, when a dry ice machine was used which had to be operated manually and the biggest problem was the supply of dry ice for final rehearsals and performances. Now, the lighting technician can operate the chemical machine from the tech booth.

Long story short, we had a substitute lighting tech last night who had way too much fun pumping haze onto the stage. Just as I suggested he had too much, the fire alarm went off. Fortunately, our school district stage manager was able to contact the local volunteer fire department and head them off, so we avoided having fire trucks and everything that implies roaring up to the school. And I was impressed with our cast, who easily went back to the beginning of the musical number which was interrupted and carried on in the best theatrical tradition. It proved to me these young men and women have this show well in hand. It’s become their show.

One of my cast members, a sophomore named Bryan Lara, posted a parody of the opening number on our group page (one of the best things about Facebook, by the way). I learned a new slang term: he explained to me “flee-est” means “bestest” or “perfect.”

Since we can’t do a thing about the weather other than accept what it brings and deal with it, Bryan’s response seemed perfect, or I should say flee-est, to me.

“Hey, Tom Sawyer, what happened to Friday?
Heeeyy, where are yah. We’ll be waiting in the cold
Wearing our costumes, flee-est cast you've ever seen.
It just ain't the same without Fridayyy!”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Confessions of a High School Musical Director

Remind Me Why I Do This

Beginning last night and continuing through this entire week, my universe consists of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as performed in the auditorium of East Stroudsburg (PA) High School South. Yes, folks, it’s “tech week” – or as most of us call it, “hell week.”

This is my thirtieth year enduring the final stages of putting together a high school production. With only three exceptions, I’ve been “the buck stops here” person. With a high school show, unless in some alternate universe this isn’t the case, the director also serves as producer of the school musical, so “little” things such as the printed program (ours is a booklet, with photos and ads), marketing, seeing that the bills are paid and that rented materials and equipment are returned in good shape are also in my job description.

My main job is, of course, educational. Take a group of teens, some of whom have never set foot on a stage, and turn them into an acting ensemble. Teach them as much as you can about what the job of an actor is: to create an alternate reality for the audience. Not an easy task, either for the teacher or the pupils, especially when there are many levels of competence and talent in the cast. And varying degrees of commitment and dedication. Sometimes we have to find ways to help them care about the quality of the production they’ll be appearing in.

As always, I start the rehearsal process with a show in my head that I then spend eight or nine weeks moving to the stage. Last night began the final stages of the realization of my vision: adding lighting to the production. Fortunately, I have worked for the past several years with a talented young man, an alumnus of the high school, who has done professional work and “gets” what I’m trying to do. It still isn’t an easy task. Tom Sawyer has a few scenes which offer wonderful opportunities – and challenges ─ for the lighting designer: a thunderstorm in a graveyard, a split scene which goes back and forth between a cave where two young people are lost (Tom and his girlfriend Becky Thatcher) and the hill above, where most of the townspeople are praying for the two lost “angels” in a well-constructed and highly effective musical number. My favorite moment in the show, and what a great opportunity for everyone to shine.

Tom Sawyer is an excellent adaptation of Twain’s great novel, and consequently has one of the best scripts in all of musical theater, in my opinion. Young actors with limited or no experience  tend to rush lines, not really thinking about what they are saying. It’s not easy to get a high school senior to really think of himself as Tom. And even more challenging to help a sophomore, appearing in her first stage production, to see herself as Aunt Polly.

We’re getting there. High school students – at least at South – have a way of taking a giant step on opening night. The final dress rehearsal always looks good; the cast knows all the mechanics of the show, they know their lines, they look nice in the beautiful costumes a caring woman has created for them. The kids at South sing exceptionally well, and a fine musical director has given them expert guidance. The musical numbers are great. We all think, well, it will be a good show.

Then on opening night, something magical often happens. They make me believe they are who the program says they are. They create a genuine reality. I forget their real names and accept that they are living in another time and another place. They make even me suspend my disbelief.

Yep, that’s the end result of a lengthy rehearsal period and a week of no sleep and agonizing over the final details. An experience for these youngsters that they will never forget. One more group of kids who have achieved something that seemed out of their reach – yet they will have made it happen.

Yes, that’s why I do this. I remember now.

Friday, March 6, 2015

That Elusive Season, Spring

O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind? – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Well, it’s no doubt a nice thought, but here in Northeastern Pennsylvania we continue to deal with the Neverending Winter and layer upon layer of snow and ice and sub-freezing, sometimes sub-zero, temperatures. We’re well into March at this point and had temperatures below zero overnight once again, after a capricious snowstorm that wreaked havoc with roads, plans, and dispositions over nearly half the United States. I wonder if naming winter storms makes them seem worse. I have to think it does. How can you like a storm named Thor? Winter storm names are Olympian or from the stark, warrior-like domain of Valhalla. Let’s see, this winter we endured Juno, Sparta, and Thor, to name three.

We’ve had heavy winters similar to this over the forty-some years I’ve lived in this part of the country, but I don’t recall a winter where the weather was quite as capricious and unsettled to the point most weather watchers often were reluctant to make much of a prediction at all other than to tell us we were going to have bad weather. Really bad weather. Really awful bad weather. And sometimes these winters have stretched on and on, and what tiny bit of spring we had was rushed through and replaced by blistering hot and humid summers very quickly, so it seemed spring just sighed and died. Poor spring.

Spring can be glorious in this part of the country, however. Once all these piles of frozen snow melt away, and the mud is replaced by first delicate and then brilliant greens, we often have incredibly glowing, truly beautiful springs. I hope we are going to enjoy such a spring this year. We really need it after passing through one of the most brutal winters I can recall. I hope the weather begins to moderate. The temperatures certainly will most likely not be below zero again, though snow can occur here as late as May.

My particular grievance with this winter is the total devastation of a very carefully considered rehearsal schedule I created for a high school musical I’m directing. I allowed for winter. I had four “TBA” (to be announced) spots in my schedule to accommodate the fact that I am aware that, even though it’s called the spring musical, we rehearse in the dead of winter for a March performance date. You’d think the storms with grand names such as Juno and Thor would have appreciated that I acquiesced to their might. But that was not the case. I had provisions for four missed rehearsals. Actual number of missed rehearsals: nine. Or maybe ten. I quit counting.

High school students are remarkable people, and I know these young men and women will pull themselves together and present a fine production to their public. I wish we had more time to really polish their performances, to make them as bright as I knew they could be when I cast the show. Some might. Some will be okay, but could have been better if they’d done more work on their own.

In just a couple of weeks, we’ll make our own spring when our young, exuberant, energetic and talented cast performs their musical, a rousing adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (which the band director at our high school has re-dubbed The Adventures of Tom Snow-yer). They will have a wonderful time, and they will have learned some things and made some good friends. I don’t seek self-fulfilling prophecy, but I am holding my breath that we don’t have to deal with another snowstorm the weekend of their show. This one would be named Ultima.

Now, that’s scary.