Perfect Match by James Hutchison a one act comedy about love, romance and robotics will receive its world premiere at this year’s Därkhorse Drämatists Write to the Heart – Plays on Love Festival in Binghamton New York
Perfect Match by James Hutchison a one act comedy about love, romance and robotics will receive its world premiere at this year’s Därkhorse Drämatists Write to the Heart – Plays on Love Festival in Binghamton New York
Olive Kitteridge is a hard woman to love. But she’s one of the most interesting and complex characters you’re ever going to see or read.
I stumbled across the mini-series Olive Kitteridge last month. I hadn’t heard about it. Apparently I’ve been living under a rock. I mean it won a lot of Emmy’s and a whole sack full of other awards so it’s not like nobody knew about it. But in my defense I don’t tend to watch award shows. Actually the last awards show I sat down and watched – commercials and all – was the 1978 Oscars. I was disappointed Citizen Kane didn’t win Best Picture. I wonder if it will win this year? Probably not. I’m guessing it didn’t even get nominated.
Olive Kitteridege is 25 years in the life of someone who makes other people’s lives miserable. And yet, this person is not a villain – they have a heart – they’ve felt pain – they’ve been hurt – and they do good and help others but are often blind to their own destructive behaviours and actions.
I watched Olive Kitteridge and from the opening credits and music I was hooked. Frances McDormand is brilliant as Olive. There’s a profound sadness and anger and yet a glimmer of hope and love in her performance. This is a complex woman. I watched the first episode – took a break because there was a lot to absorb and then binged on the remaining three the following night. You know a series is good when you can’t stop watching.
So, I got out the novel – from our fantastic Calgary Public Library – because I wanted to compare the novel to the mini-series. The novel is different. The mini series tends to focus more on Olive whereas, in addition to Olive, the novel gives us more stories about other characters in the town. I thought the novel was fantastic. Well worth reading.
And after reading the novel I decided to watch the mini-series again – and I liked it even more. The acting, directing. and writing are brilliant – there’s no other word for it. A strong cast with Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, John Gallagher Jr., Zoe Kazan and Bill Murray just to name a few. But of course you can’t have great performances without a great director and Lisa Cholodenko has done a marvelous job of creating moments of truth and revelation between her cast.
And what an incredible job of adaptation by Jane Alexander of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Elizabeth Strout. It’s not easy to adapt a novel for the screen but this adaptation is true to the book while using the strengths of visual story telling to create an amazing mini series.
Did I like?
I loved it!
And if you love good drama, you’ll love it too.
Just a word of warning – if you’re going to watch the mini-series or read the book stock-up on doughuts. Doughnuts play a central part in the story. Life is tough and sometimes we need that old-fashioned-sour-cream-glaze to get us through the day.
So, next week in Sydney Australia my ten minute comedy, The Blood of a Thousand Chickens premieres at the Short+Sweet Sydney Play Festival. The play is being directed by Glen Pead and stars Nathan Bennett, Keira Bird, Sebastian Lopez, Warren Glover and Nicole Carney.
I’m excited. I love this little play. It’s about the classic Greek tale of Oedipus and all the family complications that arise. In fact, this week, at my website, I blog about Oedipus, Anthony Weiner, and Sophocles…I so, want to say…walk into a bar…but I’ll let you make your own joke.
Check out my blog post about The Blood of a Thousand Chickens at Short+Sweet Sydney and if you find yourself in Sydney over the next couple of months make sure you catch some exciting live theatre at the Short+Sweet Festival.
So, here it is quite literally the night before Christmas and so why not make the Night Before Christmas the topic of today’s blog. I have to wonder if Clement Moore could ever have imagined that this poem would be his legacy. What lasts and what becomes popular is out of our control. It is impossible for any of us to know the fate of what we create. But – lucky for us – the words of Clement Moore live on for us to enjoy and share as part of our Christmas celebrations.
By Clement Clarke Moore
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”
You learn by doing but you also learn by reading the work of others and by reading books about the craft. And if you’re a writer then a good book to read because it’s fun and it has some great advice about the writing process is Stephen King’s On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft.
I got this book out of the library and read it five years ago and then wanting my own copy I put it on my Christmas list in 2012. You know the year the world ended – yet again – according to some silly theory attached to the Mayan Calendar. As if a calendar has any power over events of the Universe. It’s nothing but a system of measurement. A system of measurement caught up in cultural myths. In our case a lot of Greek and Roman Gods. But that doesn’t give it any power…but what if it did? What if a calendar actually contained the power to influence events? Then what? Then you’ve got a story to tell.
Anyway, I’ve read On Writing several times. It’s a fun read because it’s not a text book. It’s more like sitting down with the man and having him talk to you about what he’s learned and what he thinks about his craft and a few insights about his life and the things that have shaped him as a writer.
Do you know how close Stephen King came to throwing away Carrie? Carrie – his first major success. Carrie – the book that made his life as a writer possible. Are you familiar with the tale?
King had been working on Carrie but had tossed it in the trash because it was about girls. And what did he know about girls? So he trashed it. Gave up. It was destined for the landfill.
And I love this.
Until his wife, Tabatha, found in the trash – covered in cigarette ash – and read it and realized what a great story it was. She told him to finish it and any questions he had about girls she could help him with because – she was a girl.
And so he finished it with her help and it got published. And he got a big chunk of change when the paperback rights sold and the rest as they say is history.
I love that story.
Did the Universe conspire to help Stephen King have his first major success?
If you believe in the writings of Paulo Coelo the author of The Alchemist you do.
I’m not so sure.
Maybe it was a host of demon spirits conspiring to make sure King would become a success so that he could tell their stories?
Whatever you believe and whatever the truth there are weird and unexplainable things that lead us to success or failure. Who knows what forces are at work in our favour or against us – but one things for sure – success only comes if you do the work. And doing the work means learning your craft.
So if you’re a writer add On Writing to your Christmas list and if you have a writer in the family this is a great gift. And remember, as of today, there are only eight shopping days until Christmas. Better order now or better yet visit your local bookstore and grab a copy.
I just finished reading Seven Guitars by August Wilson. He’s a fine writer and a good writer to read. One of the ways you learn about your craft is to simply read other writers. If you’re a playwright read plays. If you’re a screenwriter read screenplays. If you’re a novelist read novels.
When you read work by other writers you get to experience different styles. That’s important because sometimes you’ll get advice like – you should keep your dialogue short. Don’t let your characters speak more than a few words because that’s not how people talk. But that just doesn’t ring true to me. Yes, you should cut out what isn’t needed. But not everything needs to be short.
I mean – you can paint with water colours or you can paint with oil. Both are paint and both create a finished work but the feel of the work is different depending on the materials used. And yes you can use short sentences but that’s just one style. There are plenty of writers who give their characters lots to say. George Bernard Shaw (Saint Joan, Pygmalion, and Major Barbara) comes to mind as an example from the past and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men, and The Newsroom) comes to mind as a contemporary example.
How you write dialogue is going to be influenced by your style and the needs of the story and the type of character in the story. And while stage dialogue needs to ring true to the ear – it is in no way – the way people talk. It is a representation of how people talk. After all, Shakespeare is performed all the time and no one talks like that – me thinketh.
So if your character has something to say – let them say it. If they can say it in five words fine. But if it takes a hundred words there’s nothing wrong with that. So, long as what they say has truth and moves the story forward or reveals character.
One of the most memorable scenes in JAWS is when Robert Shaw talks about being on a ship and getting torpedoed during World War II and ending up in the water with his other ship mates as the sharks start to pick them off one by one. Do you remember that scene? Does the film need a flashback to tell that story – no, of course not. The power and drama comes from the simplicity of the scene, the words and the performance of the actor.
Here’s a beautiful example from Seven Guitars by August Wilson where one of the characters, Canewell, sums up his feelings about love.
CANEWELL: I always did believe in love. I felt like if you don’t believe in love you may as well not believe in nothing. Even love that ain’t but halfway is still love. And that don’t make it no less cause its only coming one way. If it was two ways it still be the same amount of love. Just like say I loved you and you didn’t love me back. I can still say I’m all filled up with love for Vera. I go walking down the street people can see that. They don’t know what to call it but they can see something going on. Maybe they see a man who like he satisfied with life and that make him walk more better. Make him walk like he got a million dollars in his pocket. If I loved you and this time you loved me back. I don’t see where my love for you can get more bigger that it already was. Unless I walk like I got two million dollars. Sometimes people don’t count it if you ain’t loved back. But I count it all the same. Some women make their bed up so high don’t nobody know ho to get to it. I know you ain’t like that. You know how to make your bed up high and turn you lamp down low. That’s why Floyd don’t want to lose you. I think you and Floyd ought to go ahead and see what you can make of it.
Act II Scene Seven – Seven Guitars by August Wilson
When you’re working on a new story there’s always the temptation to share what you’re working on with others. My word of advice is don’t do it. Okay well, that’s three words of advice. It’s the same advice Stephen King gives in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. That first draft needs to be yours. That first draft needs to evolve in your mind free from the comments of others.
So why is this a problem?
Because if you share your story too soon you run the risk of getting a comment or feedback that will interfere with your creative process.
Now, I know sharing might be some people’s process, and if you’re in a creative collective then by all means share. But, like I said, sometimes I make the mistake of sharing too soon. And sometimes, I make the mistake of sharing what I’m working on with someone who makes a comment that worms it’s way into my brain and every time I sit down to work on the story that comment rises to the surface. It can be a comment like – oh a psychiatrist would never do that…or why don’t you start the story later…or why not make the character a time travelling pirate? And even though, you can say, I’ll just ignore it – and maybe you can – sometimes I can’t. Sometimes the negative or critical or mostly harmless comment totally derails my creative process.
But sometimes you need to work out your story by talking about it. So, how do you do that? You find someone who will listen. Who won’t judge. Who won’t make story suggestions. Because often talking it through can lead you to the answer you’re seeking.
And if you can’t find anyone to talk to you can talk to yourself. I love to go for walks because I find walking helps me think. And so, I take my dog Zeke, and in the process of taking him out walking I can think freely and easily about my story – about the characters – about the plot. And after an hour or more of walking, usually, I have some solid ideas about how to solve my story problems or maybe even a new idea for a story. The key is, I think, to create an environment where you mind is free to wander.
I also wanted to take a moment to talk about Thanksgiving since today is the American Thanksgiving. If was five years ago this week that I sat down and started working on becoming a playwright.
The first play I sat down and wrote five years ago was Death and the Psychiatrist. It’s a one act comedy about getting your priorities straight. And it takes place just before Thanksgiving. And I have no doubt that I set it at this time of year because I began writing it at this time of year. The actual idea for the play came to me one foggy night several years earlier while I was walking my dog Zeke. He’s responsible for a lot of my ideas as you may have guessed.
Death and the Psychiatrist is about being aware of our own mortality and appreciating the important things in our lives. Because as we grow older I’m pretty sure most of us have known family and friends that have died younger than us.
Not everyone gets the chance to grow old. Not everyone gets to see the sun rise tomorrow. All things in life are temporary. Even life, itself, is temporary. And I think maybe that’s one of the reasons we tell stories. We tell stories to help us understand, appreciate and cope with our own mortality. That’s why it’s important to think about how your story ends.
“The ending – the final image of a film before we fade to black – the final scene in a play before the lights dim – the last page of a novel – the final line of a poem – the final kiss from a lover – these are all endings. Life is filled with endings. And your story must have an ending. Cutting to black is not an ending. I’ll talk about the Sopranos another time – maybe. If your ending doesn’t satisfy the audience then everything you’ve done before that doesn’t matter.”
That’s an excerpt from my blog at my web site where I talk about endings and specifically about the ending to the movie Buried starring Ryan Reynolds. Although I do mention Hamlet and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as well. You can follow the link here: Endings: Buried – Hamlet – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest if you’re interested in reading more.
And speaking of endings I think it’s time I ended this blog post. And since it is Thanksgiving I think a Thanksgiving message might be in order. But not a message from me. Instead I’d like to share a message penned by Erma Bombeck. It’s about getting your priorities straight and it was written after she was diagnosed with Cancer.
“If I had my life to live over…
Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.
My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.
If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.
I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.
I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.
I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.
I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.
When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”
If you’re a writer of any sort then entering competitions is one of the ways you can improve your craft and gain recognition. You improve your craft by writing. And sometimes having a deadline gives you the motivation to finish what you started. The thing is you have to send your work out into the world. And if you’re getting short listed and winning a contest or two then you know that you’re writing is resonating with people. You have an audience!
And by the way, I just posted a new blog at my website called The Science of Theatre, about a rather intriguing playwriting competition.
Check it out if you’re interested. I talk about the contest as well as a few thoughts about theatre and science.
Anyway, this blog is about another playwriting competition and I’m very honoured to report that my play Death and the Psychiatrist is one of five finalists for this year’s Arts Club of Washington One Act Play Competition.
Death and the Psychiatrist is the story of Mortimer Graves who shows up at Psychiatrist Dr. Donna Thompson’s office claiming to be the Grim Reaper. The good Doctor simply assumes that Mortimer is under the delusion that he is death. Although Mortimer says he is there to escort Dr. Thompson to the other side, Dr. Thompson convinces Mortimer that he should go into therapy in order to help him deal with his loneliness and emotional issues. With the Doctor’s help Mortimer confronts his emotional issues and Doctor Thompson, with Mortimer’s help, reevaluates her life priorities.
You can download Death and the Psychiatrist at my web site.
The complete list of finalists is:
The winning playwright and script will be announced at the President’s Dinner on December 19th.
“For nearly a century the Arts Club of Washington has promoted and celebrated the visual, performing, and literary arts in the nation’s capital. Gatherings for members, exhibits and performances for the public, and a range of private events are held in the club’s historic I Street mansion, which was formerly the home of President James Monroe. Arts Club members come from a wide range of artistic disciplines and professional backgrounds, joined by their shared enjoyment and appreciation of the arts.”