Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!!! (2018)






Here's a treat -- a photo from my most recent bookstore visit... 
Where I met the stars of KidTime StoryTime!!! 

Have fun tonight, kiddos! Get lots of candy, but don't forget to brush your teeth. 
(Otherwise you might lose them.)


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Resolution Check-In: Fall Edition

As you may have noticed, this blog has temporarily turned into a place where I've been sharing my thoughts (and links) about plays and musicals. (This is for the benefit of my English class, Introduction to Drama.)

Another reason I haven't been blogging about my creative endeavors is that I have been VERY BUSY -- which for the most part has been a grand thing... but it does mean that fun little projects (like this blog which about eleven people read on a regular basis) must fall to the wayside. 

I am hopefully to provide an update about all this wonderful business... but first, allow my to check-in on my New Year's Resolutions, a task I have been avoiding because I am doing such a shabby job at completing most of them. 

Here we go... 

1) Finish Writing a New Novel

Is a Chapter Book a novel? I am going to give myself a break here and say yes. During the lat part of the summer, I finished a book about bug friends. It's kinda cute, and hopefully very funny. My agent has given me notes -- now I just need to find the time to finish the second draft!

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!


2) Sell a New Picture Book

YES!!! This is a big accomplishment because, for me at least, writing a salable picture book is never easy. I will reveal more details about this as soon as I can... but I can say that I signed the contract over a month ago, and have already received part of my advance. Woo-hoo! I can also tell you that this most recent sale is a sequel to one of my previously published works -- so that's pretty awesome!

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!


3) Write / Sell New Play

I have written a new one-act comedy about an escape room. My editor at Eldridge likes it, but suggested several changes. Today I revised it and resubmitted. Fingers crossed.

ACHIEVEMENT: Pending.


4) Complete 200 Days of Writing

I believe I am now up to 60 days. Sad and pathetic.

ACHIEVEMENT: 30% Complete. There are only 64 days left in this year, so I have officially failed this goal. Wah!!!


5) Participate in 10 Book Events

I have had a chance to do a few more of these... In August I promoted "Papa Bear's Page Fright" at the Open Book in Canyon Country. In September I was a featured reader at the Orange County Book Festival. Then this October, I had a book signing at Burbank's Barnes and Noble. I was also an honored guest at the Ventura County Assistance League's Authors Luncheon. I visited Hamilton Elementary last Friday, and in a couple hours I will be making an appearance at Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, California.  I just need one more event to reach my goal!

ACHIEVEMENT: 90% Complete


6) Complete 100 five minute work-out sessions

Yes! I have exceeded this goal (surprisingly). I have well over 100 work out days registered... although I'm still not making it enough of a habit. Really need to try doing this at least five times a wekk, instead of two or three times a week (as has been the case the last month or so).

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.


7) Practice Drawing / Coloring for 100 Hours

Very little progress made in this category. Why don't I make more time for this one???

ACHIEVEMENT: 20% Complete


8) Develop a Stronger Marketing Platform

Uh... not yet... Hee-hee... I'm trying, but mainly spinning my wheels. I do have some cute corgi pics on my Instagram account.

ACHIEVEMENT: Pending. 

9) Create a Portfolio with at least 12 awesome photos

Hmm... There's a decent chance that there's at least 12 calendar worthy photos in my phone... But I haven't really taken the time to curate anything yet.

ACHIEVEMENT: Pending. 


10) Learn the whole melody of Ashokan Farewell. 

This is the most ignored of all my resolutions. I think I have touched our piano three times this year.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Susan Glaspell's Trifles


 



The Origin of "Trifles"

"Trifles" is currently Glaspell's most popular play. Like other works of early feminist writing, it was rediscovered and embraced by the academic community. One of the reasons for this short play's enduring success is that it is not only an insightful commentary on the different perceptions of each gender, but it's also a compelling crime drama that leaves audiences discussing what happened and whether or not the characters acted unjustly.
While working as a journalist for the Des Moines Daily News, Susan Glaspell covered the arrest and trial of Margaret Hossack who was accused of murdering her husband. According to a summary by True Crime: An American Anthology:
"Sometime around midnight on December 1, 1900 John Hossack, a well-to-do, 59-year-old Iowa farmer, was attacked in bed by an axe wielding assailant who literally beat out his brains as he slept. His wife became the prime suspect after neighbors testified to her long-simmering hatred of her abusive spouse."
The Hossack case, much like the fictionalized case of Mrs. Wright in "Trifles," became a hotbed of debate. Many people sympathized with her, seeing her as a victim in an abusive relationship. Others doubted her claims of abuse, perhaps focusing on the fact that she never confessed, always claiming that an unknown intruder was responsible for the murder.
True Crime: An American Anthology explains that Mrs. Hossack was found guilty, but a year later her conviction was overturned. The second trail resulted in a hung jury and she was set free.

Read the rest of my Susan Glaspell article at ThoughtCo... 


Monday, October 22, 2018

The First Half of One of My Favorite Plays...

I'm so glad the National Theater filmed their production of Man and Superman, starring the amazing Ralph Fiennes. I think I'll be ordering the DVD very soon in order to watch the whole show! Can't wait to see what they do with the "Don Juan in Hell" sequence.



There's also a cool interview with Mr. Fiennes regarding the production...


Here's a bit more on the National theater's production, in particular the curious case of the seldom performed Act Three...


Friday, October 19, 2018

Author's Luncheon Celebration - October 20th


Tomorrow I will be presenting at the Author's Luncheon Celebration. a wonderful fundraising event put on by the Assistance League of Ventura County.

I'm very excited! This is my second time as a featured guest. The first was back in 2011 when my very first picture book was released.

You can find out more about the event here...  

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Bootleg Broadway Musicals, Anyone?


I go back and forth on the ethics of Youtube videos which are the product of some sneaky theater patron who surreptitiously films the entire show on their phone. That's a very naughty and obnoxious thing to do.

At the same time, once a Broadway show has come and gone, it is -- in a way -- lost to the ages. Therefore, I appreciate being able to watch those very Youtube videos that are morally questionable.

Obviously, the better course of action would be to make certain every Broadway production is professionally filmed (most are, I believe) and then, more importantly, give viewers the chance to watch them via a streaming service.

This might be sounding like an advertisement for Broadway HD -- a cool streaming service that let's you watch lots of plays and musicals, all professionally recorded. But it's not. Hopefully Broadway HD will expand in the very near future. Right now, they really don't have that many musicals from which to choose.

So, in the meantime, I'm setting my ethical quandries aside so that i can watch the Original Cast of The Drowsy Chaperone in all of its crappily filmed glory.



Here's a Tumblr page that has organized a whole lotta links to Broadway's best musicals... 


Monday, October 8, 2018

"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning




 
FERRARA
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—which I have not—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

KidTime StoryTime Presents: There's a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor

Here's an adorable retelling of my Dino Book -- complete with a couple of zany puppets.

Thanks, KidTme!!!


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Female Dramatists in the Early Days of European Theater


Meet Hrotsvitha... 


What's cool about her? She is the first person since Ancient Rome to bring theatrical literature back to life in Europe. She was a nun who lived in a 10th century commune of women, thus allowing her time and independence to pursue her own educational goals and creative pursuits -- so long as they were an extension of her faith. Many of the plays she wrote were a Catholic response to the works of Roman playwright Terence. She retold the stories of the saints, and created female characters of strength and intelligence.



Lady Mary Wroth... 


She wrote "household" or "closet" plays, dramatic works not necessarily intended to be performed on a stage... perhaps not expected to be performed at all. However, a British theater company has recently launched a production of her play, Love's Victory. (Written in the early 1600s). 

She also wrote plays and a work of fiction (that may or may not have been based upon real experiences) called Urania. One critic who hated her book called her: "hermaphrodite" and a "monster" --- I don't know if this is much better, but a fan of hers, Ben Jonson, said that her work made him not only a better poet but a better lover! 

Aphra Behn AKA Astrea


Her origins are shrouded in mystery and rumors... one of my favorite being that she traveled to a South American colony to serve as a spy, hired by Charles II. (She did perform spy duties in the Netherlands... and records indicate that the king failed to pay for her service.)

Since the life of a spy didn't pan out, and since her husband passed away, she was forced to make end's meet by writing for the stage.

Here's an energetic synopsis of one of her most successful plays: The Rover. 


During the Restoration, female playwrights -- such as Mary Pix -- became less of a rarity. 


This might have been because theater goers at the time cared more about the performances and less about the playwrights -- in fact, playwrights often went unaccredited (though not unpaid).


Susanna Centlivre


She began her theatrical career as an actress, often playing "breeches roles." According to biographers, she left home (due to her abusive step mother) at the age of fifteen. Shen was married at age sixteen, and became a widow at age seventeen. Like others before her, she turned to playwriting in order to gain financial independence. Her comedy, The Busy Body is one of her more oft performed plays, still scene on the contemporary stage. 



 

What about the actresses? There's a nice overview of female actors in the early days of Restoration theater and beyond... Check out this link from the National Portrait Gallery.

You may also want to learn about the colorful life of actress Nell Gwyn -- an informative overview can be found within the devil's Encyclopedia -- AKA Wikipedia.   






Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Characters in the Henriad


Richard II...








Henry Bolingbroke who becomes Henry IV...





Prince Hal... who becomes Henry V...





Hotspur... a fellow rebel, supporter, and then enemy of the Bolingbrokes...





Then, there's the crown's favorite coward... Falstaff!





Then, there's the rest of the gang at Miss Quickly's tavern...

Bardolph... Poins... Anicent Pistol... and Nym...

The Henriad, so called, was actually made into an epic television production titled The Hollow Crown. Check out the trailer...


Oh, and the following is not a speech written by Shakespeare... It's Tom Hanks improvising / stalling for time when the play Henry IV was halted due to a medical emergency of an audience member. Acting as Falstaff, hanks uses his quick wit keep the audience engaged...

Richard Burbage and Early London Theater

Here are some visual notes to help us peek into the early days of Shakespeare's life and career, as well as that of his colleagues.


Here are the plans for the construction of "The Theater." (Constructed in 1576. It was the second permanent structure theater built in London. The first was The Red Lion, built in 1567.

Oh, and in case you didn't know... theaters weren't just for actors...


(Bear Baiting -- behold the works of man.) 


Do you recognize this man???



Heplayed the title character Volpone in Ben Jonson's social-comedy classic. 



(Here's a portrait of Ben Jonson, master of the Comedy of Humours.)

 


Richard Burbage also starred in plays by John Webster... 






(He's the playwright responsible for the bloody tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi.)



But Brubage is most famous for playing the leading roles in many of the original productions of Shakespeare's tragedies.

He originated the roles of... Hamlet...



Macbeth... 


and King Lear...






There's also the possibility that he appeared in a play by the handsome young man in a gigantic sweater: Christopher Marlowe...




There were other stars of the stage, though none as big as Burbage. (It helps when your father owns the theater!)

Some of the other actors included Will Kempe... renown for playing clownish characters including Falstaff.





And Augustine Phillips, who perhaps saved the Lord Chamberlain's Players from the gallows!


(Is it prejudice to say that all these dead British actors look alike?) PS -- Check out the details of Phillips' will and you'll get a glimpse of how enmeshed his life was with the theater.

Here's Hamlet's advice to actors of the time...



Here's a great 20 minute promotional documentary about the recreation of the Globe Theater:







Monday, September 17, 2018

Profiling Villains in Literature


I meet a lot of students who want to become detectives, criminologists, and/or FBI profilers. It might be due to the popularity of CSI-styled shows during the last two decades, or maybe they are inantely passionate about injustice. In either case, these types of students enjoy analyzing characters through psycho-analytic criticism, which is a great way to approach a text.

For students who want too peer into a dark mind of a literary character, say perhaps such as an Iago or a Lady Macbeth, I have come up with an entertaining little prompt, a series of questions in which the student attempts to answer from the point of view of the villain.

Here's the prompt... 


Antagonist / Villain Profile (Pretend you are the character)

Name:

Approx. Age:

Gender:

What do you see in the inkblot?



What do you want most out of life?



How do you feel about the protagonist?  Explain:




For each emotion, write the first word or phrase that comes to your mind: 
Society:                                                                       Friendship:

Success:                                                                       Failure:




What do you hate? (Why?)                             What do you love? (Why?)




Do you have any regrets?  Why / why not?





Have you ever experienced a downfall due to hubris?  If so, explain:


 





One of the creepiest characters in our literature textbook is Arnold Friend from "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" A UC Davis student created an excellent character analysis of this villain, positing the idea that Arnold might be the devil himself.

Read Spencer Martinez's essay: "Satan Drives a Convertible."

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Commedia dell'Arte & the Dawn of Molière

How do you say it? (with a cool Italian accent)


But what is Commedia dell'Arte? According to Encyclopedia Brittanica it is a "lost" theatrical art form. 


We know a lot about this style of theater... but because of the improvisational nature of Commedia dell'Arte, much delivery, dialogue, costumes, and jokes are lost to the ages. 

But we do know many of the key ingredients... 

The Great Outdoors:
Performances of Commedia dell'Arte began in Italy in early to mid 1500s. In contrast to dramas and tragedies, these comedies tended to be performed outside, and were attended by the general population. 


Traveling Troupes:

Actors of Commedia dell'Arte were typically nomadic, traveling from one village (or city) to the next. As the demand for this art form thrived throughout much of Europe (including France), troupe became even more mobile. 


Costumes and Masks:

Distinct colors and fabric patterns denoted the different stock characters. Masks featured highly exaggerated facial features. (I think all of them look creepy, but maybe that's just me.)



Women in the Theater:

Take that, Shakespeare! The first professional actresses (since the fall of Rome) performed Commedia dell'Arte. 



Loose Plot + Improv + Well-Practiced Slapstick = Commedia:

It wasn't pure improvisation... Most shows had a rough sketch with a clear conflict, beginning middle and end. Actors knew each others characters so well that they developed comedic routines, speeches, quips, and pratfalls. 



The medium flourished for centuries... evolving into many different theatrical forms. Including... our hero of the afternoon... 


As well as modern day silly people at Renaissance Fairs... 




And don't forget these guys... 


Unfortunately... when Napoleon took over most of Europe he did not care for the satirical nature of Commedia dell'Arte... So he had it outlawed in 1797. 


But let's back up again... before that that 5 foot, Seven inched general ruined everything. 

In the golden age of Commedia dell'Arte, most troupes consisted of at least ten players. Most storylines contained what was called the Usual Ten... 

Four Innamorati (Two pairs of Lovers)
Two Vecchi (Old men who are often greedy or overbearing or both)
One Captain (who is boastful yet usually a coward)
One Colombina ( often a maid, almost always a trickster -- sound familiar?)
Two Zanni (trickster characters / sometimes servants) 

Now... where does Moliere come into play? He was born Jean-Bapiste Poquelin... he adopted his stage name later in life. The year of his birth was 1622... just six years after the death of Shakespeare. Hmmm... 


(Reincarnation, anyone?)

This French-speaking vlogger provides a quick overview of the playwright's career... 
















Kabuki and Bunraku Resources


For an in depth look at Kabuki Theater, check out this video -- which i believe is narrated in part by Jeremy Irons!


Also... here's a video of one of the most popular Kabuki plays in the history of Japanese theater: Yoshitsune and the One Thousand Cherry Blossom Trees.  

 

I was trying to think of ways in which Kabuki theater has influenced American pop-culture... and at first I couldn't think of anything.

And then I remembered these guys!






Now it's time to explore the fascinating and sometimes creepy world of Bunraku (Japanese Puppet Theatre)...



This clip of a performance may or may not be as disturbing (depending on your dread of puppets)...


Want to dig deeper in to the history of this art form? Begin Japanology has another great 30-minute documentary.


Now, the Bunraku style can be scene in several Western productions, including Paula Vogel's The Long Christmas Ride Home. (Read the New York Times review.)


And the retelling of the Tinman of Oz, The Woodsman...


And one could argue that Bunraku theater inspired the amazing British production of War Horse. (Although, to my knowledge Bunraku puppets are traditional human or humanoid.) 



Noh Theater in Popular Culture

Noh Plays are one of the oldest theatrical traditions in Japan. Here's a glimpse of what it looks like in performance...


Modern film makers from Japan and elsewhere are still heavily influenced by Noh traditions -- especially the trope of mortals entering the supernatural and sometimes forbidden world that lurks beneath the surface of our own.


In Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, a little boy happens upon a wedding party of foxes. It is forbidden for humans to observe such a thing, and the boy must beg for their forgiveness or perish.

In adition to live action film, we can see the influences of Noh in animation... For example: Spirited Away:





I've always thought that the NoFace character in Spirited Away was creepy... but perhaps nothing is quite as unsettling as the little girl from The Ring crawling out of the well




Watch if you dare!!!

 
 


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Space Ace -- and other Animated Video Games


I may have mentioned before how, back in the 1980s, I was one of the many children suffering from Arcade Mania. I definitely had Pac-Man Fever. And Asteroids Asthma. And Centipede Sickness. You name the game, I'll tell you about my addiction -- my desperate need to mooch quarters off of my parents just so I could take on a digital army of Space Invaders (or in my case Galaga insects).

The video games that amazed me the most were the ones that were in the style of Disney animated features. I believe Don Bluth created the two that I am thinking of... Dragon's Lair and Space Ace...

I have already blogged about Dragon's Lair... but I did want to mention that a discovered, or should I say rediscovered a game that I had completely forgotten about... Dragon's Lair 2: Time Warp!!!


I totally forgot this existed... I think think I may have only watched others play, because I only recall the beginning action sequence in which Dirk the Daring runs away from his mother-in-law. Pretty funy stuff... but I noticed that halfway through, this cartoon adventure gets SO WEIRD! There's a sequence in which you are the size of a mouse running through Beethoven's music parlor. The animators were having way too much fun, I think.

But the one I've been really thinking about lately is SPACE ACE. I loved Space Ace as much as I loved the original Dragon's Lair -- but god knows I could never get very far into this game before I got zapped.

Now, thanks to YouTube, you can watch the full version and imagine successfully playing through the game without perishing once.


One thing I must say about the influence of this game -- and I don't even think at the time I knew that it was this game that had an affect one me -- several early writing projects of mine wouldn't have been the same without this Sci-Fi action cartoon. 

I used to draw a comic-book called Space Bounty Hunter from Hell... and although the art style and plat were very different, the ship of Space Ace is very similar to one of the space ships I would draw for my cartoon. (I did not recall this until last night when I watched the YouTube video.)

The other more prominent influence... the name Dexter. (That's Space Ace when he's in his pipsqueak form.) I loved that name!!! If you look at the screenplays and book I wrote in my late teens and early twenties, I always put in a Dexter character either as a main character or a supporting one. Before Space Ace, I had never even heard of that as a name. 

I stopped using Dexter, by the way... First because of this guy...


Now, I am certainly not gonna name another one of my characters Dexter, thanks to this guy...  


Back in the Arcade days, I remember another animated game from Japan... It was called Cliffhanger...


Does anyone know of other animated video games from this era and beyond? Leave a comment and let us know.