Sunday, August 28, 2011


Well, the first week of rehearsals went alright. For the first few weeks, we are only having three rehearsals a night. It's difficult to start out having more rehearsals than that unless you are working with a cast of seasoned actors; they understand the sacrifices involved and often embrace them. However, when you have a cast that includes people who have never done a show before, it seems to me it works best to start slowly and build from there.

The read-through this week went really well. It took longer for me to read through the script than I had anticipated, but beyond that it was good. The first actually rehearsal went well, too. We went through Act I twice and the second time went much better than the first. The second rehearsal of the week wasn't quite as good. We went through Act II twice, but about halfway through Act II all energy evaporated from the actors and things just started falling apart all over the place. I'm not worried, yet. The next time we run through Act II, if things haven't improved, then I'll start to worry.

Much of directing is just finding the right people and then slowly pushing them along in the direction they should go. The really exciting part is when people respond to that direction and then start developing their characters on their own and doing things completely unexpected, yet in character.

Rehearsals begin again tonight; it's week 2. I'm hoping it'll go even better than week 1.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Well, last Monday and Tuesday were auditions. They went extremely well. There are only 11 roles in the play and 21 people came out. Everyone that came out and auditioned gave a great audition. There were a few roles that cast themselves and there were a few others that took me a lot of thought about: different variations, weighing the different possibilities, chemistry between actors, physical/age similarity, etc. Overall, it was a great audition.

I'm very pleased with the cast. It's a mixed group of people completely new to the stage and stage veterans as well as new people to the group and people who have worked and acted with us before. I think it's a fine balance. I'm looking forward to working with each of these people and seeing how things will come together.

Our read-through is tomorrow evening and the first rehearsal is the night after that. Things will begin somewhat slow, but the pace will quicken soon: only 6 weeks to showtime!

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Tomorrow night is the first night of auditions for the play I'm directing, Ten Little Indians. I'm very excited and a little nervous. Directing takes a huge amount of time and effort. However, no matter what anyone else might say, the most difficult part of directing and one of the most important parts is casting. Once you've cast your show, you've done about 60% of your job. If you cast the right people, nothing else will matter because with the right cast they will work together as a cohesive unit and be able to deliver a fine production no matter what the circumstances. It would be great if everyone likes each other and gets along, but I've been involved in shows where the leads hated each other in real life, but on stage they were magnificent together. However, if you cast the wrong people, you've got tons of problems you never expected. A person who just isn't right in a role is something that even a person who has never seen a play before can recognize. Then again the best actors can fit in almost any role no matter how large or small. Casting is huge.

Two years ago when I first directed I was worried that not enough people would even show up to auditions to be able to cast the show. For that show, 12 Angry Men, there were almost triple the number of people I needed who showed up. I'm not quite as concerned this time around because I think the people will come. Yet, there's still this little doubt I have that maybe there won't be enough people. You just can't be too sure. Here's hoping plenty of auditionees show up.

Graphic Novel Review: HEAVY WATER

The possibility of Hitler and the Nazis winning World War II is a popular topic for fiction writers. The interest of such stories is just how possible such an outcome could have been. For instance, if Germany had succeeded in developing a nuclear weapon before their resources were drained, the history could have a completely different outcome. The story of HEAVY WATER is based upon one such possibility.

The story is set in a present day-future. In the setting of the story, the Nazis were able to successfully build an atomic weapon and used it to destroy Britain and the United States. They won the war and now the world lives under a totalitarian regime similar to that of Big Brother in the novel 1984: everyone’s actions are watched, people are kept alive only as long as they are useful, and the government is the benefactor (and ruler) of all. In the city of New London, a small resistance has risen up. They believe defeating the Regime in the present is next to impossible, but if they could defeat them in the past, things would be different. So, they build a time machine. A new recruit is brought forth who has a journal from his ancestor, Knut Haukelid. The journal contains evidence for a real historical location and time. Ben eventually travels through the machine to the past to help his ancestor succeed in destroying the heavy water the Germans need to build their nuclear weapon.

The story has an interesting mix of sci-fi and real history. The graphics aren’t bad, but they are a little too dark in many places, making it difficult to discern who is who and exactly what is happening. Also, the story tends to skip around a bit. No crucial information is ever lost, but it makes the reading a little jolted. It’s like reading an essay without any transitions, all the information is there but it’s not told very smoothly.

I enjoyed HEAVY WATER. Besides just being a good story, it personally led me to hear about the real-life Norwegian freedom fighter Knut Haukelid for the first time and investigate his life further. Young adults will probably enjoy this book and hopefully it will inspire them to look into the history behind the tale as it did for me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Charlie Brown on Pearls Before Swine

Here's another reason why I love Stephan Pastis' "Pearls Before Swine": an appearance by Charlie Brown!

This is the Friday, August 12, 2011 comic.


It is fitting that even before the story unfolds in SWAMPLANDIA! the author sets the stage with a quote from THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS because the journey that Ava Bigtree takes in the swamps of Florida is just as strange and bizarre as anything Alice sees in Wonderland.

The novel is told mostly from the perspective of Ava Bigtree, the youngest of three siblings of the Bigtree clan, a family of alligator wrestlers that run an off-kilter tourist attraction called Swamplandia! The Bigtree clan (family) are a tightknit group. Besides Ava, there’s her older sister Osceola, her older brother Kiwi, her father the Chief, her Grandpa Sawtooth, and her mother Hilola. Except that when the story begins Hilola has passed away. Hilola was the star of Swamplandia! and Ava wants to grow up to be just like her. Hilola wrestles her cancer with the same fierce determination, beauty, and grace that she wrestles alligators but all of her skill, acumen, and grit are no match by the spores of the evil disease as it saps her liveliness and eventually kills her.

The novel is mostly Ava’s way of explaining what happened after her mother’s death and how each member of the clan wrestled with Hilola’s death and how the eventually subdued their grief and sorrow. The story is mostly Ava’s, but there is a touch of Faulkner in the novel as about a third of the novel is told from the perspective of her older brother Kiwi. After Hilola’s death, Grandpa Sawtooth goes senile and is placed on what is basically a nursing home boat. Osceola begins talking with “ghosts” and then Kiwi leaves and travels to the mainland. Later the Chief leaves his girls alone to their own devices (something they are accustomed to) as he travels to the mainland to try to gather money to save their home and Swamplandia! In his absence, Osceola falls in love with the ghost of a Depression era dredgeman and sets out for the Underworld to marry him. Ave knows she must be stopped, but alone she can’t do much. That’s when she meets the mysterious Bird Man who tells her no one can get to the Underworld without a guide, but that he knows the way and promises her that he will lead her there. Ava quickly agrees because she loves her sister so. However, her love for her sister, a longing for her father, and the deep burden of missing her mother blind Ava to the possibility of what the Bird Man really is.

There’s a lot of humor in SWAMPLANDIA! There were a few times I found myself laughing aloud at a particular scene or a line that was said. Yet, the overall tone of the book is one of sadness. Not only do the Bigtrees lose their matriarch, but they are on the verge of losing their business, their home, and their way of life. Their tightknit familial fellowship begins to fracture under the strain and that is the one thing none of them can afford to lose.

One of the things I was impressed about the novel was the writing. Russell has a gift for words. For example, “Curtains of Spanish moss caught at my hair like fisherman’s nets.” (p. 266) It’s such a simple statement, but it produces such a vivid image.

I enjoyed SWAMPLANDIA! However, I was a little disappointed by the ending. Ava and her siblings each go on different, yet incredible journeys and then the story just ends. There’s very little self-reflection and the conclusion feels rushed; there’s a lack of catharsis. Yet, the story is such a good one and told in such a beautiful way that despite the lackluster conclusion, it’s a great novel and I’m glad that I was able to visit Swamplandia! and wish I could have seen it in its glory days.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Prepping to Direct a Play: TEN LITTLE INDIANS Blog 1

I'm directing a play this fall: Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. I tried to get a filmmaker I know to film the next seven weeks to make a documentary because the process of putting together a play and seeing it through the end is fascinating. I didn't feel comfortable doing it myself because I'm too close to everything to make it an honest piece. There's all kinds of drama and comedy and lots of pathos. The possible filming didn't occur, but a friend suggest that I blog about the experience of directing the show. I thought that was a good idea.

So, here I am, less than one week away from auditions for the show. I can't put into words how excited I am. I've directed one show (12 Angry Men) and produced (Harvey) another. Both were huge critical successes, but only the one I produced was a financial success. I've been involved in theatre on a consistent basis for over twenty-years and those two shows are among my proudest accomplishments. Though done through a local non-profit amateur troupe, they were on par with any professional production I've ever seen. I hope we are able to produce another high-quality production in this latest attempt.

My directorial debut two years ago was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I've worked at a lot of different jobs in my life and I've been blessed with some very unique talents. I'm a good writer and a great actor, but I've always wanted to direct, too. Two years ago I got my shot and it was the most natural thing in the world. Yet, that whole experience is forever marred in tragedy for me by the sudden and unexpected death of my father on opening night. I am hoping that I can finally put the bulk of the tragedy behind me by directing this show. It's something I need so that I can continue to move on and eventually pursue my dreams and goals in a place where there's more opportunity.

I'm taking a little different approach to the show than usual. For starters, I'm giving it a modern setting and taking it out of England and putting it in the good old U.S. of A. Perhaps more about that in another post. I'm almost done Americanizing and updating the script. Script-wise, about all I need to do is pick the scenes for people to perform at auditions. The scripts are here, the stage is reserved, and I've sent out the audition notice press release. Yet, I keep thinking there's something I've forgotten. If I have, I hope I remember soon because Monday night will be here before I know it.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Curious George in THE PLANET OF THE APES

Here's the latest HiJinks Ensue cartoon. I found it funny. Not quite what I thought H.A. Rey had in mind.