Selecting America’s Best Short Plays

For years now, Bill Demastes has been selecting and editing together the best short plays in the U.S. for the long-running series, The Best American Short Plays. The newest volume in the series, The Best American Short Plays 2012-2013, includes works from a wide variety of writers, from seasoned playwrights to college students. Many ask, how exactly does Bill pick the “best” plays out of such a huge selection of eager voices? Mr. Demastes has been so kind as to write us a post giving us some insight into his quest to find the best plays in America.

 

First, let me say that I love this job. I get to read hundreds of plays from some of the best new talents in the country, and I get teasingly exciting submissions from many of the most established writers today. Judging from the number of high quality submissions I receive from year to year, I can say that

Bill Demastes taking a break in his Baton Rouge office.

Bill Demastes taking a break in his Baton Rouge office.

creative talent in New York City is definitely alive and well.  (That might actually be an understatement.) What’s equally exciting to me is that talent exists across the country, in Baltimore, Atlanta, Knoxville, Athens, New Orleans, Kalamazoo, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Southern and Northern California, and even up there in Alaska. Where next?

People often ask me how I pick the plays for each volume. It is a very difficult decision, and there are no real rules to this procedure. I read for fresh writing, stuff that reads like spoken language. Neat ideas certainly help, but well-done, quiet vignettes and reminiscences work well, too. I’m a sucker for surprise endings and good jokes. Political messages are not what I look for, but well put together and heartfelt pieces often catch my eye. I love comic word play when I see it. Not a big fan of gratuitous profanity–can’t the effect be better generated through wit rather than coarse bludgeoning? 

After I pull together a large list of plays that I like, I look to see what common threads course through most of the works and try to string together something of a theme for the volume. This is a difficult task. However, if you look hard enough, common threads do surface among good writing since all really good work deals somehow with the common experiences of love, hate, loss, regret–the things that occupy those moments in our lives beyond the empty hurlyburly of simply making a living.

I frequently hear from authors included in these volumes that their works find their ways onto the stage thanks to the exposure from these volumes. That’s a very gratifying thing. In a world where being a playwright is no easy occupation, it is a good thing to be able to help in some small way.

I look forward to the publication of this new volume, certain the playwrights and plays I’ve included will not disappoint. And I welcome submissions of scripts that have been produced over the past theatre season from any and all–including recommendations from discriminating theatregoers.

Norm Stockton and the Art of Groove

While there are bass guitar instruction books everywhere, none of them seem to tell you exactly how to “make the phone ring” as a bass artist. Norm Stockton, merited bass musician and instructor, understands that that adding personality, emotion and soul to bass music is the most important skill a player can have – he calls this the ability to groove. Norm teaches his students how to transcend the more technical components of the bass to help them create a piece of music that draws the audience in, especially in a setting where multiple instruments are playing together.

“If you don’t already have it,” Norm says in his book, The Worship Bass Book, “I want to encourage you to develop and nurture a passion for the groove. Getting right in there with the drummer and locking down a really solid and great feel is the most fulfilling musical experience a bassist can have, and that is the primary thing that other musicians pursue in a bass player.”

The Worship Bass Book is a fun and practical book that covers the essentials of bass playing, including phrasing, style, drum and bass synergy, and solo arranging. It is a comprehensive look at all things bass in a digestible, yet broadly informative format.

And what’s more, Norm never stops teaching! He has his very own instructional website called the Art of Groove which offers advice, not only about playing the bass, but on how to market yourself as a musician, how to broaden your musical horizons, and how to get the most out of your instrument. Learn how to groove with the free lesson below, and be sure  to grab a copy of Norm’s book.

 

 

 

Tip Jar: Beat Songwriter’s Block

Beating Songwriter’s Block is specifically designed to address the devastating phenomenon that every songwriter faces at one time or another. This book helps the reader develop a songwriting schedule, set songwriting targets that make sense, and deal with debilitating fear. Check out an excerpt from Music ConnectioSong Block covern Magazine!

 

 

Improve Your Audio for Video!

As a musical exercise, nothing beats improvising. It doesn’t just improve your playing chops – it’s a great generator of songwriting ideas. While it’s often thought of as a group activity, there are ways to improvise on your own––just you and your instrumen––that can provide you with great material for your next song. Many of the ideas listed below come from Chapter 3 of Gary Ewer’s new book, Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music. The first five activities will help you create melodies, and the next five pertain to creating lyrics. Some involve singing, others will use guitar or keyboards. Most of them work as solo activities, but are fun to try with a fellow songwriter. Feel free to modify them to suit your purposes.


SOLO IDEAS

1. Play the following 4-chord turn-around: C F Dm G, or invent your own. Now… start singing––anything. Keep in mind that most good song melodies are comprised of repeating ideas, so try singing the same short fragment repeatedly as you change chords. The key to generating ideas is to keep things simple.

2. Detune your guitar to something other than the standard E-A-D-G-B-E. Move your B up to C, your G down to F#… that sort of thing. Now start improvising chords and melodic shapes as if you were playing a standard tuning. Why? The odd tuning will give you melodic and harmonic ideas you’d probably not have found otherwise. The best results happen when you detune your guitar randomly. Be prepared for weird sounds, but you’ll probably stumble on something that’ll get the creative juices flowing.

3. Dial up a short rhythmic/chord loop on your synthesizer and sing or play improvised melodies. Handing over part of the musical job to a synth frees you up to create ideas, both vocal and instrumental.

4. Sing a note that works. A song like Jack Johnson’s “Don’t Believe a Thing I Say,” or the verse of Maroon 5’s “One More Night” show us that melodies can do quite well sitting in and around one pitch. So give it a try: invent a short 3- or 4-chord progression (Am F G  C, for example). Play it several times to get it in your ear. Now, start by scat singing rhythmically on one note that works with the first chord. As much as possible, keep that note as you cycle through the chords. When a chord doesn’t support the note, switch to singing a note that works.

5. Create new melodies by borrowing from old ones. Take an old hit (“Hound Dog”, for example), and write down the all the notes used in that melody. (“Hound Dog” uses G-A-C-D-D#-E, listed from low to high.) Now put “Hound Dog” completely out of your mind and use that tone set to create an entirely new melody. As with our first idea, use lots of repeating patterns, but use only those six notes.

6. Choose a book from your bookshelf or from a blog or online news site. Open randomly to any page, or scroll to any random spot on a website, and point to the first word you see. With that word in your mind, point to a second word. Quickly invent a short line of lyric within five seconds that starts with your first chosen word and ends with the second one. Repeat. Example: You open a book and point to the word, “that,” and then you point to “more.” Possible lyric: “That is how I know I love you more.”

7. The best lyrics are not necessarily poems; they’re made of simple words whose main job is to stimulate the imagination of the listener. Take the following list of words and paraphrase them in as many different ways as you can that might work in a descriptive lyric. Work quickly. (The first one has been done to demonstrate.):
• Fog: The grey murkiness; through the misty haze; in the cloudy haze; the soup; etc.
• Happiness
• Anger
• Trust
• Held on
• Heartbroken

8. Lyrical clichés will kill a song faster than you can say Jack Robinson. (See what I did there?) “What goes around, comes around” is a cliché that’s not very interesting. But “What comes around is gone again” has potential. Or you might change “A friend in need is a friend indeed” to “A friend indeed, but what do I need?” Both of those examples turn the original expression around backwards, giving you something that’s a bit more creative. So for a fun improvising activity, Google “The Phrase Finder” website, have a songwriting partner read one of the sayings to a rhythmic beat, and try creating something spontaneously by reversing the order of some of the words. Another example: “Every cloud has a silver lining” might become “My silver lining turned a little cloudy.”

9. Bounce lyrical ideas off a songwriting partner. Sit facing each other, keep a beat by tapping your foot or dialing up a loop. Then one of you speaks out a line, and the other one has to immediately answer it with a line of their own. “I got you, and you got me”… “Anywhere I’m with you is where I wanna be…”

10. Try brainstorming titles. Work as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about clichés, just get a list of titles written that you can consider later. Some titles may just pop into your head with no story behind them at all: “That’s the Way To Do It.” Others may be a bit silly: “George is Going Crazy, and His World’s a Little Hazy.” Later, look through your list, strum a chord, and say the titles with a considerable amount of melodrama and vocal expression. See if melodic ideas pop into your mind.

Happy Birthday, Mr. B!

Today would have been the legendary Billy Eckstine’s 100th birthday! Yesterday, Tom Vitale of All Things Considered did a great segment on the talented and suave musician in which Cary Ginell, author of Mr. B: The Music and Life of Billy Eckstine, is featured. Please enjoy the slideshow below!

 

 

 

Audio courtesy of NPR

Images featured from Mr. B

The Pensado Awards

Last Saturday heralded the very first Pensado Awards show, a show designed to “acknowledge today’s emerging brand of music professionals.” Dave Pensado (a hugely recognized professional mixing engineer) and Herb Trawick, co-hosts of the popular youtube show Pensado’s Place created the event to “celebrate the uncelebrated”, or to acknowledge those in the music industry that go unthanked and unrecognized despite their skills. Nick Messite from Forbes wrote an impressive article about the event, which you can see an excerpt of below. Pensado and Trawick are also the authors of the upcoming publication, The Pensado Papers, coming from Hal Leonard this October. Read the rest of the article here!

How The Pensado Awards Leveled The Playing Field – And Spoke Truth To Power

Last Saturday night, in the ballroom of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, a few hundred people—some of them famous, others far more important than famous—gathered to acknowledge a truth in today’s music industry: the times, to misquote a modern day bard, have a-changed.

Yes, it’s a telling moment when Ron Fair (Chief Creative Officer/Executive Vice President Virgin Records/Capitol Music Group) steps to the podium and proudly proclaims, “This business belongs to the people who love it the most—to the kids not shackled by the old industry models.”

Such a statement—from such a key player—is a powerful validation to the as-of-yet nameless up-and-comers in the music industry; to employ a biblical simile, it’s tantamount to the lion lying down with the lamb.

The venue for this statement was the inaugural Pensado Awards, an event designed to put a public face on those who work behind the scenes in the music industry—men and women who toil in windowless caves for eighty hours a week, who make daily peace with the relative obscurity to which they’ve been relegated, who forego friends and family in favor of deadlines, tinnitus and carpal tunnel syndrome—and who do so, much of the time, to polish the products of pop superstars, many of them vapid and half-talented in nature (in my estimation; no mixing engineer has ever bashed his or her client to me, on or off the record).00120020

But unlike the vast majority of award shows, this ceremony wasn’t about honoring insipid quasi-talents. Instead, the Pensado Awards attempted to give a hand up to the people in this business without whom there would be no business at all: the songwriters, engineers, producers, educators, entrepreneurs, assistants, interns and runners of today and tomorrow (Kendrick Lamar might have been robbed of his Grammy, but he got his Pensado Award).

 

Listen: Stephen Tropiano on Pop Culture Tonight

Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ visits “Pop Culture Tonight with Patrick Phillips” to discuss longest running comedy show on television!

00315538

>>LISTEN HERE<<

 

Television history was made on Saturday, October 11, 1975, at 11:30pm (ET), when Chevy Chase welcomed America to the first episode of a new late-night comedy series. With its cutting edge satire and cast of young, talented performers, Saturday Night Live set a new standard for television comedy while launching the careers of such comedy greats as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.

Saturday Night Live FAQ is the first book to offer the show’s generations of fans everything they ever wanted to know (and may have forgotten) about SNL. Beginning with the show’s creation in the mid-1970s by Lorne Michaels and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, SNL FAQ takes you through the show’s history with an in-depth look at all thirty-eight seasons.

It’s all here – the comedic highlights and low points, memorable hosts and musical guests, controversial moments, and, of course, the recurring characters and sketches, catch phrases, and film shorts that have made SNL the epicenter of American comedy for nearly four decades. SNL FAQ also examines the show’s influence on American culture and includes profiles of over 100 SNL cast members, along with a comprehensive guide detailing every episode.

Brazil, Bossa Nova, and Jobim

With all eyes on Brazil as of late, it seems only fitting to celebrate the Brazilian artists that have made contributions to the musical world. One such artist is Antonio Carlos Jobim, whose innovations triggered the musical phenomenon of bossa nova internationally. Below is a more informative look at the Hal Leonard Book Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man.

“[Tom Jobim] is the great Brazilian artist. He’s our Borges, our Picasso, our Beethoven.”
Veja magazine, São Paolo, Brazil

00333166Antonio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim is known as the king of the bossa nova. His unforgettable songs have been covered by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana, but perhaps never so memorably as by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, who introduced the world to Jobim’s global smash “The Girl from Ipanema.”

Since then the sway and appeal of the bossa nova has been a major influence on jazz, pop, and world music, and at its very heart is Jobim. In Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man, his personal, intellectual, and professional history comes alive in elegant and melodic prose from his sister Helena, a poet and novelist of great range and power. Accompanied by dozens of revealing photos, this book is a surprisingly intimate portrait of one of Latin America’s most widely celebrated musicians. Here we see Jobim not only as an outstanding creative artist who regularly worked with stars such as Frank Sinatra; we see him also a man devoted to his family and as an environmentalist deeply concerned about the state of the natural world, in his beloved Brazil and beyond.

The composer of hundreds of songs of inexplicable grace, Jobim recreated the world he lived in not only through mesmerizing music but also through down-to-earth poetry. In Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man, Helena Jobim brings new life to her brother’s vision and voice. It is the story of a true twentieth-century genius