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.

The SAVI Singing Actor on Dramatic Circumstances

The musical theatre technique blogger, The SAVI Singing Actor, has written a comprehensive review of William Wesbrooks’ Dramatic Circumstances. Check it out!

 

Once upon a time, there was a professor who taught singing actors about how to perform00103894 songs. He worked in a big city at a university with a big reputation, and many students came to study with him. He loved his work; he loved being able to help students, and the things he taught them were genuinely helpful. After awhile, he thought to himself, “Maybe I could help more students if I were to write about the ways I train my students in a book.”

Yes, this is my story, but it’s also the story of Bill Wesbrooks, Director of Vocal Performance at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at NYU. The difference between Bill and me is, he’s actually written the book. It’s called “Dramatic Circumstances,” it was published a few months ago, and it’s a great addition to the literature of singer-actor training.

 

Read the rest HERE
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Harold and Stella: Opening night!

fringeThe two-person play “Harold and Stella: Love Letters” opens at the Hollywood Fringe Festival tonight (Friday). Here are some details from the Festival website…

 

In 1942 Stella Adler (queen of modern acting) and Harold Clurman (dean of American theater) were living on opposite coasts of the country as the U.S. entered the Second World War. They began a steady stream of correspondence to buttress their long distance romance, letters that reveal times as tempestuous as their relationship. Through their words, we enter the lives of two artists unflinchingly committed to their work while struggling through creative, financial and romantic uncertainty.

 

Sheana Ochoa, author of Stella Adler’s new biography, Stella! Mother of Modern Acting will be at each performance to sign copies. Enter discount code “BOOK” to receive a signed copy of the book along with your ticket at the discounted price of $35. Visit the festival website HERE for more details. Hope to see you all there!

Happy Tony’s!

What with the 2014 Tony’s happening this Sunday, there is no better time to brush up on your Broadway trivia! Test your knowledge with a few questions from The Broadway Musical Quiz Book. The answers will be posted next week. The questions we’ve chosen to ask have everything to do with Broadway’s most well-known duo: Rodgers and Hammerstein, of course. Think you know your Broadway stuff? Give it a go!

1) What is there to say about Oklahoma! (1943)? It marked a watershed in musical theatre history. Even poor souls who know next to nothing about musicals have heard of it. Richard Rodgers’ folksy melodies and Oscar Hammerstain’s easy, conversational lyrics helped give this tale of cowboys and farmers its naturalistic feel. Which of the following critters is not found in Oklahoma! (the show, not the state)?

A. a hawk

B. a lark

C. Rams and ewes

D. a field mouse

E. a little brown maverick

 

2) The duo followed Oklahoma!‘s triumph with another success, 19945’s Carousel, based on Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom. Fortunately for Rodgers and Hammerstein (and musical lovers everywhere), Molnár approved many changes to his play, including a drastically softened ending and its relocation from Hungary to New England. During the Boston tryouts, Hammerstein (or director Reuben Mamoulian, depending on which source you read) came up with a new concept for the deity figure: he became “the Starkeeper,” perched on his ladder, polishing the stars. How was this character previously depicted?

A. as a calm sea captain in a celestial boat

B. as a stonecutter

C. as the owner of the mill

D. as Billy’s angelic counterpart, the operator of a heavenly carousel

E. as “Mr. God,” sitting quietly in a New England parlor, with “Mrs. God” playing on the harmonium

 

3) 1949’s South Pacific  returned the pair to the heights, capturing the Pulitzer for drama and running 1,925 performances. based on James Michener’s stories, it concerns the romance between a navy nurse, Nellie Forbush (Mary Martin), and a French plantation owner, Emile de Becque (opera star Ezio Pinza). The subplot involves the tragic love affair of a young officer (William Tabbert) for an island girl (Betta St. John). What does Lt. Cable try to give Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) after he renounces Liat?

A. a boar’s tooth necklace

B. his grandfather’s watch

C. DiMaggio’s glove

D. “fo’ dolla'”

E. a blueberry pie

Happy Birthday, Arthur Conan Doyle!

Arthur Conan Doyle is widely regarded as one of the world’s best storytellers. Although the author dabbled in various vocations during his life, such as medicine and sailing, Conan Doyle showed an inclination towards storytelling since his early childhood that was passed down from his mother. “In my early childhood,” Conan Doyle once remarked, “as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.” This passionate response to fiction grew with Conan Doyle into his teenage years, although the style he developed wasn’t exactly the sophisticated and eloquent one we are most familiar with! This excerpt from Sherlock Holmes FAQ gives some insight into Conan Doyle’s affinity for “Penny Dreadfuls”:

 

00117258It was during his final year at Stoneyhurst [his Catholic school] that Conan Doyle first became aware that his youthful love of storytelling had grown into a teenaged ability to captivate audiences. While editing the school magazine, he also threw himself into the composition of serial stories, lengthy epics of adventure and derring do more appropriate, perhaps, to the pages of a penny dreadful than the august halls of a Jesuit college.

Penny dreadful were the bane of the faculty’s existence, cheap (as their name implies), lurid (ditto) magazines into which the most sensational, shocking, and horrifying fiction imaginable was shoehorned, in bite sized quantities, and every installment ending upon a new note of cliff-hanging calamity, to ensure the reader had no alternative but to return for more in the very next issue.

Fifty years on, radio and movie serials would seize upon a similar notion to keep their audience coming back; today, television offers the same diversion. Different crimes for different climes. In 1870s England, with radio and television still far off in science fiction-land, penny dreadfuls were the public enemy number one. And Conan Doyle discovered that he had a rare talent for writing them.

He read his tales aloud to his audience, seated on a desk while they crouched on a floor around him, spinning out sagas so suspenseful that he would occasionally threaten to end a tale early because he knew his anxious audience would not hesitate to bribe him with apples and cakes, if only he’d read another page.

Still in his teens, Conan Doyle had discovered for himself the secret of great storytelling (if not necessarily great stories). “When I had got as far as… ‘slowly, slowly, the door turned upon its hinges, and with eyes which were dilated with horror the wicked Marquis saw…’ I knew that I had my audience in my power.”

Watch: Inside Look at Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ

 

Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ by Tom DeMichael  (coming this Fall from Applause Books) focuses on films that give audiences two hours where they can forget about their troubles, sit back, crunch some popcorn, and visit worlds never before seen… worlds of robots, time travel, aliens, space exploration, and other far-out ideas. This book takes a look at the genre’s movies from the last 40 years, where the dreams of yesterday and today may become tomorrow’s realities. Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ travels to a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… visits a theme park where DNA-created dinosaurs roam… watches as aliens come to Earth, hunting humans for sport… and much, much more. 

 

David Rothenberg on Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

Fortune in My EyesRubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1967 and spent almost two decades in jail before being exonerated, died on Sunday in Toronto. He was 76.

David Rothenberg writes about meeting Carter at Rahway State Prison in his book, Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion, published by Applause Books.

Here is an excerpt.

* * * * * * *

My visits to the Rahway penitentiary, beginning with my appearances on the inmate radio program, evolved. The prison officials had placed a moratorium on the number of visits afforded me, so—using their prison-acquired inmate wiles—several of the men created a class, which enabled me to return weekly as a teacher. Most of the guys in the class were doing heavy time. Several had been released from Trenton State Prison’s death row after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1972 that declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional…I would arrive on Saturday morning and read the class a page-one story from the morning edition of the New York Times. I would then ask for the students’ reactions to the article. At first the men balked, suggesting that this was not a class. As the teacher, they argued, I should give them my interpretation of the story. I insisted that their opinion of the news event was as valid as mine.

Tommy [Trantino] then challenged me: “Why are you the teacher?”

My answer satisfied them: “I’m the teacher because I’m getting you to think about what is happening in the world, and your personal assessment of a story demands that you think.” In fact, that was my goal. Most of the guys admitted that they were school dropouts and had hated and been intimidated by the classroom and the teachers, who tortured and embarrassed them. If I could create a classroom environment that was nurturing, they might be motivated to take advantage of some of the more traditional and formal classes being offered in the institution, and even aspire to a GED or a college course that might be available. If my class accomplished anything, it was that a few of the men, on their own, did go on to explore other educational opportunities. A few even contacted me upon their release from prison.

There was an intense man, Rubin, always sitting in the front row. Cocoa-skinned, bald, and with glasses, he listened intently but rarely spoke. In the many classes I have taught, I have always looked for that eager face, someone who is soaking up everything even if they are not asking questions. Rubin was particularly responsive when guests would join me. Judge Bruce Wright visited several times—canceling his treasured Saturday morning tennis games to travel with me to Rahway—and fascinated the students with his candor about the courts and racism in our society.

One day after class, Rubin asked if I could call his agent. “Rubin, why do you have an agent?” That seemed an appropriate question to pose to a man situated in a prison. “Of course I will call your agent, but what kind of an agent is this?”

He told me he was writing a book, and I figured, why not? Everyone in here has a story to tell. I asked him to write down her name, address, and phone number, and by the way, “Rubin, what is your full name?”

He said, “Rubin Carter.”

I looked at him for a long minute and asked, “Are you the Rubin Carter called Hurricane?”

“That’s me.”

I never asked last names in the class, nor did I take attendance. It was all voluntary. I had had no idea that the attentive young man in front of me was a former boxing champion.

In 1999, when the movie The Hurricane was released, with Denzel Washington giving a deeply moving and memorable performance in the title role, I had heard that Rubin was going to be in New York City for some promotional interviews for the film. He had long since been cleared and released after several courtroom dramas. I called the film’s publicity department and introduced myself as a host of a weekly radio program on WBAI in Manhattan. I requested an interview with Carter. “Of course,” the condescending and impatient publicist said, “everyone does. We have him scheduled with PBS, GMA”—and some other initials were thrown in.

I listened respectfully and said, “Rubin and I go way back. Why not just ask him and let him make the decision?” The impatient rep conceded to my logic.

Ten minutes later the call came: “Rubin is anxious to appear on your radio program.”

He arrived at the studio on Saturday morning looking like a million dollars, in a nifty suit with a professorial look. I told him that I appreciated his joining me, and he said, “David, you were there when no one else was. We can’t forget where we came from. By the way, you were taller then.”

“No, Rubin, I was standing up and you were sitting down. Now it’s the reverse.”

He was living in Canada, working with the Innocence Project and delivering inspiring lectures. He and Tommy Trantino had bonded in Rahway, and theirs was a dramatic demonstration that black and white guys could work together to give inmates a united voice. Because both men were charismatic and had respect from other prisoners, they were able to create some alterations in the traditional apartheid of the joint they were in.

Both Rubin and Tommy rejoined the human race in spite of prison’s attempt to dehumanize them.

 

 

Nicholas Nigro on his Spirituality series

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Nicholas Nigro, author of The Spirituality of Bono, The Spirituality of Carlos Santana, and The Spirituality of Richar Gere has kindly given us a short piece he has written on his new series:

* * * * * * * *

The Backbeat Spirituality Series

 

Inaugurating the Backbeat Spirituality Series are three celebrities from decidedly different backgrounds: Carlos Santana, Richard Gere, and Paul David Hewson, better known as Bono. With each man approaching matters worldly and otherworldly from his own unique perspective, it’s the ideal mix of personalities to kick off these compendiums of inspirational quotations.

“Spirituality to me is like water,” Carlos Santana opines. “Religions are like Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, wine, beer, or whatever. But spirituality is what’s going to save you in the battle.” Singer, guitarist extraordinaire, and unrepentant hippie, Carlos is wont to retreat to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood every now and then to reminisce about the high-minded social activism of the 1960s, which remains so dear to his heart.
“The universe is—simply that,” actor, activist, and devout Buddhist Richard Gere muses. “It’s our job to make it meaningful.” Always and every day, Richard endeavors to do just that as he tirelessly crusades for human rights and kibitzes with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, when time and circumstances allow.
“We’ve got to follow through on our ideals,” Bono preaches. “Or we betray something at the heart of who we are.” The singer, songwriter, and humanitarian is most definitely a power-of-example in this regard as he indefatigably travels the world on behalf of the poor and the suffering in faraway places. Bono is a steadfast voice for the voiceless, and a very vociferous one at that.
The individual titles in the Spirituality Series furnish readers with a thorough compilation of quotations—on a broad spectrum of life questions—from the mouths of their fascinating subjects: Carlos Santana, Richard Gere, and Bono. Gleaned from interviews, speeches, and myriad media appearances, their reflections and observations on so many things—from spirituality to humanitarianism to the artist’s life—are in these books. Their contemplative takes on the meaning of life—and making the most of it—are simultaneously interesting, insightful, and food for thought.
While Carlos Santana, Richard Gere, and Bono have distinct worldviews—from having ventured down varied life paths—they have an awful lot in common, too, including a penchant for speaking their minds come what may.

The Spirituality of Carlos Santana (9781480355453)
The Spirituality of Bono (9781480355460)
The Spirituality of Richard Gere (9781480355477)
April 8, 2014
$14.99
Hardcover
4 1/2″ x 6″
Two-color
104 pages

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nicholas Nigro_Au_PhotoNicholas Nigro is a freelance writer and the author of multiple books in a variety of fields. From spirituality to science and medicine, popular culture to pets and animals, his publishing credits span a wide gamut of topics and appeal to an eclectic swath of readers. He lives in New York City.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY (TOMORROW), WILLIAM SHATNER!

Star Trek FAQTomorrow, William Shatner will turn 83, and to celebrate, we’d like to dip into Mark Clark’s indispensable guide to all matters pertaining to the first voyages of the Starship Enterprise, Star Trek FAQ (Unofficial and Authorized).  In this excerpt, Clark writes about the circuitous route Gene Roddenberry took to settling on Shatner as his captain.

* * * * * * *

While Roddenberry struggled to develop a teleplay that would meet NBC’s demands, Star Trek was dealt another serious blow: Jeffrey Hunter wanted out. Hunter, who had starred in the [the first pilot] “The Cage” as Captain Christopher Pike, was under contract to appear in the series if the original pilot sold but not to appear in the unforeseen second pilot. The actor was unhappy with “The Cage” and ambivalent about moving out of feature films and into a full-time job on television. The show’s leadership had no recourse than to let him go, leaving Star Trek without a star. Selecting Hunter had been a long and arduous process. Among the forty names submitted for the role by one casting consultant were Hunter, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, George Segal, Jack Lord, and William Shatner. The list was eventually whittled down to a group of five that included James Coburn in addition to Hunter. NBC asked Roddenberry to consider Patrick McGoohan and Mel Ferrer, but neither were serious candidates. Now, with Hunter out of the picture, Roddenberry, Desilu production chief Herb Solow, and casting director Joe D’Agosta went back to the forty-name original list and reconsidered their options.

            The team settled on Jack Lord as their top choice. Lord (the stage name of John Joseph Patrick Ryan) had appeared in more than a dozen films and guest starred on scores of television series but, in 1965, was best recognized for his turn as CIA agent Felix Leiter in the first James Bond Film, Dr. No (1962). Roddenberry offered the captaincy of the Starship Enterprise to Lord but balked when the actor asked to produce as well as star and demanded an astronomical 50 percent profit participation in the program. Roddenberry moved on, and so did Lord. In 1968, the actor agreed to star in Hawaii Five-O, which ran for 12 seasons and 279 episodes (200 more than Trek). For appearing as Detective Steve McGarrett—whose signature catchphrase “Book ’em, Danno” quickly entered the popular vernacular—Lord received one-third profit participation. When series creator Leonard Freeman died in 1974, Lord took over as executive producer and gained complete creative control over the series.

            After scratching Lord’s name off his list, Roddenberry turned to a Canadian actor with a resume not dissimilar to Lord’s—William Shatner. Shatner was stinging from the mid-season cancellation of his first television series, the courtroom drama For the People. Despite the failure of that program, Shatner remained recognizable to TV viewers as a frequent guest star on other shows—by 1965, he had racked up appearances on 45 television series, some on multiple occasions, not counting appearances on stage and in feature films. Casting director D’Agosta told Roddenberry biographer David Alexander that in 1965 Shatner “had the same thrust going for him that Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen did.” Clearly, Shatner would be the show’s star (or so he thought), and his agent negotiated a star’s contract. Shatner received $5,000 per week plus 20 percent of that salary for the first five reruns of each episode, as well as 20 percent profit participation. He was an inspired choice to play Trek’s new starship captain. His zesty, upbeat approach to the role helped supply the energy boost NBC felt the program needed.

 

DRAMATIC CIRCUMSTANCES AND THE SCIENCE OF ACTING

Dramatic CircumstancesWilliam Wesbrooks studied psychology, theatre, and music in preparation for his theatrical career, which, in its 40 years, has encompassed performing, directing, playwriting, and teaching.  In his new book, Dramatic Circumstances, Wesbrooks shows how actors can “live inside” the stories they tell in a way that brings them to life for them and their audience.

 In a recent article in The Atlantic, titled “How Actors Create Emotions: A Problematic Psychology,” Judith Ohikuare writes that “fully inhabiting the mind, mannerisms, and reality of a fictional character can be as alienating as it is rewarding.”Here, Wesbrooks looks at where acting intersects with brain science and psychology.

 The acting process presented in Dramatic Circumstances can have a significant impact on the way singers and actors tell their stories, and I think that brain science offers intriguing insights into why that process works.

* * * * * * *

            Brain science is an ever-growing field of study that endeavors to address any number of mental, emotional, and physical issues that trouble many people, and I realize that applying that science to the study of acting may appear somewhat frivolous. However, in the best of worlds actors tell stories about what it is to be human, and I believe that we are all better off because these stories get told. It only follows that these stories have greater impact when they are told truthfully, in a manner that really looks inside human behavior and the human condition.

            Years ago I was told that the subconscious mind has no sense of humor. This struck me then as an extremely useful idea when applied to the art and craft of acting, and it has proved invaluable in the development of the dramatic circumstance process. The ideas we plant in our subconscious mind are, as far as that particular part of our mind is concerned, true.

            In a New Yorker article (“Head Case: Can Psychiatry Be a Science?” March 10, 2010) Dr. Louis Menand wrote, “The brains of people who are suffering from mild depression look the same on a scan as the brains of people whose football team has just lost the Super Bowl. They even look the same as the brains of people who have been asked to think sad thoughts [italics mine].”

            I believe that an actor’s subconscious mind evokes responses and inspires action in circumstances that are entirely imaginary because key components of the actor’s brain do not realize that those circumstances are, in fact, imaginary.While it is certainly not necessary for actors to understand brain function in order to live truthfully “inside the stories we tell”, I find it a compelling way to think about acting. 

            It is certainly something worth exploring.