Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A to Z Challenge - Z is for.....

Shhhh. I'm taking a nap. Can't you see the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzs scrolling across the screen?

I think all of us who participated in the month-long challenge are ready for a nap. It has been a lot of fun to be part of this, but for those of us who don't normally post every day, it definitely was a challenge.

The other reason I am sleepy is the fact that I got up this morning with a pain in my back that makes it hard to even walk. I did try to walk it off when I first got up, but that didn't work so I took a muscle relaxant. That type of medicine and I do not work well together. It makes me incredibly sleepy, and when I have these flare-ups I usually have to just spend a day reclining and feeling woozy. So, without further ado....
This pencil sketch was done by Carmen Beecher, and artist who blogged one day about her aching back. I found the drawing when I went looking for something to illustrate this post. She has some lovely art for sale on her site.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A to Z Challenge - Y is for Yo-Yo

Not the wooden toy on a string, although people are much more familiar with the toy than a yo-yo in theatre. A theatrical yo-yo is a device that moves a Gobo to give the effect of movement on stage that is part of the set design.

Okay, this was another one of those  huh? moments, as I had no idea what either term meant until I looked it up on Theatrecrafts - Entertainment Technology Resources.  There I found out that a Gobo is a metal plate that has a design etched into it that is then projected by a spotlight. Perhaps the bat that is always projected into the sky by Batman is a Gobo. Anyone know?

This kind of projection is used in theatre to create scenes instead of painting backdrops. This can range from trees and plants, windows, an buildings. Often these images are muted somewhat, giving them a slightly out-of-focus effect, so what is in front of them stands out. It would be great to have that ability to create scenes with lighting in our little theatre, but first we'd have to actually have a space big enough to even build a set. Sigh.... How I dream.

When I was reading about the Gobo, it was interesting to see how some people thought the word originated. One possibility has it that in the early days of Hollywood, when the director of photography wanted to block out daylight he'd tell the crew to "Go Black Out". The crew would then hurry to put up black curtains to block the sun.

In filming for feature film or television, a Gobo has a slightly different role. It is a piece of material used to mask or block light that is placed in front of a lantern. Sometimes it is referred to as a Shadow Mask. When lighting an indoor scene for filming there are lights placed in many areas around the setting and sometimes when the camera angle changes, one of the lights can be in the shot, or too strong for the shot. The director may tell the crew to "Gobo that light" to fix the problem.

This will be the last of my A to Z posts dealing with theatre. I hope you have enjoyed learning more about playwrights and how their work translates to stage as much as I have. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A to Z Challenge - X is for a Cute Children's Book

Most of us doing the A to Z blog Challenge have a few letters we wish would leave the alphabet; q, x, and z being the three that can be the most challenging. A children's author, Marvin Mayer, has attempted to help us out with his picture book, The Day That X Ran Away.


According to the description of the book online, the letter X is distressed to find that there are only sixty three words beginning with him (X.) He decides that since he is so insignificant, he'll run away and let the other letters try to make words without him. He is surprised to discover that he is needed to complete words started by his twenty five friends.

I've read the book - what can I say, I'm a sucker for children's picture books - and it is a delightful story. The illustrations are cute and perfectly bring the story to life. Beneath the surface, there is a nice lesson about how we are all important, no matter how insignificant we may feel. That is a truism we all need to hear now and then, as we sometimes measure ourselves against others and come up short.

It's a little late for the book to help any of the bloggers doing the Challenge, but you might want to get it to have on hand for next year. Or you could get it as a gift for some young person in your life. They are sure to enjoy it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A to Z Challnge - W is for Where?

As in, "where is my computer?"

My PC started making a lot of noise yesterday,  right when I was about to get started on my 1000 words for the day on my new book. Isn't that always the way? The noise, as I explained to my son who is a computer techie, not a theatre techie, sounded like the engine of a jet plane revving up for take off. "Not good," my techie son responded. "That could be a fan getting ready to shut down, and bad, bad things happen to a computer if a fan goes out."

Since my son lives too far away to come a fix my computer at a moment's notice, it is in a local computer fix-it shop, hopefully getting fixed.  That also means all my files and pictures are also at the shop, and I have nothing on my little back-up notebook with which to do my regular blog post for the Challenge.

This has nothing to do with the topic. Just a pretty wildflower that blooms in my yard.

So, I will just share with you a couple of things from the newspaper. First, a few weeks ago I read an item in the Dallas Morning News about the city's response to a homeowners attemt to save water. Burton Knight lives in the Junius Heights Historic District of the city, and the city's Landmark Commission has ruled that his yard is not "historically appropriate."

Knight, who has a horticulture degree from Texas A &M, planted his yard in cactus and native plants that thrive in heat and drought. That was his contribution to water conservation that is vital in Texas, but the Commission  After several years of drought, we need to be looking at ways to ensure that we do not face a serious water crisis. Replacing the lush lawns of so many homes and businesses with landscaping that does not require millions of gallons of water to thrive seems like a good place to start. And what could be more historically accurate than the native plants that have grown in Texas for hundreds of years?
 So that's my rant for the day. Now, here is some fun from the comics:

This is from Pearls Before Swine. Rat is telling Goat, "I've concluded that the key to living an ethical life is to always pause before I do anything and ask myself that key moral question."

"Which is what;"

"Can I get away with it?"

"I don't think that's moral."

"Well, not if you get caught."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A to Z Challenge - V is for Vamp

I  wasn't sure what I would find for the letter V that would connect to my theatre theme, unless I went with video. But, of course, video is not part of live theatre, unless you have someone come and tape your performance and put it on DVDs. Which we do sometimes, so that could have worked. However, I did find some interesting words when I did a search for theatrical terms beginning with the letter "v".

First is  VAMP
In theatre a vamp is a repeating musical section played until the performer is ready, and it was most commonly used during the age of Vaudeville. Anybody remember that? We had several Vaudeville type shows at our community theatre in the past, and they were always quite a bit of fun. In the 1930s and 1940s, sheet music often had a notation, "Vamp till ready", which meant the accompanist should repeat the musical phrase until the vocalist was ready. 

Sheet music may not have that notation anymore, but if you listen carefully during a live concert you can often catch a vamp as a performer prepares to start a song.

I was more familiar with the word "vamp" as it referred to a woman who would tease and flirt with men, but in looking in the regular dictionary, I found another meaning that was a surprise. A vamp is a part of a shoe or boot, an upper part that covers "....the forepart of the foot and sometimes also extending forward over the toe or backward to the back seam of the upper." 

  I probably did not know that, as it was more commonly used in the 14th century. 

The Toes Know
Also known as Distancing Effect or Alienation Effect, this is a concept coined by Bertholt Brecht "which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer."

Huh? I copied the definition from the online source Theatrecrafts - Entertainment Technology Resources because I have no idea what the definition even means. Any ideas? Anyone want to guess on a pronunciation?

I am so glad it does not mean what I first thought when I read the word. We have had occasions when a player got such a bad case of opening-night- nerves that he had to make a quick trip to the  restroom. Before I read the definition, I wondered if professional theatres have some kind of container backstage for just such an occurrence. 

Nope. A vomitory is an exit or entrance into or out of an auditorium through banked seating from below. The word dates back to Roman times, and was an architectural feature of coliseums.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Memories - Sweet Memories

For the A to Z Challenge my theatrical word for today is understudy, of which we have none in our little theatrical troupe. It's awfully hard to perform on stage when you are sick, and I always worry that one of our cast members will come down with something awful on opening night. So far we have been lucky and never had to cancel a performance, but there have been a few times we have struggled through.

And now, please help me welcome my Wednesday's Guest, Kerry Letheby. Kerry is the author of Mine to Avenge, an epic saga, and she is here to share some of her favorite childhood books and movies.

Returning to my favorite childhood books and movies

For some years I have been on a personal quest to find and buy the movies and books I loved as a child. I’ve recently begun wondering why it’s important to me to find them and whether they have influenced who I am.

I have found that such a quest isn’t unique, knowing two friends who are doing the same thing. One of them said something that kindled my thoughts about this. She said that her favorite books had given her comfort and security when she was sad, lonely or frightened.

I immediately recognized my own motivation in her words. Each time I add another book or movie to the collection, I reclaim part of my childhood, with things that comforted me during times that might not have been so happy.

We know that books and movies communicate to us as adults, but it’s not that easy to explain exactly how or why they do. I struggled recently to tell someone how Les Miserables communicates to me, and why I love it so much.

Children find it much harder to articulate emotion and feelings than adults, because of their shorter life experience, so it is impossible to expect them to explain the effect a book or movie has on them. As a child, I remember being deeply in touch with my emotions when reading or watching a movie. My mother often found me crying profusely in front of the Lassie TV series but I certainly didn’t want her to turn it off.

When we were young, our parents might not have always picked up on our feelings because of our inability to articulate them, but the right movie or book at the right time met that emotional need. I suspect that my favorite movies and books became my favorites because they touched me at a time when nothing else did, in a way that made sense to me. They connected with me so powerfully that I have a subconscious desire to live that experience again.

This also accounts for other things I’ve chosen to keep - some of my sons’ books and toys. My years as a young mother were such happy years, and holding on to some of my sons’ favorites is a way of reliving a time I’ll never have again.

As I have only written one novel to date, it’s probably too soon to conclude whether these movies or books have influenced my writing, but I can’t discern any links at all, so maybe the question about any influence on my writing will have to wait a little longer.

However, I have still another unresolved question. Is my reaching back to the past a pursuit of the happy feelings the books and movies evoked, or is it an admission that I am feeling sad and vulnerable in some way, and am reaching out to what helped me deal with these feelings in the past?

As I look at the influence of these books and movies on my adult life, I see some connections, but with most, the connection remains a mystery. I have listed some below where the link is obvious to me.

So how have some of my favorites affected me?

A is for Apple Pie by Kate Greenaway - I have become a calligrapher as well as an author. I just love alphabets and fancy lettering

Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman - I just love pancakes with melted butter.

Old black and white movies starring greats such as Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Gregory Peck -
these have given me a romantic, idealized view of Europe, particularly Paris, and have affected my home décor which is 20s/30s Paris apartment style. I am finally getting the opportunity to visit Paris for the first time at the end of the year.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A to Z Challenge - T is for Techie

While what the actors do on stage is vital to the success of a show, what goes on behind the scenes is just as important. Professional theatres have technical crews that handle lights, sound, and any special effects. Community theatres don't often have the luxury of an entire technical crew, and at our theatre that is especially true.

For our last production, however, we had two people volunteer to do sound and lights, and what is really wonderful is that they would like to form a tech crew. Hopefully that can happen. Bruce, who volunteered to make a soundtrack and run sound has professional experience, and he was able to do so much more than put tracks on a CD. He had a computer system very similar to this:

While Bruce did not seem to care, most professional technicians do not like to be called "techies."I didn't know that until I did some research.

The tech crew in professional theatres are led by a TECHNICAL DIRECTOR, sometimes referred to as the TD. The TD  co-ordinates all technical aspects of the production, organizing tech calls, ordering equipment, and working with the set designers. Sometimes the stage manager will wear two hats and assume the responsibilities of the TD. In community theatre many roles overlap, as we don't have designated TDs or set designers, so the entire troupe pitches in to get a show mounted.

At some point, all shows should have a TECHNICAL REHEARSAL, more commonly called the TECH RUN. Ideally, the last week of rehearsals will include all tech elements to make sure everything is coordinated between lights, sound, and what is happening on stage. Little things, like the sound of a train coming after the actor has said, "Here comes the train from Boston," have to be caught and fixed before opening night.

I did not know there was an official term for it, but I always meet with the tech people and go through the scripts for each one, talking about all the sound and light cues. This is called a PAPER TECH session, and it is most often held separately from the regular rehearsal schedule. Prior to the session, I go through the scripts marking all the cues. For this last production, I had a light designer who did that for the lighting script, and it was such a relief not to have that responsibility. For one thing, I am not a lighting designer by any stretch, and I did not need one more thing to do.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A to Z Challenge - S is for STOP

 In honor of Earth Day, I am switching from my theatre theme to write about something that is of great environmental importance. Those of you who have read my blog for some time know that I have written frequently about the XL Keystone Pipeline and all the reasons it is bad for our country.

Even though the infrastructure for the north/south route of the pipeline - which will stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast - has been under construction for sometime, final approval by the U.S. State Department has not been given.

In an article in the Huffington Post, Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, listed several good reasons for why that approval should not be given. In the article, she described the process of mining for the tar sands oil that devastates areas as large as Chicago in Canada's boreal forest. It takes at least two tons of sand to get a single barrel of tar sands crude called bitumen, a low-grade, high-sulphur hydrocarbon that takes considerably more refining to be turned into fuel.

According to Beinecke, "Producing tar sands crude is so energy intensive that it generates up to 4.5 times more climate-changing carbon emissions as the production of conventional crude oil. In fact, producing, refining and burning tar sands the KXL pipeline would increase our carbon footprint as much as putting up to 4.3 million additional cars on the road, the Congressional Research Service reported last month."

That's even before considering the environmental impact of spills when pipes break, and they will, no doubt about that. It's already happened in Kalamazoo, MI, where the Kalamazoo river was contaminated when the Eastern leg of the pipeline has been in place for some time.

I first heard about the XL pipeline three years ago when several local landowners formed an action group STOP Tarsands Oil Pipeline to formulate a plan to lobby against the pipeline, which is coming through some of the prettiest land in East Texas. One landowner, who has natural springs on his property that feed a creek so clean you can drink directly from it, did not want the pipeline to come through because of the potential for contaminating the water.
One of the clear, clean pools in East Texas
That concern is magnified when you consider the pipeline is slated to cross the major water tables in the heartland of America, as well as aquifers in North and East Texas. A leak would contaminate those water systems for hundreds of years.

There is another issue at play here, and that is the use of Eminent Domain to acquire the land for the pipeline if owners refuse to sell. Eminent Domain is only supposed to be used if the property taken is somehow going to have a large enough benefit that it trumps ownership. Those in favor of the pipeline say that the tarsands oil will reduce the price of gasoline in the U.S. Wrong. The oil will go into foreign markets first.

If you would like to meet some of the East Texas people who have been impacted by this, here is a link to Land Owners Against Trans Canada Pipeline. If you would like to join the cause, there are links on that site for sending feedback to President Obama and others to ask them not to approve the pipeline.

And if you would like to celebrate Earth Day with something just for fun, you can check out the Google doodle for today. It is very clever.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Review: Mine to Avenge by Kerry Letheby

Mine to Avenge
Kerry Letheby
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Kerry Letheby (October 16, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0646579142
ISBN-13: 978-0646579146

This is a sweeping generational saga with a mystery that touches all the lives of the people in the story. I will have to admit that I was so busy during March and the first couple of weeks of April with the production at our community theatre, that I did not have time to read the entire book, but I did read enough to be able to say there is some good writing here. I think this story will appeal to people who enjoy a saga that covers several generations that are all connected by more than just blood.

Here is the product description from Amazon:

When Alcandor is blamed for the tragic death of his friend’s sister in Greece in 1940, little does he know of the repercussions this will have for him and his family for the next seventy years. Unable to forgive himself, and wanting to give his young family a new start, Alcandor leaves Greece and brings his family to settle in the Riverland of South Australia in 1948. Although Greece and his past are far behind him, Alcandor harbours a terrible secret and he remains a fearful man. 

Alcandor subdues his fear, and he and his family adapt to an idyllic life of freedom and opportunity. However, eighteen years after leaving Greece, Alcandor learns that his past has caught up with him. His family needs to know the truth, but circumstances tragically intervene before he can warn them. Years later, Alcandor’s sons show signs of odd behavior hinting at possible mental instability, before disappearing without a trace. And in the next generation, Alcandor’s grandson exhibits the same strange behaviour not long before he is killed in the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It is not until 2010 that Alcandor’s great- granddaughter, Alethea, discovers that there is far more behind her family’s tragic history than mental illness, and little does she know that the threat against her family is much closer than she realises, and very far from over.

The author is going to be my guest on Wednesday, so I hope you will come back and make her feel welcome.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A to Z Challenge - R is for Radio, Rain Box, Redhead and Run

I had so much fun yesterday checking out all the pages at Theatrecrafts, I thought I would go back again and see what they had to offer for the letter "r". There were a lot more entries than for "q", so I picked just a few to mention here.

In theatre terminology a RADIO MIC means something totally different.
Device consisting of a microphone head, transmitter pack with batteries, aerial and mains receiver unit which allows actors and singers to be amplified with no visible means of connection. Almost universally used in musicals where the singers have to be amplified to be heard over the orchestra / band. Used in non-musical shows for sound reinforcement.

Some of my players at our community theatre keep asking when we will get some of these mics, and I tell them as soon as we find an "angel" to help support us. Then maybe we will have real stage lights, too.

A box or tray containing dried peas etc which produces a rain sound effect when inclined

We have never used a Rain Box, but we did come up with some interesting sound effects for our production of "War of the Worlds" last fall that we staged as a 1940s radio show. The sound of a dead body falling was made by dropping a duffle bag that had a bowling ball in it.

Audience seating area which is sloped, with it's lowest part nearest the stage.

A sloping stage which is raised at the back (upstage) end. All theatres used to be built with raked stages as a matter of course. Today, the stage is often left flat and the auditorium is raked to improve the view of the stage from all seats. 


We have neither a raked stage or a raked auditorium. Our stage is flat, which helps because we do not have to cut off part of the legs of our furniture when we set the stage. Imagine what would happen on a raked stage if a chair was not put in the right spot during a quick set change. Our set up is more like the Black Box Theatre arrangement mentioned in yesterday's post.

800W open-faced adjustable flood lamp used in film / TV lighting. So-called because of it's red paint finish. See also BLONDE.

I thought it was so interesting that these lights were named for hair coloring. Alas, we have no redheads or blondes in our lighting scheme. We do have colored gels that are sometimes put over a light for effect.

1) A sequence of performances of the same production. (e.g. 'How long is the run of this show?' or 'This show runs for two weeks')
2) A rehearsal of the whole show or a section of it (e.g.'This afternoon's rehearsal will be a run of Act II followed by notes'). Run-throughs early in the rehearsal schedule are sometimes known as STAGGERS as actors are unsure of their lines.

I had never heard the term "Staggers" before, but it is very appropriate. Sometimes even for the actual run. Often lines are dropped during a performance and good actors will improvise and get the show back on track. I thought this only happened in amateur productions, but I have found out that it happens to the professionals as well. A good player can work around the dropped line, or lines, and the audience is non the wiser. Unless they come to every performance and take notes. (smile)

Friday, April 19, 2013

A to Z Challenge - Q is for ?

I was delighted to find a number of words beginning with the lettter "q" that were related to theatre in some way. Often this is a hard letter for those of us doing the A to Z Challenge. As are the letters "x" and "z", but I'll worry about them later.

Anyway, thanks to the Internet, I found a website, TheatreCrafts, that has a glossary of theatre terms. Guess where I will be checking for words at the end of the month. (smile)

Here are the words I found today.

A sound system which uses four independent speakers (or sets of speakers). The fore-runner of today's Surround Sound. See Stereophonic.

I do dream of the day we will have more than one speaker and an elementary sound board. Then maybe we can surround the audience with the music that adds so much to a production.

Call given backstage by Stage Management 20 minutes before the start of the show (15 minutes before 


We are not so formal in our alerts to the players. Mainly because we often do not have a specific stage manager. Actors arrive an hour before curtain time to get into costumes and do makeup, then we have a little pep talk. Just before curtain time, I, or my assistant director tell the players, beginners, to get in place for act one.


Another dream of mine is to have a real light system.  While the technical side of theatre is not my strength, I do know that lights, along with the soundtrack, can add so much to a performance. We have always done the best we could within our limitations, but it would be nice to not have limitations. 

A change of costume that needs to happen very quickly takes place close to the side of the stage. Costume designers need to know about the need for a quick change so that the costume is made incorporating elements such as velcro and zips rather than buttons. A quick change room is often erected at the side of the stage to enable changes to take place in privacy.

This is probably only true for professional theatre. None of the community theatres I have worked in had anything like this. Nor did they have costume designers. Coming up with costumes is usually the responsibility of the player, with suggestions from the director, and often other players.  For quick changes in some of our productions, the player could step behind a black flat at the side of the stage where everyone waits to make an entrance. They all turn their backs while the player makes the change. If he or she needs assistance, one or two other players helps.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A to Z Challenge - P is for Proscenium

Unless you have had any association with live theatre, you probably have no idea what a proscenium is. I know I did not before I started playing on stage, but simply put it is the area at the front of the stage facing the audience. The arch over that area creates a "window" around the scenery and performers. In Roman theatre there was no arch, and the term proscenium just meant "in front of the scenery".

The interior of the Auditorium Building in Chicago built in 1887. The rectangular frame around the stage is the proscenium "arch".
The front of the stage that faces the audience is referred to as the the fourth wall, which places an invisible barrier between the actors and the audience. Most plays respect that fourth wall, never involving the audience in what is going on, other than as spectators. However, there are some, like Thornton Wilder's Our Town that breaks that fourth wall, a process that is sometimes referred to as "breaking the proscenium."

When we staged Our Town recently, I was faced with a number of challenges as a director. First, we have no proscenium, and many of the suggested stage movements called for the character of the Stage Manager to use a proscenium pillar as a resting place when his monologue was finished and action was about to take place. So my assistant director and I had to figure out where the Stage Manager could go and be out of the way.
The talented John Milligan as the Stage Manager. He found a place to stand.
We also have a very small stage, so that presented another challenge in terms of having two homes set up for the Webb's and the Gibb's families, as well as areas for other action to take place without having to do set changes. We did manage to get it all worked out, and it is to the credit of my wonderful cast and crew that we were able to do tribute to Mr. Wilder's fantastic play.

Are you familiar with other staging configurations?  What do you think an "alley" stage is? Have you been to a "Black Box" theatre?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday's Guest - Arleen Alleman

I have to take a break from the A to Z posts as I goofed when scheduling guests and forgot to reserve the month of April for A to Z posts. If I had my wits about me, I would have scheduled the guests on the day their name fit the alphabet letter, but I have not had my wits about me for some time. So I apologize for any inconvenience, and I guess I could use this as "o" is for ooops.

Anyway, please help me welcome Arleen Alleman, as today's Wednesday's Guest. Arleen has quite a background working with the U.S. Accountability Office, and more recently has started a mystery series. I'll let her tell you more.

I'm jealous. Arleen got to do a book-signing on a ship.
I love to hear stories about people who try new things later in life. I’m a firm believer in diving into new endeavors and I know firsthand that it’s never too late to learn something new. About four years ago, I suddenly realized that I too had one of those stories to tell.

It begins with a vivid fifty-two year old memory of a warm New Hampshire day in a wooded backyard, where my contractor father built a sturdy tree house on stilts for my brother and me. I climbed up the ladder through the trap door, and settled onto a bench with a can of orange soda and a volume of Edgar Allan Poe. I don’t remember where that particular book came from, but at age fourteen I was already an avid reader. I do remember having the thought that being a novelist must be the most wonderful job in the world, since they can turn their imaginations loose and can work almost anywhere. This thought resurfaced from time to time over many subsequent years, but did not blossom into reality.

After graduating high school in Nevada, I briefly considered a career in journalism, but life took different turns as is often the case. Following stints as a fashion model and insurance adjuster, and after a divorce, I moved my two young sons to Colorado, where I finally went to college to study science—a great love of my life. Then I went on to enjoy a fascinating career as an analyst with the U.S. Government Accountability Office. There, I conducted in depth studies and prepared reports to the Congress on many diverse topics ranging from satellite systems and health care to endangered species, to name a few.

After retiring from that position, I studied jewelry design and spent five years creating silver sculptures—wearable art. I sold my creations in shops and galleries, and then opened my own little shop specializing in home décor. At the same time, my husband and I were discovering the world of cruising and soon found that we loved that mode of travel.

With time to think about what I wanted to do next, I turned to that ancient dream of being a writer, which had been tucked away in the back of my mind for nearly a lifetime. Using the cruise ships and sea ports as backdrops as well as my government work and other life experiences, I decided to dive into a new current, as my protagonist Darcy would say. I sat down one day and started to write.

Before I knew it, I had a published novel, Currents Deep and Deadly, the first Darcy Farthing adventure novel. The book features a strong female protagonist with edgy controversial views and a shipboard murder mystery with lots of travel and a little romance and family drama along the way. Somehow, taking it a day at a time, I had completed a frustrating learning curve on the processes of self-publishing a book and the basics of marketing. Both of which were more daunting than the writing itself. Over the last three years I’ve added two more novels in the series; Currents of Vengeance and Current Assets. The fourth, Alternate Currents, will be out this summer.

When I talk with people at book signings at Barnes and Noble stores, and on board cruise ships, the conversations often turn to trying something new later in life. Many people express the desire to write a book and it would be great if my journey encouraged people to just go out and try something they’ve always thought about doing. I have also met many new authors who, like me, are in their sixties and beyond. It seems that the world of self-publishing has opened up many opportunities for seniors to pursue dreams that might not have been possible otherwise. For that I am grateful.

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Author Darcy Farthing is writing at her new home in Marco Island, Florida while her boyfriend Mick Clayton conducts a GAO investigation of government property—asset forfeitures—stolen from under the noses of U.S. Marshals and a sheriff’s office. When close friend, Tom Smythe, is arrested for attempted murder of a deputy sheriff, the couple tries to identify who is behind the property thefts and corruption. When more deputies are attacked, Darcy and Mick are drawn into a bewildering government investigation and an alarming web of murder and conspiracy with a surprising link to Middle East terrorists; as well as a smuggling operation on a luxury yacht. As they inch closer to identifying a vicious murderer, the violence hits close to home when desperate criminals target Darcy and her already troubled daughter, Rachael.

Readers can visit Arleen’s Web site  and find her on Twitter @aallemanwrites, or on Facebook as Arleen Alleman.

The books can be purchased on booksellers’ Web sites, such as
Amazon.com; http://tinyurl.com/c54h4u9
Barnesandnoble.com; http://tinyurl.com/c7ze451
Xlibris Publisher’s book store; http://tinyurl.com/89e62dk

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A to Z Challenge - N is for Norman

Today I thought I would feature another female playwright who has amassed considerable critical acclaim.

Marsha Norman was born in Kentucky in 1947, and she got her start writing for the Actor's Theatre of Louisville. It was there that her first play, Getting Out, was produced. At the time, Norman had been working with disturbed adolescents at the Central State Hospital in Kentucky, and she drew on that experience to write a play about a woman who has been in prison and how she deals with life afterward.

 I found that bit of information interesting, as I drew on my background as a hospital chaplain when I wrote my first play, There Is A Time. Sometimes experiences or certain people just beg to be dramatized.

After her success with her first play, Norman moved to New York, but she continued to write for the Louisville theatre. She produced a full-length play, Circus Valentine in 1979. Another play, 'night, Mother, became her biggest success on Broadway and in film. This play dealt with the topic of suicide and won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as other notable awards including the Drama Desk Award.

Her next dramatic play was not as well received. In fact, Traveller in the Dark received such negative  reviews from the New York critics, Norman stopped writing serious drama and wrote for musical theatre. She wrote the book and lyrics for the musical version of The Secret Garden, for which she won a Tony Award for Best Book in 1991. Other notable contributions to musical theatre included writing the book and lyrics for the musical The Red Shoes, as well as the libretto for the musical version of The Color Purple which opened in 2005.

When my first play was produced here in our community theatre, I was blown away by the experience of seeing my story come to life. I'm sure Marsha Norman must have felt the same way when her first production was mounted, and maybe she still does feel a special thrill on opening night even after all her success.

On another note, today I am a guest on Terry Odell's terrific blog, Terry's Place, where I share one of my most embarrassing moments while doing research, as well as what I would feed Abraham Lincoln if we could have dinner together. Hop on over if you have a moment, and check out Terry's books while you are there. She is a terrific writer.

Also, I want to remind everyone about the free teleclass coming up this week. What is your creative "tango tenacity" that can help you address your time challenges? During the teleclass you will receive tips and advice that will help you gain a new perspective on using time. "Time Tango 2013" will be held on April 18 by Marney Makridakis, bestselling author of the book, Creating Time SIGN UP HERE 

Monday, April 15, 2013

A to z Challenge - M is for Miller

Not Maryann Miller, although I have written several plays that have been produced in local community theatres, but Arthur Miller, who is considered one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century. His career spanned over seven decades and he wrote plays, screenplays and books.

Miller, who was born in 1915, studied at the University of Michigan, where he majored in journalism. There he worked as a reporter and night editor for the student paper, the Michigan Daily, and it was then that he wrote his first play, No Villain. When the play gained some recognition, he decided that he would pursue a career as a playwright. He went on to write such notable plays as  All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge. Death of a Salesman was his most critically acclaimed work, winning a Tony Award for Best Author, the New York Drama Circle Critic's Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was the first play to win all three of these major awards.

During the 1950s and early 60s, Miller was often in the news for his appearances before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), as well as his marriage to Marilyn Monroe.  He divorced his first wife in 1956 and married Monroe. It was also in 1956 that Miller was called before the HUAC. Miller requested that the committee not force him to name names, and the chairman agreed, only to renege when Miller appeared, accompanied by Monroe. The committee demanded that Miller give the names of colleagues who had participated in activities connected to communism, but he declined, so he was fined and blacklisted.

Earlier, in 1952 a colleague, Elia Kazan, did name names when he testified before the HUAC. Like so many in Hollywood at the time, he flirted with the communist concepts, but then turned away from them. When the committee called him to appear, he was afraid to risk his career in Hollywood, so he told the committee about a number of his colleagues who had connections to communist groups, including Lillian Hellman.

Miller and Kazan had become friends when Kazan directed Death of a Salesman, so Miller was aware of the HUAC activities and talked with Kazan at great length about the testimony. Miller was so incensed over what the HUAC was doing, he likened it to the Salem Witch Trials, and the whole experience led to him writing The Crucible. The play was only moderately successful at the time, but today it is Miller's most frequently produced work throughout the world.

By the way, we are not related, although I would love to say my talent has a direct connection to his, but since I am a Miller by marriage, its doubtful I could make that claim. When it comes to the letter "v" in the Challenge, I'll have to see if there were any talented writers named Van Gilder. (smile)

What famous person do you wish you had a connection to?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Time Tango 2013 - Free Teleclass

Last year I read the book, Creating Time, and was introduced to a new way of looking at time and how we utilize it. The book offers quite an interesting and innovative approach to something we all deal with every day - how can we best make use of time?

Now there is a one-year celebration of the release of her book and the beginning of Artella Land, ARTbundance, where people continue to learn more about living comfortably and creatively with time. The following is a message from Marney Makridakis, the author of the book and founder of Artella Land. 

In April 2012, thousands of people and dozens of creative leaders got together for The Creating Time Mega Event !

Together, we co-created a powerful community dedicated to exploring a new vision of time.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of The Creating Time Mega Event and the launch of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Creating Time, I invite you to join me for "Time Tango 2013": a fun, free teleclass on Thursday April 18 to help you use your creativity to find even more ways to dance with time!

  • Do you wish you had more time to do the things you love?

  • Do you want to have a better relationship with time?

  • Do you get the sense that time is holding you back?

  • Do you blame time for keeping you from your creative dreams?

"Time Tango 2013" is here to help! 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A to Z Challenge - L is for Levin

Ira Levin, 1929 - 2007, was a versatile author and playwright. After he graduated from college, having attended attended Drake University in Iowa, the Horace Mann School, and New York University, he wrote training films and scripts for radio and television.

Levin's first produced play was No Time for Sergeants , which he adapted from a novel by Mac Hyman novel. The comedy about a country boy who is drafted into the U.S. Air Force starred Andy Griffith. The play was adapted for film in 1958 and later developed into a 1964 television comedy series. No Time for Sergeants is generally considered the precursor to Gomer Pyle, USMC.

Levin also wrote novels, and he won the 1954 Edgar Award for best first novel with A Kiss Before Dying. The novel was twice adapted for film, first in 1956 and again in 1991. I have not read the book or seen the movie, but I plan to do both as soon as I can. In 1982, Levin won his second Edgar for his play, Deathtrap, which holds the record as the longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway. It adapted well to film, and I enjoyed the 1982 movie that starred Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine.

While I was familiar with Deathtrap and No Time For Sergeants, I did not know that Levin also wrote the novel Rosemary's Baby. I guess I did not pay close enough attention to the writing credits when I saw the film. But it was so scary, who bothered, right? I also did not know that he wrote The Boys from Brazil, which was turned into a movie in 1978; The Stepford Wives, which was filmed in 1975 and again in 2004, and Sliver in 1993.

One of the nicest benefits of the blog challenge is the opportunity to learn so many new things, either by researching for our own blog posts or reading the others in the challenge.  I'm learning all about retro televisions shows from Jeremy at Retro-Zombie, and I learned how to make the ugliest pie ever from Jenny at Choice City Native. Sorry, Jenny, but even you said the pie was ugly.

If you've been following the Challenge, what are some of the things you have learned?

Friday, April 12, 2013

A to Z Challenge - K is for Kesselring

Okay, be honest and show me your hands. How many people thought  Arsenic and Old Lace  was written by Agatha Christie? I'll admit that when I first heard the title years ago I thought it must be a Christie story. It just sounded like something she would write. She did write several plays, and it would be easy to assign this black comedy to her, but it was written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939.

The story, originally titled Bodies in the Cellar, revolves around Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic who has a crazy, homicidal family whose antics often get the attention of local police in Brooklyn, NY. His love interest, Elaine Harper, is keen on getting married, but Mortimer is not so sure when he discovers that his two spinster aunts have taken to murdering lonely old men by poisoning them with a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine, and "just a pinch" of cyanide. Then there's the brother who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt and digs locks for the Panama Canal in the cellar of the Brewster home, and another brother who has committed murder and is on the lam with his alcoholic accomplice, Dr. Einstein.

All told it is a cast of zany characters, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play Martha, one of the sisters, in a production at a local community theatre two years ago. Here I am with Elaine Harper, the girl Mortimer is going to marry.

I don't look nearly as sinister there as I do in this shot taken when I was in a different costume, trying to convince a gentleman that a glass of wine is just what he needs.

Kesselring, 1902 to 1967, wrote twelve plays, and Arsenic and Old Lace  was the most successful. For two  years he taught and directed stage productions at Bethel College in Newton, Kansas, before returning to New York to work with an amateur theatrical group in Niagara. He started writing plays in 1933, completing 12 original plays, of which four were produced on Broadway: Wisdom in Women (1935), Arsenic and Old Lace (1941), Four Twelves are 48 (1951), and Mother of that Wisdom (1963).

The role of Martha was one that I always wanted to play and will be a favorite no matter how many other roles I get. What character would you like to play on stage?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A to Z Challenge - J is for Jonson

When I went looking for a playwright with a name that begins with the letter 'j', I was surprised to find so many. I was also surprised to see that James Joyce had written plays. I didn't know that. I am familiar with his novels, only because I was forced to read them in college, but did not know he scripted plays. 

Another playwright that I did know about is Benjamin "Ben" Jonson, who was a contemporary of 
William Shakespeare. Jonson was born in 1572 and died in 1637. He is best known for his satirical plays, which got him in trouble during the reign of Elizabeth I. She had him imprisoned on one occasion for his lewd and mutinous behavior, and another time he was imprisoned for killing a man in a duel. At the time England had in it's legal system a ploy called benefit of clergy, through which a prisoner could get leniency by reciting a verse from the Bible. Jonson used that ploy to be released after a short time in jail.

Ben Jonson portrait by Abraham Blyenberch, oil on canvas c. 1617, National Portrait Gallery, London

Some of Johnson's early work included:  Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair.  In 1598 he produced his first great success, Every Man in His Humour.

Nobody is quite sure about the extent of the rivalry between Jonson and Shakespeare, but there is documentation of Jonson being openly critical of Shakespeare's work. Despite the rivalry, Shakespeare's company produced a number of Jonson's plays, and it is believed that Shakespeare acted in at least one of them.

Jonson was also known for his poetry, and he published some of those in folios, which were popular methods of publications at the time. In 2012  Cambridge University Press published the first new edition for Jonson's complete works for 60 years.

Title page of The Workes of Beniamin Ionson (1616), the first folio publication that included stage plays. (Note the antiquated spelling.)
While I did learn about Ben Jonson in classes when we were studying Shakespeare, I have not read any of his plays. In contemplating whether I should, I started to wonder if there are books and plays that we should read because it "is good for us", or if it is okay to just read what we enjoy. I'm sure my daughter who is working her way toward a PhD in literature has a definite opinion about that. What about you?

On another note, I am featured on the terrific blog SlingWords, where the gracious Joan Reeves promotes authors and new books. She is featuring the second book in my Seasons Mystery Series, Stalking Season. Hop on over if you have a moment. Joan does such a terrific job with her blog, I'd love for her to have some attention.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A to Z Challenge - I is for Inge

William Inge is another American playwright for whom I have a great deal of respect. He was born in Kansas in 1913 and died in 1973.His body of work is impressive, and like many highly creative people he was often plagued by doubts. When one of his best known plays, Come Back, Little Sheba was in pre-production in New York, he worried that it would not be a success on Broadway.

The play was written while Inge was teaching at  Washington University in St. Louis  and went on to run on Broadway for 190 performances in 1950, winning Tony Awards for Shirley Booth and Sidney Blackmer. The 1952 film adaptation won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Shirley Booth.

During his years of teaching in St. Louis, 1946 to 1949, Inge joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and it was there he met the wife of one of the members. Her name was Lola and Inge based the character of Lola in Come Back Little Sheba on her.

Many of the plays Inge wrote featured small town life and were set in places in the heartland, and he was often called the "Playwright of the Midwest". Maybe that is one reason I like his work so much. I am very much a small town girl. Another of his  notable plays was Picnic, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

Inge wrote two novels, both set in the fictional town of Freedom, Kansas. Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff   explores the reactions to a high-school teacher who loses her job because she has an affair with the school's black janitor. The play was adapted for film in 1979, and the movie starred Anne Heywood as Evelyn Wyckoff. I have not read the book or seen the movie, but it sounds like a story I would enjoy. I do like exploring social issues.

During the early 1970s, Inge lived in Los Angeles and taught playwriting at the Irvine campus of the University of California. His later works were not as successful as his earlier ones and he became severely depressed, worried that he would never be able to write well again. He committed suicide at the age of 60.

In reading about Inge, I found that there is a book available, Four Plays, a collection of some of his better known work. Guess what is on my wish list.

On another note - Last year about this time, I participated in the blog tour for Marney Makridakis’ best selling book Creating Time. It features ways to manage time in fun and creative ways and I enjoyed the book very much. Now we’re all celebrating the one year anniversary with a fabulously fun teleclass event on Thursday, April 18 called "Time Tango 2013".  Best of all, it's my kind of price: free! Sign up Here  

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

A to Z Challenge - H is for Hellman

When I first learned about Lillian Hellman and her passion for writing, I wanted to be her. I was also intrigued by her passion for life and love and her unconventional lifestyle. She traveled extensively, flirted with communism, and had a 30 year relationship with the mystery writer Dashiell Hammett. The relationship started even before she divorced Arthur Kober, a playwright and press agent, whom she married in 1925.

 In the late 20s Hellman traveled in Europe, settling in Bonn to continue her education, which is when she became interested in a Nazi student group that advocated socialism. She wrote about those years in her second volume of memoirs, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, which was published in 1973; and the 1977 film "Julia" was based on a chapter from that book. The story focuses on Hellman's relationship with an alleged lifelong friend, "Julia," who fought against the Nazis in the time leading up to WWII.

Later it was revealed that much of that story was highly fictionalized.

When Hellman returned to the United States in the early 30s, she worked as a reader for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Hollywood, writing summaries of novels and periodical literature for potential screenplays, and that is where she met Hammett. While they never married, they maintained their relationship until he died in 1961, and he is credited for pushing her toward creative excellence.

In November 1947, the leaders of the motion picture industry decided to deny employment to anyone who refused to answer questions posed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Hellman was immediately blacklisted because she would not sign a loyalty clause in a contract with Columbia Pictures. To do so would have forced her to end her relationship with Hammett, and she was not willing to do that. She also thought the committee was wrong in their attempts to ferret out possible communists, or communist sympathizers, and she chastised those in the film business who allowed themselves to be intimidated.

Throughout her career, Hellman wrote numerous plays, screenplays and books. One of her more notable plays was "The Little Foxes", which was later adapted for film. Her only original screenplay was for "The North Star."

 Something I did not know about her was that in 1965 she wrote the screenplay for The Chase starring Marlon Brando based on a play and novel by Horton Foote.

Hellman died in 1984 at the age of 79.

Are you a fan of Hellman's work?

Monday, April 08, 2013

A to Z Challenge - G is for Gordon

Today I thought I would feature a woman playwright and found an interesting one indeed. Like so many other writers, she, too, worked on both sides of the script, and won honors and recognition for both.

Ruth Gordon Jones was born in 1896 in Massachusetts and died in 1985, and I love this old picture of her. Doesn't she look the part?
Ruth Gordon in 1919
Professionally, she was known as Ruth Gordon, and she worked well into her 70s and 80s. Some of the interesting things I discovered about her was the roles she played in films I've seen. She played Minnie Castevet, Rosemary's overly solicitous neighbor in Rosemary's Baby, Maude in Harold and Maude, and Ma Boggs, the mother of Orville Boggs, in Every Which Way but Loose.

When not performing, Gordon was busy writing, and she wrote a number of plays, film scripts and books. In 1953 she adapted her autobiographical play, Years Ago, for film as The Actress, which starred Jean Simmons in the title role. Gordon would go on to write three volumes of memoirs in the 1970s: My Side, Myself Among Others and An Open Book. Gordon won an Academy Award, an Emmy and two Golden Globe awards for her acting, as well as receiving three Academy Award nominations for her writing.

In addition to her work on stage and in film, Gordon made many television appearances through her seventies and eighties. In the sitcom Rhoda, she played Carlton the invisible doorman's mother and was nominated for an Emmy nomination.  She also once hosted hosting Saturday Night Live in 1977. In 1978, Gordon won an Emmy for a guest appearance on the sitcom Taxi, In that episode, she played a character who tries to hire Alex Reigera, the taxi driver played by Judd Hirsch, as a male escort.

As I read up on these playwrights I'm surprised at how much of their work was unknown to me, or, as int he case of Ruth Gordon's acting, overlooked. I do remember some of those memorable characters she played, but I never remembered her professional name.

How about you? Are you as forgetful?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

A to Z Challenge - F is for Foote

As in Horton Foote, one of the most notable American playwrights who hailed from Texas. He was born in 1916 and died in 2009. I had the honor of meeting him at a several screenwriting seminars and film festivals in the Dallas area, and he was so kind to an aspiring screenwriter. I still treasure his autograph and the kind words he wrote on the title page of one of my screenplays.

Despite all of his success, Horton Foote was always a humble man and those who knew him considered him a gracious friend. In 1995, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play, "The Young Man From Atlanta", which was also nominated for Best Play in 1997 for the Goodman Theatre production on Broadway. In 2000, Foote was honored with the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a Master American Dramatist.

Two of his most notable screenplays are for the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird and the 1983 film Tender Mercies, both of which highlight his depth of characterizations.

What I didn't know about Horton Foote is that he started out as an actor in the 1940s, but focused more on writing after getting better reviews for plays he had written than his performances. He started writing for television in the 50s, and his television play  The Trip to Bountiful premiered March 1, 1953 on NBC and was taken to Broadway later that year. The play was adapted for film in 1985.

 Throughout his years in television, Foote wrote for a number of shows that featured original dramas:    The Gulf Playhouse, The Philco Television Playhouse, The United States Steel Hour, Playwrights '56, Studio One, Armchair Theatre and Playhouse 90.  His most notable work included adaptations of William Faulkners "Old Man" in 1959 and 1997; receiving Emmy nominations both years and winning for the 1997 drama.

Have you seen any of his work? Do you have a favorite? Mine are "To Kill a Mockingbird", "Tender Mercies", and "A Trip to Bountiful".

Friday, April 05, 2013

A to Z Challenge - E is for Evita

If I ever get back to New York, one play that I want to see is "Evita", the Tony award-winning musical   by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It's based on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón, starting with her early life then her rise to power. It also highlights her charity work, and then her death.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
Until I looked up information on the show, I did not know that it began as a rock opera, with an album that was released in 1976. The album became so popular that it led to productions in London's West End in 1978, and on Broadway a year later. In England the show won the Laurence Olivier Award, and later in the United States it received the Tony Award for Best Musical.

It's possible that more people have seen the 1996 film of the musical starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas, and that might be an interesting bit of trivia to know should the topic come up in a conversation at a cocktail party. The musical was revived in London in 2006, and on Broadway in 2012, with the last Broadway production on January 26th.

Oops, I guess I missed my chance. Did you see the movie and/or the play? If not, is it a show you would like to see?

On another note, our production of "Our Town" opens tonight. I do have a bit of opening night jitters, but I am glad that the weeks of rehearsals has finally come to an end and I will have evenings free again.