Bring something fresh to the rehearsal process

Rehearsals becoming mundane? Check out this article I wrote for Pioneer Drama Service’s (publisher of several of my playsnewsletter. Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter for articles about working with student performers.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Working with Actors – Bring Something Fresh to the Rehearsal Process

By Mike Steele

February 9, 2016

Several years ago, my brother Matt, a professional playwright and actor, happened to be in town during tech week of a high school play I was directing.  I decided to put his artistic talents to work throughout the week, and in the midst of performing any odd job I needed him to do, he was able to watch a few of the rehearsals.  One evening, I asked him to take some notes to give to the cast.  At the end of the rehearsal, I gave my own notes to my students, and then I announced that my brother would give his…  and an incredible thing happened.  The students leaned forward with their eyes wide and attentive, eagerly awaiting what he had to say.  When he finished giving his notes, the students applauded.

I joked with my students and asked why they hadn’t applauded my notes, realizing that it wasn’t what my brother had to say that had intrigued the cast, but the fact that my brother provided a new voice for feedback from someone they respected.  My students had been listening to me and my criticisms for six weeks by this point.  My brother and his unexpected notes had broken the monotony of the rehearsal and gotten the cast excited and re-energized for the performances to come that weekend.

In the years since, I’ve tried many things to keep the rehearsal process from getting stale.  I’m happy to share a few of my favorite activities here.

Invite a guest theatre artist to a rehearsal.  Do you know a community theatre choreographer?  An acting teacher?  The director at a neighboring school?  If you direct school plays, chances are you know a ton of other theatre artists who can offer professional advice to student performers.  Ask someone whose opinion you trust to attend one of your rehearsals and provide feedback to the cast.  You focus on specific artistic elements of the production, but another theatre artist will focus on additional elements you may have never discussed with your students.  It’s not easy for a director to relinquish control to an outsider for even one rehearsal, but there are ways to incorporate feedback that won’t make you entirely uncomfortable.  Maybe you can schedule a few minutes before the note session for the guest artist to quickly run his or her feedback by you.  Maybe you can ask your guest artist to provide only positive feedback to the students.  A note as simple as “Your delivery was really funny when you said the line…” means a lot coming from someone who knows theatre yet is not affiliated with your production.  Your students will respond differently to a guest artist than they will to you, and they can learn quite a bit in their eagerness to please a stranger.  A fresh set of eyes can certainly help you find aspects of the production that need tightening, as well.

Skip rehearsal for an acting workshop.  Set aside a day midway through the rehearsal process to host an acting workshop for your students.  What better way to break up the monotony of rehearsals than with an evening of improv games and acting exercises?  An acting workshop will provide an opportunity for your cast to gather in a relaxed environment where they don’t have to worry about lines and blocking.  You can run the workshop yourself or invite a guest theatre artist to handle the event so your students will have the chance to learn from a new teacher.  If you choose to go with a guest artist, you have the added bonus of gaining some free rehearsal time to work on other aspects of production like meeting with the costumer or organizing ticket sales.

Take a field trip to the theatre.  Your students do a ton of acting at rehearsals, but do they often have the opportunity to see professional stage performers in action?  Spend a rehearsal at a nearby theatre so your students can witness live performance firsthand, and with an analytical eye.  Pose some questions to your students before the performance and ask them to make a mental note of the answers.  How does the acting onstage differ from acting in a film?  What do performers do with their hands and arms while speaking?  What types of actions prompt a response from the audience?  Gather after the performance or at the following rehearsal and discuss the questions and answers.  No nearby theatre?  No problem!  There are tons of plays and musicals that have been professionally filmed that you can view in the comfort of your classroom.

Tailor these ideas to meet your own budget and schedule or come up with some activities of your own.  You’ll notice a big difference in your students’ enthusiasm and attentiveness when you find a way to bring a freshness to the often tedious rehearsal process.  You will more than make up for the lost rehearsal time with their renewed energy and focus.

Pioneer Drama Service

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I Wish… is ready!

I got a late Christmas present from Pioneer Drama Service yesterday afternoon when I opened my front door to see a package of scripts for my new play, I Wish…, sitting on the porch. I guess this means it’s officially available for licensing! This is my first foray into writing theater for young audiences, and it was a lot of fun to write! I can’t wait to see photos of productions start popping up on the internet!

I Wish... script

I Wish… script

You can read a sample of the script right here on my blog by clicking on the Script Previews tab.

Synopsis: You’ve heard the story of Cinderella, but did you know that her sassy Godmother also has a tale to tell? When a hardworking fairy named Carol stops by her goddaughter’s cottage to borrow a cup of flour, a simple visit quickly turns into a complicated evening of chaos. Carol’s plans to bake a batch of brownies are set into a tailspin when a bunch of silly strangers (including a door-to-door salesman, a repairwoman, a pizza delivery boy, and more) show up, hoping to have their wishes granted by the Fairy Godmother. Making a wish come true should be easy with magic on her side, but an accidental encounter with a fire-breathing dragon renders Carol’s wand useless. To top it off, a bunch of mischievous mice are on the loose. Will we ever make it to happily ever after?  And will the brownie batter ever find its way into the oven? Audiences and performers will have a ball with this delightful fairy’s tale.

Cast: 5M, 4F, 3 that can be either. Interior living room set. Forty-five minutes.

When you have more performers than roles

A new school year is here, and that means it’s time for school play directors across the country to begin casting the fall play. Take a look at this article I wrote about what you can do if you find more talent at auditions than you need. This article appeared in today’s newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). Don’t forget to subscribe to their newsletter for great articles about working with student performers.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter:  Creative Casting Ideas – When You Have More Performers Than Roles

By Mike Steele

September 1, 2015

You just sat through a long evening of school play auditions.  Forty-nine students came out for this year’s show.  You would be elated with the talent-filed turnout…  but the play you’re casting only has 22 roles, and you want to feature as many students as possible.  After all, a large cast translates into an excited student body and an increase in ticket sales!

But you don’t just want to flood the stage with a bunch of extras who do little more than move as a generic clump.  So what can you do?  How can you utilize as many students as possible while making each feel like a necessary part of the production?

Take a look at these ideas…

Double-Up!  Cast two students in each of the roles.  Divide the performance calendar between an “A Cast” and a “B Cast” (let actors in the smaller roles perform in both casts if you don’t have enough students to fill two complete casts).  Double casting provides double the students the opportunity to learn, shine, and experience the fun of being a part of a school show.  Be warned, though, that you’ll need to manage the rehearsal schedule carefully since you’ll be teaching each role twice.

Cast understudies.  We always see students at auditions who have great potential but aren’t quite ready for a leading role.  What a great learning experience it would be for these students to discover what it takes to handle a large role by rehearsing as a back-up performer.  Whether you decide to have only a handful of students understudy all the parts or you assign one unique understudy per character, these additional students will benefit from the opportunity to develop their skills.  You’ll be doing yourself a favor, as well.  Not only do understudies come in handy when main performers are absent from rehearsals, but you’ll be training up-and-coming talent that may become next year’s stars.  You can even add an additional understudy performance (a great idea as a matinee) to give these students the chance to showcase their hard work to family and friends.

Split one part into two or three or four.  Does the script offer a logical opportunity to divide the dialogue from one role amongst multiple performers?  Some plays have incidental characters such as “Man 1” and “Man 2” that each have a few non-specific lines which you could assign to several actors.  Some plays have settings that span several decades, so different actors could play younger and older versions of the same characters.  Some plays have non-human roles that, with some inventive direction, could be played by multiple performers.  (Can’t you imagine a caterpillar performed by a group of actors lined up to create a long body or an ogre played by several students working a large puppet?)  Pioneer Drama is extremely flexible about allowing you to alter the script to accommodate additional actors, but be careful.  Not all publishers allow you to make these, or any, changes.

Add background performers.  Is there an appropriate place in the script you can incorporate additional actors into the action onstage?  Think of the play’s various settings and whether background characters milling around could add to the atmosphere.  Maybe the play is set in a restaurant and background diners reacting to a food fight started by the main characters will add to the humor of the piece.  Maybe there’s a scene set in a park and background performers having picnics, flying kites, and relaxing on benches will help establish the setting.  Give your background performers unique characters to portray so they won’t be just a blob of extras, but rather they will be integral to establishing the mood of the show.  Get creative, but be careful that your background performers don’t distract from the main action.

Offer cut students first shot at stage crew.  Many students who audition simply want to be involved in the production in some capacity and will gladly accept a backstage position.  Offer these opportunities to students you won’t have room for in the cast, and place these students in positions that will utilize their individual strengths.  You’ll have artists who will be an asset when it comes to set painting, designing the logo for the production, and constructing props.  You’ll have highly organized students who will keep your production running smoothly as stage managers and student directors.  From technical design to moving set pieces to applying makeup to ushering, there’s a job for everyone.

Stage an additional play.  Who says this has to be the only performance opportunity for the students?  If you’re struggling to whittle down the cast for a one-act, choose a second one-act and stage a two-act event.  If the play is a full-length, produce a second play later in the school year.  If the thought of another large-scale production is too much for you to bear, host a talent show, an evening of short scenes, or an improv or sketch comedy show.  If students have an interest in one production, they will have an interest in another.

Add entertainment before the show or during intermission.  While it might not be the same as being in the main production, some students will jump at the chance to be onstage for some pre-show entertainment.  Duet scenes, TV commercial parodies, or other small comedy scenes are perfect for this type of venue.  Or maybe a group of students can perform an instrumental or vocal number in the lobby during intermission.  This will let more students be involved while giving you a chance to develop younger students’ stage presence.

These general ideas may not be right for the specific title you’re directing.  One of the perks of producing a Pioneer show is that you can talk to their customer service reps or email the author directly through the play’s page on their website.  He or she might be able to share some creative ways that past productions have dealt with your dilemma.  Maybe the playwright will suggest turning the role of an annoying little girl into two annoying twins who speak in unison.  Maybe the customer service agent will describe how other directors have utilized background performers.  Who knows what ideas will come up?

So get inventive and incorporate as many students as possible into your production.  The more students involved, the larger your audience.  Just remember, though, if you get so inventive that you want to make any changes to the script, you will need permission from the play’s publisher.

Pioneer Drama Service

Taking advantage of the dog days of summer

It’s the middle of summer, and that means it’s time to start preparing for the fall play, right…?  Check out an article I wrote about using summer downtime to wisely prep for the upcoming school year’s productions.  This article appeared in today’s newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). Be sure to subscribe to their newsletter for great articles about working with student performers.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Simplifying the Director’s Job – Taking Advantage of the Dog Days of Summer

By Mike Steele

July 28, 2015

Summer Break is in full swing across the country.  You’re loving sleeping in, taking a family vacation, and just enjoying your free time.

But don’t forget you’re directing next year’s fall show!  Why not spend a bit of your free time getting some pre-production tasks out of the way?  A little work over the summer can translate into a lot less stress during the school year.

Take a look at these summertime school play prep tips…

Choose the show.  Take some time to lounge on the beach…and kick back with a big stack of perusal scripts while you’re at it.  (Take advantage of Pioneer Drama’s Buy-Four-Get-One-More-Free discount on preview scripts to save money!)  Or download some E-views to read on your tablet on that long car trip.  Don’t wait until the school year begins to narrow down the plays that interest you.  Come September, you’ll be too busy figuring out how to seat 32 students at 28 desks to stress about the scripts you still have to comb through.  Since your teaching colleagues also have some spare reading time during these summer months, pass along copies of the scripts you enjoy to the other production staff members and get some feedback on what’s do-able.

Update your audition forms.  If you’re not using Pioneer’s forms from their Director’s Books, spend an afternoon changing the dates on all those files you saved from last year that you planned to reuse for the next show.  Type up the character breakdown, print an audition sign-up sheet, and organize the sides.  Sure, this is something you’re planning to do “one day during prep period,” but something always seems to come up, doesn’t it?  The more paperwork you get out of the way now, the less you’ll have to worry about while addressing the unforeseen headaches of a new school year.  And hey, the line for the faculty room copier is a lot shorter in the summer!

Start collecting costumes.  Summer is the perfect time to visit garage sales and outdoor flea markets.  You’ll have to wait until you’ve cast the show before you know exact clothing sizes, but you can still hunt for those one-size-fits-all pieces you’ll need.  Wigs, capes, gloves, and a bunch of other accessories don’t require exact measurements.  It’s also a good idea to spread the word about those hard-to-find pieces you’ll be looking for.  The more time you give yourself to look for the neon green astronaut costume with a sequined shawl that one of the characters requires, the better.  Don’t forget to talk to your costumer to discuss any way she or he can get a head start, as well.

Clean up last year’s mess.  Does your prop cabinet look like it was hit by a tornado?  What about the costume closet?  Were you so exhausted from last year’s production that the set is still half-deconstructed in the wings?  We all want a little break when a production ends, but somehow, our well-intentioned plans to get the backstage area organized are overshadowed by everything else that comes up before the end of the school year.  Don’t start the next show worrying about everything you forgot to straighten up from the last.  Get into the empty auditorium for a day or two and prepare the space for a new production.  Don’t be afraid to employ a little help, either.  I bet there are some students looking to volunteer service time for the drama program.  And your own kids keep claiming they’re bored, right?

Host a pre-production backyard barbecue meeting.  Invite your colleagues over for a potluck gala to get everyone on the same page so the entire staff can hit the ground running when the school year begins.  Gathering over the summer means you won’t have to compete with all the department conferences, grade-level meetings, and other academic conflicts that come up at the beginning of the school year.  Figuring out how to fundraise enough money to costume a cast of 45 is a lot less stressful when potato salad is involved.  And you’ve been looking for a reason to show off all the landscaping you’ve been doing this summer, anyway!

Begin advertising.  “What?!?” you’re thinking.  “That’s crazy!  I don’t have a cast, and I’m still begging the new woodshop teacher to sign on as set designer!” Very true.  But professional theaters advertise before securing a cast and staff, so follow their lead and generate interest in the production ASAP.  Once you’ve selected a show, get the word out there!  Spark some excitement!  Post the title and audition dates on the school’s or drama department’s Facebook page.  Announce the show on the school’s outdoor marquee.  As much as your students claim they’re not thinking about school over the summer, an exciting announcement from the drama teacher will be the topic of conversation at the next pool party.  You’ll begin to recruit auditioners, and all the summer buzz surrounding the production might even pique the interest of that new woodshop teacher.

September will be here before you know it, so take a little time to prepare for all the work that’s to come.  Better to be ahead of the game, because that fall play is going to take a lot of time and energy!  But be sure to spend a carefree day or two relaxing with an ice cold glass of iced tea, as well.  It is Summer Break, after all.

Pioneer Drama Service

“Has anyone bought your plays?” and other questions about dramatic publishing

Last week, I found out that my sixth play is going to be published (you can read about it in a previous post) and I received a ton of congratulatory texts and facebook messages from family and friends who are really excited for me…even if the whole concept of what it means for a play to be “published” baffles them.

I mean, we all know that when books are published, they’re printed and sold in bookstores, but plays are designed for performance, not for reading.  And even the most avid theatergoer will likely never deal with licensing a play.  So it’s not surprising that dramatic publishing is unknown territory for most people.

Hopefully, this post will make things a little less confusing.

Whenever someone learns that I have a few plays published, the response is always the same: “That’s cool!  …What exactly does that mean?”

Basically, it means a dramatic publishing company thinks my play will be appealing to producers and directors (much like a book publisher might think a novel manuscript will be appealing to readers) and they’d like to legally represent the play.  And like book publishers, dramatic publishers edit, proofread, format, and coordinate printing.  The major difference between the two is that book publishers market to booksellers (like Barnes & Noble and amazon.com) in hopes of getting copies of their books into stores, while dramatic publishers market to producers and directors in hopes that theatre troupes will want to stage productions.

Another question I get all the time is, “Has anyone bought your plays?”

Well, technically the publisher owns a play once I’ve signed their contract, so you can say that they “bought” it.  (The legalities of copyright ownership can vary depending on the contract, but suffice it to say that the publisher controls the play.)

What I assume people really mean when they ask if anyone has “bought” the play is, “Have there been any productions of your plays?”

Yes, there have been productions of my plays, but I don’t always know about them in advance.  Some of my publishers notify me whenever a new production is happening and some send a yearly invoice that lists all of the productions that have taken place that year.  I like to google the titles of my plays to keep a rough track of productions so that I can list them on my website and here on this blog.

Talking about productions usually leads to the question, “How do you get paid?”

People who have an understanding of book publishing assume I’m paid a one-time fee for the play since book authors receive what’s called an “advance” (meaning they get a flat sum of money from the publisher before any copies are printed, and aren’t paid again until several thousand copies have sold).  An “advance” isn’t common in dramatic publishing, though.  Rather, playwrights receive a percentage of royalties and script sales indefinitely.  So every time a producer says, “Hey, this play looks interesting; I’ll buy a copy of the script and see if I want to mount a production,” I receive a percentage of that script sale.  And every time that producer says, “Wow!  That was great!  I’m going to produce this play,” I receive a percentage of the royalty fee the publisher charges the producer.  This is why it’s important for producers and directors to make sure they’re legally staging a play and have paid all necessary fees.  To stage a production without paying a proper royalty is essentially stealing from both the publisher and the playwright whose income is derived directly from these fees.

I get some other questions periodically, as well…

“Do you have an agent?”

I don’t personally have one.  Dramatic publishers deal directly with playwrights (as opposed to book publishers who prefer to deal with literary agents).  Some playwrights have agents to negotiate contracts for major professional productions, but I write mostly for the school play market and all licensing for these plays is handled by my publishers.

“Can I find your plays in bookstores?”

Probably not.  If you look at the play section of a bookstore it’s usually pretty small and contains only a dozen or so of the most popular plays of all time.  You’ll have an easy time coming across The Crucible but not A Family Reunion to Die For (even if I’m partial to the latter).

“Can I buy a script copy of one of your plays?”

Yes.  Please do.  Remember, how that whole, “How do you get paid?” thing works?  You can get copies directly from the publishers.  (Here’s a listing of my plays with links to the publishers.)

I’m getting published! (Well, my play is.)

In case this post’s title wasn’t a clue, my latest play has received a publishing contract!

Wahoo!

Yeah!

Jump up and down!

This one is extra special to me because it’s the first play I’ve written solo.  All of my other plays were collaborations with my brother, Matt, (and sometimes a few of my students).  I had an idea for a fairytale spinning in my head for awhile and figured I’d flesh it out.  So I did.  (And I mentioned it in a previous post.)

The play is called I Wish, and it’s a story for young audiences centered around Cinderella’s godmother – a sassy gal named Carol.  It’s a fairy’s fairytale, if you will.  I set the play on the evening of the royal ball.  Cinderella wants to attend, of course, but needs to finish cleaning her cottage or her stepmother will not be happy.  Carol offers to get the job done…and hilarious hijinks ensue.  Apparently, Cinderella wasn’t the only one to have an adventure that night.  (And spoiler alert: she wasn’t the only one to have a romance, either.)

Publishing offer

Publishing offer

I finished writing the play about two months ago and sent it off to the submissions editor at Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum).  I received an offer and a contract in the mail, yesterday.

I’m really happy to have this play in the hands of Pioneer, because they do a great job marketing their shows.

I Wish will be available for amateur and professional licensing within the next few months.  Tell all the children’s theatre directors you know.  Or buy a copy.  Or two.

Where have I been?

Except for a bunch of showtime shoutouts to schools and theatre troupes performing my plays, I haven’t posted any content on this blog in…  a long time…  too long.

So where have I been the past few months?

WRITING!

Late last year I began writing my first one-act play – a modern day fairy tale (which also happens to be my first play specifically for young audiences).  After a promising start one afternoon, I got sidetracked.  Why?  Well, I had to catch the train into NYC because I had tickets that evening to the Broadway revival of Pippin.  I saved my writing file, and got lost in the magic to do (bad joke, I know) of one of the best Broadway shows I’ve seen in years.  I had good intentions of working on the play some more when I got home that night, but I never got around to it.  In fact, I never got around to it for awhile.

I really did have good intentions of finishing the play before the new year, but the holidays came quickly, and I got busy shopping and eating.  Then my brother came home for Christmas, and late one night (we tend to do our best brainstorming in the middle of the night), we came up with an idea for a new play – a full-length and rather vulgar comedy.

Oh, no!  Two plays spinning in my head at once!

Well, my brother and I discussed submitting the full-length play to some Fringe festivals around the world, and with deadlines beginning in mid-February, we got to work on that play right after the new year.  He flew back to the West Coast, and we wrote the play over the course of a month and a half by sending drafts of the play back and forth to each other via email, and arguing a lot through text message, as we always do.  We finished just in time to start submitting to Fringe festivals.  Fingers crossed, we’ll have a production mounted soon.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, the play is about poop.  Yes, poop.

After finishing the full-length play, my writer-brain was on a roll, and I decided to plow through the one-act I had begun writing several months before.  And I did.  And it’s finished.  And now it’s time to figure out what to do with that script.

A little snippet of the one-act fairytale I recently finished.

A little snippet of the one-act fairytale I recently finished.

And it’s time to decide what my next project will be before I get lazy again.

Encouraging young performers to audition again and again

An article I wrote was published on Wednesday in the newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). This article is about encouraging young performers to continue auditioning, even if they have faced rejection in the past. Be sure to subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service’s newsletter for great articles about working with student performers.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Working with Young Actors – Encouraging Young Performers to Audition Again and Again

By Mike Steele

January 21, 2015

After a long weekend of auditions for a community theatre play I’m directing, I sat with the rest of the production staff staring at a scattering of young performers’ headshots for my least favorite part of the casting process:  choosing which auditioners we’d offer roles to and which would receive the dreaded, “No, thank you.”  We saw dozens of performers we’d be happy to feature, but with nearly 80 children vying for 12 roles, we had no choice but to disappoint the majority of the talent.

So often in my experiences as a school play and community theatre director, I hear young performers chatting about previous rejections.  They say things like, “She didn’t cast me in last year’s play; she thinks I have no talent,” “That production company won’t even give me a chance,” or “I don’t bother auditioning for him anymore because he thinks I’m awful!”

And yet as a director, I sit through so many auditions thinking things like, “She gave such a good read, but she’s too tall to play a six year old,” “Wow!  What a voice!  Too bad I’m looking for dancers,” and “He’s a tremendous classical baritone, but this is a contemporary musical.  I hope he auditions for me in the future.”

What young actors rarely realize is that talent is only one factor in the casting process.  So often it comes down to issues that are out of everyone’s control.  Sometimes a great performer gives a poor audition.  Sometimes seven redheads come out for a show and you want a more visually balanced ensemble.  Sometimes you need a boy who can juggle while riding a unicycle.  Sometimes an auditioner performs the tightest monologue you’ve ever seen, but is the wrong age, has the wrong hairstyle, has too many scheduling conflicts, or you simply need to cast the kid whose parent can help sew costumes.  None of these factors would prevent you from casting the auditioner in the future, though.

So what can we do as directors to let young performers know that even if they don’t have much luck the first time around, we hope this setback won’t prevent them from auditioning for us again?

Encourage young performers before the auditions.

It’s common for schools and some community theatres to hold information meetings for potential performers prior to auditions.  This is the perfect time to address your casting policies.  Be open and honest that a variety of factors in addition to talent go into casting decisions, and you will need to cut many castable performers.  Let auditioners know that if they are not cast, you highly encourage them to come out for future productions.  Provide examples of past success stories.  Maybe a few years ago there was a terribly shy freshman you weren’t able to cast after her barely audible audition…but she never gave up, gained confidence through each audition, and by her senior year, she had a supporting role that stole the show.  Don’t have a casting story with quite the same dramatic flair?  Well, this is theatre — make something up!

Encourage young performers during the auditions.

The standard goodbye at an audition is a simple, “Thank you,” from the director.  Consider adding a bit more to your closing:  “Thank you for auditioning for us.  We’re seeing enough great talent to cast this show three times, so if we find we’re unable to use you in this production, we hope you’ll check out our website for future casting notices.”  The extra five seconds can make all the difference to a young performer.

Encourage young performers after the auditions — even with rejection.

Though some directors choose only to notify the performers they’re looking to cast, it’s always nice to inform those you can’t use, as well.  An email or snail mail rejection takes only a few minutes to draft.  To your stock letter of, “We were unable to cast everyone who auditioned…” add a personalized compliment for each auditioner.  Even the worst audition has some redeeming qualities, so gather up your audition notes and let each performer know his or her strengths.  One sentence that says, “You have a beautiful lower register, and we hope you’ll let us hear it again at a future audition,” validates that the performer is, in fact, castable.

Auditioners you’ve cut may not know the exact reasoning behind your casting decisions, but they will remember if you’ve made them feel castable in future productions.  Just remember, your next leading lady might be the girl you cut from the chorus two years ago, and a little encouragement can go a long way.

Pioneer Drama Service

Talking about Offed at the Bake-Off

One of the neat things about Eldridge Publishing (the company that publishes my play, Offed at the Bake-Off) is that they feature a playwright’s question and answer page for each of their new plays.  They asked my brother, Matt, and I to answer a few questions to go along with the promotional materials for the play.

Take a look at the page: Behind the Scenes

The full text of the page is below:

MATT and MIKE STEELE talk about OFFED AT THE BAKE-OFF:

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS PLAY?
We wrote this play for a high school that had been producing our murder mystery comedies for several years. Our past few mysteries had very non-traditional settings, and we were eager to return to the classic “dark and stormy night” since it’s an iconic and easily identifiable format. We still wanted to give the play a little bit of a twist, so we decided to push the formula and spoof the 1950’s television sitcom while retaining elements of the classic film noir style. This was our first time writing a piece specific to a time period, and we had a blast researching the era.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OR LINE OF THE PLAY?
Matt: My favorite moments are whenever Carolyn whips out a new weapon. I just love how she suddenly switches from a calm and collected hotel manager to a hysterical and paranoid warrior when she feels the rabid seagull is near. I also always laugh out loud whenever Sister Mary Martha mentions Father Abraham and when Thelma introduces herself and her sisters because the name “Blanche” seems so random when paired with Thelma and Velma.
Mike: I have two favorite moments. The first is when Paul enters wearing the nun’s habit and is then revealed a short time after. The second is when Clyde throws pies in the faces of practically everyone onstage, one by one. I can imagine audiences having some really great reactions to these scenes. In school productions, especially, I picture the families and friends of the casts laughing as they watch the events unfold, and I can see the casts having tons of fun rehearsing these moments. I mean, who wouldn’t laugh at a bunch of kids pieing each other in the face?

WHERE DO THE CHARACTERS COME FROM? ARE THEY BASED ON PEOPLE YOU KNOW?
When we write, we just let our imaginations run wild. We brainstorm character types together and shout things like, “Let’s have a nun!” “Let’s have a fitness model!” “Let’s have an elderly couple!” (At least, we “shout” at each other via text and instant message, because we live on opposite coasts and collaborate mostly apart from each other.) After we settle on the basic characters, we think of ways to give each character a funny twist. Our conversations turn into, “Let’s make the nun a practical jokester!” “Let’s make the fitness model a silent European!” “Let’s make the elderly couple hard of hearing!” Our characters continue to evolve as we flesh out a few drafts. For example, when it came to Paul and Pauline, we started off with the basic idea of having a couple with a newborn baby who never stopped crying. Something seemed to be missing in their relationship dynamic, and they needed more conflict between them, so that’s when we came up with the idea to make Paul a misogynist (which makes his reveal in Sister Mary Martha’s habit even more fun). We don’t name the characters until the script is virtually complete so that the characters exist before a name can define them. It’s amazing how much more layered the characters become from the first draft to the last draft.

WHAT DID YOU TRY TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS PLAY?
Since we wrote this play with student actors in mind, our main goal was to give the performers a chance to have fun. The more fun the actors have on stage, the more fun the audience has watching the show. We purposely made our characters and situations as off-the-wall as possible so young actors would be forced to commit to their roles and to what’s happening in the story. We wanted to create characters that young actors could easily understand so they would have confidence in their portrayals and really shine onstage. We believe that introducing theater to young people builds their confidence, improves their social skills, and provides great memories that can stay with them for the rest of their lives.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SAY?
Beware of the rabid seagull…

Offed at the Bake-Off

Tons of scripts

Offed at the Bake-Off is officially in print!

Me with a copy of Offed at the Bake-Off

Me with a copy of Offed at the Bake-Off

Eldridge Publishing sent me several complimentary copies of the script to share with my co-writer (and brother), Matt.  Along with the scripts, they sent a few posters featuring the full color logo they designed for the play.  I have to admit, when I receive copies of my plays, I don’t look at them for…  Well, for a long time.  By the time I receive the actual published scripts, I’ve spent so much time writing, editing, proofreading, submitting to publishers, and then working with the editors to finalize the scripts that I’m tired of looking at my own plays.  I just want to let these scripts be for a bit.  I’ll open them and take a peek inside in six months.  Maybe.

Offed at the Bake-Off scripts and posters

Offed at the Bake-Off scripts and posters