Category Archives: General

General subjects of interest.

Link

My film appreciation students have an assignment where they are supposed to look at short films and send me links to the ones they liked best.  Here is one I wanted to share from that list.

One Minute Fly

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I know it is expected for everyone to ‘say’ they are thankful for something at this time of year. But I must say I’m thankful for a lot!

Friends and family have had health issues in past months, but everyone seems well at this moment.

My manager at the contract company I do instructional design through tells me that my supervisor at TIAA and the extended team have been singing my praises for the work I did this year.  He had no difficulty getting my contract renewed for 2018. It looks like my day job is ensured and I can continue to work from my home for another year.

I’m enjoying teaching again at the Cy-Fair campus of Lone Star College. When I asked to return after an almost four-year hiatus (starting with mother’s illness) and there was no slot in Acting or Intro to Theater, the head of the Fine Arts Department had enough confidence in me to bring me on for two sections of Film Appreciation. It is a class I would never have recommended myself for, despite my life-long passion for movies.  But I am loving it.

I’m especially thankful for the amount of theater I’m being asked to do.  Queensbury Theater has asked me to shepherd an eight-month project to bring the winner of their 2017 playwriting competition from a reading to a full production in 2018.

My good friend, Becky Udden at Main Street Theater entrusted me with their production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. The play is the third by Lauren Gunderson (this one co-written with Margot Melcon) that MST has undertaken. I have been truly blessed with a wonderful cast, fabulous designers, and the full commitment of the theater to this production. It is up and running and being very well received by audiences.

I’m thankful that I renewed my flood insurance and that I’ve finally found a contractor who follows through on what is promised. After Harvey dumped fifty plus inches of rain on Houston, water wicked into carpets at the foundation requiring me to remove the flooring in two bedrooms. I decided to replace the carpet with tile while I was at it.

My insurance adjuster urged me to also open the wall in the master bath, which requires removal of the tub.  While they would pay for the removal and putting back the tub, they did not pay to replace it.  But since it is original to my 47-year old home, I took this as a sign that it was time to update the master bath as well.

My first contractor did a lovely job of opening walls and treating studs in the bedrooms, replacing the sheet rock and painting. Then he begged for the tile job. I agreed to order the tile and he agreed to come back a week later. I thought I was incredibly lucky when I found a close match in tile that was actually in stock at Lowe’s.  I notified the contractor that he could pick it up and start as soon as possible.  After four weeks of excuses and delays, the tile I’d bought was restocked and some of it sold. So I would have to special order it.  I fired the contractor.

Unfortunately, it took three and a half weeks to get bids and negotiate a price on everything I wanted done.  The tile I’d special ordered had disappeared into open stock again and I had to go in to personally guarantee they could provide it to my new contractor. But, when he showed up, Lowe’s did not know where it had been marshaled for pick up.  I had to go in to the store a fourth time to straighten it out.

But now, Village Plumbing has demoed my tub and Van Shannon Construction’s tile guy, Caesar and crew are here. Wood rot is being remedied, the floor smoothed, and prep done for the laying of the tile, which is safely in my garage.

Finally, I’m very fortunate that my family decided to postpone Thanksgiving to the first weekend in December. That means that I’m able to have workmen in and out of my house all holiday weekend without missing time with loved ones. Sometimes, after much difficulty, everything just comes together. Hallelujah!

Miss Bennet Opens at MST

Well, the show is open and I’m feeling withdrawal pains.

We had four virtually sold-out previews and an extra rehearsal to adjust the timing and secure the laughs in the final show. Then on Saturday, November 11, 2017 we opened to a lively sell-out audience. People on the waiting list got in because a few regular subscribers were unable to use their tickets.

Energy was high and responses were quick. That almost telekinetic connection between audience and performers was especially evident.  There were obvious Jane Austen fans in the crowd who chortled at every inside joke. At one especially sweet moment, there was an audible sigh from a group in the audience. That response and energy only fed the sharpness of the performances.

Three reviewers have now seen the show. Two reviews have been published and we expect one from the Houston Chronicle shortly.

The Houston Press gave a generally favorable, if slightly tepid review. The main objection being that like Jane Austen’s books and most romantic comedies the ending is a bit predictable. The girl gets the boy. Spoiler alert! That’s what we want.

http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/review-miss-bennet-christmas-at-pemberley-at-main-street-theater-9956888

On the other hand, Doni Wilson of Houstonia magazine loved the show.

https://www.houstoniamag.com/articles/2017/11/13/main-street-theater-jane-austen-pride-prejudice-christmas-at-pemberley-review

We will let the ticket-buying public decide. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this could become a perennial favorite for Main Street Theater audiences.

The show runs through mid-December, so contact MST for tickets online at mainstreettheater.com.  Or call the box office at 713-524-6706.

 

Miss Bennet, Week 4-First Preview

This last week has been leading up to our first preview of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley and the introduction of audience to the recipe. It is that ingredient, like yeast, that will make our work ‘rise’, and elevate the rehearsal process to live theatre.

The set is receiving its final touch ups, we are still waiting for one chair that is currently starring in a production at another theater. Props are being adjusted and finalized. Decisions must be made about the exact amount of cranberry juice for color in the ginger ale punch bowl and how much light to throw on the Christmas tree without upstaging the actors. Do we use the incidental music to transition us from one scene to another, and does it end when the lights come up or fade as the actors enter? As the director, I am consulted and involved in all these decisions and processes.

But my primary focus is on the actors and their journey to bring these characters to life. The cast is as widely different in acting and work styles as the characters are different.  One actor is very free and able to commit to even extreme and presentational-performance styles. Another found the core of the character early on but is still trying to find the exact vocal balance. Still another actor must understand the psychological ramifications of every single gesture and inflection to the point of being crazy-making. Some seek me out for private conversations to rationalize a piece of blocking I’ve given. Others seem almost jealous to receive this information second-hand, so I have to reprise the conversation all over again. My detailed notes after each rehearsal are generally taken with eager and good humor, while occasionally there seems resistance to changing anything without extensive discussion. Once in a while, I have to remind a cast member that I’m the one sitting in the audience and seeing the stage picture, and I’m the one whose responsibility it is to fulfill the vision of the play, not just his or her character.

While highly professional, this is a very young cast. I find their willingness to be creative and collaborative exciting. But their equal eagerness to challenge every decision and offer their own insights as to what the play should be, sometimes takes valuable time out of the rehearsal process. A more mature actor would consider it impertinence. But then, I would not have the benefit of the occasional insight that leads to a solution. It is a balancing act.

Sunday marked our first preview. It was an almost full house, which is an advantage because it frees people to laugh. The first audience is so important to the process. It is during previews that we discover whether the humor is working. Do we need to take an extra beat before the next line so as not to ‘kill’ the laugh? Are there lines we forgot might be funny and so the laughter takes us by surprise? Even more gratifying is to discover you have actual Jane Austen fans in the audience who get the inside jokes from Pride and Prejudice. Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have skillfully inserted such references without drawing attention to them.

During the preview, I sat with Artistic Director, Becky Udden, and Carrie Cavins, my lighting designer.

It was exciting to see the eager and attentive faces of our somewhat older audience members. The first preview invariably includes long-time patrons and senior citizens. Any concerns I had about volume of the actors were allayed quickly. Pacing seemed very good, but a few scenes seemed a trifle slow to me. A sign that the actors are still tentative about what they are doing. While pleased with the audience response, I saw all the little things that needed to be fixed.

Carrie, like me, saw only the places where the light was uneven, or an actor was standing just out of light. She can only do so much if the actor cannot feel the light on his/her face and seek it out.

Becky on the other hand, seemed delighted with the show and recognized that any small imperfections can be fixed this week in rehearsal and previews.

Audience response and the buzz in the lobby were very good.  I had a few interesting conversations with patrons.  Later, Shannon Emerick forwarded our first email response from an a longtime Rice University staffer in the audience, who wrote, “It was an absolute delight. Terrific way to begin the holiday season. Helen”

We’re off to a terrific start. The rest is in the details. Next rehearsal on Tuesday. Then three more previews before opening night.

Miss Bennet Rehearsals – Week 2

Rehearsals are moving along with the Main Street Theater production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon).  In the first week, we have managed to block the entire show and are working through each act to find the relationships and the overall arc of the character development.  Actors are off book for one act and learning their lines for the second. The ladies are beginning to work in corsets and a pregnancy pad, and the men in their boots. Having accomplished so much, the pictures I snapped on a break may seem deceptively relaxed, but they’ve earned every ten-minute break believe me.

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017, we added two new faces to our number. SHSU students Adonis and Sara are interning with us for this show and will be costumed as servants to facilitate changes.  So, we went back and blocked the transition intermezzos between scenes, where we need to move furniture, establish a change of time or retrieve props before the next scene.

That same day, we were surprised to see that parts of the set had been delivered and were being installed.  Once the palladium windows and built-in bookcases are in place, it will start to look really impressive. Still working on our ‘do-fer’ furniture for the moment. If you are not familiar with this highly technical theater term, it means ‘it will do for now’.

Thursday, we have a stumble through for the designers to make notes for set changes, lighting and music cues, and to track props. Unfortunately, one of my very busy actors has a conflict and will be out, so my stage manager will undoubtedly walk the blocking and read in the lines. This makes giving acting notes difficult.  But the next night, two actors are missing and we are relegated to the rehearsal room in the annex, so I should not complain.

Out of this chaos, it will all come together beautifully. As the Geoffrey Rush character says in Shakespeare in Love, “It’s the magic of the theater.”

SCBWI-Houston Conference 2017

Well, another great conference has come and gone. I splurged this year, as my schedule has been very hectic and promises to get worse. I took advantage of the special offer and booked myself into the Marriott Hotel where the conference was being held on the night before and stayed till Sunday. Very nice accommodations on Briar Park just off Westheimer.

Per usual, a wonderful group of local SCBWI volunteers helped keep us on track and on task, introducing our guest speakers and directing people to the silent auction, Blue Willow Books booth and the food, which was as plentiful as the information.

Our key note speaker this year was middle-grade author, raconteur, and former teacher Bruce Coville.  Some of his best stories involved lessons he learned from his own students and from those who helped him along the way. It was an entertaining and up beat opening to the events and a foreshadowing of the delightful novel writing workshop he ran on Sunday morning.

There was a panel discussion that included a number of our more successful and prolific Houston authors, from debut novelist Caroline Leach to the very successful Crystal Allen.  We also got tips from Jennifer Hamburg, Chris Mandeleski, Varsha Bajaj, and Pat Miller. Pat represented for the non-fiction contingent and led a workshop on that topic Sunday morning opposite Bruce Coville’s.

Little Brown Books editor, Deirdre Jones spoke on “New Twists on Old Themes” and how to put a new twist on the universal topical themes (think the seasons, holidays, colors, etc.) that make your book marketable year after year. Finding a way to mash up multiple themes in your picture book makes it seem fresh and ever more appealing to tiny would-be readers and their parents.

After a brief break, bidding on the auction items and some networking, the attendees were divided into break-out sessions for writers in general and a special session for published authors. I attended Random House editor, Martha Rago’s workshop, “Speed Dating with a Picture.”

Christa Heschke, agent with McIntosh and Otis spoke on writing an engaging mystery atmosphere that reeks of tension, is properly paced, and has an original premise. She stressed the importance of outlining in writing mystery. Pre-planning can save two or three of those seemingly endless rewrites.

Anna Roberto, editor with Feiwal & Friends, an imprint of MacMillan talked about the ever elusive ‘voice’ and what it is, what it sounds like, and why it is so essential to setting your manuscript apart.

Thao Le, who is an agent with Sandra Djikstra talked about the art of revision: tightening language, being specific, and the use of vivid active verbs.

I had two critique sessions, both informative and helpful, but differing widely in what needed to be fixed and how to do it.  While I was meeting with my critique mentors, I missed part of the presentation by Full Circle Literary agent, Adriana Dominguez, who spoke passionately and informatively about diversity in children’s literature, both in subject matter and in authors.

After a long and eventful day, the pitch sessions began, followed by dinner and dancing. I went to bed early, my brain completely overloaded.  But I woke fresh and ready for the novel writing session with Bruce Coville the next morning (pictured with me above).

Attendance was slightly down this year, partly because of the recent flooding and losses experienced by stalwart SCBWI members.  But overall it was a great experience.