Category Archives: Creative Writing

Writers: Play Some D&D

It’s been pretty well established by this point in my life that I am a nerd of many sorts. Theatre, sci-fi, fantasy, board games, video games, math, logic, philosophy, mythology, religion… there’s a lot of nerdy in me. So it shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise that I have played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons in my day.

My first introduction to the game, though it was ultimately not an accurate representation at all, was back in the summer after my 7th grade year when I was 12 years old. It was, I believe, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition… I don’t remember much of it at all, but again. Not very accurate. Still, somewhere in my room right now is the first character sheet I ever had.

Since then, I’ve played 3e, 3.5e, 4e and am currently in a group playing the D&D Next edition. I’ve been the Dungeon Master for two different (ultimately falling apart) 3.5 campaigns. I’ve played Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms and even a d20 system a friend of mine created. I’ve done some role-playing online and have oodles and oodles of ridiculous stories to tell about the various campaigns.

Most people find the game to be instantly associated with the nerdiest of the nerdy. I suppose that’s a little fair… while high fantasy and the like have been becoming more and more acceptable over the years (just look at the successes of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books, as well as HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), it’s more acceptable to observe fantasy, not attempt to live it out. D&D and other role-playing tabletop games are predicated on the notion that one designs a character with a story and interjects themselves, via that character, into a fantasy world. Granted, not every tabletop RPG is set in fantasy, but that’s where D&D began.

Even so, despite it being “super nerdy,” it has seeped into our culture just a bit. You have the people that seem to think D&D is something where people learn witchcraft and are members of the occult… As well as the people that know how laughable that is and like to point out how sessions of D&D usually go. Season 2 of the absolutely wonderful TV show “Community” has a fantastic, hilarious and kinda accurate episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” that is well worth the watch (you need Hulu Plus for that link, sadly).

The point is, though, whether you think it’s crazy nerdy and has some ridiculous stigma on it or not, if you’re a writer… I think you would do well to play this game.

I realized the other day, when writing the background for my character in the current campaign I’m playing, I’ve written more detailed character story and background for some of my D&D characters than I have for some of my characters in my stories and scripts. That’s not to say that I don’t have good backgrounds for the non-D&D characters… I just don’t tend to write them out and consider all the aspects of their previous lives. However, in D&D, I tend to tell very detailed stories about their pasts and how they came to where they are now.

It’s a really good writing exercise, especially when you limit yourself. As someone that tends to prefer the classics of poetry and art, where the product must conform to a certain style or limitation, I feel that talent, skill, creativity and thought are more thoroughly applied and utilized than in styles where slapping anything together counts. Anyone can buy three blank canvases and call it art or take random paragraphs from random books, tape them together on a page and call it poetry. But how many people can write something truly heartbreaking and moving with only 140 syllables in 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG? I refer of course to the sonnet, of which some guy named Shakespeare wrote several.

It’s not easy to make something conform to limitations. But it is certainly an exercise worth trying, especially if you find your characters lack depth. Here’s my suggestion, as these are the ways I’ve found the most character work: Find some people to play D&D with. Find other writers or friends that know what they’re doing. You can do a preset campaign or let yourself/another writer write a story/world for you all to play in. But when you’re making your character, give yourself restrictions. In most versions of D&D, you can give your character flaws, which detriment your character but allow for extra benefits to balance it out. A lot of people will do this to make ridiculously powerful characters, but don’t focus on the game play so much as the character. People are flawed. How does that affect your character? Alternatively, ask your DM if you can bend certain rules, so long as you get a good story out of it.

For example, the current campaign I’m playing is in D&D Next, which is still basically in beta, so there’s a lot missing. My favorite class, the cleric, only has three domains to choose from at the moment… and none of the gods of Faerun in the domain I want to use have the right alignment for my character. I could have just changed my character’s alignment, but I decided to write a story behind it. Why would someone that disagrees with a certain deity’s way of life be a priest for that deity? And so, my story was written.

You don’t necessarily have to play D&D or any tabletop RPG to pull off this exercise. But I think D&D is a good template with a lot of creative options you may not consider… and playing the game will let you see how honest you can be to your character and keeping him or her consistent in certain situations. Plus… D&D with the right people can be LOADS of fun. 🙂 Give it a try some day.

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And We’re Back

Hello, all. I’m back.

So. It’s been a little while since I’ve written here, huh. Last time I wrote was March 12… and my last “real” post was Feb. 10. Almost an entire year…

…so it’s probably safe to say the “a post a day” experiment kinda fell through.

Still. Not too shabby. I made it an entire year and nearly a half with at least one post per day… that’s a lot of writing. If I had kept it up last year, I would have had SO MANY VIEWS. Even with basically 11 months of no writing, I somehow managed 13,948 views last year. Compare that to the year before’s 15,185. It makes me feel almost popular. Or, well, makes me feel like the lyrics to “Beauty and the Beat” are popular. But enough of that.

2013 was an interesting year. I got my first ever lead role, the opportunity to play Coriolanus in a staged reading of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” Less than a month later, I was cast in a TCF television pilot “Toss-Up,” again cast as the leading role. That opened up several other venues for me, such as a decently-sized part in a TCF short film produced by “Seinfeld” director Tom Cherones and a recurring role in the webseries “Alabama Ghostbusters.” Finally, in October, I was blessed/lucky/really really really super lucky enough to somehow manage to be cast as Jean Valjean in a local production of “Les Miserables,” my favorite musical and a dream role of mine for years.

I started out 2013 not talking to my best friend. Not because I was mad at her or something. No, rather because I’m the kind of person that can come to the conclusion (unfortunately often) that people are better off without me in their lives…  Around late February, I started dating a girl (my fourth girlfriend… possibly I only decided to date her beyond my attraction to her because I knew it would end when she went to grad school) that played my fiance in the TV pilot… and had we not dated, I wouldn’t have been asked to go to a wedding that my best friend was the maid-of-honor for, and I may still not be talking to her (as painful as that would be for me).

I haven’t managed to get “Camp Gethsemane” produced yet, sadly… I’m going to make a really big effort this year. It’s in the midst of yet another edit, a big edit that changes a few second act things and hopefully makes it all for the better… but a production would be amazing. I also haven’t managed to find a better job yet… though I did start hosting trivia at bars and restaurants around Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, and the extra income is pretty nice. Also, I seem to be decent at it. People like me well enough. (P.S. If you know any bars/restaurants that might like to host trivia, let me know!)

It’s been a year of changes, for sure. A year of opportunities… not my worst year… and hopefully, not my best to come, but a pretty decent one all-in-all.

Which brings me to 2014. The new year. And new years tend to bring new resolutions. Something that, usually, I duck out on because come on. Those are made with the intent of being broken, most of the time.

Still. I feel I should resolve a few things. So I’mma try.

First, I am going to lose weight. I wanted to for Les Mis, but Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas were right there and it is pretty much impossible to lose weight during those holidays. I plan to shed at LEAST 40 pounds and KEEP it off throughout the year. Maybe even work out and get some toning and muscle, not this semi-sentient fat I have at the moment.

Second, I’m going to get something I’ve written produced. Hopefully “Camp Gethsemane.” I will do it, damn it. I have screenplays and plays at the ready. Some need work, yes. But that can be done. I just want something to show for my work.

Third, I am going to write at least five more of the projects in my head. It’s a tall order. I may need help with some to keep me honest. I still have to edit and polish some of the things I’ve already written. But I also need to get new things done, too. I need to write, need to produce. I have two one-act mythology plays and two screenplays that need finishing. The fifth, I have many many ideas that could be the fifth… And the desire to write new things may help me finish my old things. If you’re a writer and want to help keep me honest, please let me know. No joke.

Fourth, I am resurrecting this blog. But it won’t be a once-a-day blog anymore. That just doesn’t seem feasible. With trivia taking up several of my nights, and all the acting I did last year, writing once per day became basically impossible. Les Mis is one reason “Camp Gethsemane” has been mid-edit since October. Still, I hope to write in this blog semi-regularly… and maybe add a new segment where I try new things in the kitchen, things I’ve never done before, like new techniques (like frying things) or foods (like fish). Which brings me to…

Fifth, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone. I’ve been getting there. Hosting trivia has REALLY helped me become a more social and sociable person. As has finally being on stage in a visible way. I’m going to audition for more things in town, of course… but beyond that, I want to just do things I don’t normally do. Talk to people more. Hang out with people more. Being a hermit really gets lonely, and I really hate the feeling sometimes. And maybe, just maybe, if I step out of my comfort zone, I can be more comfortable with who I am. It seems oxymoronic, but trust me. I’m not intensely comfortable even in my comfort zone.

All in all, I hope to move forward with life in 2014. Professionally, romantically, creatively… I need to stop being stagnant. I need to stop being jealous of other people’s romantic and professional successes and start making others jealous of mine. I’ll let you know how that goes as it moves along.

Oh, and expect more of my randomness on this blog, because there’s a lot I wanted to say last year that I never got to… If 2014 is as ridiculous as 2013 was, I’m sure I’ll have a bunch to gab on about.

It’s good to be back.

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Breaking The Leg – “Ain’t Misbehavin'” By Theatre Tuscaloosa

This is what happens when I let myself get super behind on posts. I thought I posted this on Sunday. Now I feel awful because I missed informing people about this show for two performances. Boo me. And my apologies.

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” ain’t exactly your standard musical fare.

Produced by Theatre Tuscaloosa, and directed by Tina F. Turley, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” is set up during what seems to be the Harlem Renaissance. Set up like a big band show, it’s less of a musical and more of what’s advertized (finally, truth in advertizement), a “musical show.” Specifically, it’s the “Fats Waller musical show,” Waller being a jazz musician in the early 1900s. The show is a musical revue that, unlike a jukebox musical, doesn’t try to tell a story. Instead, it’s simply two acts of swingin’ song and dance.

That’s not to say there’s no acting involved. This isn’t your “American Idol,” stand at the microphone and sing affair (though it happens a few times, often for comedic effect). The actors in the show, Erika Evans, Alyssa Grubbs, Myiesha J. Duff, Will Travis and Willie Williams, play no characters, instead coming out to sing and dance to Waller tunes. In those tunes, however, they often take on certain characteristics, acting out the lyrics, which often leads to the women being competitive divas and the men being your stereotypical tail chasers.

The set, designed by Jameson Sanford, is simple and effective, capable of glamor and setting the mood while leaving enough room for the actors to dance the intense and what looks to be sometimes quite difficult choreography by Nick Rashad Burroughs. All the actors make it look simple, though, floating through their songs with power, grace and ease.

Again, there’s no plot to describe, no characters to really judge… it’s simply a couple of hours of good, fun song and dance. From fast-stepping jazz to slower, somber emotional harmonies. If you like music and dance, I’d say it’s worth your while.

The show runs Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Bean-Brown Theatre at Shelton State Community College. Go watch it and let yourself fall back into a time and place too many have forgotten through some very nice musical numbers.

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Breaking The Leg – “Design For Living” By UATD

A threesome never really seemed like a British affair to me. I suppose after hearing about the love triangles of Shakespeare, both in real life and suggested in plays, I assumed they all would end in sadness, regret and very often violent death. But Noël Coward has another answer.

“Design for Living” is a three-act play written by Coward in his style of very witty and sharp dialogue and quick comedy… but it doesn’t start off that way. Instead of ending with the tragedy, Coward proposes to begin with it. The play, put on by the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance at the Allen Bales Theatre in the Rowand-Johnson Building and directed by Jimmy Kontos, runs for two more showings: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10.

The play starts with Gilda (Bridget Winder) at home in Paris, having a discussion with her art dealer friend Ernest (Jeff Horger). During their conversation, she tells Ernest that her partner Otto (Thaddeus Fitzpatrick) is asleep and not to be disturbed. He tells her that a former good friend of hers, and former lover of Otto, Leo (Adam Vanek) has come to Paris, riding on the coattails of success. Gilda’s tale unravels slightly when Otto walks in through the door. Ernest, adding things up, leaves Otto to discuss things with Gilda. When she convinces him to go and visit Leo at the Ritz, Leo exits from her bedroom and they discuss how they should break news of this affair to him, as they both love him. When he returns and the truth of the matter is laid out, Otto storms out in anger, denouncing both.

A year later, in London, a familiar scene plays out, but with different players. This time, Leo and Gilda are living together. Leo is quite successful writing plays, but the success is wearing on both of them somewhat. When Leo ends up going away for a weekend and Otto arrives unexpectedly, history decides to repeat itself, though with a slightly more amicable ending for Otto and Leo. Gilda, however, abandons them both, only to be found two years later married to Ernest and living in New York.

First, I’ll go ahead and warn that the play is a bit long. This is the first play that I can recall, particularly at UA, that has two intermissions. It runs, with the intermissions, at about 2 and a half hours. And it is perhaps a bit slow to warm up into the comedy, particularly. The first act is mostly quite dramatic, and a bit heartbreaking and sad if you let it be. But it sets up the second act well. The second act also sees the inclusion of a maid, Miss Hodge (Brittany Steelhammer), who quite easily steals most of the comedy for herself.

By the third act, however, the play has firmly settled into its comic elements. Not to say comedy was entirely absent before, it simply comes out full-force in the ending. And the casting certainly helps. Fitzpatrick is one of the most entertaining people I have ever seen on stage, and I mean that completely in earnest and without hyperbole. And the ease with which each of the three primary actors work together and against one another leads to some very good drama and some even better comedy, particularly when Fitzpatrick and Vanek are onstage by themselves.

It is, I think, a solid play with excellent performances all around and humorous details that are just as entertaining as the punchlines. (Benjamin Mitchell’s stint as the servant Matthew, for example, has a particularly wonderful moment when serving coffee.) And the reactions from Gilda’s company in the third act, Henry Carver (Jay Jurden), Helen Carver (Kelly Barberito) and Grace Torrence (Tara Lynn Steele) were fantastic and clearly not skimped over, which too many productions tend to do. The set by Ian Mangum was simple yet quite effective, and the costumes, designed by Randy Hozian, very clearly helped identify the successes and comforts of the characters.

If you have the time, and enjoy being worked from giggle to guffaw, go see the show. It’s quite worth it.

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Breaking The Leg – “Coriolanus” By Improbable Fictions

Theatre season in Tuscaloosa is kicking into high gear in February, with several shows opening quite close to one another. I’ll try to see and write about all the shows that I know of, but today, I’m just going to talk about one show I won’t be able to see. Mostly because I’m in it.

Improbable Fictions is putting on a free staged reading of one of Shakespeare’s perhaps lesser known plays, “Coriolanus.” The Facebook event can be found here, and tickets can be reserved on this website. We’re having people get tickets since seating is limited.

“Coriolanus” focuses on a Roman soldier, Caius Martius. Martius is very stubborn and proud, and strongly supports the order of governance: Nobility, via senators and consul, rule the commoners. After a victorious battle in the city of Corioli, won almost single-handedly by Martius, he is given the name Coriolanus to mark his victory. Still, as a soldier and a brash man that refuses to play politics or not speak his mind, Coriolanus finds himself with many enemies.

I like to think of this play as almost in complete opposite to “Hamlet.” In “Hamlet,” Prince Hamlet is fighting conflicts internally throughout the entire show, constantly soliloquizing to the audience and revealing his mind to them. Externally, he often commits to non-action. Coriolanus, on the other hand, very rarely speaks to the audience, closing his mind to them. He is a soldier and fights his wars physically, refusing to even do the sneaky underhanded shadowy games political success requires. He speaks his mind without filter, though the inner thoughts are often closed away.

I really like this play. Not just because I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to play as Coriolanus, my first definitively leading role… I think the play has a surprising amount of emotion attached, surprising because you don’t expect it when it hits you. Politically, it has some interesting ideas presented as well.

Anyway, it’s a totally free show, and I think it’s good to support art when possible. If you’re in Tuscaloosa or Northport, come see us perform “Coriolanus” tonight and tomorrow night at the Kentuck Georgine Clarke Building at 7:30 both nights. Please don’t forget to reserve a ticket, too. I hope to see you there.

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From The Inkwell – Camp Gethsemane Character Development

M’k. So, I’m still plugging away at the second edition of my taking-way-too-long-daggum-it full length play, the one that tackles religion (Christianity), how I interpret faith, relationships and sexuality in a pretty big and perhaps somewhat provocative way.

While I’m way behind schedule, in that I wanted this done last month at the latest, it is at least still moving bit by bit. I’ve really been trying to take the many criticisms and critiques to heart, though I know this will still be nowhere near the perfection a better writer could make it move toward. It’s admittedly quite frustrating, reading and watching the works of far superior writers, knowing you’ll never match their level.

Anyway, one of the critiques I had was with the antagonistic character Craig. Craig Thompson is the man who runs Camp Gethsemane, supported by his church. Still, the camp is his child, so to speak, and he is extremely zealous in his desire to protect it and its mission, or the mission as he sees it. The problems most that read the first draft had with Craig were pretty communally shared, the biggest one and most agreed upon one being that Craig seemed too villainous and too caricatured. No one really understood why he snaps and gets physical. Nor did people understand why he even allows Gary, who is now Evan Carter, to teach at his camp when their views are so different.

Basically, I focused so much on everyone else in the story, including the character Emily (who is no longer in the play as an on-stage character, sadly), I kind of painted a picture of Craig in my mind and left it as a picture. But for a story to work, we need to understand him, at least a little. The difference between Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church and Count Frollo of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is that, with Frollo, we’re given a glimpse into his psyche, his reasoning for being so vile. Phelps is just a putrid sack of crap that exists to rile everyone up and generally be a hateful dude. No one understands why he’s such a tool, so he’ll never be as captivating and memorably evil as Frollo.

So, I ended up going back and writing a few new scenes, partly to flesh out Craig’s character and partly to give a more solid backing to the strong relationship Craig and Frank, one of the counselors, have. And also to explain why Gary (now Evan) is at the camp. All were lacking detail. And, as I’m trying to encourage myself to finish writing the last fraggin’ scene of the play, I’ve decided to let people read the first of two or three new (and therefore completely non-peer reviewed) scenes I wrote in this vein. And somehow, even with new scenes, the play has ended up about 15 to 30 minutes shorter (hopefully closer to 30). Anyway… please enjoy. Or don’t. I wouldn’t mind hearing feedback, though. I know at the very least the language could use some polishing, but I figure that’ll be focused on in the next (potentially final?) edit. (Note: We’ve already seen Craig onstage at this point, so his description isn’t included.)

——————————————————

Inside CRAIG’s office. CRAIG sits behind his large, neatly organized desk. There is a landline phone on the desk and a chair in front of it. CRAIG pores through his Bible when a young man enters. FRANK SINGER, a young man in his mid-twenties, is also dressed in a counselor’s outfit. CRAIG doesn’t look up when FRANK enters.

FRANK: You wanted to see me, sir?

CRAIG looks up from his Bible.

CRAIG: Ah, yes. Come in, Mr. Singer. Have a seat.

FRANK enters the room and sits down in the chair across from CRAIG.

CRAIG: I just wanted to let you know, we’re going to be having two different Bible Study classes this year. The leaders at the Church of the Mount have… requested that I allow the new youth pastor to participate in this year’s camp. Have you met him?

FRANK: Evan? I was introduced to him during the business meetings about getting a new youth pastor, but I haven’t sat down and gotten to know him yet.

CRAIG: Hm… I’ve not talked to him very much myself, either. But I suspect that the church is perhaps grooming him to eventually take my place running the camp.

FRANK: What? No. The church would never do that. This is your camp, you brought it into existence.

CRAIG: (Smiling, wistful.) I hope you’re right, and I appreciate your loyalty to me, Mr. Singer. It is, as always, a comfort. I suppose my worries could be misplaced. (Looks down at his Bible, running his fingers over the pages.) And if my eventual retirement and replacement is God’s will, then so be it. …we must all follow God’s plans. Whatever they may be… (Begins subconsciously playing with his wedding band, falls into a reverie.)

FRANK: …Mr. Thompson? Are you okay?

CRAIG: (Snaps out of his wandering thoughts. Looks down at his ring finger, pulls his hand away.) Sorry, I was lost in thought there for a moment. You can go.

FRANK nods and stands up. As he turns to go, CRAIG remembers something.

CRAIG: One last thing, Mr. Singer.

FRANK: (Turning back.) Yes sir?

CRAIG: Take some time to get to know Mr. Carter, would you? And let me know if you discover anything… well, anything you think I should know. For the smooth running of the camp. Something just seems… off to me about him.

FRANK: Yes, sir.

FRANK again turns and exits. CRAIG looks down at his Bible again, but seeing his hands, he puts his left hand in front of his face. He removes the wedding ring from his finger and looks at it, a somber look on his face. He grips it in his fist, closing his eyes tightly, before placing it back on his hand and returning to his Bible, turning the page and reading.

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Sing, Sang, Sung – “On The Willows” From “Godspell”

Every once in a while, I’ll find a song I’ve heard a billion times over already and gain a new adoration for the song. And then proceed to listen to it a billion times over again. It’s gotten especially bad with my attempts to cull a musical list for any potential recital I’ll perform next semester. Every time I think I’ve successfully made the list shorter, I hear a song I adore and it gets longer again. Hell, the new “Les Miserables” movie has added a new song for Jean Valjean, “Suddenly,” and I’m suddenly finding myself wanting to throw that on the “maybe I could do that one” pile.

This time, thanks in no small part to the wonderful, fantastic production of “Godspell” by Theatre Tuscaloosa, I find myself listening to the song “On the Willows.” As I would like to have at least considered a few more duets, particularly with women, than my original set list contained, this one decided to pop onto my list. Which is very nearly back to 20 songs or so. Thank goodness I have a friend willing to tell me what not to sing.

Anyway… It’s a beautiful song. I’m annoyed that I haven’t already sung it a bunch of times.

“On the Willows” – “Godspell”

On the willows, there
We hung up our lives
For our captors there
Required
Of us songs
And our tormentors mirth

On the willows, there
We hung up our lives
For our captors there
Required
Of us songs
And our tormentor’s mirth

Saying
Sing us one
Of the songs of Zion
Sing us one
Of the songs of Zion

But how can we sing?
Sing the Lord’s songs?
In a foreign land?

On the willows, there
We hung up our lives…

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Breaking The Leg – “All In The Timing” By Alpha Psi Omega

Sometimes, you just need to laugh.

Comedy is no stranger to the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance, and certainly no stranger to Alpha Psi Omega, the theatre honors society. They put on Guerrilla several times throughout the year, often incorporating humorous aspects to the theme of the show. And UATD tends to put on at least a couple of comedies a year. However, this year, APO decided to get a little bit atypical with their fall show.

“All in the Timing” by David Ives is not actually a play. It is, rather, a series of nine skits, coming off like an episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Yet, there’s more to it than that. Ives doesn’t use the farcical style of Monty Python so much… drama and character still exist in many of the scenes, and each scene has a different voice. Some of the scenes, or really short one-act plays, share similar voices to one another, while others could’ve been written by someone completely different.

In what has to be the largest collaborative effort for a show APO has ever done, Tommy Walker directed the show, but had three other people assistant directing four of the plays. Twenty-one actors were cast in the show, some playing multiple roles. And the technical side… well, let’s say that a lot of people were involved in this show. And I think it worked out well.

The show is, admittedly, hard to describe. To put all nine plays into a single show and attempt to make them cohesive, Walker created a circus world, a carnival of sorts, where all the actors were visible backstage the entire time. Before the show and during the intermission, actors came out and acted as clowns, some showing some very impressive clown work. I think Nick Burroughs’ animal clown is going to live on in my mind forever.

As for the plays themselves, Ives has an affinity for completely altering the reality of the world. In “Sure Thing,” a man, Bill (Anthony Haselbauer), and a woman, Betty (Tara Lynn Steele), meet at a coffee shop. Their conversation goes down several possible paths, reset to the last branch of the option tree at the sound of a bell every time something goes wrong.

“A Singular Kinda Guy” was a well delivered monologue from Wen Powers (who got some of the more dramatic parts of the show) about a man who thinks of himself as a typewriter trapped in a world of word processors.

 

In “Foreplay, or the Art of the Fugue,” a man, Chuck, takes a woman on a date to a miniature golf course… three times. Yet simultaneously. And the three Chucks (Burroughs, Motel Foster and Eric Marable, Jr.) interact with their individual women – Amy (Alex Karr), Annie (Illiana Garcia) and Alma (Adelle Smith) – as well as each other on occasion. Sometimes they go through the same motions, other times things are entirely different… especially for the third Chuck’s date with Alma.

In “Phillip Glass Buys A Loaf of Bread,” we have what I’d like to call a David Lynch-directed comedy musical. A moment of time where two people that knew each other once is frozen, and the four actors on the scene (Michael Vine, Jessica May, Karina Simonis and Loui Clagett) become representations of fractions of sentences and thoughts, singing and moving around the stage in a strange, clockwork-like motion of frozen time, the representation of confused neurons firing off in your brain when you aren’t really sure what to say.

“The Philadelphia” uses a fantastic concept where cities represent outlooks and reactions to life, and people can be trapped in them unknowingly, and outside of the city itself. Mark (Haselbauer) rushes into the restaurant where his friend Al (Patrick Croce) sits, oddly content despite the horrible service and even more horrendous food offered by the waitress (Naomi Prentice) at the restaurant. Al explains to Mark about living in a city outside of a city and how in a Philadelphia, you can never get what you ask for.

“English Made Simple” breaks down the barrier of language, altering and reinterpreting it in several ways, moving in and out of time and space to talk about the truth behind the words. In the setting of a science experiment/language lesson run by Amber Gibson’s character, Jack (Burroughs) and Jill (May) have many different conversations through different mediums… even hand puppets.

The theme of death and life passing before your eyes over and again, much like the theme in “Philip Glass Buys A Loaf of Bread,” emerges in “Variations on the Death of Trotsky.” Leon Trotsky (Powers) is caught in the moment between the fatal blow to his head and his actual death, dying multiple times throughout the scene while his wife (Taylor Schafer) and the Spanish communist that killed him, Ramon (Garcia), interact with his constantly dying body.

“The Universal Language” toys again with the idea of language, and the idea of love (a common theme in nearly every piece), but instead breaks down the English language itself, setting up a pseudo-everything language that is wholly incomprehensible and yet strangely understandable. Dawn (Kiley Gipson) comes in hoping to learn this universal language to cure her lisp while Don (Croce) tries to teach her the language and confidence. A girl (Simonis) enters at the end of the play to solidify the partnership Dawn and Don have created together.

The final play, “Words, Words, Words,” takes a swing at art itself, taking on the proposed theory that a monkey typing for eternity could eventually churn out the complete works of Shakespeare. The three monkees – Swift (Jordan DeWitt), Milton (Drew Singleton) and Kafka (Brittany Steelhammer) – try to comprehend and reason out the purpose behind what they do for their scientist masters (tech booth cameos from Tyler Spindler and Keegan Butler).

With a LOT of people involved, this could have been a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Frankly, some of the comedy hit some people better than others, but that’s how comedy works as a whole. There were some plays I enjoyed far more than others, but they were all solid and came together as a great show. Unfortunately, there are no more performances left of the show, but maybe some of the scenes will see repeats as Guerrilla acts. It might be worth it. I think Ives really has some interesting things to say, in retrospect… But even if you don’t want to think about it afterwards, there’s still the moment of laughter during.

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Breaking The Leg – “Godspell” By Theatre Tuscaloosa

I’d like to think that I’m selective with what shows move me to tears. To the best of my remembrance, I’ve only cried during three shows: the University of Alabama’s “Saint Joan” and “Hair,” and now, Theatre Tuscaloosa’s “Godspell.”

What’s interesting is how similar “Hair” and “Godspell” are. Neither has much of a plot, per se, being more of a shared experience between this family-esque group onstage and the audience, though story does crop up at times. Both shows that I saw share two actors, also. So they get the dubious honor of making me cry twice.

“Godspell,” which has four more shows before the end of the run, is a musical by Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote “Seussical” and “A Man of No Importance.” The show is based on the Gospel according to Matthew. As such, Christianity and, more importantly, the philosophies behind the religion are extremely heavily represented throughout the show. If you’ve grown up in church like I have most, if not all, of the stories will be familiar. Even those unfamiliar with Christianity will likely catch onto a few things here and there. But this show is nothing like your average sermon.

In one of the best, most purely ensemble shows I’ve ever seen (to be fair, I think “Hair” is the only other show that even fits that description), only two of the actors represent any characters outside of the prologue. In the prologue, eight of the 10 actors are onstage in school uniforms, sitting at desks. They each sing phrases from specific philosophers and great thinkers, setting the more philosophical tone of the show. After hearing Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, Edward Gibbon, Frederic Nietzsche, Jeal-Paul Sartre and Buckminster Fuller, John the Baptist (Gerard L. Jones, doubles as Judas) appears, singing “Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord).” And the show begins in earnest.

The group becomes baptized by John the Baptist. He then talks of the one that will come after him and Jesus (Will Erwin) arrives to be baptized as well. After that’s done, the group returns wearing bright, haphazard colors and clothes, some having done crazy things to their hair, and the teachings of Christ start. The group, akin to the Disciples, acts out and clown around, playing with a huge slide on stage and one another, each one telling different parables while Jesus guides them through the journey, pointing out the lessons as needed.

Those Disciples, as I’ll call them, are played by a fabulously talented and extremely coherent group of young people. They are Eryn Davis, Alex Hawkins, Zacchaeus Kimbrell, Justin Barnett, Diva Clarithyea-LaShaun Hall, Natalie Riegel, Norquina “Q” Rieves and Craig First. They play themselves in the show with no real devotion to a specific named character. They are simply themselves, playing and portraying parables, interacting with one another.

After the fun and humor of the first act, however, the show slides into the emotional heavy hitter. As this does follow the Book of Matthew, I can go ahead and tell you it’s very similar in tone. The first half or two thirds is teaching and parables, education. The last portion is about Christ’s fall, Judas’ betrayal and the crucifixion. And the actors are so fully dedicated to what they grow to be during the show, a quirky family all lovingly devoted to Jesus, that the emotions run very powerfully. Even Judas, portrayed quite sympathetically in the show, truly loves Jesus and seems disgusted with himself for what happens.

The voices in this cast are incredible. They are all so powerful and good at what they do. I saw the matinee show today, which was their second show of the day having done a morning school show. On top of that, at least one or two of the actors has informed me that they’ve been fighting illness. Frankly, today’s performance made me wonder if they were lying to me, because everyone sang beautifully. In a show like this, it’s hard to pinpoint any specific individuals that were “better,” because they all do so well and most songs are heavily ensembled. However, several solos did stand out, including Davis’ “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul,” Hawkins’ “Learn Your Lessons Well,” Kimbrell’s “We Beseech Thee” and Riegel and Hall’s powerful, highly emotional duet “By My Side.” Also, pretty much any time Erwin or Jones had a solo was a fierce song to be heard. The finale, with Christ crucified and singing in a call and response to the Disciples about how he’s dying, was the killer that really hit me right in the feels. Not just because of the subject, but because of the openness and full devotion the actors had to what was happening on stage, and to the beauty of their voices combined.

The set is fantastic, a grafitti-covered concrete wall, broken down at parts, with stairs leading to a massive upper platform and a slide coming down. The set, combined with the lighting, is a powerful addition to the show, perfectly accentuating which parts are joyous and happy and which begin to see the falling into darkness. The designers, Erin C. Hisey for lights and Wheeler Kincaid for set, have done some of the best work I’ve seen of their for this show, I think. The costume designer Jeanette Waterman should be commended, too, for coming up with such wacky, playful and yet appropriate costumes to a show that could easily be adversely affected by the wrong choices of costume. But a big hand goes to the director and choreographer Abe Reybold. I was fortunate enough to experience his directing and choreography on the night of the auditions, and I really wish I had been able to experience more of it, because everything turned out fantastic and I know he was a treat to work with.

Theatre Tuscaloosa’s “Godspell” is in the Bean-Brown Theatre at Shelton State Community College. The show runs at 7:30 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $22 for adults, $18 for seniors and military and $14 for students and children. I strongly, STRONGLY encourage you to go watch this show if you’re in Tuscaloosa. It is simply fantastic. A great time and an amazing theatrical experience.

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Sing, Sang, Sung – “No More” From “Into The Woods”

At the University of Alabama, seniors majoring in musical theatre get to perform a recital. It can be however they’d like. Most simply go to the Allen Bales Theatre with sheet music and a pianist and sing several songs. Sometimes they sing duets with others, sometimes only solos. Others, like my friend Russell Stephens, go full out and find a venue separate from the university, creating an entire suite of music that includes several musicians and vocalists.

While many in the UA theatre department plan for years to do their senior Guerrilla, as many are in Alpha Psi Omega, my big desire the last three years of college was to do a recital. I was getting attention for my voice after some performances for class and in Guerrilla, and I desperately want to sing some more. I love to sing and didn’t get enough of a chance to do so, I don’t think. There are so many things I want to sing. But I didn’t really know how to go about it, and my senior year was the year of the Tuscaloosa tornado, which ruined the chances of anyone wanting to perform a recital.

But I’m still in Tuscaloosa and I still want to sing. Fortunately, this city is actually very loving toward the arts, so I still have a chance to pull it off. I’ve been trying to plan out a set list of songs, as well as people I want to sing with before they disappear to do greater things… but it’s hard. Hard to limit myself, that is. No one wants to stick around for a recital that’s longer than an hour. Culling the list has been difficult. Ergo, I’ve asked the aforementioned Russell to be my musical director and help me plan things, as he’s far better at it than I. And knows more people that can help get this rolling.

When talking to him, he said culling his list was troublesome, too. But he went through and thought of the reasons he had picked the songs. If it was something like, “I’m still pissed I wasn’t cast in this role,” he’d cut it. Now, I don’t think I have any songs that fit that category, but I have many that are simply “Because I’d like to.” There are others on my list, however, that I simply cannot do without. “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park with George,” “If I Can’t Love Her” from “Beauty and the Beast” and “No More” from “Into the Woods” are three that are at the top of my cannot be done without list. The first is one I worked on for literal years in voice lessons with two separate teachers, but I never got to perform it. The second is another I worked on in voice lessons that has become a standard of mine I auditioned with in New York with some success. The third, the one I’m talking about today, is special.

A friend of mine once watched the film made of the original stage production of “Into the Woods.” That performance had Chip Zein playing as the Baker. After she watched it, she told me that she thought I should play the Baker, and that I’d be better at it.

I don’t think I’d be better. But I want to give it a shot. And this song is a song of torment and emotion, a subject that is very popular with me and with many of the songs on my list. The Baker meets his estranged father in the woods after years of thinking him dead, and confronts him. They sing together in this duet that I will be singing in the spring, provided the Mayans don’t ruin things for me.

I hope beyond hope that I will be able to do this recital. I’ve just got 17 songs to choose from… Oye.

“No More” – “Into the Woods”

Baker:
No more questions, please.
No more tests.
Comes the day you say, “What for?”
Please… no more.

Mysterious Man:
We disappoint, we disappear, we die, but we don’t.

Baker:
What?
Mysterious Man:
They disappoint in turn, I fear,
Forgive, though, they won’t.

Baker:
No more riddles.
No more jests.
No more curses you can’t undo, left by fathers you never knew.
No more quests.
No more feelings. Time to shut the door.
Just… No more.

Mysterious Man:
Running away, let’s do it.
Free from the ties that bind.
No more despair, or burdens to bear,
Out there in the yonder.
Running away, go to it.
Where did you have in mind?
Have to take care.. unless there’s a ‘where’,
You’ll only be wandering blind.
Just more questions… different kind.
Where are we to go?
Where are we ever to go?
Running away, we’ll do it.
Why sit around, resigned?
Trouble is, son, the farther you run,
The more you’ll feel undefined.
For what you have left undone, and more,
What you’ve left behind.
We disappoint, we leave a mess, we die, but we don’t.
Baker:
We disappoint in turn, I guess. Forget, though, we won’t.
Both:
Like father, like son.
Baker:
No more giants waging war!
Can’t we just pursue our lives, with our children and our wives,
‘Til that happy day arrives, how do you ignore
All the witches, all the curses,
All the wolves, all the lies, the false hopes, the good-bye’s,
The reverses,
All the wondering what even worse is still in store!
All the children.
All the giants…
No more.
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