The internet distributes my ten minute plays quite well. Shambles links to my website (which is now over ten years old) and sends a steady stream of traffic from theatre students around the world. They often request permission to use my 10 minute plays in their classes.
This week, three students asked me for scripts for their projects.
Sometimes, the requests come from places in Asia and Africa where I’m guessing there may not be access to many short plays in English in the library. Sometimes they translate them. One student in Sudan told me he translated Pizza into Arabic and changed the title to “Milk.”
Often, teachers tell me they use the scripts to help their students learn English.
I know that some students probably do have access to a good library and could certainly find a better script than mine — but this website makes it easy, and these exchanges give me a tremendous amount of pleasure.
Thus, without Broadway success, critical success, or money, I’m sort of a content playwright. I make the plays free and accessible online, and get the satisfaction of knowing that the words I put on the page are getting used on a regular basis.
But, I just can’t crack the hometown. Here in Salisbury, NC, we have three theatre troupes, plus a local college with an excellent theatre department. They all have done new plays written by local folks (including some really bad ones, which is the norm for new plays) — but I can’t get them to consider mine. They will give me the time of day, when I buy a tickets to their productions — but that’s about it.
I have done plays here. That’s how I got started, in the mid-90’s, by producing them myself. They went really well. Got a lot of support and learned a lot. A self-produced local production is one good way to get a play done, and it’s a lot of fun — but it’s ultimately an ego trip that doesn’t tell you a lot about the play.
This spring, Lee Street Theatre will be producing a festival of ten-minute plays. They did this last year also. Last year I didn’t enter the contest for two reasons. The theme was “city.” I didn’t have any plays that specifically talked about city life, and I didn’t have the time or inclination to write one. I love cities, but the theme is a little broad. It would be much easier to write a play about a pair of socks. I also noticed unsavory signs of politics and competition among those involved, and feared my play would be rejected.
I did go to the show. It was fun, but a fairly weak production overall. A number of people asked me why I didn’t submit one, and I said it was because I didn’t want to be rejected in my hometown (Salisbury — a small town) and thereby suffer the embarrassment.
This year, a couple of people on the committee urged me to submit — and they whispered to me (pssst…psssst) that a discussion had taken place and that it was decided a play of mine would be picked.
They call the evening “A Six Pack of Plays” and the scripts must be set in a bar.
Well, I wrote a play called A New Normal. (You can see it here, if you like). It’s set in a bar. It’s about a bar’s last night in business. It takes place on New Year’s Eve, 2008, during the heart of the Great Recession. It’s certainly no masterpiece, but I think it’s okay.
Problem is, I didn’t read the guidelines. When I read the guidelines, in order to get the address and mail the play — I noticed that it was limited to three characters.
My play had six (although three of them had no lines, such that those actors would really not need to rehearse more than one day).
I inquired about the strictness of these rules and learned that the cost of violating this decree was severe. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that this play would not be considered. So I didn’t send it and never showed it to anybody.
They extended the deadline a few days and I wrote a second play (well, it’s actually an adaptation of something I wrote a few years ago; it worked quite well). This one was not set in a literal bar, although it’s about a person who has spent too much time in a bar, and she invites the audience to join her at the bar. I thought it hit the “bar” theme pretty hard.
I submitted this play, but it was disqualified because it was not set in a bar. When they say bar, they mean a real bar. Symbolic, thematic, metaphorical bars will not suffice.
I understand, of course, that they want the convenience of using a single set for all six plays. But I’m certain this could have been done with a prop or two, without any set-changing fanfare — and it would have added a bit of variety to the evening.
My ten minute plays have had a number of productions, including hundreds in classrooms around the world, with almost fifty productions in theatres, including some pretty nice ones in New York, Minneapolis, Chapel Hill, Melbourne, Charlotte, and elsewhere. Several have been published by play services and, and three of them last year in the NC Literary Review. And I’ve won two state arts grants for playwriting and filmmaking.
But I’m still trying to figure out how to play the local theatre political scene. Still looking for my first local theatre production. It’s a tough nut to crack. Maybe it’s because I take it all too seriously.
A few seconds passed, and the kindly Chinese gentleman in the shoe repair shop rose from his bench and meandered through the tiny, ultra-crowded shop.
He stood in front of me and waited.
I gave him one of my sandals and showed him the broken buckle and the worn out bottoms.
He answered quickly. Apparently, for him, it didn’t require a lot of thought.
“Broken. Need new pair.”
Being the kind of person who sometimes needs to hear things more than once, I asked again, just to make sure.
“You can’t fix these?” I asked.
He handed me the shoe.
“Broken. Need new pair,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said.
He returned to his bench, in order to continue working on a pair of shoes that apparently were worth his effort and skill.
I remember, as a child, visiting that shop, in the first block of East Innes Street, in downtown Salisbury — located sort of in the basement of a building on “the square.”
My father, or grandmother, sent me there a few times, in order to drop off or pick-up a pair of shoes.
Our family’s department store sold a lot of shoes, and I suppose we used that shop’s service for customers who bought high quality shoes that needed new soles.
Other than this pair of sandals, I pretty much wear tennis shoes all the time — and I wear them forever, until they are completely, 100% gone, before breaking down and buying a new pair — so I really can’t relate to getting shoes fixed.
But I wonder how long that shop has been there and who has owned it over the years. How long has this man been there? Has it changed owners many times? Is it a family business, passed down a couple of generations? Could that same man have been there last time I was there, when I was a kid? It doesn’t seem like the store has changed at all.
I’m sort of curious and don’t mind, usually, asking questions such as this. But I dare not ask this man. He’s busy, with broken shoes everywhere. His work is tedious and continuous. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would waste away his time shooting the bull in English with a guy like me.
That buckle broke about two weeks ago.
I knew it was a long shot.
I’m thinking I’ve had those sandals at least ten years. I remember getting an incredible deal. I think they cost $12. It was a mismatch. One was size ten, the other ten and a half.
I’ve worn them almost every day around the house, and often out of the house. I wore them to work, on teacher work days. I’ve worn them to bars. I’ve worn them in the mountains and on the beach. I’ve drenched them in ocean water and beach sand — and stepped in, and scraped off, and scrubbed off, dog poop. Several times.
I’ve looked around town at a few shoe stores already. In February, there aren’t many to be found. The ones I’ve seen, I don’t like. They don’t have tire treads on the bottoms. They don’t have good arch support. And they’ve got too many straps. They’ve got straps on the back, which may require sitting down or bending over in order to take them on or off. There’s just too much sandal on the sandals. And they’re way too expensive.
On the internet, I’ve seen sandals that look just like mine, but they’re over a hundred dollars!
I thought the snow might be gone before I had a chance to blog about it.
I did post a Facebook status update about my inelegant fall down the concrete stairs at the back of my house. I must say that I’m quite touched at how many people commented with their concern.
It was a hell of a fall, and one of those lucky moments in life.
I didn’t hurt my back or crack my head. The only damage is a bruise that might keep me from sleeping on my left side for a couple of weeks — but it could just as easily have been an occasion for an ambulance.
I was taking out the garbage. We had had grouper for dinner on Saturday night, and there were fish bones in there. It needed to go out.
I should have put the bag on the porch and shoveled the snow first. Instead, I fell down the stairs first — landing on the ground, on my back — and then shoveled the snow.
When I was a kid, and when I was a teacher (for 24 years), I lived for snow days. I even liked ice days, as long as we didn’t lose power. Anything for a day off school.
I wanted time to write. If there was a forecast for snow, I would try to predict how much and how long we’d be out of school– and I’d start planning a project and watching the sky. Nothing was more joyful than getting up on a snowy day and taking a cup of coffee into my office, seeing the beautiful white coating outside my windows, knowing I had time to work on my own work.
Now that I’m self-employed as a Coffee News publisher, and largely make my own schedule, it seems like work never stops. I still love the snow, but don’t get the same thrill of vacation.
Last night, I had lots of recycling to take to the curb. Today is our pick-up day. I didn’t know if the city would pick-up today or not (they didn’t). My neighbors didn’t have any garbage, trash, or recycling in front of their houses.
But I missed last week, and we have a lot of recycling. We print about 12,000 papers each week, and a couple thousand come back. These add up, and I usually carry them out with a hand truck. Not possible in the snow.
So I made several trips to the curb last night, trudging through snow in my tennis shoes.
I’m glad I did.
It was quite cold, extremely clear, with a full moon. The street was spectacularly beautiful — bright enough catch with an iPhone.
This morning, I took a little more recycling out — and took a few pictures in the morning sun.
And tonight, there’s still plenty of snow on the ground — a pretty good run for this part of the world.
A rollicking bunch: After all these years, they’re still partying on Saturday night.
For decades, this group has gotten together on Saturday nights for an evening out. For most of those years, my father was there also.
I’ve been there many times myself — and not only on Saturdays. For years, it was spaghetti night at Pockets also (Thursdays).
Tonight, I just happened to be visiting my mom when my uncle showed up and invited me to tag along for dinner.
I rode to Blue Bay with my Uncle Sonny and Aunt Phyllis. I sat in the back seat, with Mom and Billy. Phyllis drove.
I shared the small salmon plate with my Mom. It was more than enough.
Dino, the owner, sent us a complimentary order of potato wedges. I ate more of these than all the others put together.
My youngest daughter was there also — working. She’s a waitress at Blue Bay. She has asked that I not go there while she is working, and I’ve honored that request. But she seemed to be okay.
When we were leaving, it occurred to me that it’s been awhile since I’ve been with this group. After my father passed away, four years ago, the Thursday nights at Pockets began to become more scarce. And now, Pockets is closed.
Not all of them have been well. My mom’s Alzheimer’s has progressed. She’s fallen and hurt herself a few times and been unable to go out.
Others in this picture have spent time convalescing — at home, in nursing homes, rehab, and the hospital.
There have been issues with my siblings that have resulted in diminishing family get-togethers.
And I’m often distracted by work and whatever else I’m doing.
I’ve had many meals with many people — but the conversation with these folks is my favorite.
During dinner, Billy asked me if I had seen the latest play at Piedmont Players. I said no and asked him if he had seen it. He said it got a good review and he was going Thursday. They discussed the play’s lead actress — someone worth discussing, apparently — but no one could remember her name or really anything about her. Someone said this may be “her first play.” Not so, someone else responded. “She’s been in a lot of plays.” Someone else said she may be “from out of town.” Nobody really knew. I could Google it, but I won’t.
Paul and I talked for a minute about Obama and the word on the street about his job performance. He remarked on how much various countries were giving to Haiti, compared to the U.S., and commented particularly on Russia’s measly contribution.
Paul described what he considers an incredibly heavy use of credit card shopping during this past Christmas season.
Naomi asked me what I was writing. I told her that I had not been writing much, just the occasional blog, “on the internet.” She advised me to write something like Coffee Therapy again, to protect what I write, and to keep it off the internet.
Leon asked me if I thought the Massachusetts Senate election marked a trend. I said yes, and then pontificated for a moment.
Billy said that Presidents always lose seats in mid-term elections.
I also told Leon, my dear uncle, in far too much detail, about how I had broken my printer today, in an effort to clean it.
Naomi said that Obama was spending so much money. I kind of wanted to respond to this, but Mom interrupted before I could.
Conversation jumped from one interesting topic to another. I missed some, having to help my mom across the restaurant to the restroom — three times.
As we were leaving, it occurred to me that this is a special group, and a special moment, and I needed a picture.
I announced my request that they gather for a picture, and somebody said, “Why?”
I didn’t want to say, “Well, I might not have so many opportunities to take this picture again.”
So I said I wanted to send it to my daughter, Sarah, in Alaska. This reason was more than satisfactory, and they all gathered.
The next challenge was getting their attention. I took one photo with everybody looking all over the place. I don’t think my mother understood that I was trying to take a picture.
So I said, “Mom — look over here!” Everybody looked, and I got this picture. A fine looking group.
I think I know the age of everybody in this picture, within a year or two, but I will not report this here. Suffice it to say, the average age, not counting me, is about 85. (Counting me, it’s 80!).
Nor will I patronize them by discussing their resumés. Suffice it to say, they are downtown folks, top community leaders from the heart of the 20th century history of Salisbury, NC.
All dear friends. Not a Facebook page among them. Still the best dinner conversation a person could ask for.
Like everything else, the secret to Coffee News readership is location, location, location.
The placement of the stand inside the restaurant is crucial to the paper’s readership. When a lot of people see it, some of them will grab it. If they read it once, they are likely to read it again, and again, and again.
If they never see it, they never read it.
Here are a couple of pictures I took last week while delivering Coffee News in Concord, NC.
Notice how, in both restaurants, our stand has a special location, adorned by flowers. Both are located at the entrance.
I don’t want a busy-body in the corporate office to read this blog, call the local store, complain about “corporate policy,” get somebody in trouble and get our paper kicked-out — so I’m not disclosing the name of the restaurants here.
Suffice it to say that both of these pictures were taken inside major national chain restaurants — the biggest of the big.
Both of these locations were challenging at first to get into at all. Some of this chain’s locations still will not let us in now.
At first, the stands were located in much harder-to-find areas. in one case, it was on a messy window ledge full of brochures and business cards and postcards (all clean now).
Who moved them to these perfect, prime locations?
I have no idea. Somebody in the restaurant did this months ago.
How did we get such great locations?
1. Longevity. We’ve been delivering to these locations for three and a half years.
2. Consistency. We’ve never missed a week.
3. Fun, positive material in Coffee News.
4. Smile and a wave from the delivery person (one per week).
Dodo of the Year Cast and Crew (the same people, except for me)
I made these films and I’m the first to admit they are not masterpieces. But, looking back, I do find them amusing. They both contain anti-W sentiments — something I’m proud (and something that was not so popular in these parts at that time). Both films involved working with some of my favorite people and were therefore great gobs of fun to make.
Also, last year, they premiered Coffee Culture USA, a documentary that includs a segments about coffee shops around the country. One of those segments was about our filming of Coffee Therapy, at Escape the Daily Grind in Salisbury, NC.
I whizzed by, drove about half a mile, and then started to wonder if I could pull up beside the bird and take a quick picture out the car window. That shouldn’t take much time. If the peacock was still there.
I turned around and drove back. This was Highway 801, heading from Mooresville to Salisbury.
When I got beside the peakock, it screamed and strutted a bit, and then started walking down the driveway, toward the house. Much safer than the highway.
I think I remember taking time out of school (Knox Junior High) and roaming the neighborhood with an army of other eighth graders, picking up trash.
I think I remember it being normal, before Earth Day, to toss any kind of trash out the car window.
I think I remember a lot of trash on the ground. Basic city streets.
Here in my neighborhood — in Salisbury, NC — we’re blessed with natural areas. Back then, there was already a nature trail, behind Knox, but we enjoy a much bigger area now.
The nature trail is now connected to the city’s greenway, and to the nature preserve behind Catawba College (where I enjoy walking almost every day). I remember when this area was a dry pasture. Now there are lakes, trails, and wildlife. All this less than five minutes, walking, from my house. Or from Food Lion, or from the hospital.
One could argue that we’ve damaged the planet significantly since then. But not everybody looks at the past. Some foreward looking people have created some wonderful spaces. We’re far more aware that we share a planet. And we’ve got our first Green President.