Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Full! Frontal! Nudity!

So every time I said I was going to put on a play, someone invariably said "Is there any nudity in it?" and if I said it was a "gay play" I was even told "without nudity good luck getting an audience." or "why aren't you doing it naked if it's a gay play?" People think it's funny but the 100th time you hear "Isthereanynudityinit?" it's harder and harder to smile.

So I used to joke that I was going to call a play Full Frontal Nudity because that was the best way to get an audience. It worked, too! (Having a cast of 21 didn't hurt either.) In my years of producing plays it was our second highest attendance after Angel Project; we averaged about 40-50 folks a show.

Heuer Publishing published the script and it's had three productions since, on tap for two more this year, which is pretty cool actually. Apparently the title puts some people off. It's basically a sendup of community theater where they spread the rumor of FFN to get people to com3e to the show. And the preacher who says his flock must stay out but he must go in to see. I lampooned critics (scene one shows the critic had written the review before the play even started), actors who say "I can't make rehearsals but I'll learn my lines," directors, writers, and other theater companies who use ridiculous tactics to sell tickets. Plus people who are so prudish they refer to body parts as geography, e.g. "Your Fort Lauderdale" or "Your Baja California."

Can't we just call it what it is? asks someone?

So, it was fun to write. This season it's on tap at Reedy Point Players in Delaware City DE and Oakland Community College near Detroit.

Break a leg! as they say...well not any more. End of act one...there's a scene where two people are arguing by shouting over someone in between them. The guy in between was a lot taller so they would jump over him to say their lines. One guy landed and cracked his ankle. He had to do act 2 on crutches (fortunately we found a pair), but since the play is kind of a farce, people didn't even realize it was an "add on" until he came out for a bow.

Another performance treated us to some drunk audience members who were upset that the weren't getting their nudity as "promised." They were being really disruptive. The question is, what do you do? Well, they also snuck in some alcohol into the church where we performed, and as this church prohibited alcohol, we kicked them out. It was not pretty. Since I had a role, I was torn between breaking character and getting involved or not, but I chose "not."

Anyway thanks to the folks involved in the productions, best wishes for the upcoming, and for choosing the play! Find a sample at hitplays.com

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Country Wife, and Black Bean Burritos

Random thoughts on William Wycherly's The Country Wife...

Really? there we go. It's funny and depressing at the same time. So really? This is a "you can't make this shit up unless it's really going on around you" kind of play. Basic premise is Mr. Horner pretends to be impotent so he can gain access to married women. The women pretend to be pure and prudish so they can gain access to Mr. Horner. Hilarity ensures, and a lot more sex than you think would happen in a play from 1675. seems to me with a bit of tweaking, this could just as soon be set yesterday.

Plus, I'm noticing a lot of domestic violence, between this, Wuthering Heights, and The Way We Life Now, women get clobbered and threatened pretty often. It doesn't seem like the authors look kindly on this but the way it's reported, it's definitely a matter or course for all these folks involved, say 1675, 1800-ish, and 1873.

There's lots of funny stuff in Wife, as one can imagine, and at the end... well nothing comes out the way you'd think. Trolloppe ends The Way We Live Now with most folks finding happiness that has been denied them for the past 800 pages, or the villains get theirs. The actual wife of the title falls in love with Horner (who as you can see is very busy) so while you root for her to get what she wants, what would she get? I'm curious what people thought of it back then as well as women playing those kinds of roles.

On another note, I'm trying to rethink how I write plays. Like totally and completely. I don't know exactly how to do this, but after to many it would be kind of dull to keep up the same model. Maybe dull isn't the word, but... I remember reading a bunch if Ibsen and thinking "here we go again," and I'd like to not be that person, should anyone read a whole bunch of my plays in rapid succession. What I'd like, to be honest, is a little less plot and a little more "happening."

I have a few reasonably plotless plays. "Black Bean Burritos," "Livin' Life on De Fly" are more random scenes with a bunch of songs. "Woof the Road Show" is kind of like that as well. You can do a lot if you junk the plot. You need a story, but do you need a whole bunch of too-familiar tropes of storyline? Probably so if you're going to get produced. I don't know how to even go about with BBB. The songs we do in the band, Grave Injustices, Letter from Liberia, and Over the Trumpet, are from BBB. It's about race, about politics, and it's kind of a "Groundhog Day" experience with a guy ordering burritos. There's a scene of Obama trying to buy a car, with cash, and the dealership not trusting where the money came from. And a scene that makes fun of late night TV fundraisers. And an actual story around it, of street musicians and homelessness.

I had to cancel it because the cast couldn't rehearse. So there it lay, throughout the entire Obama administration, hoping to see the light of day. Maybe sometime.

There's a boatload of plays from England, so I could read them forever. It's got quite a theatrical history which is pretty cool. Was just thinking London is kind of like classical Athens, in the accomplishments of so many in a small population, and the arrogance of empire that came with it. but that's a long treatise for another day.

Still, if your play from 1675 is still trotting the boards, you must have done something remarkable.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rolla, and then Maplewood

The band's show in Rolla was fun, but HOT. Like 104 degrees outside hot. We played at the Public Brew House, and those folks are really awesome. Plus their beer is getting around more, if you're into microbrewery, try it. I don't drink beer but people who do like what they've got!

Thanks to Ellen Saracini joining the band we've been able to revive a few songs for female vocalist, so it was the first performances of Good Times Comin' Round and Letter From Liberia in quite awhile. LFL seems like it's hard for some folks to sing, I had a few former band members that didn't love singing it but Ellen's got it nailed. It's kind of a gospel/South African sound mixed together. I'd hang at the PBH a lot, I think, if it was closer.

Next for me is a Stone Spiral show, and I'm trying to bring out some "nemesis rags," i.e. rags that are challenging and refuse to be learned. One is "Buzzer" by May Aufderheide, and I have it pretty buzzed up for now. "Don't Jazz Me - I'm Music" by James Scott is one from the end of his career, and you can sort of hear a "farewell to ragtime" in it, I think. I really like it and I've performed it a few times, so out it comes. It jumps octaves a lot, and has a cool drawn-out syncopation that I've not come across in any other rag.And finally "Fontella Rag" by Ethyl Smith; she lived in St. Louis and she's got two rags to her credit. There's a passage in it that just eludes me but it's finally coming together. Plus she does a nice job of brining elements from one strain into another, which you don't see that often. So then you get to where you can play all this, and it's like "why was that so hard?" It just takes more practice than you think.

As a play director - and that's where this is suddenly going - I wondered at actors who didn't know a line or ten for a show and then... didn't know it the next, and at the end of the run had boffed it up all six times. Who does that? Not any performer who cares for their craft. So anyway I've learned that basically if you don't know it, you need more practice and that's about what it needs. But some pieces are beyond your capability at a certain time, perhaps. I don't need to dive into Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerti tomorrow.

We have one guy in Rolla named Dave who's a super fan... he was so excited to see us! It's cool to have folks that really love what you do. Yep I know some bands have millions of those, but you have what you have, and you need to appreciate everyone. So Dave, we appreciate you. And Josh and Josh and Layne and Jason and Dirk and Colin and everyone else at PBH, thanks for having us & bein' cool.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Women In Literature

My literature, anyway...

one thing a writer tries to do (or not, in some cases) is to write well-rounded characters. But that means sometimes they don't sit well with other folks reading that character. The question is this: is the character "badly written" or just that you're unhappy with the portrayal? Do you think this is a portrayal of ALL women, when it's meant to be a portrayal of just one?

Many men have a problem with writing women, and vice versa. I've been on both ends of this, I've been praised and burned for my female characters. I wrote a play called Cowboy Logic which went on in 2001, and many of the women in the audience said the female characters were masterfully written. I didn't ask, they just said as much. A review of my book The Prophecy says the two women in the book are NOT well written because they're petty and whiny and all kinds of things, plus one character's love for a man is questioned... (there are four major female characters, did she miss the other two?...)

Seeking Asylum has been lambasted for Renee, who constantly fights against having to play a support character in a male dominated script (but she's not always the nicest, either). I would say Renee is lonely and acts out of that, and in order to fight that loneliness she sometimes hurts other people.

It's kind of this, I think, to repeat...is the portrayal wrong (stereotypical), or just something you don't like... the women in The Prophecy have the power in the book; the queen rules an empire the point of the book is she has to stamp out a new religion to save her country according to... a prophecy! So in order to keep that power and stave off annihilation, they do some stuff that's cruel, and as a result of that power, they do some stuff that's selfish. Like men do. Some folks loved Queen Jayde for her sarcastic sense of humor as the world crashed around her (largely her responsibility), some didn't.

One of my favorite things to study in history is women in power, because it was so rare, and because they either had, it seems, all the power as Queen, or none of it, or very little, as someone's wife. I wonder why some Queens didn't appoint women to other state offices, but probably it wasn't allowed, and they had enough trouble keeping the throne as it was.

Arielle is Star Bryan's sister in my book conveniently named Star Bryan, and she's often the most popular character there, or close to it. She doesn't take no shit, more or less... and has an interesting way of dealing with things.

I did write a novel at age 19 and upon reflection, the women are horribly portrayed. I do wonder looking back if it's because my male characters were "in the closet" and should have been "out," so the female characters were stuck with a bunch of closeted men. I dunno. Maybe I just needed to grow. I want to just toss the book, but I don't have the heart. I might anyway.

The editor at Brooklyn Publishers said I can really "get into the mind of a teenage girl" and I don't know if that's good or not! But when you write plays for schools, you need to put in a lot of girls, and they tell you not to just make them all secondary characters. So I have written some strong female characters, Naomi in Z-Town, Sadie in For a Pair of Prom Shoes, for example.

I think though too many people make the mistake of thinking that if a writer writes a woman a particular way he is saying Cosi Fan Tutte, so at they all... or any other minority, ethnicity, etc. If you're going to expect to be portrayed realistically, sometimes that means you won't come out on top. For what it's worth Xena seems to be a great example if strong women in literature (or whatever you call Xena, if not that)

In a lot of literature the men DO and the women REACT, so having some more powerful female characters, whether they are "good" or "bad" can't hurt.

Band update!

So what's going on these days!

The band took about 6 months off and then we went 0 to 60 pretty quick! It's been an exciting summer, plus we have, as mentioned before... new songs for YOU (and us too, I've seen bands disintegrate because they never learn new material.) On July 22 we're playing at the Public Brew House in Rolla, MO. They're having Blues and BBQ. We'll supply the blues and eat some of the BBQ. We play at 3, and another band starts at 7, so it's a whole day of BBQ and BLOOZ! come and enjoy!

We've been playing at Public House since its first year, I think, and it's been cool watching this company grow into two locations and state wide (at least) distribution. If I drank beer I'd recommend giving them a try, but I know folks who do enjoy their brew, so... give 'em a try!

In August we're playing at a private pool party, which we've done for two years now. This is a fun time, easy going, plus again FOOD for ALL. well, you gotta eat.

Back to Price Chopper Stage at Kauffman Stadium on Sept 9 where we'll open for a Royals game. We've learned Kansas City Blues by Euday Bowman. I'll have to say everyone in the group was not into this when we started, but now it's become one of our favorites. For one, we don't swing it (you can't, it just doesn't work) and for two, it's a bit unusual in how it's constructed. So it didn't sound so good until we got it right. It took me awhile to figure it out as well, but I was determined to see it through... I picked the sax part from a trombone part that's on a really old recording of the song, and that adds a lot. There's a certain wild and wooly-ness to very early jazz and blues that we seem to have lost, or decided against.

You can't... well you can but you shouldn't... OK well I've seen people try out a piece of music, hit approixmiatel 50% of the notes, and say the music stinks. Well how do you know, you haven't heard it?

anyway that's the scoop for the band... oh and we've added Ellen Saracini on vocals, and she's helping us revive some tunes we haven't been able to do for awhile... look for Letter from Liberia and Good Times Comin' Round, cuz they're BACK!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Adding to the schedule

The band has gigs! Which you can find on its Reverbnation page at www.reverbnation.com/theraggedbladeband.

Or I could list them here, but anyway a couple are far off... we'll be at the Ferguson Farmer's Market on Oct 21, and The Public House Brewery in Rolla on November 4. We'll be at Magpie's in St. Charles May 18, June 3, and June 15 at 5 PM.

Oh,and North City May 13 at around noon. I like playing on that stage across from Crown Candy Co. For one, it's across from Crown Candy Co., and who can beat that? they have great malts and egg salad to die for. And BLT to die FROM because it's enough for three BLT's in one. Seriously it is, and you can get it to go and have BLT for days.

But something about playing up in the old North City, playing songs that were big when North City was "happening" instead of "has been," connects you. Old North St. Louis is coming back, it's being built up one house or storefront at a time, and I hope it succeeds. There are parts now that are pretty cool. So I'm not saying anything out of turn to say that it needs a lot of work. Anyhoo, the band's been playing up there for several years, and it feels good to be part of it.

My trumpet's been sounding more like a small cow lately, the valves stick so I need to soak it in hot water and hope that it fixes itself up. Or take it to the shop. Time to do that I guess, soon. what I really remember, on a more personal note, is playing the opening to Stormy Weather unaccompanied on the trumpet, and it bounces off the walls and the streets and the old buildings and it's all about the old times and what was, and I really hope the folks up there make it work. We have half a city out of commission.

Tomorrow I've got a show at Urban Eats, it's a "you eat while I play" show, so I'm practicing up a bit. Some days you practice and you're great, and some days you wonder why you bothered. But... tomorrow is another day. I'm all for admitting that some days are better than others. To say you're perfect, never had a bad show, never had the fear of messing up... it's not realistic. Even Beyoncé falls down now and then, and I'm sure Adele's sung Hewwo or something like that.

This is Livin' Life on De Fly
which features the band, so enjoy. Plus it's from a play called... well... Livin' Life on De Fly that could use a production someday. So if you want to live on de fly, start flappin'.

So go mint your money on mountains of lies
Success a disguise word for greed
A poor man I'll live and a poor man I'll die
But a miser I'll never be

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Seeking Asylum started in Longview, TX

I suppose one of the conundrums of my "life as a playwright" is that the play I wrote in the shortest amount of time with no forethought whatsoever has been my most successful full-length play.

I was talking online with a theater teacher in Longview TX, and he said if I could come up with a play in a week that he would probably have his class put it on. He told me who was in the class and who could play what kind of part. Like one guy did good playing "crazy," a couple gals were good playing "Hip Hop," etc.

And he said, I couldn't romantically link up black and white students because their parents would have a fit. So there was that.

So taking all this in hand, I started writing what turned into Seeking Asylum, at about 4 pm on a Sunday, and by 4 pm on the Monday I was finished. Even the end of the play didn't come to me until I got there. I read over the draft every day and on the Friday I sent it to the teacher, who really liked it. He had his class read it and it took them awhile to warm up to it, but they finally "got it" and it was scheduled for that December. Unfortunately, the music teacher hijacked the space and the show didn't get to go on, but I did get the play published and it's been produced more than any other with the exception of a one act Jack, The Beanstalk, and Social Services.

We put it on here in St. Louis, and of course it got a bad review, and then a follow up letter from another writer who agreed with the critic even though he didn't come see the play. This is why, to quote Jade Esteban Estrada, you should "never be local." But OK if someone doesn't like it they don't like it, nonetheless, you might want to come see it first. Or not.

The big point of S.A. is friendship, love, wanting so much to be liked that you make up your whole life and your circle of friends if real ones don't work out. But, in this world, there aren't enough friends and family to go around, so people are stealing friends and parents and going to whatever length to have access.

I suppose to some extent we are all lonely, or masking it.

I've been fortunate enough to see a few productions, including Higginsville and Fayette, MO, one in Udall, KS where the microphone dropped from the ceiling to the stage in the middle of a scene, and I learned... people are having fun so go with it...one in New Bremen, OH. I think there was one more, not sure... Hermann High in MO put it on but I missed it and I hear it was really good. Twice with this play I made the newspaper simply because I showed up.

I always try to be nice and gracious when I go see a play; no one wants the writer to come and be arrogant and whiny. It is an honor to have it be an honor that you are in attendance. if that makes sense....

Here's something too, we use photos from past productions to promote shows, and some of them are back from 2002 and 03, and it's like...wow those kids are probably married with kids of their own now...

What this whole experience got me thinking was "Who needs to think about what you're doing, just write the play, you only need a day." Well... I did that a couple times, one of them's been produced a few times (pen name) and the other is still on my desktop. It's The Eyes of a Dream which I like, maybe someone else will one day.

Seeking Asylum is available at hitplays.com

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Woof! The Road Show and ragorama

I'm trying to rework how the band does ragtime, and I think we're getting somewhere. It's more what goes on around me, try to give the instruments things to do that are a little more interesting, and take away some of the "marchiness" that a lot of it has. I think by now it's not so unique to do something different but it hopefully will sound good, or give it our own stamp, and I think that's what I might have been, while good, missing.

So we'll see. Working with Maple Leaf and Richmond right now. People will love it, or they'll go all traditional and not love it. Or they won't know because how many people can whistle the Richmond Rag anyway? Exactly. I'm glad to try to bring it back and make it cool.

I posted up a song on SoundCloud called Sometimes, from WOOF! The Road Show. What it does show, other than a road show, is that a little bit of effects on a rather mundane recording can bring it back to life. We did it at Jupiter Studios and listened to it once and it was like ugh, but it hasn't been "finalized" in any way, so it sat on the computer for 10 years. It's just piano and vocal but I enhanced the vocal and put in some reverb and delay and it came out pretty good.

Truth is that's all it needs, it's just a piano and vocal song. It doesn't need oboe d'amore or contrabassoon of banjo, really.

here, you decide.


I guess what's good is I do have all the songs from WOOF recorded, and with the original cast. I don't know what will become of the play, it's sort of a pastiche of a gay romance on the road, two guys who are doing a romance and of course one wants to romance the other in real life, but the "other" demands it stay professional. Plus people keep rewriting the play because it gets workshopped to death.

I'm not the biggest fan of workshopping and development and having 1006 people put their finger in your pie and before you know it your pie and your play are germy and disgusting, piece by piece. I was more like "I'll write it my way and accept the consequences/blame if it doesn't work." I've had my share of consequence and blame. But thousands of folks have produced my plays, mostly short ones, so...thanks because each one really means a lot, and I hope you've enjoyed it.

Woof got, I think, four reviews, one really good, one local critic seemed to like it and we actually took her recommendation to add a song. a couple folks didn't. so life goes on. It almost got produced in New York on three occasions... as in I was offered a production or help with one. But things come up, so no hard feelings really.

What makes the play unique, perhaps, is it doesn't have much of a plot, it more lets you look in. It sort of has a plot, but... sometimes I get tired of plot. So I try other things. Plus I used some discarded dialogue from another play, Love of Last Resort (not to mention some behind the scenes shenanigans that I instigated), as a catalyst for Woof. That's a story for another day.

anyway if someone would want to look it over, yea you can.

I would LOVE to have an oboe d'amore or contrabassoon on a song. Or both! Who wouldn't? Maybe sometime soon.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Stage Directions! (hedgingly)

There's a big debate over these... some people say leave 'em out, some say put 'em in, some say actors and directors ignore them, some say actors and directors need them... etc.

In my world, the editor at Brooklyn Publishers says the more the merrier. Since a lot of their customers are first time directors, or people new to it - and many schools use student directors as well, he says they like to have a lot of direction, and even ask for plays that have a lot of author's notes and/or stage directions.

I've done some "directing from the page," and if someone wants to use that, fine, if they don't, fine, but at least it's there, and also I notice in this world at least, most directors want to do it the way the writer wrote it.

I wrote a play called "High School Spoofical" which is also the name of an Australian musical. Who knew? Both are parodies of "High School Musical," my version more or less is about a class that's putting on the play HSM but how things in the school parallel the plot of the show. (insert spooky music here).

Editor said "you have some great dialogue but right now it's just people standing around talking, and it needs action." Kids in high school like to move around, and again, a director might need some help. So for this one I went all out, and I put in a whole undercurrent of directions and actions that augment the dialogue but that no one would infer from reading the lines. I had a lot of tossing basketballs and throwing paper and just doing things...

Turns out this play's been put on relatively often, which makes sense because some folks are all about High School Musical, And it's fun play. I saw it once in Ashland, TN, and the director there used every last one of my extra directions. It really added a lot of the show, and gave people something to do besides talk. As a writer, I got a chance to see that "it worked!"

And... who hasn't seen a play where people come up to the front and talk, and talk, and... talk. and talk.

I like to compare this to music. If you see a piece by Mozart, you see a lot of "stage directions," it tells you how fast, how loud, staccato, legato, accented, etc. 222 years later you know exactly what Wolfy wanted you to do, and the best musicians are the ones who interpret Mozart so you hear Mozart. I believe with any piece of music as well as a stage direction, there are 1000 possible ways to interpret it "correctly."

Ragtime music often has nothing. Just the notes. It's a challenge... or an opportunity... then because you get to do what you want. Come to think, most people do anyway, but I try more now to incorporate dynamics into the rags when they're there. I had that challenge directing Helen, by Euripides... the firs 20 or so minutes in particular is a lot of Helen having monologues, so you get to find your own directions and make it interesting.

So upshot is, I'm trying to use a lot of notes and directions because that's what my audience wants. If the editor says "leave 'em out" I'll leave 'em out.

Interesting too, I like to listen to YouTube music where they have the score of the piece and you can see if they actually follow the directions.

You can, of course, find High School Spoofical at www.brookpub.com

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Murder is so Rude

Most of us write to our strengths, which is why I don't do spy novels, police thrillers, and international intrigue. I'd like to some time, but I haven't exercised that part of the brain yet. I'm pretty good at relationships, and characters come to me fully-developed. Like I can think of a character and there he/she is in all his/her/either splendor without a lot of "trying to figure things out."

I have a couple Murder Mysteries, which are higher on humor than on mystery, and last week saw the world premiere of Murder is so Rude, at a high school fundraiser in Duvall, WA. Near Seattle.

Some folks are like "ooo high school, like, whatever." I am honored. Of all the plays in the world they chose MISR so who can complain? It would be rude, so thanks folks and I hope it was fun!

What I like about the play are the characters' names. I used working names for some of them... e.g. Mrs. Corpse, Mrs. Hostess and her husband, Mr. Hostess, and then I figured, well, let's just keep it that way, and I added the suspects, Mrs. Hacker, Mrs. Cutter, Mr. Blade, etc, the butler Mr. Bowenscrape, and the lawyer Mr. Overbill. Plus Mrs. Hostess has a great reaction to the murder, "I never know what to do with a widow at a couples party." and "I hate to hire the rug cleaners for just one room." But did she do it? Of course not, she's hung up on etiquette and after all.... murder is so rude!

So by now you're probably wondering "where can I get this play?" and of course, go to www.brookpub.com and find it there at Brooklyn Publishers. It's great for high school and community theater, and dinner theater.

Naming characters can be a challenge, and I've been told about it two ways... that people prefer easily recognizable names, like Bob, Tom, Chip, etc... but I had a young guy tell me he enjoyed playing a character named Xanthus because how often does that opp come along? I like unusual names anyway, it gives a character a unique stamp. Sometimes you watch movies and every man is Jack, Frank, or Joey. No offense, but, why not Xanthus? Actually sometimes you watch movies and have no idea what the character's name is, you just know "it's that guy that Harrison Ford is playing" and that's good enough.

Be nice. Because Murder is SO rude.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Memphis Blues

Handy & The Blues at Urban Eats

Tomorrow I'm playing background piano at Urban Eats Café at 3301 Meramec in St. Louis... it's sort of a non-Chinese dim sum where they bring out various small dishes and you pick what you want, dessert, salad, quiche, waffle, etc. Kinda fun. It keeps me in shape having something to practice for every month. I play third Sunday of the month most of the time, so pop on by if you can! The wraps are good, the quiche is good, pretty much it's all good. Plus local art's for sale, not everyone is into local art, but we have a lot at home, and it's a nice feel to have some affordable original photographs or paintings.

One thing I try to do with the old songs is play the original sheet music, which for many folks was how the song went if they didn't hear it played live. And a lot of the old recordings are pretty faithful to the sheet music, or orchestrated versions of it. It's sort of a shtick now that I do it, but it's also a challenge, and I think an homage to the era.

It's something to "shoot for," as in learning how to play it as it was published, vs. comping chords. Plus I guess it's a bit more authentic. You find out things, for instance a lot of WC Handy was originally a tango. The chorus to St. Louis Blues and Beale Street are both tangos, which you rarely hear, but you can even read about why he did that. to put in something familiar and introduce them to the blues at the same time.

Also old Blues didn't swing, but I swing it anyway. So sue me. It's just hard not to, but if you listen to the Handy Band, it doesn't swing. Also, you'll get the feel that early blues came out of ragtime, the way the left hand plays the rag bass and the right plays the syncopation is pretty much the same thing, and it goes from there.

Random thought, "Darktown Strutters Ball" which is a jazz classic from 1917, you can hear how jazz is taking over, the bass line doesn't do the rag thing, it does more the jazz thing as in it just moves along w/o so much oompah, but there's plenty of oompah to remind us we'll still in 1917. I think looking at the sheet music vs. just comping chords shows a bit of the history.

That being said, I've always been sort of proud of my arrangement of Memphis Blues by Handy, that I did off a lead sheet. It probably sounds more like 1950 than 1915. It's the version people don't sing that much, vs. the version they do, which was the version George Norton put out after he tricked Handy into selling him the copyright. (essentially he said the song wasn't selling, and it was, and bought the rights "for a song." Handy got the rights back later on.) I like that version too, and 100 years after the trickery it's still wrong, but the song is good, kind of a lazy blues. Below is Memphis Blues by The Ragged Blade Band: we recorded this in 2012 or 2013.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

The United States of Pandamerica

The Brooklyn Publishers deadline for me is March 1, which means, of course, I have all year to get things done and I usually wait until February to get things started. But I've done some bigger plays over the year... I've got a full length and two one acts going into the catalog coming up, and up to 12 short plays, depending on what all they like. I tried something a bit different, which is writing about the same characters in several pieces. It was actually easier to come up with ideas that way, and though the pieces aren't related, in that you don't need to do them in any order or together at all, it might interest people who like one of them to try some more.

One of the one acts is The United States of Pandamerica, which is a comedy about a Panda getting elected as POTUS. Someone suggested that with the current state of affairs, a zoo animal would be just as good as a human being, and the public took it to heart. I like to say I was influenced by Aristophanes in that he would set up a bizarre happenstance, and rather than have a plot, just sort of watched what happens.

So I tried for a bit of a dark comedy, but the darkness creeps in a little at a time. Mostly you watch the media reaction to this chain of events, as well as the slow ostracism of the two states that actually voted against the panda. Plus, stuffed pandas for everyone! You'll meet Snappy (Miss Photogenic Vermont), Clayton (dudeblogger), Oliver and Holly the sparring broadcasters, The Vice President who's also a rapper, and of course three defeated presidential candidates who... are they plotting revenge?

Besides, this was "inspired" as in it's some idea I came up with and I ran with it. Had fun writing it, so hope y'all have some doing it on stage!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


I wrote this up for the Brooklyn Publishers newsletter awhile back, but I thought it might be good to post it here. Swatch, if I may self-evaluate, is one of my best plays. You can find it at brookpub.com and read a sample free!

One Color at a Time

People often ask me what inspires me to write a play; it can be range from reading a news story to waiting behind bizarre customers at a coffee shop. Here’s the story behind my most recent pages of dialogue: in my “real job,” as an editor for a couple paint industry magazines, I talk to people about color. How it affects people, how to sell people on it, what’s in, what’s out and a good dose of “follow your heart and don’t pick color for other people.” Don’t live with a color you don’t like year after year because your aunt and uncle might not approve, or because you plan to, one day, sell your house to people who will repaint anyway.

I interview color experts from companies such as Benjamin Moore, Pratt & Lambert, and PPG Paints, along with a lot of independent designers and color experts, many of whom have the odious job of travelling the world’s high fashion markets and determining color trends for as much as three years in the future.

Speaking of following your heart, playwriting can be discouraging. It’s a lot of hours alone and often you don’t see the fruits of your work. Or you look forward to someone’s feedback and all they have to offer is ‘there’s a typo on page 16.” So sometimes you want to hang it up next to those old boxing gloves. “I don’t know if I ever want to write another play again,” I said to someone right before the time I had a particularly inspirational conversation with someone about color. Some nuggets she offered jogged an idea and set me to work. (By the way, you can’t type well with boxing gloves.)

Colors inspire us and make us think and feel a certain way. Red can arouse passion, blue can inspire leadership, black can impart a streamlined elegance. Bold, pastel or medium shades evoke even more subtle feelings. So instead of color swatches, I thought, what about characters with those characteristics? I’ve written a lot of plays, so I turned “never writing another one again,” into “let’s try something different!”

Sometimes I find one-word titles arrogant, like you’re cramming too much meaning into a single word. Proof, Chess, Rent…but on the other hand, it’s easy to remember and it can really resonate. Come to think, Antigone has held up pretty well. So why not join in? Let’s try…Swatch. The young characters in this play are difficult people – kids that nobody can stand to be around or the kids that foster parents regift to the state –in the world of Swatch they are punished and rehabilitated by being forced to live only the characteristics of a single color. Once they learn do to that, they’re allowed again to re-enter the whole color spectrum.

Once I in the middle of writing I picked up the phone and a recording said, “This is a verification system for your Google listing.” So I gave that line to a new character right then and there. Then the challenge was, will it make sense down the line? Google Maps makes a difference in the plot, especially to the characters on their way to Spain.

Back in the 1500s a popular song in Europe was “A Thousand Regrets.” These days we’ve morphed that phrase into no regrets – no fear, no regrets, I don’t care what you think, all that kind of sentiment is making the rounds these days. Sometimes it’s a tasty morsel, like if Aunt Pattymelt really doesn’t like the color you chose for the curtains, who cares what she thinks? I once heard a man tell his elderly mother, “Why did you paint your house this color? We’ll never be able to sell it after you die.” I think he had his thousand regrets about that later. (She’s still with us, and she loves her blue!)

I find my regrets are mainly two – being treated badly and not speaking up, or things I said and did myself and still wish I hadn’t, even if no one found out. In the end, that’s what a lot of this play is about. With all its silliness, corruption, conflict, and odd humor, what hits the gut is the reaction Odin and Valeria have when they finally internalize how much they hurt other people, and how they wish they could go back and fix it. One will have to opportunity to fix it, while the other will realize it’s too late.

It’s this realization – that sometimes the good of others comes before one’s self, and that many times life isn’t fair but you have to make do – that releases the Swatch kids from living as only one color and lets them reenter society as fully human.

Who hasn’t brought paint home and found it wasn’t mixed right? But you can joke about it – it’s one time you can get away with “off color humor.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

One Thing I Never Learned

Well as luck and coincidence would have it, Tennessee TV is the free download of the week at Brooklyn Publishers. Go to brookpub.com and get a copy, particularly if you are a director looking for a 30 minute one-act, this one’s fun, fast paced and still popular. It’s the first one-act I had published too, so you can be a part of history!

A little known bit of trivia is that along with No Luck at Home, I also wrote “One Thing I Never Learned” to be included in the original movie version that never got done. Long time ago, I’m over it!

You can hear it here, this is from about 1994 or so, not exactly sure. I saw a guy named Jim Wasenius at a coffee house and I dropped a note in his tip jar asking if he’d like to play guitar on this. So he was kind enough to come over and put down a track on this cassette recording.


I’ve never done this song live, but I hope to, soon. At the time, I thought it really came out good (I still do) considering I had a cheap mike and a tape player. The vocal harmony in the middle section “so lonely to be free” is pretty cool. Enjoy!

When we did the play originally in 1998, I swapped this song out of the show. The actor playing Torry Don, the singer in the play, was also a songwriter, so I suggested we use one of his songs instead and he had a good one to fit into the show.

I got to see Tennessee TV and Tennessee TV Take Two in Mansfield Arkansas, where a class put on both shows at once. They were awesomely nice to me and my partner Cherry when we came to visit. It rained, then it hailed, and they had to stop the show because it was so loud you couldn’t hear the dialogue.

One the way out, we could see the hail on the ground, it was big pieces of ice, looked interesting to say the least. Mansfield is in western Arkansas in a really pretty part of the state, south of Fayetteville.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

No Luck at Home and Tennessee TV

"No Luck at Home" which almost always goes on the Stone Spiral set list, is one of the first country tunes I wrote... I think. Wrote it back in 1993 perhaps.

I wrote a short screenplay called Tennessee TV and there was a country singer in it called Torry Don. Part of the movie was going to be some of his music videos. I even tried to write it "in character" as in what would be some things that Torry does with melody when he writes a song, vs. what I did. I decided he ended his phrases going down to a note vs. going up to a note.

The band recorded it back in 2013 on the What Kind of Love album, and you can hear it here


At the time we had a clarinet and alto sax in the band, and there was a challenge of putting them into a country tune, but it worked out pretty well. We've got two St. Louis music celebrities on it: Roger Netherton added fiddle, and Chris Powers, a former band member, came back to put in some guitar.

The last chorus was inspired by the Oak Ridge Boys, who would do a lot of acapella at the end of the song. I put a fiddle behind the vocals, so it's not really acapella. It's half-capella. Anyway, it sounds cool and folks seem to like it when we do it live. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, Tennessee TV the movie never got finished, the film maker had to leave town and he left all the footage on my doorstep. He didn't do "takes" but we did come close to getting it done, just never happened. However it has been performed as a play several times, and there's a sequel, Tennessee TV Take Two; recently I got to see them both done in the same afternoon.

"If it ain't happening on Tennessee TV, it ain't happening!"

I wrote the sequel on a plane from Kansas City to Portland. I didn't bring anything else to do to make sure I would get it done. Unfortunately I finished it half way there; since it basically took the first play and did it backwards, it went quickly. I'm glad folks still do these shows on occasion. They're talk show spoofs, at the time I wondered if the trashy talk show would go out of style and the play would be obsolete, but not quite.

Anyway No Luck has a life of its own, and I'm glad it's well received.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Richmond, Indiana and Jackson, Tennessee

So we tried adding a guitar to May Aufderheide’s Richmond Rag (she’s from Richmond, Indiana) and it really brought the piece to life – despite the classical protestations of some, I get a thought that if you make it really backwoods and throw in some African rhythm on the drums, you’ve got the spirit of the thing more than a grand piano in a dark auditorium.

I have a friend who mentions “Piano Hell” where a ragtime festival is nothing but a bunch of guys and a couple gals on a grand piano, when the genre really demands a band, orchestra, or SOMETHING. There’s never going to be a huge market for pop music of 110 years ago, but, yep, I like to restore it much as I can, along with some of the (much of it ugly) history that goes with it.

Last year I put Magnetic Rag on a set list when we played on the Hyvee Stage at Kaufman Stadium. It was a “fear of God” thing that if I screwed it up, 1000’s of people would hear it and it was really loud, so Magnetic came out pretty good. Just practice until it’s 2nd nature. Or first.

Anyway if you come to the show you’ll hear the guitar on this short piece and see/hear/experience! the difference.
Once again, Stone Spiral, Saturday Feb. 11, 8 PM, 2500 Sutton in Maplewood. Weather should be nice.

Some years there’s an award ceremony overlooked by most, but it’s probably because I always win. The award is for “Jerry’s song of the year,” and “Jerry” gives the award based on the song he wrote that he likes best. Past winners have been “Good Times Comin’ Round,” “All of My Life,” and “Slow Days in New Orleans.” In 2016, where was no competition because I only wrote one song. It’s called “Jackson, Tennessee.” I wanted to call it “Jackson” but Lucinda Williams has a song called Jackson which is soooo good! So if you have an Alexa, ask her to play it.

My version was born out of my inability to get a gig in Jackson, TN, despite my best efforts and the efforts of a friend who lives there. So I turned this frustration into a failed romance of someone who walked away from me without explaining why. It’s country folk with a tag line of “I will never play a song in Jackson, Tennessee.”

Which in fact took awhile to find the best melody for, but I think the song sounds good. Josh arranged an acoustic guitar, bass, and an effect that sounds like a string mellotron. (we thought it would suck but it sounds really cool, when mixed in quietkly) I put on piano and vocals and added a riqq on afterbeats for the choruses. We’re hoping to add fiddle, but it’s good either way, so as soon as it’s ready I’ll post it.

Or come hear it live, of course!

I’d still like to play there.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Stone Spiral and May Aufderheide

I’ll be playing music with Josh Bohm on guitar at Stone Spiral in Maplewood this Saturday, and you can find them at stonespiralcoffee.com. It’s an off the beaten path coffee house and I like to play there because I can pretty much play what I want… it’s more a “concert” than background music.

I’ve played a couple classical pieces on occasion – which is a big deal because I’d never worked up a classical piece to performance level – and usually we do rags and original tunes. Plus there some great food, it might cost a dollar more than you think it should but the chicken salad sandwich with the Great Harvest bread, OMG! And the staff is good folks.

So as we like to say “it’s a show you won’t want to miss!” Random thoughts on stuff I play, in the ragtime world, May Aufderheide is considered the best female composer. She wrote a bundle of rags, more than most women, between the ages of about 20 to 25. In “those days” once you got married, writing ragtime was considered “unwomanly” and you gave it up to raise kids and feed your husband.

This is too bad, but on the other hand, it seems to be the first time where women composers got themselves on reasonably equal footing with men. May to me is an original… you have to get into it a bit to notice, and she hooks you by waiting to show her stuff.

Usually the first strain of her rags is the most conventional, and after that… it’s “on.” The rhythms are different than most other rags I play, some of the harmonies are more unusual, and a lot of “Full” chords, with three or four notes. I play three: Dusty, Richmond, (both from 1908) and Buzzer (1909). I liked Buzzer because of the end of the first strain, which is really easy, but the rest of it’s been a bear, and it’s taking a long time and a lot of frustration for me to get it together. But finally! I can pretty much play it without fear.

In any case, I’m doing the other to this weekend. Dusty has a “beer garden” feel and Richmond is the simplest of the bunch but again in a very original fashion. The third strain has a really cool bass line, and there’s a certain heartfelt simplicity about it that “gets you”… especially if I play it right.

“Perfessor” Bill Edwards has a good bio of her here http://www.perfessorbill.com/ragtime4a.shtml If there’s one thing I’ve learned playing this music, it’s that if you think you should know it by now but you don’t, it means you need to practice it more. Eventually it comes around. Anyway pop by Stone Spiral if you can!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Why We're Here

I'm going to use this blog to talk about an exciting topic... ME. Well, sort of. Plays, books, music, short stories, the band, ragtime & other period songs I've been learning, and any performances we might be involved in. And perhaps some random thoughts on artistic things...books, music, and etc. I find a lot of folks are interested in what goes into writing a play or a song, so I thought I'd try to throw in a few ideas and behind the scenes thoughts on some things I've written and how we put them together. So I'll try to pick something for each blog and drop a few words on it.

Ragged Blade has been a theater company, and now it's a band, but it can go back to theater whenever it wants. It's my production company, plus we have the name registered as a website, so might as well make some hay. So... HAY!! Be back soon!

Friday, January 27, 2017

I haven't posted in a few years but we'll have content coming soon. yes.... CONTENT!