Archive for the ‘Queen Lear’ Tag

Helping The People Who Help The People Who Write The Plays   2 comments

30-Stickland

This came in the form of an email from my old friend and brother in arms in the playwriting game, Neil Fleming, who is the current President of the Alberta Playwrights Network:

I’m wondering if we can hit upon your goodwill as an APN member playwright to participate in an event we have coming up on November 28th.

APN is turning 30 this year and we are trying to raise $30K in 30 days by asking for 1000 donations of $30.
On day 30, we are hosting a Birthday Bash with a playwright version of TV’s Chopped.
Chopped pits 4 chefs against each other. Each round they are given mystery ingredients and have to make a dish. Each round is judged, and one of the chefs is “chopped” from the competition until there’s a winner.

We plan to do “Turg-ed” where each donation of $30 allows you to buy a word (ingredient) for the four playwrights to make something out of. $300 for curse-words
Playwrights would have 30 minutes to incorporate things the best they can, and then they’re work would be read out loud.
One writer would be cut from each round until there’s a winner – but each “turged” writer would then become a ‘turge and join the judges.
There will be one event in Calgary and one in Edmonton.

We’d love you to be one of our Calgary Writers if you’re willing (and available on November 28th)

What could I say? I’m a sucker for punishment and the type of public humiliation that playwrights know probably better than anyone else. (Maybe other than goalies and placekickers?) I am also past president of the APN and so I am aware first hand of the great role this organization plays in helping Alberta playwrights get their work from page to stage.  Without their support, for example, my play Queen Lear would likely still be lying in ruins instead of being currently produced in Russia of all places. (I’m big in Russia, what can I say?)

It should be fun. If you check out the trailer below you will get a better idea of what’s in store Saturday evening. (Honestly, I’m still trying to get my head around it myself.) Clearly, I am the grey beard in this group, but I’ve been training hard and hope to be the last writer standing. Or sitting. Or drinking. Or whatever.

Should you be reading this and have no chance of making it to the event, don’t be afraid to go to the APN website and make a donation. 30 bucks sounds about right. It’s an investment in the future of theatre in Alberta, that is, the theatre that is created in Alberta, by Albertans, for Albertans and maybe even for audiences far away. That’s got to be worth 30 bucks, right?

The event takes place Saturday, November 28 at the APN offices WHICH HAVE MOVED — they are now at #208 – 331 41st Ave. NE. Doors open at 7:00, the writing commences at 8:00. There will be a silent auction. And a DJ. And there will be a bar.  At least there bloody well better be a bar!

For further info here’s the APN website: https://albertaplaywrights.squarespace.com

There’s an online auction here: http://albertaplaywrights2015.eflea.ca/view

And finally, just below, the trailer.

Thanks for reading!

 

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The Marriage of Music and Literature   4 comments

moragandmeThis lovely photo taken by my friend Francis Willey is from the launch of my novel, The Piano Teacher, at Calgary’s Shelf Life Books.

The beautiful woman you see in the photo is Morag Northey, a wonderful cellist and human being who graced us with her presence and made what may have been an ordinary event quite magical.

The universe, or God, or god, or the gods, or maybe a simple act of fate brought Morag and I together about 6 years ago when I was looking for a cellist to create a score and perform it on stage for my play Queen Lear.

That’s not an easy thing to do, let alone do it well, but she did it and anyone who saw that Urban Curvz production of the play certainly came away from it enriched and even transformed by her infectiously generous spirit that she somehow manages to impart with each and every note she produces.

How perfect, then, that Morag offered to play at the launch of The Piano Teacher.

If Queen Lear was an exploration of the process of the theatre, then The Piano Teacher is an exploration of the process of music. Among other things, obviously.

I began my artistic career as a piano player. When I was young and developing my aesthetic sensibilities, it was all about music, and the act of playing. It really quite amazed me that when I set out to write this novel, which is told from the point of view of a concert pianist, so many of the lessons and ideas learned from my teachers decades ago were still so fresh in my mind, like it all had just happened yesterday.

Interesting, isn’t it, what sticks and what doesn’t.

When I began writing plays — my first one, The Family, was performed in 1984 in the back space of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto — 31 years ago, dear God, where does it go? — I guess I must have felt that words alone were inadequate somehow, never as powerful or as evocative as music. I tried to find a balance between language and music in the medium of the theatre. The odd time I think I may have actually gotten it right.

There’s a bit of business in The Family where the dead son returns from war with his coffin on his back. (Don’t ask.) (Designers either love or hate me.) The coffin transforms into a piano, and the dead son sits down and plays some lounge music while his father seduces the son’s fiancée. (Or was it the other way around?)

The point being, we had live music on stage. Other plays I’ve written – Quartet, Cocktails (which I edited and contributed a piece to), Excavations, Writer’s Bock and Queen Lear, all featured live music on stage in one way or another. Even my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required, had one of the characters creating the soundtrack on stage by playing a tightly controlled rotation of LPs.

It’s an exploration I got away from during my years at Alberta Theatre Projects. Looking back now, I’m not sure why that happened. I certainly came back to it with Queen Lear, and now with The Piano Teacher, it feels like I have come full circle in my adult life. (Or whatever this is.)

Ongoing, I’ve muddled my way through most of a second novel that so far has nothing to do with music. I do have an idea for a play that is about an aging rock musician (see photo below!) but so far that’s just an idea, I haven’t taken pen to paper yet.

I do think it interesting to endeavour to probe this antinomy of music and literature.I look forward to renewing the journey again some day. Meanwhile, though I have a novel to flog and it seems to take up a lot of time and energy. I have to say that the early feedback on The Piano Teacher has been so warm and enthusiastic that it’s really been encouraging.

Oh, and this. As you are probably aware, artists of all stripes are trying to figure out how we can make a living from our travails in this digital age. Well, a friend of mine put a “Donations” button on his blog a while back and he has made the astronomical amount of $37.00 as a result. So I thought what’s the worst that can happen, and put one on this blog, up on the left hand side. It’s a long summer and any support I receive in this manner will be greatly appreciated.

If you can afford to, I would appreciate the support. But really, just knowing there are people reading these ramblings is gratifying in itself. Still, you know what they say — you can’t live on air.

I mean to put a permanent link on for buying The Piano Teacher and Queen Lear from Blurb.com, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet.  If you’re in Calgary, you can buy both books at Shelf Life Books, but if you’re further away, The Piano Teacher can be purchased online at http://blur.by/1JCifkt and Queen Lear at http://blur.by/1wf20oo.

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a photo of me shilling my book at the Shelf Life sale at The Lilac Festival earlier today.

Lilac Festival

From Russia With Love . . . But Very Little Cash   1 comment

As I prepare to launch my novel The Piano Teacher next month, the old playwriting career has shown a sudden spike in activity, this time over in Russia.

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

From what I make of it, it will only be a matter of time until I’m like a god over there, they won’t be able to get enough of me. Soon, my photo will grace the wall of every dwelling place, humble or grand, likely hung between Dostoevsky and Chekhov, two of my favourite writers in any language or medium.

I have been fortunate enough to have had my work performed in far off places before (Turkey, for example, and Nova Scotia) and I have come to learn that the further they are away from you, the less likely they are to pay you. But that’s ok, it’s all part of establishing one’s international reputation.

The contract they have sent from the land of Putin and Pussy Riot is especially puzzling. In fact I’ve never seen anything quite like it. To wit, the theatre has licensed the play – which is my play Queen Lear, translated into Russian a few years ago by a woman named Galina Kolosova who is a friend of Joyce Doolittle, for whom I wrote the place in the first place, but in English, obviously – to stage the work beginning on April 25 for one performance a month for a duration of three years.

I like the three years part, but once a month? I can’t think of an equivalent in the Canadian theatre. One performance a month! How is that even possible?

It gets better. In the land of subsidized theatre, the average ticket price is only a dollar or two. The theatre seats 100. My royalty is 6% of that, which according to my math will work out to about $6.00 per month. But for three years.

Like I say, it will only be a matter of time till I’m like a god over there.

Still, it is flattering always to have your work produced, especially in exotic climes such as this, and of course as strange as it all seems to me from this side of the pond, I wish them the best of luck with it.

The dream is that a director or producer from a theatre that performs a little more frequently than once a month in a larger theatre, such as the Moscow Art Theatre where Chekhov and Stanislavski used to hang out, will see it, love it and mount their own production. As unlikely as that might be, it would now seem to be in the realm of possibility, at least.

One can always dream, right? It goes hand in hand with the enterprise of writing plays.

By the way, if you’re interested in obtaining a copy of Queen Lear, at least in English, I’ve published it through my publishing company B House with the online printer known as Blurb, website http://www.blurb.com or in Canada, http://www.blurb.ca.

Any sales will be greatly appreciated, as obviously my royalty money is a little thin these days.

Anyway, it’s all good, I’m not complaining. But one of these years, would it be too much to ask to get a production where I make a shitload of money? Just once? Would that be asking too much?

Someday, friends. Someday.

Thanks for reading.

The Beatles won’t let me share Back in the USSR, so here’s this instead . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Great Moment in the History of Publishing!   4 comments

At least as far as I’m concerned it is:

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

The publication of my play Queen Lear through Blurb.com.

I have written about the current reality of the publishing world on this blog before but at the risk of repeating myself, here are some thoughts about where I feel things stand right now. Right now being on a Sunday morning in mid-October. A mild autumn day in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

I should preface this post by repeating something I said in an earlier post, that if someone tells you they know what’s going on in the publishing world these days, turn and run the other way. They are lying to you. No one knows. All we know for sure is that things are in a state of flux.

I have also mentioned in an earlier post, but it bears repeating now, that I have four books published by, one could say, traditional publishing houses (Coteau, Red Deer College Press and Broadview). While I believe I was paid a reasonable amount from Coteau, as far as I can remember, I have only received one royalty cheque in my almost twenty years from Red Deer, and that was for $16.00. Broadview sends me royalty statements informing me that I am in a never-ending negative position with them. They figure I owe them some $160.00 after 12 years with two of my books in their catalog. Who am I to argue?

Of course, until now I have published only plays, and one could say that plays don’t really sell all that well. The greatest possible benefit for the author is that their publication increases the likelihood of more productions. What the benefit is for the publisher, I couldn’t really say.

But listen to this. My play, my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required, was published by Coteau Books in Regina, my home town, in 1995 and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. The book sold out its run, but they decided not to reprint it and declined the opportunity to publish subsequent plays of mine. It was like I had done something wrong.

Go figure.

So, you can well imagine that when my friend Michael J. Finner approached me with the idea of starting a publishing company of our own, I was all ears. What did I have to lose? On a cold day in early January, 2008 we met and created B House Publications, with the soon to be realized goal of having my play Writer’s Block as our first publication – for sale in the lobby on opening night.

It was never my intention to have B House serve as a vanity press for me, and so I have worked hard, more so in the early days, finding writers I admire and helping them bring their work to publication. I am proud to say we have published some of Calgary’s very finest authors, including Kirk Miles, Tyler Perry, Jude Dillon, Lindsay Burns, Neil Fleming and others; and dozens of others through two Caffè Beano poetry anthologies. (Another of these, a book of smart phone photographs, is planned for next year, edited my our in-house photo guru, Jude Dillon. It will be launched at Beano’s Stampede Breakfast next July.)

The problem that arose is that I am only one person and can only spread myself so thin. I love the process of meeting with fellow authors and even editing their work and helping get it into book form. After that, in terms of marketing and distribution, I admit I am essentially useless and have let all of these authors down. There just aren’t enough hours in a day.

Until now, we have had our books, usually designed by the amazing Peter Moller, printed with a local company, Blitz Print in Calgary. They do very fine work and are reasonably priced if you’re thinking of printing a book in Calgary.

Someone would then end up with boxes of books in his or her closet, the idea being to sell these, becoming rich and famous during the process. In the early days, we had high hopes that these books would be sold here and afar, but because we never had any marketing support (let alone a plan for distribution) the books and the big dreams only went so far.

Many a time I felt so overwhelmed that I just wanted to abandon the entire project. But then a poet or playwright would approach me with a book idea and I just couldn’t say no. And so we have limped on. I love books and the chance to bring a new book into the world has always been too compelling not to do it.

For the last few years, B House has essentially been an opportunity for self-publishing but with our logo on the cover. Our writers have kept 100% of the royalties. I have spent thousand of hours on B House business and would hate to calculate what that has worked out to as an hourly wage. Meager comes to mind.

Altruism? You bet.

But I’ve also been driven by the fact that because we don’t know the future of publishing, it wasn’t a bad idea to keep this thing alive. You just never know. I honestly don’t know what the future holds, where this might lead, if anywhere, but it just made sense to try against all odds to keep the enterprise afloat.

5 years ago, I wrote the play Queen Lear. B House published it, using our model of having a good design and then printing it locally, we me carting home the books from Blitz Print. I think we printed 100 copies. And then we ran out. (To put it in perspective, a wildly successful play in Canada would be lucky to sell 1,000 copies. We’re not talking huge numbers here.)

I’ve had orders for the book over the last few years, but I just couldn’t see the point of continuing on with our same model. I really didn’t want to order 100 copies, sell ten, and then have those remaining 90 copies taking up space in my office. Boxes of unsold books cause their own kind of anxiety, let me tell you, quite unlike anything else.

This summer I heard about Blurb.com, which I suppose one could best describe as a virtual publisher. They create your book only when an order is placed for it, from one to – well, the sky’s the limit, I suppose. The information on the book and the mechanism for ordering sits on their website (blurb.com or blurb.ca) and so I can promote it, in blogs like this for example, and any way I see fit. But I don’t really have to worry about it after that. This finally offered B House some relief on the distribution side of things.

And so, after some research and growing pains, we finally got the reprint of Queen Lear up and available through Blurb.

The big difference for B House in using Blurb is that we don’t have to make an initial costly purchase of our book, and then find ourselves on the hook to distribute it. It’s just there, on their website. You can order one copy, they will print and mail it to you. Or you can order 100 copies. (In fact, I wish you would!)

Through Blurb, I am able to establish my own royalty which I don’t share with a publishing company. I set it myself and know exactly what I will make per book. If the total exceeds $25.00 in a month, it is deposited in a Pay Pal account for me. Simple. And effective.

At the same time, I can order copies of my own book at cost price and sell these in bookstores that I promote, in this case Calgary’s Shelf Life Books. And any other that would bother to ask me.

My goal here is not to circumvent booksellers. Only publishers.

Is this the future of publishing? Could it the end of conventional publishing as we know it? We have seen the demise of newspapers – I lost a good job when the Calgary Herald was in danger of going into the dumpster a few years ago. Is there any reason to think the same thing won’t happen with publishing houses?

Time will tell, I suppose. Despite what it might seem, I don’t wish any of them any ill fortune. I’m guess I’m old school, but I believe we need books and readers of books to salvage and maintain what’s left of our faltering civilization. Hopefully there is room for all of us, big and small. Or, as we like to say at B House, not small but boutique.

I’ll tell you something. Things are changing and I embrace the change. I welcome it. And I’m curious to see where this all ends up.

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a performance by a man who wrote a great book, his autobiography. Amazing how he keeps going strong after all these years. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publish and Perish   2 comments

Publish and Perish – Part One

I recently received a flurry of emails from participants in the World Interplay Festival of 2001. These are young playwrights from around the world whom I worked with when I was the Canadian delegate to this festival that runs every two years in Australia. Only now, of course, eleven years later, most of them are at the next stage of their careers. They’re not so young anymore and are becoming established in their various countries.

If there is a universal concern shared by these emerging playwrights and myself, it is the sad and worsening state of publishing that seems to be pretty much the same wherever you go. I shared my situation with them and thought I’d share it here. It’s rather lengthy, so I’ve broken it into two parts, the first having to do mostly with play publishing, the second with poetry.

My situation: 10 years into a two book publishing deal with a reputable Canadian publisher, I received my Royalty Statement last week and learned that I am now at a balance of -$239.53.  This is presumably good news, showing positive growth from last year’s figure of -$249.06. It looks to me like I made $9.53 last year.

At this clip, in 23 years or so I will be out of the red and into the black.

One of the books in question is my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required. It was originally published by another publisher. Although the play has received scores of productions, at least one a year in the 18 years since I wrote it, and although it was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, when the initial printing sold out, that publisher decided not to reprint it. I never understood that, other than to think of it as being a typically Canadian decision: that thing is too successful. We want no part of it! If nothing else, at least that decision made the play available for the other publisher with whom I now am in a negative variance.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like anyone is purposely trying to rip me off. Sadly, it’s just how it is. There’s no skullduggery here as far as I know. Anyone involved in the book publishing industry these days must be driven by only the fuzziest of romantic notions of a world that has books in it. Canadian plays published and on the shelf is a laudable dream. It’s no one’s fault. The reality is there’s just no money involved. We simply don’t have the numbers. It’s just how it is.

So when my friend Michael J. Finner approached me almost five years ago with the hair-brained scheme of starting our own publishing company, I thought I could hardly do worse than I was already doing, and so B House Publications was born.

Trevor Leigh and Arielle Rombough who starred in the premiere production on the cover of B House's first book.

We chose as our entry point into the madness my play Writer’s Block. To make a long story short, we had the play in the lobby on opening night and we sold more copies than I thought possible.  A subsequent launch of the book at the Auburn Saloon made the book a virtual best seller in Calgary. Thanks to a generous contract I negotiated with myself, I was in at about a 25% royalty. You can clearly see that even selling one copy of the book would put me miles ahead of where I am with my other publishers.  As far as play publishing goes, I did quite well on that book. Don’t get too excited, though. All in all we’re only talking a couple hundred copies.

Suddenly we had a publishing company and now there was work to be done. It was never my intention for B House to be a vanity press. As was the case with T.S. Elliott and Faber and Faber, I thought it would be permissible for me to publish with my own company as long as we were publishing other writers as well, and I was publishing with other presses, which I have done.

In the world of drama, we published a book I am very proud of, Lindsay Burns’ two marvelous scripts, Dough and the Vajayjay Monologues. I have had many conversations with Calgary playwrights (we think of ourselves as a Calgary only publisher) and as far as I know we are now moving forward, roughly at the speed of a glacier,  with works by Ethan Cole,  Jason Long and Neil Fleming. I hope before too long we come out with books by these fine Calgary playwrights, and others yet to be identified.

In the meanwhile, B House published another play of mine, Queen Lear.  Again, we had it in the lobby on opening night. Again, I made more money than I could have hoped for from a “real” publisher. But that’s as far as it’s gone in drama publishing, as this point in time.

I should mention that the name of the company, B House, is a frank if somewhat tongue in cheek admission that we wouldn’t think of ourselves as anyone’s “A” choice. I encourage the writers who come to me to exhaust other possibilities and only come to us as a last resort. “Start with Random House! Start with Frontenac!” We have no resources, no marketing, no one to maintain the website, no one to pick up the phone, no phone on any account, no one who even knows how to create an invoice. More and more, the company is sliding into the deep abyss of  “a great creative venture marred by the absence of any organizing principle or anyone who knows how to do or is willing to do what the fuck needs to be done.”

Yet, B House has had something of a resurgence thank to the very rich poetry scene here in Calgary. I will pick up on this theme in my next post . . . coming to you a few days from now.

Thanks for reading!

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