Goodness! It’s Tuesday and I forgot all about my weekly Sunday blog. In addition to writing I am also directing (for the fourth time) the Vaudeville-style variety show called Vaudeville at the Baker at Lockhart’s Gaslight-Baker Theatre. Each year I select a theme for the show. This year I chose classic television variety shows, and modeled our show on Ed Sullivan. Our show is called The Ned Mulligan Show. I was thrilled that the Lockhart Motor Company agreed to be our show sponsor.
Working on a show is certainly different from writing, but in many ways it is also the same. Instead of taking a vision and turning it into words on a page, I turn it into shapes and colors on a stage. The performers are the characters on stage and they’re chosen through auditions in a similar mental process as determining the right characters for a story. In both cases, creative juices flow, visions are brought to life, and hard work becomes a tangible reality.
Working on the show has given me a break from writing, which is both good and bad. I’m at a key scene in Virgilante and am anxious to get back to it, but I was also struggling a bit with how to proceed on one issue. This week-ish distance has helped clarify my vision and given me a fresh perspective. I’ll be back at writing next week with a new drive and enthusiasm.
With respect to the Vaudeville show, I always find ways to surprise and delight the audience in unusual ways, just like I do with those who read my novels. On stage it might be an eye-popping set or an unexpected performer. (I won’t give away this year’s set design but here’s what my last Vaudeville set looked like. That year the theme was traveling variety shows, so we built a western town.) The title of that show was the tongue-twisting Colonel Baker’s Stupendous, Mystifying, Entertaining, Rollicking, Frolicking, Amazing, Fabulous, Magnificent Vaudeville Show. (click the link and scroll down if you want to see the poster. One example of how I like to surprise the audience is in the WANTED posters: they feature our small town’s mayor and (now-retired) Chamber of Commerce President.
This year I’ve come up with a handful of fun surprises that will occur throughout the show. They’re like my chapter-end cliffhangers; they make you want to know what comes next. The acts themselves are self-contained. The fun is in stitching them together in creative ways. In the case of Colonel Baker’s Vaudeville Show, I used our District Judge, who played Colonel Baker, the Master of Ceremonies. This year we have Ned Mulligan, played by our theatre company’s Artistic Director.
I love nothing more than researching for obscure or interesting information to include in stories… or stage productions. For The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket, I researched everything from how to safely bury a wooden-stock musket for 35 years to how police would have handled a child abduction before there was a 9-1-1 system. For Ned Mulligan, I had fun looking up what happened during commercial breaks, how a dancing cigarette box managed to not fall off the stage (and how I could replicate that commercial “skit”), and what the SMPTE color bars looked like when television first switched from black and white to color. (These were the inspiration for the stage set’s backdrop.)
The biggest difference between writing and directing a show is people. For an author, the people they spend most of their time with exist only in their imaginations, and on the pages they produce. And they aren’t very true-to-life, as I talked about a couple of weeks ago. In a stage production, the people are not only real, they are creative as well, which can usually inspire some exciting and occasionally volatile interactions. I’m thrilled that this year’s cast is fun, super-talented, and mellow. (Well, creative people are really never mellow, so let’s call them… seasoned, but don’t tell them I said that.)
If you are anywhere in the Lockhart area please come see the show. It only runs four times this weekend. We all put so much work into a show that is over in three days, it’s nice to share it with as many people as possible. Bring Dad — families often don’t know where to take Dad for Father’s Day. This is the perfect place! Come have some great BBQ in the “Official BBQ Capital of Texas” and then see our family-friendly show. Go here for tickets.