Haiti / Incompleat Works / Jonah / The Fork / The Stage / Utah New Works Theatre Project / Writing

Swirly Bits

The last few weeks are all blending together into a swirly mess that I shall never remember. But life has dealt me a sick day (a day is all I shall I allow this cold to have), plus it is rainy Saturday outside, so I couldn’t possibly go out and do yard work. Hence, I shall take a few minutes to write stuff down here as a note to self so I have a prayer of remembering later.

Haiti. Let’s start here. (Brief recap: I’m helping little brother Ken in his effort to raise funds to build classrooms and accommodations for teachers at an orphanage in Haiti where the kids will be able to learn English to finally break the cycle of poverty that has gripped generations. A genius plan, actually.) In an effort to help bring these kids to life for those of us far away in the states, we’ve been doing these brief, written profiles of the kids at the orphanage and posting them on our Facebook page and website. But when I got conscripted to go there in February, I thought maybe that while I was there, it would help the kids seem more real to us if we got a little video of them saying thank you. So we spent a couple of evenings teaching them a little script in English. Turns out I grossly underestimated how hard it is for kids to learn a few lines of English out of the blue. I think the equivalent would be if somebody tried to teach me to the pledge of allegiance in Japanese. I’d just be trying to string together a stream of random sounds my mouth had no idea how to make to form words that meant nothing to me. We shot a couple of them trying, and they did their best, bless their hearts, but I didn’t feel like it made them seem more real. Back to the drawing board.

The drawing board threw up the idea of asking the kids a few questions about themselves, then letting them just answer in their own language, and let us get a glimpse of their personalities via their translated responses in subtitles. Just simple questions, like their name and how old they are, favorite color, favorite TV show, and what they would do if they could do anything. The circumstances of the shoot were challenging technically. It was dark out, and the lights are powered by a generator that was causing constant shifts in brightness, plus makes a loud hum that runs throughout the orphanage. Plus all the rooms surround a courtyard where the other 20 orphans are waiting their turn to be interviewed, and it isn’t easy to keep the noise down when there are 20 young kids just outside the door of the interview room. So there were a lot of strikes against us, but we decided to give it a shot anyway, and we came up with this:

These kids are real people. I can’t help but see a little of my own kids in each one. I see a little of me in them, too. What if one of my kids were one of them? This thought hits me every now and then. We’re on the home stretch for raising funds to equip the classrooms that have been largely built. We still need to raise a little under $8,000 to finish this. We’re a little stumped as to what more we can do to raise funds, because it seems like all my friends who are in a position to give something have given something. And we’re sort of out of people we know. We just keep trying things and hope for the best. It is a worthy cause, so I think opportunities will present themselves. We just have to be open to them and do our part to see them.

Meantime, there’s another segment I want to work on about Fritzner and Carole and the amazing story of how they met and started this orphanage. Just trying to find the time…

Dave Burton, David Smith, Christian Busath bring life to The Fork yet again.

Next stop, The Fork. So I’m on a board of a non-profit called Utah New Works Theatre Project, and it came my turn to organize an event: a panel discussion on how to write an effective 10-minute play. We managed to line up a really excellent panel, and then the board decided that it would be a good idea to open the event with a 10-minute play and that the 10-minute play should be The Fork, a play I wrote with Ken and which took home top honors in a couple of festivals, and which enabled me to introduce myself as “award-winning playwright Dennis Agle” at parties ever since (I’ve never been invited to a party since, but I’m sure the two facts are unrelated). I declined the board’s suggestion, partly because it would be awkward for an event I’m organizing to feature a play I wrote, and partly because we only had about two weeks before the event. The board declined my declinage, saying that they would remove the awkwardness by handling the introduction of the play themselves, which left me with the sole obstacle of how to pull this off in two weeks without it being a train wreck.

The only way I could think of was if we could get at least two of the three actors from the original cast from five years ago, it might just work. So I asked. Turns out one of them (David Smith) was in a show, but was in the Tu-Th-Sa cast, and our event was on a Fr, so one miracle down. Turns out the other cast member (Christian Busath) had recently relocated back to this area from L.A. and was available that evening, too. Two miracles down. For the third cast member, to play the role of The Fork, the feared restaurant critic, I turned to my ol’ buddy Dave Burton, who played the great fish in “Jonah and the Great Fish” and had worked with me on a couple of shows since. He was up for it. Miracle hat trick! Actually, come to think of it, I got to work with all three of these funny guys in Jonah, so a fun reunion.

We did a one-evening rehearsal, which was filled with a lot of laughs, then two nights later, we put on the show. The whole event went well, with a good turnout, excellent presentations by our panelists, and it gave the giant meatball a night out on the town, its first in a few years, so that was nice.

We’re in a thing they call “The Tube,” but not sure how it got that name. Also, I didn’t get the smolder memo.

Next stop: Jolly ol’ England. A business trip sprung up practically out of nowhere and without a lot of notice that would require us to spend a week in London. Tough work, but somebody had to do it. So Ken and I packed our things and took the redeye to London by way of Paris. I hadn’t been back in a decade, so it just felt good to be back in the old country, land of my spouse and her people and our courtship. It was in this town that we went on our first date to a charming, lovely musical about murder and cannibalism called Sweeney Todd. We even got married in this town, sort of. (Well, in the “London Temple,” which is actually located an hour or two south of London in a town called East Grinstead, but let’s not quibble.)

I was able to visit my lovely in-laws, take in a couple of shows, and walk ourselves silly just soaking in all things England. I love this town. The trip did spark something, which I shall cover next in this bizarre hodgepod of a blog post, a something called…

Compleating Incompleat. I’ve decided to try my hand at adapting “Incompleat Works” into a screenplay. About a decade ago, I gave birth to a screenplay called “Incompleat Works,” about a group of characters from an unfinished Shakespeare play who have been reliving the same first act of a play each day for the past four hundred years and who decide they’ve finally had enough and set out in modern-day England to find this Shakespeare fellow and make him finish writing the rest of their story. I sent the screenplay around, and it got some good feedback, but it had issues. I set it aside for awhile, then decided that maybe it was meant to be a play, so I adapted it as a stage play. I sent that around, and nothing much happened with it until a couple of years ago, when it was selected for a local writers showcase for workshopping and a brief run. During the workshop process, there was a major change in the story involving one of the characters that I felt really strengthened the overall piece over the screenplay version. There were other changes as well, and I felt I was able to walk away with a much better story from the whole experience. I sent it off to some other groups, and about a year ago it was selected for a reading, this time by a production company in New York City. I was able to go see it, and while it was a tremendous experience, I couldn’t help but feel the tug that it still needed work. Writing is a lot of work. It requires an immense amount of patience. Or, I suppose you could just be naturally good at it, but where would be the fun in that?

So the element that was the target of the major revision was a young school girl named Eliza. But there were some residual problems caused by the major revision that threatened to nuke the whole project in my head, and I found that thought depressing. Then, during one of my “middle bits” where I wake up at 3 and can’t get back to sleep, the fixes to the residual problems came, and that was nice. I got up and wrote “The Eliza Rules,” and then came back to bed and promptly didn’t fall asleep again. But still, at least I got the Eliza rules out of it. Now just to find the time to work on the screenplay adaptation of the stage play that used to be a screenplay …

First edition!

Bigfoot Exists! I have seen him with my own eyes. His name is Roger, and he was written and illustrated by my daughter Katie’s husband, Daren. He was brave enough to send me a proof and asked me to proof it, which I did. I didn’t do much, unless “Roger the Bigfoot” ends up winning a Caldecott Medal, in which case I helped Daren make a major breakthrough that totally made the story. You can grab your copy here. Congrats, Daren. Speaking of books…

My Book. I’d rather not talk about it. Thanks for bringing that up, Daren. But yeah, ouch. It’s not dead. It’s just Westleying it on Miracle Max’s dining room table. I shall muster up another running start at it at some point and fling myself at it. I’l also probably need to make a  holocaust cloak.

There. That’s it. The big swirly is wrapped. I need a nap. And some NyQuil.