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Monday, March 1, 2010

Fool me once, shame on you

Okay. It’s been twenty four hours and I’ve cooled off some since seeing the “staged reading” of my musical “Ukulele Land” at the Shawnee Playhouse. For most of my life, and much to my detriment as a playwright, I’ve given people second chances. My attitude about that changed a couple years ago and yesterday confirmed that “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” is the best policy. My first action upon arriving home was to send the “artistic” director, Midge McCloskey, an email withdrawing the show from consideration for production

Have you ever gone to the track and watched the jockeys do a foot race, with horses nowhere to be seen? That’s what yesterday was like for me. The reading, which was a cold reading in front of an audience, HAD NO MUSIC WHATSOEVER. The unrehearsed actors did their best.

The “artistic” director told me beforehand that the reading might have no music. At that point I told her there was nothing for me to gain by such a reading. The show was produced and reviewed in Manhattan. What could such a reading possibly do for me, as a playwright, or for the reputation of the show?

The “artistic” director then said that she would include some recorded songs from the original production. I was still opposed. Then she played her trump card.

“I’d like to have the reading so I can hear it to help me decide whether to produce it here,” she said. Well, she didn’t even bother to show up for the reading. Not only that, her assistant pointedly stayed in the lobby throughout the entire reading, and told me she didn’t catch any of it.

That’s not the half of it, though. I was told there would be one 10-minute play staged with mine. There were four other plays, all of them longer than 10 minutes. Mine was staged last.

First, the mercifully small audience had to sit through a series of poems delivered as unconnected monologues; a somewhat interesting but inchoate piece about a priest who got caught with a naked woman in the rectory; a clichéd attempt at comedy set in a therapist’s office; and something called the “Scranton Poetry Opera” which was disconnected poems from a seniors’ poetry workshop and a children’s poetry workshop that someone – the instructor, I guess – mashed together. And I do mean mashed.

All weekend long there were staged readings from the Shawnee Playhouse playwrights’ contest. Ginny Kirkwood, who, with her husband Charlie, owns the theater as well as the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort where the playhouse is situated, asked me to submit something to be considered for production there. Originally, she mentioned this playwrights contest. I told her I don’t enter playwriting contests. She then had me contact McCloskey, said “artistic” director. Again I was invited to enter the contest and declined. At this point McCloskey asked me to send her something anyway, which I did.

Anyway, I agreed that my musical could be read as part of the weekend so McCloskey could hear it. I made it quite clear to McCloskey that in no way was I to be considered in competition with the poor playwrights who had paid to be part of this contest.

So, imagine my dismay when on Friday in the Weekend section of the local paper there was my musical (title misspelled) listed as one of the entries from the contest that would be read over the weekend. The unsigned piece was clearly a press release reprinted pretty much verbatim (standard procedure at a lot of papers). It was already in print so there was no point in raising a ruckus.

Sunday afternoon I went to the theater and sat through the other offerings. Finally, the woman who was running the show and reading stage directions stood up and announced the reading of “Ukulele Land” and said that there was “no music” (there is/was but someone decided it was too much bother to include it). As I said, this appeared to be a cold reading. The mistress of ceremonies/stage reader even said something about no rehearsals.

I must say the actors who read my script seemed to be having a ball. The audience, which of course was comprised of mainly of the other playwrights who entered the contest, seemed a bit dismayed – as though a ringer had been slipped in (which of course it had). Several times in the reading the stage manager cut off actors in the middle of song lyrics and made jokes about how long the lyric was/is and/or the subject matter of the rest of the song. Stage directions were almost non existent in this reading.

Fortunately, this script is well constructed and presents it own theatrical reality (a comic dystopian world at the end of the 21st century) so tightly that even this dishonest presentation of the material could not hide its merits. Not that I think anyone was trying to hide its merits.

Since McCloskey didn’t bother to show up, I have no idea why this abuse of me as a working artist took place. The Kirkwoods didn’t attend either.

So, there won’t be a production of “Ukulele Land” here in the Pocono mountains any time soon. It’s sad because the playhouse is a sweet little theater (about 200 seats) with a great history and tons of potential.

Am I the only playwright who has these kinds of pathetic experiences? Do I attract this sort of abuse?

-- Uke Jackson


  1. wow. How much was charged for the event? Did you end up supporting this group?

    Of course you are not alone, many artists of all types have been abused on many ways over the years.

  2. Thanks, Kevin.

    Nothing was charged. Originally it was listed as $18 per ticket but I raised hell about that and they changed it to free. (I think the $18 price may have been a mistake.)

  3. I'd like to make it clear that I did NOT expect the Charlie and Ginny Kirkwood to attend the reading. I wasn't taking a potshot at them. They do a lot locally.

  4. Sheesh. WTF. There must have been grant money involved -- "we're a place for new plays" kind of stuff. No rehearsal? I'll retire to Bedlam.

  5. I've given up trying to figure out the motivation behind someone else's foolishness, Scott. It's hard enough figuring out my own.