Realm of Heroes–Brenda Drake’s Writer’s Voice Contest

Query:

Complete at 98,000 words, REALM OF HEROES is standalone upmarket contemporary with series potential.

Most Saturdays, Helen dons her wizard costume and defends Thornvaal from evil, reveling in her power to hold back both demon hordes and reality for a few hours. But come Monday morning, the live action roleplaying (LARPing) is over. Helen’s still a star, but in reality most of her energy goes into protecting her son from Louis, the sociopathic man who runs the business based on her work, a man she considers her brother. She knows she should leave, but she has nowhere to go and no money of her own. And she loves being a celebrity.

When Helen’s ex-lover reappears after a six-year absence, their hurried, secret encounter demonstrates he still knows how to give her exactly what she wants; this time it’s cash and her estranged mother’s phone number. Her real quest begins immediately afterward when she rescues herself and her son. On horseback.

Throughout Realm of Heroes, Helen imagines herself a spunky, witty heroine who must train under a stoic mentor (her mother) and capture the heart of a sexy, untamable man (her ex-lover) before she wrests back her realm from an oppressive usurper (Louis). However, the demons she must battle in the real world are internal. Mental illness, single parenthood, and the constant temptation to return to Thornvaal both inspire and undermine Helen’s quest to get back her royalties, keep her son, and win her freedom.

First 250

As I lean against the guildhouse, I hold my hand out at arm’s length to judge the quality of the darkness. Relying on a clock to call an ambush ruins drama for the sake of precision, and people don’t get into live action roleplaying because they want more precision in their lives. Besides, I’m God tonight, and I’m choosing drama, like I always do.

Although the dark is just right, I want another minute of peace after having spent a frantic afternoon in Louis’s War Room with all its monitors and video feeds and spyware. I prefer to run things by radio from my little cabin in the woods—okay, my little fifteen-by-thirty foot storage shed in the woods. Anyhow, it’s my refuge. And I prefer to let things play out in my imagination.

Right now, on the other side of the site, one hundred-and-fifty adults dressed in layered costumes, armor, and cloaks flee from raiding parties comprised of college students wearing rubber goblin masks and black t-shirts. Sometimes the adults turn to fight the students, hurling beanbags, yelling out patently ridiculous phrases—double-damage poison magic vine!—and wielding foam weapons that look more like baseball bats than swords. Mostly, however, they run and run through the woods until they reach the northeast corner of our hundred-acre property. Out of breath and momentarily un-harassed, the people pretending to be adventurers take a break in the evening coolness at the end of the first truly hot day of the summer.

Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 12:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Redroom grows up, kind of

The Most Offensive Redroom Ever (MORRE) did offend a couple of people, though friends in the audience reported that the patrons were more upset with the language than anything else we pulled.  Topics covered included:

  • The Secret Pro-Choice Agenda
  • Director’s Commentary on an Al Qaeda Video
  • “Don’t Wake Daddy,” a delightful skit about an abusive alcoholic father
  • Elizabethan Auditions (sure, dressing up as a clown when trying out for Shylock is fine–actually wonderful–but a real woman??)

And much, much more.  The hardest part of the evening was the projector.  We’ve been meaning to work short films into the rotation, but MORRE was our first real attempt.  You wouldn’t believe how many cords there are to get knocked out of various things with a projector.  We had some technical difficulties.

Despite the subject matter, the Redoom definitely took a step forward this past Saturday.

  1. We are rehearsing.  Last summer, we had merely seven days between Redrooms to rehearse material, and very little access to the theatre (R&J was a demanding show), but now we’re doing full run-throughs before we go up!  It does take a little of the excitement out of it, but, as the projector proved on Saturday, something can always go wrong.
  2. We are also having to cut material.  There are about 5 writers coming up with skits at the moment, so more and more we’re getting to select based on what works best (rather than what is written and ready to go).
  3. We are working on an aesthetic for the cast.  Some might call it “costumes.”
  4. We’re talking about a Redroom Musical.

The next show will be June 25th in collaboration with the Down Street Art opening.  Cafe Trio Budapest will be playing.  We are very excited.  Also, look for Redroom to make an appearance at the opening of 2 actors, 10 Artists at the Eclipse Mill on June 26th.

MCC logo

Published in: on May 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Summer…and…go!

The cast has been chosen.  The set design is in progress.  Rehearsals begin next week.  The summer’s schedule is full with improv, children’s theatre, Redroom, puppet shows and Twelfth Night.

[Click here to see the complete schedule]

I hope in the upcoming months, the director and the executive director will be adding their voices into this conversation.  I will be giving you a lot of Redroom and a rehearsals from the point of view of an actor.

Published in: on May 21, 2009 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Redroom–What is it? (Theory)

The theory: an artist’s playground where genre and discipline lines are blurred, experimentation is prized, failure is accepted (and quickly gotten over) and a community of working artist can form and thrive in a creatively charged atmosphere.  A salon/cabaret/party.

Bringing artists together:

One of my favorite Redrooms featured a local artist painting a mural as a backdrop to the entire performance.  Performers who were not part of the skit, reading (or whatever) on stage stood against a stretched canvas and the artist traced their form with a paint brush on a long stick.

The artist had found the stage through the Redroom earlier that summer ($10.00 for an hour of life drawing is cheap).  Before long we had him painting the set for Romeo and Juliet.  I told him that I wanted to really incorporate all the arts into the Redroom and a week later he came up with this mural idea.  I loved the mural because it was the kind of blending of the arts that can really only happen in a theatre.

I’m not going to get all Gesamtskunstwerk on you, don’t worry.  We still keep everything separate, Brecht-style.

Looking at the man behind the curtain:

Speaking of Brecht–why pretend we’re not in a theatre?  Why pretend the behind-the-curtainaudience isn’t two feet away?  Why pretend the only thing that seperates us is a piece of cloth?  Why not let people eat and drink and move around?  Why pretend we’re fabulously wealthy and don’t have anything else to do but produce this show?

Let’s all agree to live in the moment, shall we?

Collaboration:

The follow video is from French night and is called “La piece des sterotypes francais.”

The script came out of a conversation that several of us had in the lobby one day.  One of us wrote it down.  Then  we cast the skit and had the actors (all trained in comic improv) add to it their own takes.  It was a fun process that yeilded a lot of ideas, some of the good, and we ran with it.

This is what we’ve discovered from doing the Redroom for about a year, but things are always evolving at the Redroom.  Ask me next month–I’ll probably have a new theory.

Published in: on April 26, 2009 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Redroom–What is it? (audience version)

Model

The Main Street Stage lobby has fairly close quarters and there are already ten people milling around when you come in around 8:20.  There’s an old fashioned radio playing music, a girl lying on the sofa in the window, and people with sketch pads drawing her.  You pay your $10.00 to a woman in a boa and make your way to the counter for a glass of wine, some bread and brie, a piece of cake and some grapes.  The woman pouring the wine asks how you found out about the Redroom and invites you to draw–why not?

Over the next forty minutes more people filter in.  Some are talking, some are drawing.  It seems like the kind of place where you could talk to a stranger.  There is a constant scurrying in and out of the theatre (which is still blocked off by a black curtain) and sometimes you hear a sound check or a song over top of the conversations and lobby music.  Then, the people you’ve picked out as performers all exit the lobby.  The model gets up off the couch and invites everyone into the theatre.

The show begins.  It is fast paced–there’s a little skit at the beginning, then a musician, then someone reads a poem, then another skit, then the musician again, a free style rapper who makes up raps based on topics given to him by the audience, an accordion player, a dance, another reading, a man telling a dream, and back to the musician.

Some things work.  Some things don’t, but it moves fast.  You can hear the scurrying around backstage of the performers.  There is occasionally a pause, a lot of scurrying and someone appearing on stage, a little flustered and the show barrels forward.   Finally, all the performers walk on stage and invite you, the audience, to sing a long with them.

sing-a-long

They take a bow and run into the lobby, where people mingle and chat as they had before the show.

As you leave the cast tells you to come back again.  Next time, they tell you, it will be a completely different show…

Published in: on April 26, 2009 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Romeo and Juliet, summer 2008

“This is the strangest thing you’ve ever done.”

–Jeffery Borak, local critic, to Alexia Trainor after he found out Main Street Stage was producing Romeo and Juliet.

[Follow this link to see pictures of the production]

wedding1It was a strange thing.  We all thought M. was crazy when she suggested it.  Romeo and Juliet?  That play we all read(and hated) in 9th grade?  That over-produced play that was totally beneath us?  We were all leaning toward the Tempest after we’d decided on Shakespeare for the summer–after all, it was artsier and we could do mask and puppet work!

M. held a day-long Shakespeare workshop to help us make the final decision.   We spent a lot of time publishing it, harassing people who had said they were interested in the stage but had yet to take the plunge, and the turn out was excellent–20 people.   It was a wonderful day full of new faces and fun and at the end, when we started reading sides from Romeo and Juliet we all came to the same terrifying conclusion–that we should do Romeo and Juliet.  Why?  It was a gut level reaction.  The R&J sides resonated.  The community was telling us what to do and we listened.

But, we all agreed, we had to do it right.  Whatever that meant.

Fast forward–M. found teenagers, real teenagers, to play the titular roles.  friar-and-romeo1She followed through on age appropriate casting (Lady Capulet was 13 years older than the actor playing her daughter.  Lord Capulet was about fifteen years his Lady’s senior.  The cousins and friends were all early-mid 20’s.  The nurse was not very old at all–she was, after all, able to have a child as of 14 years ago.)  We spent weeks at a table pulling the text apart word by word.  M. focused on making the cast a cohesive, collaborating group with a mix of old pros and green actors.

And you know what, it worked.

Gail Burns wrote in her review:

The result is this production of Romeo and Juliet which is chock full of the energy that comes from ownership of a show. This cast owns this show and you can tell that they are thrilled to be sharing it with their friends and neighbors. And by gum, their friends and neighbors are coming!

We even took the show to Windsor Lake and performed outdoors for a crowd of 80 or so.   Letters to the editor came in declaring the show interesting and moving, and that putting such a big show in a tiny space made the spectator feel as if she, too, was in Verona.

Another audience member summed up her reaction to the play like this:

I finally get it.  They’re not idiots.  They’re teenagers!

When Romeo and Juliet are teenagers, they no longer look like idiots that make rash decisions. They look like children caught up in a violent society that is not of their making who are trying to find a way out of it.  The bad decisions made by the adults around them result in the violent deaths of an entire generation.

The Friar comforts Lord and Lady Capulet after they've discovered her dead on the morning of her wedding to Paris.

And you thought it was a love story.

Published in: on April 26, 2009 at 7:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Looking ahead to Summer 2009

The summer begins in about a week.

May 8th and 9th we hold auditions for Twelfth Night (set in 1969).

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night will run:

  • July 31, August 1, 7, 8, 14, 15 and 16 at 7:30.
  • Pay-what-you-can community nights on July 30th and August 13.
  • 2:00 Matinees on August 9 and 16.

Tickets are $20.00 ($15.00 for seniors and $10.00 for students).  Reservations strongly encouraged.

The Redroom season began last weekend.  We’ll be running once a month in conjunction with Downstreet Art openings (with the exception of July when the Downstreet opening corresponds with tech week for 12th Night).

Current Dates:

  • May 16th–Most Offensive Redroom
  • June 25th–Featuring Cafe Trio Budapest
  • July 11th–Featuring stand-up comedian Rick Conety
  • August 27th–tentatively a musical review that will run three nights.
  • September 24th
  • October 15th

Incidentally, we are booking acts for the Redroom.  If you know anyone who is interested in being a featured performer (musician, comedian, magician, acrobat, sword swallower, whatever) , drop a line to redroom@mainstreetstage.org.

Published in: on April 26, 2009 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Recent History, 2007

The Main Street Stage began as the Manic Stage in 1999 and was founded by Spencer Trova and a lot of people from the defunct Berkshire Public Theatre.   I don’t know much about those times.  I wandered in off the streets during the spring of 2006.  There was a hand written sign in the usual dark store front:

Auditions Today

That fall, the stage had had a remarkable success with a play called Like Home that was really the best of what the stage had to offer–a script by a local playwright, directed by her husband and starring a real life family of actors playing a family.  It wasn’t a big pile of nepotism: it was a lot of really talented people using their natural chemistry and passion to create a truly original piece of theatre.

But things had been falling apart for awhile, as I discovered later.  There were the real life concerns–the founder was getting older and tired of the sustained effort.  His daughter, who was planing to take over the stage, had a baby a few months after Like Home closed and was out of commission for awhile.  There were also the public image concerns I mentioned in a previous post.

When I wandered in that day, I joined a once-a-week acting work shop that was sparsely attended and run by the Artistic Director who had, at that time, taken on almost all of the running of the theatre–design, publicity, script selection, direction, cleaning…He also lived 45 minutes away and had a full time job.   How things had come to be like this is a matter of discussion among company members.  I’ll just leave it at there was one guy doing just about everything.

I was in and out over the next year, working only as an actor, but the following summer we put up John Guare’s Bosoms and Neglect and I finally saw just how threadbare the theatre had really gotten.  The artistic director made a fairly sudden decision to throw up B&N after the play that had been rehearsing was moved up a couple of months to accommodate for the director’s real life.   Because of the politics, B&N was an unwelcome production from the start.

Rehearsals went well, but I was slowly learning the back story as we discovered there was no stage manager, no lighting or set designer, no costume designer, no technicians–nothing.  Just three actors and a frustrated director.  When the show opened, there was no one to do front of house, no one to clean the bathroom, make the blood bags or set the props.  The director and I split the jobs, but things were frantic.

The publicity went out late and the show was sparsely attended.  There was one night where the only person in the audience was the local critic up until about 5 minutes before curtain when someone else–thankfully–wandered in.  Only a couple of the board members and company members saw the show, and some of them only saw half of it.

As soon as the show closed, the artistic director resigned his position and walked away.  Another company member invited me to join the board.  I said sure.  At a meeting soon after, Spencer also officially resigned.  things looked grim.

It was too late for me, though, I was in love with the tiny space.  And so were the four other women in the room.  So we started over.

Published in: on April 26, 2009 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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New Beginning, part I

October 2007.

We’re marching in the Fall Foliage parade with a banner that reads “Main Street Stage.”  We’re on Main Street.  In fact, we’re in front of the theatre.  I hear people saying, “Main Street where?”

It was that bad.

But it was understandable.  The guys that had founded MSS lived in Pittsfield and weren’t in North Adams that often.  The windows at the storefront stage were used as storage spaces and were usually dark.  The people who had heard of it thought it was some sort of vanity project.

So we were dressed as ghouls and marching in the parade.  The Better Business Bureau’s witch float (which we were supposed to be accompanying) was so heavy that the pick-up truck it was built on top of couldn’t make it up the hill by the Hadley Overpass, leaving our 8 person group a half-mile to fill with just our bodies and our banner which, apparently, didn’t have enough information.  And I’m pretty sure I had inadvertently scared a couple of little kids pretty badly.

Reaching out to the community was going to be harder than I thought.

But we had big plans.  No more artistic directors!  We would rule by committee!  We would have weekend long brain storming sessions (complete with worksheets to be filled out before hand) to write a new mission statement and new goals!  We were going to have a catered fundraiser!  We were going to find board members!

We had no money in the checking account.  We had no name recognition.  We were hoping that Irma Vep would make enough money to pay the rent for Novemeber so all of this work would be for something.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 2:55 am  Comments (2)  
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On Main Street, North Adams

In an Berkshire mill town, brought back to life by a contemporary art museum, there’s a little main street with a couple of coffee shops, a gallery, a general store, a family restaurant and a theatre.

This blog is about that theatre.

We’re a small company.  We’re almost all women under the age of forty.   We didn’t plan that.  It just sort of happened that way a year and a half ago when the old men who founded the theatre retired.    No one gets paid.  We all have other jobs.   Sometimes we get burnt out and drop out for a month or two, but we always come back.  It’s not glamorous, but it’s theatre.

Stay tuned.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 1:45 am  Leave a Comment