Jan 16, 2024

Looking Back at 2023

For now over a decade I have been composing a year-in-review here on the website. This look back is mostly to take stock of the past year. 

By the way, for those even mildly curious, here is 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022). 

2023 was the first year in a while where I feel I got back up to a reasonable degree of projects and productivity. The pandemic is enough in the rear-view, my kiddo is now old enough to occupy himself for swaths of time and I got back a degree of excitement that I hadn't had in several years. This coincided with a renewed interest in my health and a return to hitting the road throughout the year. Here's 2023...

Right off the bat, I started the year with an new, ongoing project. I returned to webcomics with The Ongoing Saga of J. Herbin. My last stab at webcomics was Donnie Rocket Toaster-Face, which lasted from 2010 to 2015. I published a small collection of those comics... HERE

J. Herbin was an idea I have been kicking around for years. Heavily inspired by David Lynch's The Angriest Dog in the World and Max Cannon's Red Meat, I decided to go all in and publish a weekly "anti-comic." What I mean by anti-comic is that each 3-panel strip features no movement or physical gags. the protagonist (if you can call J. Herbin that) is passive and unresponsive. All dialogue takes place off-frame by unseen speakers. The reader only gets  a small glimpse of the conversation taking place and there is seldom a punch line in the traditional sense.

click the image to see it larger...

Like DRTF, the habit of coming up with a comic each week and releasing it was been a good exercise throughout 2023. As of this writing, I have completed over a year's worth of these J. Herbin comics. I intend to keep going as long as I find the project interesting and engaging. Read them... HERE.

I also approached a comicbook artist named Paul Milligan. The delightful David Hopkins made introductions. Paul and I are collaborating on adapting my solo show The Beast of Hyperborea into a graphic novel. It took me several months at the start of the year to adapt the play into comicbook script format. Paul has been a great sounding board throughout the process. Progress has been slower than expected due to a number of setbacks, but he and I are still on it. As of this posting Paul has sent me roughs up to page 44 (out of an expected 74 page volume). It was hoot to reimagine this story visually and work with Paul on character concept drawings. More updates as the project proceeds.

In January, I also formatted my children's picture book Petey Gale Goes Up and Beyond into a Kindle ebook version. The paperback version that I created for my kiddo back during the pandemic had been out since the end of 2021. Just trying to make the book a little more accessible and get some more mileage out of the work I have already completed. Grab a copy... HERE.

DaShaun Ellis' I'm Thinking

In February, I directed two student-written ten-minute plays at the college where I work. They were submitted for  an annual presentation called the Festival of New Plays. The plays I directed included Blake Roper's The Friendship Application and DaShaun Ellis' I'm Thinking. They had a student cast and crew and went over nicely. Both playwrights were responsive to feedback to make their scripts more stage-worthy and the process, I felt, was overall really constructive.

In March I created a website dedicated to my playwriting endeavors (as opposed to this Blogger portfolio covering a range of activities). It was a rather expensive investment. I am not sure I will break even on the endeavor of creating the site, registering the domain name and so on, but for the next several years at least, I will appear as a professional playwright. This is part of a larger effort to present myself more professionally. I have spent years improving the quality of my theatre work, but I feel like I am starting at the beginning as far as getting the word out about my work and actually getting productions of my plays (outside me own self-directed projects).

Robert's eternal Goldfish at the 2023 Tyler Texas Fringe

In June I took my solo show Robert's Eternal Goldfish to the Tyler Texas fringe Festival, a small event on the campus of Tyler Junior College. The show went over quite well despite the fact that I presented it in such a bare-bones lights-up/lights-down fashion. This was not just the nature of the fest (not altogether organized), but because it did not offer a stipend or box office cut. My hope was that I might be able to network a bit and meet some new colleagues, perhaps set up future opportunities. Time will tell.

Travel kicked in starting in August. My good friend and colleague Jeff Swearingen used to travel around the country presenting theatre and improv at different venues and festivals. Between 2005 and 2013, in particular. This past summer we picked up where we left off and set off on a few far flung theatre adventures.

Swearingen in The Beast of Hyperborea at the 2023 Omaha Fringe

Our first stop was in Nebraska for the 2023 Omaha Fringe Festival. This rather new fest started during the pandemic and is still getting its feet under it. We took my show The Beast of Hyperborea. I created the show back in 2019 and performed it myself originally. I thought it would be a good fit for Swearingen in the role of the Edward Joseph Reade, the reluctant narrator/accountant of the show. I did all the behind the scenes stuff and directed/worked tech. 

We road tripped out and stayed in a hotel with a nice patio. The show played at the beautiful Benson Theatre and it went well. During the days we saw other shows and the cool evenings, away from the oppressive Texas summer, were filled with long chats over drinks and cigars (well, for me, and cigarettes for Swearingen). The show went well despite low attendance.

Swearingen in The Beast of Hyperborea at the 2023 Elgin Fringe

In September, we headed off again with The Beast of Hyperborea. This time we flew. The festival was the Elgin Eringe and it is one of my favorites. Elgin, Illinois is 35 miles northwest of Chicago. This was my third time in Elgin (previously performing solo with Robert's Eternal Goldfish in 2018 and Cyrano A-Go-Go in 2019) and I appreciate the people there who run it, particularly Erin Rehberg and Tanner Melvin of Side Street Studios. Again, we had great weather, talked shop with some other fringe folks, saw a few shows and presented a kick-ass show. Our venue couldn't have been more different than the large hall we were in the month prior in Omaha. In Elgin we were in an upstairs gallery space. Jeff did the show for folks scattered around him in folding chairs.

Before I left for Elgin, I had started the school year, teaching again. Since before the pandemic I have been stationed off-campus at some high school of another teaching "college level' theatre to "dual credit" high school freshman. I dislike it more and more. I left teaching high schoolers ages ago to teach at the college level. The last several years, however, as numbers of in-person classes even making has diminished, I find myself a college teacher in name only. Stationed at one high school after another to students who went from elementary to high school online, during Covid, I am continually frustrated by both the state of the education system and the collective interest level/intelligence of the students. Phones are part of the problem, but on the whole, they just aren't very good at being students these days. This makes my job harder. I have to dumb the material down bit by bit and make allowances so the majority of the class doesn't fail (i.e. rolling deadlines, ample extra credit, lay-up assignments so they can have grades every six weeks, etc.).  I am hoping 2024 is my last year teaching and I move on to doing something where I am not operating so far below my potential.

Volume of Smoke at TCC-SE

After Elgin I did direct again at the college. This was with proper college students for cast and crew, and fellow faculty in design and technical roles. I directed Clay McLeod Chapman's Volume of Smoke in early October. The epistolary monologue play about a tragic theatre fire in 1811 did not seem, on paper, my usual thing. However, it had an old-school theatricality about it that I enjoyed playing around in (red velvety curtains, wooden platforms, Regency-era costumes, candles, canvas drops, ropes and pulleys and sandbags and so on...). It was a hard rehearsal process with many moving parts, especially coming off the extremely stripped down one-person fringe show. It did revive my affinity for directing. I love that one shows up day after day equipped only with ones ability to observe and focus, the think and make decisions. I feel I am slowly becoming a more elegant director, project by project.

A few weeks after Volume of Smoke at the college, I completed a big project that had been years in the making. For more than half a decade, I have been compiling notes about solo performance to lay down my extremely hard-won knowledge into a book. I wanted to put down a sort of guide or introduction for someone just starting his or her journey into solo performance. I wanted to write the sort of book I wish I had when I started out creating and performing one-person shows over a decade and half ago.

The result was Crafting the Solo Show: A Practical Guide to Creating, Performing and Touring a One-Person Theatre Production. I am immensely proud and relieved to finally have this out in the world. Form followed function as well. As the book is about creating one-person shows, I am pleased that I wrote, edited and formatted the book myself. It was a huge undertaking and really tested my attention to detail. I am sure as time passes I will discover errors here and there, but for now there is a both an ebook as well as a paperback version.

By November I started to dial my creative activities back in order to ease into the holidays with friends and family. I also wound up the semester of teaching by the beginning of December.

Fun Grip Inprov at the Dallas Comedy Club

Throughout the year, Swearingen and I performed a monthly gig at the Dallas Comedy Club. Our long-form improv duo Fun Grip took the stage, usually on a split-bill with another improv group. We were shuffled to different time slots every few months which made maintaining and growing an audience difficult. The improv was fun, though, and was a good chance to play a bit.

I also continued to create both YouTube videos and Cultivated Playwright podcast episodes throughout the year from time to time.

I feel like I was really getting my legs under me and sort of priming myself for bigger and better things ahead. It was fun to have some old-school camaraderie and travel. I am pleased that I continued to add to my growing list of self-published works and that I made some solid pieces of theatre this past year, as a playwright, director, producer and so forth.

I am excited by what 2024 will bring.

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Oct 25, 2023

Crafting the Solo Show now available

Over the last several years, especially during the pandemic, I compiled a bunch of notes I had been jotting down about solo performance. I have turned those notes into a book. Crafting the Solo Show is now available on Amazon both as an Kindle ebook and in paperback.

Super excited to release this out into the world. I set out to write the book I wish I had back when I started my own journey into creating and performing one-person shows for the stage.
Crafting the Solo Show covers all kinds of stuff... generating ideas, writing the script, rehearsing, performing that first show, touring, marketing and on and on.
Despite a little bit of lingering Imposter Syndrome, I believe this guide can be genuinely helpful to the beginning solo performer. If you are thinking of giving the format a try (or know someone who is) be sure to grab a copy.

Get a copy... HERE

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Oct 6, 2023


DaShaun Ellis as the Blacksmith and cast. The Blacksmith was based on Gilbert Hunt,
a real historical hero who saved dozens of women from the Richmond Theatre Fire.

Set Design by the wonderful Clare DeVries

I recently directed Clay McLeod Chapman's play Volume of Smoke at the college where I work. It had a hard-working student cast and crew. It played October 4 - 6.

Here's a bit about the play...

On December 26th, 1811, the Richmond Theatre burned to the ground. A standing-room only audience of 600 people had gathered that night to see a touring company present a billing of several different pieces. During The Bleeding Nun, a short play of haunted star-crossed lovers, the fire began. Of those 600 in attendance, over seventy died including many women and children. Many were trampled in the panic that ensued. The dead included the newly-elected Governor of Virginia, George W. Smith, who died after saving his wife’s life. The incident made headlines as far away as Germany and helped jumpstart a wave of evangelical fervor known as the Second Great Awakening. 

In response to the tragedy, Richmond, VA, erected a church on the ashes of the theatre and banned all public performance (including street musicians) for eight years. The price of breaking the law was a ticket for six dollars and sixty-six cents. 

Weaving together a narrative of fragmented epistolary monologues from dozens of different characters the play follows the lead-up, devastation and then aftermath of the Great Richmond Theatre Fire.

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Sep 29, 2023

Volume of Smoke article in The Collegian

New Play Ignites Excitement
NINA BANKS | managing editor | September 27, 2023

TCC SE theater is set to premiere “Volume of Smoke” from Oct. 4 to Oct. 6. 

The play is based on the Richmond Theater fire in 1811. SE student DaShaun Ellis plays the Blacksmith who is based on Gilbert Hunt, a freed Black man who played a large role in saving countless lives.  

“He is a Black man who actually became a registered blacksmith in Richmond,” Ellis said. “He saved — I believe — 36 people from the fire at the Richmond Theater. He’s just a hero.”  

The fire was caused when a lamp touched a set piece. Inadequacies of the building’s construction exacerbated the fire. Director Bradley McEntire cited that the incident created greater awareness of fire safety. 

“It also started the first serious conversations about building codes and the possibility of regulating the building of much safer structures. For instance, the Richmond Theater had main doors that opened inward. It had very narrow aisles. The stairs leading down from the box seats were apparently never weight tested and constructed in a shoddy manner. All of this was quite a hazard in a fire. These kinds of things were considered more thoroughly from that point onward.” 

Although the incident was 200 years ago, Director Bradley McEntire was drawn to the humanity of the story. 

“I am fascinated by how we, both as individuals and as a larger community, deal with catastrophe,” McEntire said. “ This play features a real-life disaster, one of the most devastating of America’s early years as a young nation. The repercussions trickled outward.  

“Volume of Smoke” portrays vignettes of how survivors and victims responded to the fires. 

“The play explores how we cope when we come face to face with big tragic events such as this,” McEntire said. “Sometimes we meet catastrophe with courage, sometimes with debilitating fear. Sometimes with outrage, sometimes with resignation. Sometimes it reveals our selfishness, sometimes our heroic side. It really does stress-test our most human qualities.” 

Each actor plays several characters in the play. SE student Dyan Cruz plays six roles and cited the switches as the hardest aspect of her performance. 

“I think it’s just hard on the fact that we play multiple characters so we can’t focus in on one,” Cruz said. “We have to constantly change and adapt, whether that be an accent, a voice, some sort of movement that character has.” 

Speaking in the vocabulary of people in the 1800s was an adjustment for SE student Ri-Shay Washington. 

“How they spoke in that time period is pretty different than how we speak,” Washington said. “We typically word things a certain way and then like “Oh no, that’s not how it’s said.” The language is very different.”  

In addition to vocabulary, SE student Haley Ferguson  learned about the culture of the time period. 

“It was a big deal to go to the theater,” Ferguson said. “Going to the theater was an event, you have to get in your best dress.” 

SE student Isara Al-Hilo urged the future audience to remember that the Richmond Theater fire was a historical event. 

“The most important thing to takeaway from this is to remember,” Al-Hilo said. “These were real people. Especially with the Blacksmith, that was a real dude. Just be respectful of the people who died.” 

Original link: https://collegian.tccd.edu/new-play-ignites-excitement/

Sep 9, 2023

Beast of Hyperborea pics from the 2023 Omaha Fringe

Nick Jansen and Naomi Bates took a few nice shots of my play The Beast of Hyperborea in performance at the 2023 Omaha Fringe Festival.

Featuring my friend Jeff Swearingen and written/directed by me, the one-man show follows Edward Joseph Reade, a good-natured, but anxious accountant who gets whirled into a globe-trotting adventure with an eccentric group of explorers.

Big thanks to Nick and Naomi and the rest of the gang at the Omaha Fringe. It was swell.

Benson Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska

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Aug 31, 2023

The Beast of Hyperborea at the 2023 Elgin Fringe Festival


The Beast of Hyperborea
Featuring Jeff Swearingen
Written and Directed by Brad McEntire

The Beast of Hyperborea
 is an astonishing tale of daring told in the tradition of Victorian adventure fiction. The tale concerns an eccentric group of explorers who set off for a remote island in search of a legendary monster.

Developed by Audacity Theatre Lab, The Beast of Hyperborea premiered in the summer of 2019  originally performed by the playwright, Brad McEntire. The play has now been remounted, this time with Jeff Swearingen stepping into the role of the reluctant accountant/narrator and McEntire easing into the director/producer's chair.

Playing this summer at one of our favorite festivals... the 2023 Elgin Fringe Festival
​Elgin is about 35 miles northwest of Chicago. Great place to perform.

Tickets for this festival are $12

Thursday, September 7 at 7:30 pm
Friday, September 8 at 6:00 pm
Saturday, September 9 at 9:30 pm
Sunday, September 10 at 2:30 pm

Side Street Studio Arts, located at 15 1/2 Ziegler Ct, Elgin, IL 60120

Tickets... HERE. Fringe info... HERE

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Perhaps you would be interested in adding more excitement and romance, adventure and intrigue to your life. If that's the case, I don't know what to tell you. But I would suggest you subscribe to my newsletter. I mean, who knows? Life is full of surprises. I only send stuff out occasionally, but it is good stuff. Hit the button below...