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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