Tag Archives: acting

Home Again

So I’m settled in a new apartment and doing my best to begin a new life, with as much time spent writing and creating as is humanly possible.  Over the last few years, I admit that I’ve slacked off–a lot–mainly because I had so many internal and circumstantial factors to distract me from what I really wanted to do.  That’s all over now.  It’s good to be home.

In August of 2015, my play Closing Night was produced by the same local theatre group that mounted Dot’s Journey in 2013.  Everyone involved did a superior job, and the play received a very positive response.  As a spectator of some rehearsals and all performances, I was able to discern what needed to be fixed and changed before it faces an audience again.  And so, even with the problems which made themselves apparent during the run, I count the whole experience as a success.

As I begin 2016 and dive into the creative projects that I’ve outlined, I find myself taking a much more mature, serene approach to my work than I have in the past.  No longer will I apply stultifying pressure on myself to produce material that will sell, that will please others, that will solidify my reputation–even in the immediate area–as a respected man of letters.  I now do my work for myself before anyone else.  If others like it and want to buy it, that is the ultimate compliment…but not the driving momentum.  Not anymore.  I’m getting too old.

The projects that I want to pursue in the coming year are ones that I have described in much more detail in other blog postings.  Namely, I have decided to realize my long-held yen to make something out of the concept for the Eerie Series–the stories within stories about a fictional director and the films he makes, which I’ve had in the trunk for almost twelve years. The first, The Horrible Hand!, is proceeding rather well for  being the premiere project of its kind in my repertoire, calling as it does for bogus backgrounds on the people/actors involved in the film, as well as behind-the-scenes history and details of mishaps, feuds, and what-have-you.  The finished product will be a medium-sized hard-backed book (similar in design to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) with a novelization of the “film” by the fictional director, Tony Miles, and supplemented by background information, “interviews”, and illustrations, which are a particular thrill to do, as they require me to be ultra creative in selecting backgrounds and settings against which to place public domain photographs of real people mixed with my own sketches, to create movie “stills”.  I know it’s hard to really grasp what I’m talking about in mere words, but those who actually read the book will have no problem understanding the concept.

Boo loses her composure

My other project, with which I plan to alternate intervals of working on The Horrible Hand, is What a World, What  a World, a memoir/testimony which will detail the whole arc of my life through the last few years, through the filter of a highly skeptical gay Christian sensibility.  Deep?  Nah.  Some parts might be, but essentially, the tone will be sardonic, brutally honest, and funny.  I’ve made many false starts and stabs at this volume, but I wind up reworking it every time I sit down to move it forward.  My inspiration for this writing is humorist David Sedaris, and to a greater degree, memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who knows how to season his tales with just enough laughs to alleviate the bitterness…of which I’ve got plenty, honey.

Aside from that, I’ll be hitting the blogging hard–here and in my film essay column, Recommendations by Retroman, as well as other personal, autobiographical writing which very likely will never see the light of day.  I plan to reach out to local and online writers, and share some of my work.  I also want to stay in touch (through social media) with local film writers and directors who might be interested in taking on my plays and such.

Acting?  Only God knows.

If it seems that I’m rushing along perfunctorily here, it’s because I am.  For one thing, I have been as tired as I have ever been in my whole life since the move, and am not sure why, other than that I may have just “crashed” after functioning for so long in extremely challenging circumstances on sheer force of will and adrenaline, along with a liberal shot of God’s own brand of Red Bull.

In addition, I hunger to get back to work, not to talk about it.  It’s been a very long two years, and there’s much to be done.

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Challenges Surmounted…So Far

Going on two years since my last post, I’m rattling, shaky, and loose in some places, but I’m still rolling forward.  Slowly.

I could be accused of living in my own world entirely, and it would be true.  But my response to such accusations has always been, “Why not?”  When forced to choose between fantasy and grim reality, with its thousands of worries, fears, shames, and dysfunctions, who could blame me, in my fragility, for moving bag and baggage into the last refuge available, which, unlike most others I have experienced, never lets me down?  (Plus it’s free.)

I’ve spent the past two years sequestered in that refuge of creation and self-expression, and it, along with my faith, has kept me alive.

Along with appearing successfully as Blanche Hudson in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (yes, you read that right), the main creative project I worked on through this time was Flickers, the epistolary short novel chronicling an interval–very similar to the challenging one I faced and continue to face—in the life of the protagonist, Philip Griffin, a warehouse packing clerk, living and struggling in the early twentieth century.  Deeply shy, even avoidant; sorely lacking in self-confidence and with no idea who he is, Philip’s dreary life takes a dramatic turn when he falls in love with Lucinda Styles, the niece of his sister’s employer, Eugenia Styles.  Lucinda is staying with Philip’s sister, Cora, prior to her arranged marriage to Edgar Bothwicke, CEO of Bothwicke Printing—which will allow for a merger between Bothwicke Printing and Styles Publishing; a merger necessary for the survival of the latter company.  It goes without saying that Eugenia Styles is hell-bent on seeing both the marriage and the merger through—but the first hurdle in her path is, naturally, Philip’s instant infatuation with Lucinda, whom he views as his female fantasy incarnate.  Unsettled in his complacent existence by these new, unfamiliar emotions, Philip soon finds himself unable to reconcile the fact of Lucinda’s inaccessibility to the point that he retreats into a dream world; in this case, the world of silent films, in which, like Walter Mitty, he sees himself as the hero of his own personal swashbuckling adventure/thriller tales.  How much Philip’s romanticized visions of those around him—particularly Lucinda and her unappealing suitor—actually mirror the characters themselves (or do not) is the theme of the story.

I admit that the completed (not finished, never finished) manuscript of Flickers (so-called due to this nickname for early movies) is much darker than it would probably need to be.  What could have been a sensitive portrait of a young man’s attempts to cope with unfulfilled fantasies morphed somewhere along the line into a blood-and-thunder melodrama typical of the times in which the story is set.

THE-UNKNOWN

And that is exactly the way I planned it.

Come on, now…this is Craig, after all. 

I’ve never been content to let well-enough alone and tell stories about real people living real lives and facing real problems.  I’ve always had to push it—to increase, as with a digital photograph, the brightness and contrast of gray truth to the level of stark black-and-white.  Larger-than-life, oft-times outrageously campy…that’s my style.  So lynch me.

Which is why I’ll never succeed in the world of “serious” writing.  This was affirmed to me about a year and a half ago by a professor of creative writing at my alma mater, with whom I conferred about continuing my education in this field.  His (not unkind) response was, at least the way I heard it, “Don’t waste your time”.  In essence, I am not a highbrow writer, I was never meant to be a highbrow writer, and I never will be a highbrow writer.  And that’s okay, because having nodded through some highbrow writing in my time, I don’t really want to be a highbrow writer.  Yes, those MFAs and Ph.Ds might get published in the occasional moldy collegiate journal, but, aside from a few other MFAs and Ph.D’s…who really gives a shit?

Dollanganger01_FlowersInTheAtticOn the other hand, the 1979 cult bestseller Flowers in the Attic, by the late V.C. Andrews, is still in print.  You do the math.  Let me tell you something—I like that story.  I liked the book, the 1987 movie, and the recent Lifetime remake.  I know it’s rather over-the-top and creepy in its subject matter and presentation, but that being said, it’s a terrific story about survival.  A story about surviving as a child locked away in the attic of a great mansion, abandoned by your mother and abused by a crazy grandmother, is still a story about survival.  And it happens all the time.  Just look at the news.  Different strokes for different folks.  I say tomato…etc, etc.  That’s my kind of literature, with a beginning, middle, and a satisfying end.  Sure, I admire people like, say, Flannery O’Connor, but I could never write anything to approach her stories like The Enduring Chill or Greenleaf.  I could never hope to achieve anything on the level of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome (a personal favorite), or even five levels below them, so why knock myself out trying?  Why not, instead, write in my own individual style of gothic surrealism and if deeper themes emerge, fine.  Even with Flickers, the subtext is there despite the melodramatic trappings—they don’t hurt it at all.  So, again, I ask…why not?

It’s yet another way in which I am learning to accept my own limitations.  Fiction will always be my first love, although I have done some autobiographical writing which I would daresay is a lot better…but fiction is just flat-out more fun.

The original idea for Flickers was to illustrate it with photos of scenes in miniature, suitable to the silent film era, as actual silent film slides; a concept in keeping with the theme of Philip’s vicarious obsession with the movies he imagines himself and others in.  I’ve retained that concept, but have decided to go a step further and use real people for these shots, actors from the local talent pool, appropriately dressed on real-life “sets”.  It would basically be like shooting something less than a movie to create something more than a graphic novel.  I hope.  Anyway…next year I’d like to try it.Fairbanks-300x233

The other creative project which kept me busy throughout the latter half of 2013 was building my own chess set, something I had wanted to do for a long time.  The concept, like that of Flickers, revolved around the world of vintage movies.

mms_picture (7)

I made half the pieces to represent the forces behind putting together a film—producer, director, editor, and so on.  The other half is populated by the actors in the film.  The pawns are framed script pages (moviemakers) and, on the thespian side, shots from the “film” being made, featuring the actors in various individual scenes.

I know…I’m not a character on The Big Bang Theory, but I should be.  Anyway…I kind of resemble Sheldon with facial hair.  Or so I’ve been told.

The chess set turned omms_picture (10)ut to be one of the centerpieces of my art studio, Creations by Craig.  Yes, for six months I had an art studio that I moved into in late March and opened at the first of May.  I had been thinking about taking space at a local gallery for some time, and when I learned of opportunities to rent at the gallery, this particular space hit me immediately as perfect for two reasons.  One, the colors.  Red, black and white is a recurring color scheme in my visual work, and that is exactly how the room was painted.  The second reason was that it had just been vacated by a member of my church.  Those reasons were enough for me.  On its official opening May second, I made three sales, which, as I understand, is very good for this area.

I closed Creations by Craig in September of 2014.  I did this basically because I found that I don’t like doing art in a studio.  I like doing it at home.  Also, in the Canton, Ohio, area, there is no sustained interest in paying for art.  Not enough to justify paying the monthly studio rent.  Lesson learned, no regrets.

Looking ahead, I know what I would like to accomplish next year, namely laying out the background of a new concept, The Eerie Series. (More on that later.)  Over the summer and early fall, I realized an idea which has simmered for a few years, and only recently worked itself into a story that I felt compelled to write as soon as possible, as a play.  Titled The Blue Candle, it combines my ever-present goth ambiance with something of a spiritual undertone.  In short, I tried getting deep while staying fun, even a little deeper than I did with Flickers.  Maybe I have hopes of ending up highbrow after all.  Nah.

And now, aside from the Eerie Series, there are my last few major projects coming to completion; along with the editing of Flickers, the backstage murder mystery Closing Night, which has been picked up for local production in August, 2015 , as Below the Surface and Dot’s Journey were so successfully mounted inthe spring and fall of 2013, respectively.  (For more information on Dot’s Journey, look under Thinking Man’s Theatre.) 

SONY DSC

A rehearsal still from “Dot’s Journey”, my film noir take on THE WIZARD OF OZ, performed by the Canal Fulton Players aboard the St. Helena III in 2013.

I didn’t mention Below the Surface being produced?  I guess I didn’t.  That was my first full-length play, which I started writing in 1997 and finally “released” in staged reading form in 2011.  Like most of my other work, it treads the same tightrope between legitimate and melo-drama in its tale of a super-dysfunctional family, a sudden murder, plenty of psychological suspense, and just plain psychos.  The play was picked up by the Victorian Players of Youngstown, who gave it about the best, most respectful, and successful a first production as one could wish for, even unto asking me whether one of the characters would have magazines on her coffee table. 

Victorian Players Live Commuitinty Theater

A rehearsal shot from my play “Below the Surface” at the Victorian Players Theatre, Youngstown, Ohio, 2013

As with Dot’s Journey, the experience proved both unforgettable and highly therapeutic.  And humbling.  And nerve-wracking.  To sit in the midst of a paying audience, watching such talented people bringing my work to life; to know that they invested many hours of their time and energy into something that only existed because of me…that was and is heady stuff.  They will never know how much it meant at that particular time.  I can never thank them enough.

The Pack, the 272012 project which began in a blaze of ambition as my first “consigned” work, has now been quietly retired, unreleased.  This graphic novel, or Film in Print, is problematic to me because while there are good things in it, I feel that the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  A companion piece to Flickers, which followed on the heels of it, this Depression-era story of a young music teacher dismissed from his job for a suspected affair with a student never really clicked with me, in spite of my every effort to personalize it.  I was eventually informed by the party interested in publishing it that his publishing days were over for the moment.  Bummer.  As I indicated, there are some really good scenes and characters in it, but I am not sure that the story was entirely within my range or that I was completely up to realizing its demands visually.  Maybe it’s better than I think.  I don’t know.  That’s the curse of being a critic of one’s own work.

In the meantime, I launched a few smaller projects that turned out to be just what I needed—not demanding, but unique enough to fulfill the creative urge while I recharged my batteries.  First, I indulged another long-harbored interest—writing puppet plays.  I’ve always adored puppets, and when I read that one of my prime inspirations, the late Edward Gorey, wrote and produced these along with his gargantuan body of other work, I felt the time was right to give it a go.  So I wrote three short plays around Mr. Teeth and the other puppets I made a few years ago…and they turned out very well, at least in my regard.  I would love to see them mounted someday…maybe as the centerpiece amid an evening of old-fashioned vaudeville acts.  I even had fun with the titles; Mr. Teeth and the Quagmire Affair…Mr. Teeth and the Befuddlement of the Fallen Star…Mr. Teeth and the Canine Caper, or, the Bride of Mr. Teeth.

The other small project, also newly published through lulu.com, is a storybook based on the short film The Terrible Mr. CinderellaTeeth, which I had great fun making in 2011.  This time around, the story features the puppets I made in the lead roles, intermingled with the secondary characters from the film version.   What a gas it’s been!  Mr. Teeth returns to terrorize the beautiful Angelica Morningsong as The Girl and Justin Evergood as The Boy, with support from Madame Nightshade as The Girl’s Mother.  What this really is, is a fulfillment of a creative yen from childhood to make puppets and stories around them similar to those I found in a series of lavishly illustrated puppet “board books” which retold the classic fairy tales.  As a little tyke, I was utterly awed by the detail of these puppet characters, exquisitely costumed and carefully posed amid beautifully detailed miniature scenery.  Alas, I only ever had one of the books—Pinocchio—and had to wait until a year ago to finally obtain the others in the collection through ordering them used online.  From these I received my inspiration to remake Mr. Teeth in the mold of the puppet storybooks that I spent long summer afternoons as a child of seven yearning for.  Some dreams do come true!

MrT

The Terrible Mr. Teeth is now published through lulu.com and is available for purchase here.

terrarium

Also last summer, I dabbled in the art of terrariums and assemblage.  Terrariums have intrigued me since childhood—something about the idea of a miniature world preserved under glass always has; hence, my fascination with dioramas—and about a month ago I decided to try my hand at it.  I started simple, after doing the requisite research on exactly how to go about it, and these first three turned out rather well, if I do say so myself.  As always, the scenes are tinged with touches of the morbid, mysterious, and macabre.  What else would you expect from Creations by Craig?  (BTW, the terrarium at left is not one I created, but it is very much in the style I aim for.  More pics to come as I continue to build them.)

Assemblage is not a new endeavor for me, but it was only in the last year that I learned it had a name, this juxtaposing of various mixed media to present an overall shared theme.  I have long been telling stories through mixed media, but it wasn’t until the artist Joseph Cornell came to my attention, with his fascinating “boxes”, or collage art under glass, that I saw a new realm of possibilities for it.  Exploring his work (seen below) provided a huge dose of fresh inspiration.

Joseph-Cornell-Untitled-Medici-Boy-1942-1952

An artist’s work is never done.  Thank God.


WEEWEE AND SOMEBODY, Chapter Eleven

This is the last full chapter of the blog-book.  All that remains to be added is the epilogue, next month.  Here we have a glimpse at the pre-show for opening night of the musical that is a main focal point of the story…any thespians out there will probably enjoy this one a lot.

http://weeweeandsomebody.wordpress.com


BELOW THE SURFACE to be Produced by North Canton Playhouse

I am thrilled to announce that my play Below the Surface will be produced by the North Canton Playhouse at the Kathleen Howland Theatre in downtown Canton, in February of 2011.  Details will be posted as they come.


WEEWEE AND SOMEBODY, Chapter Eight

A good chapter, I must say.  This one deals with rehearsals for the musical that WeeWee and his great-aunt are doing together at the local dinner theatre owned by her stepson.  There is also a good bit more development of the relationship between the two protagonists, as well as the usual drama caused by Dianne, the vindictive daughter.  I’m on the home stretch, now.


GRYMWYCK Portion Two Progress

I’m about halfway through writing the text for the second installment of Grymwyck, which I’ve decided to title Preparing for the Sojourn.  In this segment, Belinda Nathan goes back to her hometown of Hastings, Ohio (I’ve given the locale an actual setting) to get her belongings stored and packed for her move to Grymwyck.  Much of this first half has been devoted to character development for Belinda, focusing on her thoughts and memories of her deceased parents and her former boyfriend, Sean Fellowes, who runs into her unexpectedly in Hastings.  The writing so far has gone smoothly and quickly.  My main concerns are plausibility and consistency in the story.  With the shadow of the supernatural falling throughout, I hope to present as much logic for the characters’ actions and the various events as possible.  I suppose that will make the end effect all that much stronger.

I withdrew the first book, or pilot for the series, Arrival, temporarily to make some changes and revisions.  I wasn’t happy with the layout, for one thing.  Too bad my friend Joe already bought a copy; the updated version is much better to look at visually, with the photographs “wrapped” by the text.  I redid the layouts this way on all my other projects as well, last week, and even updated and republished Dot’s Journey.  Call me obsessive-compulsive, but I just like the knowledge that all my projects are in the same format.  Consistency, you know.

I also made out an extensive, detailed timeline for all my writing/art projects, beginning at present, in November 2009 and ending in February 2011.  Everything in this current “season” is listed and scheduled as far as when I will write this chapter or begin that photo shoot.  This has made it much easier for me to concentrate, one month or week at a time, on what needs to be done for which story. 

I’m pleased with my progress so far…Grymwyck–Arrival will be republished next week, and I’m about halfway through both Grymwyck–Preparing…Sojourn and WeeWee and Somebody.  I aim to self-publish WW&S by my birthday, 2010, and Preparing/Sojourn on the first of next year (2011) along with Echo Forest, which I plan to start on in April 2010.


The Little People

I just love little people.  Really, I do.  Figurines, action figures, models…they all fascinate me.  I remember vividly my collection of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe warriors, and their castles and vehicles.  It was a vast collection, and I recall it very fondly. 

heman-character-figures

It is packed away in a corner of my parents’ basement now, but I have plans to go through it in the near future and organize it, along with all my other scads of action figures, and my Super Powers figurines, and their ilk.  I’ve thought about putting them in the community garage sales that my parents’ neighborhood holds every August, but I honestly don’t know if I can bring myself to do it yet.  I still have an emotional attachment to those toys, and a part of me feels disloyal at passing them off to kids who probably won’t appreciate or care for them half as much as I did.  Maybe I want to go through them one more time just for the sheer pleasure of holding them in my hands again, and reliving those memories of endless afternoons of enjoyment that they gave me.

I suppose I would be remiss to explain why I am including this post in this blog, when at first glance, it doesn’t look to have anything to do with my own personal artwork and writing.  The simple fact is, it has everything to do with my own work.  My time spent playing with action figures, making up stories, working out plots and direction of sorts…this all proved to pay off as I reached adulthood and began to write plays and novels and to link my artwork with them.  I will admit that I was a real tyrant as a kid when my friends were over and we played together with my miniature empire…my main problem was that my friend(s) didn’t put any thought into the adventures we acted out.  They didn’t spend time thinking up plots, or how to use each character to his/her best advantage…they just went at it, usually so roughly that I hollered bloody murder.  I didn’t want my figures slammed into each other over and over to simulate battle; I preferred just to pose them and let the battle take place in my mind.  And anyway, these toys were my childhood friends as much as Steven, Jason or Adam.  I would not allow anyone to abuse them. 

Gradually, as was to be expected, I set aside the He-Man figures and the castles and the Super Powers and their company when I started to grow up.  But my passion for little people far from waned.  On the contrary, I became interested in creating my own miniature worlds by drawing characters I either made up, or admired from various movies or books I enjoyed.  I spent my adolescence and early youth making paper dolls rather than dating or partying or sneaking out at night to TP my neighbors’ houses with friends.  This didn’t help me then, socially, but as I look at my life now, I can see exactly how much good it did me in the long run.

Today, I am a passionate designer/sculptor of the miniature personage, and of environments for them.  Some of my best friends nowadays are Sculpy, cardboard and toothpicks.  I can literally lose hours at a time as I work to realize my vision of a character I have thought up, a set for a story I am writing. 

Figures 6

My love for the performing arts…for drama and old movies, especially thrillers and mysteries…is the thread which ties all of my creative work together.  The three-dimensional stagings are my writing brought to life, and they form a drama to be photographed and included throughout the play, novel, etc., that they represent, to enhance it.  I will admit that I’ve never yet run across any other work that is quite like what I do. 

My obsession with miniatures and tiny characters is so intense that I frequently dream of walking through a shopping mall, searching avidly for the perfect set of figurines in different hobby/novelty stores, and usually not finding them.  One dream was so vivid that I felt compelled to create a set of new miniature people based on the ones I saw in it.  That set will be featured in the photographs for my upcoming illustrated play, Closing Night, probably sometime next year.
Figures 10

This morning, I shopped on Ebay for miniature model people to use as “extras” and minor supporting characters in my dramatic dioramas.  I wound up investing in 250 little figures…two hundred unpainted…and I can’t wait for the day when I open my mailbox to find them there.  Two hundred and fifty tiny doses of inspiration are on their way to me, from China, no less.

It’s the little things in life, you know.  😉

little people