Archive for the tag 'Ron Willis'

My Life As A Publicist (?!?!!)

December 3rd, 2015

Back in 1959, when my all-male Catholic high school in Manila staged The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial by Herman Wouk, the Christian Brother (F.S.C.) in charge of the drama club arbitrarily assigned me to take care of publicity.  I was all of fifteen years old.  What did I know about writing press releases, or how to go about getting the newspapers to publish them?

There were five metropolitan newspapers in Manila at that time, so I bought and studied them all, analyzing the many news and photo releases, little realizing this would lead to my life as a publicist.  Back then, not only did I write the press releases, I also hand-delivered them lovingly to the offices of all five metropolitan newspapers, even managing to befriend some of the editors at each paper.  I think they were amused by how determined I was to get my drivel published.  Thus, I became the go-to guy whenever any of the campus organizations at La Salle needed publicity for whatever events they were sponsoring.

Some years later, when I was a very bored and disaffected freshman at Ateneo University in the outskirts of Manila, two of my newspaper contacts started their own public relations agencies, and they both asked me to help on a part-time basis as their Man Friday.

Monching Lopez handled all the publicity for an upscale theater which showed M-G-M movies exclusively.  Through him, I got to meet some movie stars who came to the Philippines to promote the films they were in—e.g., Alain Delon for Henri Verneuil’s Any Number Can Win (he was rakishly charming), and Sue Lyon for Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (she was surprisingly shy).

Borromeo Rausa handled all the publicity for the new Araneta Coliseum, reputed to be the world’s largest domed coliseum at that time, modeled after Madison Square Garden in New York.  Besides huge sporting events, the Araneta Coliseum also brought in a wide array of popular American entertainers, among them Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt, Johnny Mathis, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Neil Sedaka.  I hope to write about my close encounters with the starry kind sometime in the near future.

And then I dropped out of college altogether in 1962, going to work as an advertising copywriter for J. Walter Thompson for four years, and then for Philippine Advertising Counselors for two years, the exact same period covered by the hit television series Mad Men.  Like Don Draper, I sold my soul to the devil, and when I could no longer stomach the trivia that ruled my daily existence, I quit and left for the United States in June of 1968.  Sometime in the near future, I hope also to write about my life as Don Draper.

In the United States, I went back to school at the University of Kansas, where I took writing classes from Ed Wolfe in the English Department, and Ron Willis in the Theatre Department.  Thanks to these two inspiring and encouraging professors, for the next twenty years, I wrote short stories and plays, things of more substance and permanence than press releases and advertising copy.

And then it began all over again.

When I was hired by the English Department at K.U. to teach playwriting in 1989, it became evident very quickly that the only way my playwriting students can grow as playwrights, is for them to be able to see and hear their words performed by actors who can act, in front of audiences who can react, in order to get valuable feedback for their visions and revisions.  And so I founded English Alternative Theatre (EAT), a one-man band in which I had to do practically everything—from booking rehearsal spaces, to directing, to helping with scenic and lighting designs, to gathering props and costumes, to keeping tab on all receipts and accounting for all expenditures and, last but not least, to writing press releases!

Of all these tasks, the last one now proved to be the most difficult.  What’s the point of mounting a production, rehearsing every night for four or five weeks, if you can’t get the word out to audiences?  How do you write press releases referring to yourself in the third person without seeming self-serving, full of hubris?  Ultimately, this was the last straw.  When I retired from teaching in 2010, and English Alternative Theatre was finally laid to rest, the biggest relief was that I did not have to write any more press releases, no longer had to beat my own drum.

But not for long.

After a hiatus of five years, I’ve decided to direct a couple of staged readings of plays for Card Table Theatre at the Lawrence Public Library.  Last summer, we had only 16 people in the audience for one performance of Collected Stories, a prize-winning play by Donald Margulies.  And  tonight (December 3, 2015 at 7 PM), we will have one performance of my play Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris.  There are fourteen actors playing over forty parts in this play.  Their wondrous work deserves to be seen.  What if we get less people in the audience than there are actors on stage?  And so, two weeks ago, I began to write press releases again.  To quote T.S. Eliot:  “In my end is my beginning.”

I sent the items to the only newspaper in Lawrence, but as of today, no ink has been wasted on us.  Print has not been helpful this time, but will social media come to the rescue?  Will the family and relatives of the actors, and all our Facebook friends in the area, help save the day?  Will enthusiastic hordes beat down the auditorium doors at 7 tonight at the Lawrence Public Library?

Watch this space.

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30 November 2015: Spawns of Ron Willis…

November 30th, 2015

There’s a wonderful profile piece in the Lawrence Journal-World this morning about the indefatigable Ric Averill, founder of the pioneering local theater group called the Seem-To-Be-Players from the 1970s, and current director of performing arts at the Lawrence Arts Center.

In the article, Mary Doveton says this about Ric:  “He’s like any of us that are working in the creative arts.  You get an idea and you run with it.  It’s exciting and exhilarating, and you gather people around you that are like-minded, and everybody feeds off everybody.  Rick’s a really creative guy, and he’s always got a positive attitude, and he makes people feel good about themselves.”

Mary Doveton is, of course, herself “The Force” who founded the Lawrence Community Theatre, also in the 1970s, an organization which, in its early days, nurtured original scripts and produced three of my plays:  Hatchet Club, Chambers, and Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris.  Mary encouraged me to direct the first two, but undertook to direct the third one herself.  And now, 35 years later, I am myself directing a staged reading of Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris.  We are presently in rehearsal for just one performance at 7 PM on Thursday, December 3rd at the Lawrence Public Library.  I have 14 very fine actors in the cast.  When they ask me for notes, all I can think of is Mary back in 1980 telling the original cast they must “SPARKLE! SPARKLE! SPARKLE!”  I don’t know how to top that, so I’m just telling my actors to “twinkle… twinkle… twinkle…” like the little stars that they are.

Today’s article about Ric Averill reminds me of another piece in the Lawrence Journal-World from (I think) the late 1990s, in which Prof. Ronald A. Willis was being interviewed about the theatre scene in Lawrence.  By then, besides Ric Averill’s Seem-To-Be-Players and Mary Doveton’s Lawrence Community Theatre, there was also Jackie Davis at the helm of the new Lied Center; my own English Alternative Theatre (EAT), which I founded primarily to produce the original scripts being written by my students; and Andy Stowers’ EMU Theatre was also waiting in the wings.  We had all studied at one time or another with Ron. In that article, Ron in his characteristic way laughed and said that attendance at theatrical events being presented at Murphy Hall was dwindling because the K.U. Theatre Department had “spawned its own competition.”  He named the organizations, but not the names of the students he had spawned.

Ronald A. Willis died at home at age 79 on March 6, 2015, of congestive heart failure.  A wonderfully celebratory memorial service was held at the Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall on Saturday, March 14, at 3 PM.  I could not be there because I was not in Lawrence at the time, but I have now watched the entire 79-minute tribute several times on YouTube.  Two of his three sons spoke, two of his granddaughters spoke, a sprinkling of colleagues and former students spoke.  Among the latter, lots of other spawns, but none of them from the local theatre scene.


Conpersonas: A Recreation in Two Acts

June 28th, 2009

Requirements: 2M, 2F

Setting: Upper East Side New York apartment.  Thanksgiving weekend.

Plot: A Jesuit priest investigates and relives, with devastating consequences, the relationships that his identical twin brother had had with three people who may or may not have contributed to the twin brother’s suicide.

Theme: What happens when we confide in friends, sharing with them our deepest secrets.  Do we end up expecting a great deal more of these people?  If so, can these unfortunate people ever live up to our expectations?  Are these friendships doomed once the confidences begin?

Notes:  The title “Conpersonas” is a word I made up, suggesting not only the pros and cons of our various personas, but also the people who trick or con us daily in strange and mysterious ways.  As for the sub-head, this is the first of many plays which I describe as “a recreation” because I seem to be drawn to material wherein the central characters are examining the present by re-living or re-creating various moments in the past.  And, obviously, it is also my hope that my plays will entertain and provide, however fleetingly, some moments of recreation.

History:  I wrote this play in a playwriting class taught by Ron Willis at the University of Kansas.  It was produced almost immediately by KU, with David Cook directing. In the cast were Paul Hough, Peter Miner, Nancy Flagg, and Sheri Schlozman.  The production won the 1976 American College Theatre Festival Award for Best New Play and was presented in the Eisenhower Theatre at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.  The three adjudicators were playwright Robert E. Lee, critic Henry Hewes of The Saturday Review, and critic Sylvie Drake of The Los Angeles Times.  The play was published by Samuel French, Inc. but, to my knowledge, it has never been performed anywhere else.  The reviewers in Washington, D.C. mostly agreed that the play was “too complex.”

Short scene from the play: Mark, a Jesuit priest, is talking to Shelagh, an older married woman who was the mistress of Mark’s identical twin brother.

SHELAGH:  I bet there are three kinds of people who seek you out in confession.

MARK: And who, pray tell, might these people be?  The first kind.

SHELAGH: (Spitting out the words.)  Fags!  God, how they must drool, kneeling inside those hot and sweaty boxes, knowing you are on the other side of the screen, knowing you will be listening to their heavy breathing, knowing you will have to forgive them their lust!

MARK: (Quietly.) And the second kind?

SHELAGH: (Rapidly, bitterly.)  Fag hags.  Older women.  More experienced women.  Women who are bored with their husbands because their husbands are bored with them. Women who allow other women’s husbands to speculate about them–“Does she, or doesn’t she?”–because they need to be reassured that they are still young, still attractive, still capable of doing wild things in bed!  Women who submit themselves to the ultimate test of their femininity, the seduction of that which is sacrosanct and verboten, the conversion of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Women who make the tragic mistake of falling in love with men who…simply are not interested in women.

MARK: (After a long silence.)  And the third kind?

SHELAGH: (Sadly.)  Teenyboppers.  Oversexed and precocious.  The daughters of fag hags.  Little girls who don’t know better than to…compete with their own mothers. (Short pause, then bitterly.)  When she was small, Rhoda and I used to do things together, tell each other our secrets, share all our likes and dislikes. Why, until very recently, I was even helping her to save up enough money to buy her own car!  A small Pinto, I suggested, but no, she wants a Mustang, just like I have.  (She looks at MARK suddenly, and laughs.)  Oh, we still do most things together, don’t get me wrong.  Still mount the same hobbyhorses, if you will.  But we no longer like each other enough to burden ourselves with one another’s…confidences.  For that we go to…other people.  Your brother, for instance.




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