For some reason I like to creatively torment myself, or more accurately torment myself with creativity – you know, honor the masochist within. Such is the case with the story behind Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts: a murder-mystery concocted for a dinner-theater/fundraiser done for the Peak Foundation. Warning: this non-profit peddles the crack-cocaine of theater to neophytes, and they do it well. The idea for BB & B arose after my first visit to the corner of Stage and Script. I was told it was a dangerous neighborhood; I didn’t heed the warning.
That first visit occurred last summer during Briar Rose. I must have hit my head on a rock after
diving head first into that project, because I got the idea to write and direct a creation of my own. After consulting with Laura, the head-mistress at Peak, the green light was given. A date and venue was set.
And then I waited. The clock ticked, the calendar turned. The general idea slipped through my brain folds, but the details eluded me. I didn’t panic, I procrastinated. I told myself I could start the script around Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving came, the ideas didn’t. It’s part of the process. The subconscious needs to percolate, I reminded myself. I’ve been there before, but experience does not alleviate the terror of trying to think and nothing happening.
In early December the water’s muddied when Tammy and I brainstormed and idea for a completely random
ending where even the actors wouldn’t know who was the perpetrator. Great idea, if cast members were masters of improv. Considering there wasn’t a cast, the idea was shelved. Or was it? It led to an important plot device. I glowed in the false confidence of direction, but I still couldn’t put pen to paper.
Days turned to weeks. When questioned about the progress of the script, I lied. I didn’t want anyone else sharing the angst. In my darkest moments, I almost called Laura to beg for cancellation. As far as I knew, only her, my wife, and a handful of potential cast members knew of the planned show and audition dates. It wasn’t too late to wiggle out of the obligation without much humiliation.
As Christmas approached my to resistance to writing the script continued, until Monday December 22nd at 10:16 PM when I created a word document. A minute later magic happened. I would be remiss not admitting I had characters in mind. Madam Marcy, Lottie the Librarian (Who’s original name was Linda), Dudley Do-nothing, Winston Haigstrom (Haigstrom’s original first name was Walter – it may have been changed to obscure the character’s inspiration), and Reverend Righteous were written with local talent in mind. Silent Sam was a gift from the muse, in the original matrix of characters, he didn’t exist. Silent Sam snuck into the script much as he did onto the stage – his laugh announcing his presence. After two weeks of burning midnight oil a workable script was in hand.
You can read the first act here. Please heed the Script Nazi’s admonition: “No second act for you!” You wouldn’t want to know
who the murderer was anyway.
With a deep breath, I hid my insecurities and stepped into a role in which I had zero experience – directing. Yes, I’ve done the gunfights, but that’s street theater – street theater doesn’t count. Years of hockey and firefighting coaching gave me the confidence, while osmosis and pilfering the toolboxes of Briar Rose’s brain-trust provided the distinctions.
As audition night approached I was plagued with new worries. What if no one showed up? What if too many people tried out? It turned out that an expected body took a powder and two unexpected souls materialized. The arrival of the expected was accompanied with relief, in the absentees’ place stomach knots arose, and the unforeseen brought possibility. After auditions there was one role to fill, and though I didn’t want to act, I was prepared to step into the narrator role. After a barrage of emails and phone calls, Dudley Do-nothing’s real life wife stepped up. The cast was complete. I could concentrate on directing… and concocting a title. Notice the audition poster? No title. When I was grilled, Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts flew out of my mouth, but I digress.
With the arrival of the first rehearsal came the first surprise. No Reverend Righteous. Facebook messages flew trying to track down the slippery seminarian. Where could he be? His alter-ego Matt Sibert is a dependable fellow. A picture of a nearly severed thumb arrived in my inbox. It appeared the reverend suffered an industrial accident. Not one to be sidelined by a ‘flesh wound’, Matt served double duty as the show’s special effects wizard. That he made an old railroad depot shake with the rumble of an approaching train and lit up a dark room with the lights of locomotives past was testament of his ability to bring words to life.
From the second rehearsal forward the production enjoyed cast integrity. With each passing rehearsal the bond between cast members deepened as they worked through blocking and script tweaks. Soon they were no longer seven people learning places and lines, but channels for characters struggling to emerge. Practice after practice character traits emerged. Though it was happening, their transformation was a work-in-progress.
Then a week before opening night, on a Thursday night, we hit our biggest bump. A
scheduling conflict with the venue left us high and dry mid-rehearsal. We were getting there, put I wasn’t comfortable where we were stood, especially loosing a run-through and an after-action review. After coarse venting on my part towards the powers-that-be, the cast agreed to an additional sacrifice – an extra night of rehearsals. We piggy-backed a Sunday night rehearsal onto the scheduled Monday night rehearsal to make up for lost time, and that’s when the real magic happened. Four run-throughs in a twenty-four hour period transformed their performance from gritty to artistry.
I’m sure some of that had to do with costuming. That’s where my wife stepped in, created her little shop of horrors, waved her
magic wand, and exercised the remainder of the characters from their hosts. The pictures reveal the mastery of her art. Tammy was also instrumental in transforming the normally sterile confines of the Alberton Community Center into cozy-confines for dinner theater.
Brooke Barnett, who played Lottie, doubled as the photographer. As you can see, she is a renascence woman. Actress, photographer, and the writer of our town’s coming summer production.
The PEAK Foundation can’t be thanked enough for their will, talents, and vision to bring the arts to a small mountain town in Montana. Without the organization the memories
created for the cast, crew, and most importantly, the supporters and fans who sold-out two shows, wouldn’t be possible. I had the easiest job, all I had to do was spin words and share a vision, the rest was up to the wizards who conjured them into reality. It’s the greatest thrill and honor a writer can have.