Tag Archives: old west

The Process

The set
The set

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

In the Green Room
In the Green Room

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.

One of the surprises, Kristi Thissle as Silent Sam.
One of the surprises, Kristi Thissle as Silent Sam.

In early December the water’s muddied when Tammy and I brainstormed and idea for a completely random

Tristan and Jayman, our techies.
Tristan and Jayman, our techies.

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.

The Station Agent... aka The Narrator
The Station Agent… aka The Narrator

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

Final Preparations on Opening Day.
Final Preparations on Opening Day.

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.

safe_imageAs 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, 10937465_833140336742148_1251811676_nbut I digress.

Dudley and Reverend Righteous
Dudley and Reverend Righteous

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.

Kris Gregory transforming into Madam Marcy.
Kris Gregory transforming into Madam Marcy.

Then a week before opening night, on a Thursday night, we hit our biggest bump. A

The next viral T-shirt?
The next viral T-shirt? Insult your friends with Lottie’s scandalous line; “Shut your cock holster!”

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

Tammy the artist.
Tammy the artist.

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.

Lottie the Librarian
Lottie the Librarian

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

Cast and crew
Cast and crew

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.

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Somethings Just Go Right…

IMG_0333b…especially when you have the taste of gold in your mouth. Especially when you’ve been planning a heist for six months and it works out better than you ever expected. No, I haven’t gone over to the dark side. I haven’t traded my soul for the riches of an arch-criminal, though some in our town believe that I am the evil personified. No, I’m talking about the stage coach robbery my gang pulled off at our little Montana town’s annual celebration.

The planning for the heist started on a bitter January night when the only sound on the dark streets was falling snow. Back then the plan was to knock off a Pullman Car. Being that Alberton is an old railroad town and the celebration is named Railroad Day, building a train to rob made sense. As things go, sometimes ideas get garbled in communication, and what is intended isn’t what is delivered.

After months of procrastination, the knot in my stomach reminded me it was time to start working out the details, especially after the guy who was suppose to build a Pullman Car had a life event and his availability went kaput. As what happens so often in my life, my wife said why don’t you call this person or why don’t you call that person. Me being me, I internalized my angst and imagined worst case scenarios for weeks before listening to her advice. Then one night I called the person who always bails me out, my Mexifriend. His real identity is under lock and key but he may or may not be the security guard in the attached video.

Mexifriend said: “Of course brother, we can build that. It would be a lot of fun.”

Pullman Coach? I think not.
Pullman Coach? I think not.

Then I did another thing out of character, I posted on the internet that I was looking for used lumber. The idea was to go rustic. New stuff wouldn’t cut it, plus, it’s just

The ad campaign's slogan is "Do the Jew."
The ad campaign’s slogan is “Do the Jew.”

too expensive, especially for someone who is known as the Mountain Jew. Don’t take offence, I don’t. It’s a family secret that I was born 1/8 Jewish but my ancestors talked me down to 1/16th. I’m so proud of my heritage that I renamed the Mountain Dew Machine in front of the bar the Mountain Jew machine. Anyway, two weeks before the big day, Mexifriend Emailed me the first pictures and my jaw hit my desk. The picture didn’t look like a frame of a Pullman Coach, it was a stage coach. Now, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and my first impulse was to call and ask what the hell was that? But I paused, counted to ten and smiled.  Truth be told, potential was written all over it and it’s a lot easier to change a script that wasn’t written than change a prop that was half built. It was the moment that changed the energy of the entire project. Instead of pointing the finger and barking about the difference between a Pullman Coach and a Stage Coach, I accepted responsibility for not being specific and went with the flow. After all, there was only about a dozen people that knew what was up our sleeve and if it was a train or a stagecoach wasn’t going to make a bit of difference to anybody but me.

Paris De Smet!
Paris De Smet!

Other things went haywire too, I ordered wrong bullets for the blank guns, but quick thinking on the vendor’s side fixed the problem and got us the right ammo with time to spare. I wasn’t so lucky with the gold and silver coins. I ordered a half-ton of bubble gum wrapped to look like loot, but as of this writing, it still hasn’t arrived. I’m thinking someone is never getting my business again, but like the stage coach we just adapted and made good with penny candy. Even the day of, one of the gunfighters overslept and didn’t make the first gunfight. Again, a slight adjustment was made to the script and we ran with it. Short of a catastrophe like Yellowstone blowing up, nothing was going to derail the project. Such was my energy. The gal who played Sally Six-Shooter commented that during the week before the gunfight I was like a kid before Christmas. It was true, I was giddy with anticipation, which is unlike me. I usually anticipate what can go wrong.  Maybe approaching my fiftieth year has made me realize that it’s time to enjoy and stop worrying about things. Like a virus, the feeling was contagious, even over on the wardrobe side my wife hit a grand slam. Such was her energy that during a meeting of the High Colonics – my writer’s group – at our house the Wednesday before the big day, Tammy roped Paris and Nancy into  dressing up and within five minutes had them convinced to play. Lucky for us, because Parris, the exorcist looking priest to the left stole the show in the second gunfight.

Playing dress-up the week before.
Playing dress-up the week before.

What happened to the plan to knock off the Pullman Car. Oh my, you’re going to have to make plans to visit little ole Alberton, Montana next July to see what we have up our collective sleeve. If it’s half as good as what I’m picturing, it’ll be worth the trip. In the mean time, enjoy the video of the Dust Puddle Gang’s stage coach caper. I promise that it’ll make you chuckle.

PS… Just in case you’re interest, here’s the link to the gunfight page on Facebook.   Swing over and give it a like and you’ll be kept up to date what’s going on with the project throughout the year.

It Could Only Happen Here! The Barroom Chronicles… Episode 12

Our 1st Railroad Day… Parade as King and Queen of White Trash… The Redneck Chariot looks good with our shade slaves.

This time of year my mind starts to focus  on our little town’s celebration – Railroad Day.  This year more so than others mainly because of preparations for The Gunfight – Redux, especially if the rumors pan out about me appearing on a local TV morning show as Limp Along Larry, the soon to be notorious bad guy.

Despite that excitement, another story has been on my mind lately, and it involves my first Railroad Day as the proprietor of our humble little bar. The picture to the left has nothing to do with this story, it’s the only good picture I have of that day.  Anyway,  when you hear this story you may agree that now-a-days this sort of thing can only happen in rural Montana.

The story begins long after the last reveler went home and many were sleeping off a drunk.  For me, it is told best through the eyes of the bar’s security camera. In retrospect, I regret not saving a copy, because it would have become  a keep-shake.

Around Nine A.M. the morning after Railroad day, a person tries the front door and his expression is startled when it swings open. You see, the  proprietor, me, in a fit of exhaustion forgot to lock up.  The person was Kermit, a long-time regular,  a self proclaimed mountain man and a person born after his time. He often said he would have fit in better in the nineteenth century. As far as anybody knew, what Kermit enjoyed most was cooking at hunting camp.

Without blinking, the camera watches Kermit turn towards his friends, yell something and wave for them to come on in. Moments later, a  single file of his cadres stumbles through the door.  Our ring leader walks behind the bar, opens the cooler and serves up the beers.

Over the hours, empties are lined up across the bar top until two hours later, the door opens again and it is the  stunned form of the daytime bartender. Kermit jumps up, greets her and motions to the empties on the bar and proceeds to pay her for the consumed libations.  Only in our town!

It is a heart-warming story, but what makes it more special is that Kermit passed away six months later. He had a bad-ticker that gave way in his sleep. He was forty-nine.

The token brunette in a party of tall blondes

The following spring, on what would have been his fiftieth birthday, we commemorated the event by compelling everybody who came into the bar that day to enjoy a Miller High Life in his honor, of course the empties were lined up across the bar.

You may be saying to yourself the name sounds familiar. It is dear reader and not because of the famous frog. If you have read the post Haunted Town, you will recall we named the bar’s ghost Kermit, mainly because it’s a trickster, much like the person I knew for an all to brief time. In that time he gave us the gift of many fond memories and a headache or two with repeated Swen and Ollie jokes.  For more of Kermit I also refer you to The Shithouse Poet Returns, he planted the following beauty on the Men’s room wall:

“It is as long as me arm

and thick as me wrist

with a head as big as me fist

and it just longs to be kissed”

Kermit, wherever you are my friend, don’t forget to stir the beans!

Gunfight… The Barroom Chronicles… Episode 11

High Noon in our town!

Shots ring out.  Someone is dead. Blood flows from a single hole in the middle of a stranger’s forehead.  Crying, a toddler asks his mommy: “Is that man really dead?”

As to answer the lad’s question, a pine box is ushered from the shadows, the dead guy is stuffed inside and is whisked from the street.  The casket it stood against a nearby fence and its contents are displayed to warn out-of-towners that their nonsense will not be tolerated.

Believe me, there are times when I would like nothing better than to place a

Pucker factor waiting for the bottom to fall out.

bullet in some hemorrhoid’s forehead, but that particular afternoon last July that hemorrhoid was me and I had the experience of being stuffed inside a box.  Let me tell you, it’s creepy and a little bit terrifying – not because I was the dead guy, but we had built the casket the night before and I was wishing to my lucky stars that the bottom wouldn’t fall out and I would end up on the sidewalk.

Limp Along Larry – the bad guy

But that’s a risk of being the bad guy. And what a bad guy I was. Limp Along Larry’s the name, making kids cry is the game. I mean, I made two kids cry! Only one was part of the act.  I wish a picture exists of his expression when I popped his balloon and drew my six-shooter on him and robbed his candy.  Now I know where the saying comes from, it is easy and it’s fun, especially when a boatload of onlookers boo, hiss and call you nasty names.  Alas, it  takes a special breed to be a turd in the punchbowl.

My day would have been perfect if the kid’s dad wasn’t

Talking smack with the kid’s dad.

around.  The humorless fellow had to go and defend his son’s honor. Heck, if he hadn’t let the kid walk down the sidewalk by himself, he wouldn’t have had to challenge me to a duel.   I mean, I was teaching the kid a lesson: the world is a dangerous place you know.

Not that I was worried about a duel, I had never lost. I thought the fellow was a dead man walking and that his kid was an orphan in the making. Heck, even if he got a lucky shot in, I had a nasty surprise in store. On a nearby balcony, I had my right-hand man.  If something happened to me, well…  I never expected that the good guy would get two lucky shots in. My pardo ended up dead too!

One door closes, another opens…

Oh, that second crying kid.  He thought I was really dead. It took me eventually walking from the casket to prove that I was alive and that the gunfight was just a bunch of silly grown-ups playing.  Between me and you, I can’t wait to he gets older and learns about zombies. We could have fun with that!

Who knows what will happen on a mid-summer’s afternoon this July?