Writing the Rockies 2018 Opera Workshop Was a Huge Success

In 2017, as part of the superb Writing the Rockies conference, I directed a staged reading of Act I of the new opera-in-progress Lottie Silks by librettist Enid Holden and composer Justus (Jay) Parrotta. This year, I worked extensively with Enid on revisions to the libretto for Act II, to deepen the characterizations, simplify the storytelling, and heighten the conflict. Her rewrites were excellent, and Jay was a superstar at reworking the score to align with all our changes.

The resulting workshop performance of Act II brought tears to the eyes of many in our audience–a good sign for a tragic opera! This piece is actually set in Gunnison, Colorado inspired by Enid’s house (which was once an 1800’s “dance parlor”), and the story is based on real (and heartbreaking) events.

My thanks to terrific accompanist/coach Sarah Holtan Stai (not pictured) and to our entire fantastic cast, many of whom joined us through special arrangement with the venerable Central City Opera. Pictured here Left to Right at our after-party are: me, Paige Sentianin, Margaret Siegrist, Adam Ewing, Clara Nieman, Joshua Zabatta, Composer Jay Parrotta, Librettist Enid Holden, and Jason Baldwin. The performance these singers gave, both in terms of musicality and honest theatricality, was nothing short of amazing given the two days of rehearsal we had together. They literally gave me goosebumps and made me cry. That’s not easy to do. Bravi!!

Audience response to Lottie Silks has been extremely positive. Next up: Enid and I will rework Act I and parts of Act II based on feedback, and prepare the entire piece for presentation in Washington, D.C. in 2020. I can’t wait.

The Opera Workshop at WSCU is, to my knowledge, the only program in the U.S. dedicated to originating new operas through development of libretti from within the university’s Creative Writing graduate program.  We believe the focus on strong lyrical storytelling makes for more compelling opera, and gives the composer that much more inspiration.

Mr. Penn Has Fans in Colorado–and China!!

Ryan Davis, son of WSCU faculty member Russell Davis

When I went out to give my summer coaching intensive at Western State Colorado University this July, I wasn’t prepared for the number of Gotham fans I would meet among the students and faculty. I had a number of requests to pose for photos, and for autographs–so I had to come up with some autograph cards quickly, as I hadn’t brought any with me!

Yiming brought two of these prints for me to sign–all the way from China!!

As cool as it was to meet Gotham fans from various parts of the US and Colorado, the cool factor then went through the roof: I learned that talented screenwriting MFA student Ji Ding’s girlfriend Yiming Zhao had traveled all the way from their home in China for the graduation–and brought along pictures of Mr. Penn for me to sign!!

 

Yiming Zhao and Ji Ding pose with me and Tim for a silly Gotham shot.

The fact that a Gotham fan carried Mr. Penn images all the way from CHINA kind of blew my mind.  I had brought my Gotham rain jacket with me on the trip, so I put that on and we had fun posing for a picture she could share with fellow fans back in her homeland. I’m honored and humbled every time I meet more of Gotham’s incredible fans.

Summer Teaching Successes in Colorado

2018 represents my third year as Professor Sellon, member of the faculty at Western State Colorado University’s graduate program in Creative Writing. For those who didn’t already know, WSCU has an extraordinary and intimate grad program for poets, genre novelists, and screenwriters. If you’re seeking an MA or MFA in any of these areas, you owe it to yourself to take a good look at all WSCU has to offer. It’s an excellent curriculum taught by an eccentric and wonderful bunch of working professional writers. No ivory tower teaching here–every professor is actively out there in the creative world right now, and sharing what they learn with their students.

So what am I doing there? Each summer for two weeks, I give an intensive where I coach grad student poets and genre novelists on how to get up an perform/present their work. That way, when they have a book to promote, they have the presentation skills needed to get listeners excited about buying their books. This may be the only grad creative writing program with such a class–and as far as I’m concerned, it should be mandatory for any writer, especially in this era of  YouTube and social media.  It’s brilliant that David Rothman, chair of the Creative Writing department, asked me to join the faculty.  The difference in performance level from my students each year is genuinely humbling and inspiring.

This year, I had one second-year poet (Teow Lim Goh) and three graduating genre novelists (Melody Griggs, Lynde Iozzo, and Edward Carson) in my full-time intensive.  I also coached two additional talented genre novelists in extra sessions.  The dedication and growth demonstrated by each was terrific; these writers will go far.  Congrats to all, and to WSCU for turning out writers ready to work and succeed in the real world!

Fantastic Fan Art of Mr. Penn in Gotham!

Wow.  As if the fan mail and autograph requests weren’t enough, now a couple of artists on social media have created fan art images of my character Mr. Penn from Gotham.  These images couldn’t be more different in style, but they both capture an element of Mr. Penn.  I’m so impressed, and also grateful these talented folks turned their eye on my beloved Mr. Penn.

This image is by Alexandra Lopez (Twitter handle: @lilianettyPR):

And this rather German expressionist image is by Harvey Wallbanger (Twitter handle: @AlbanRavelry):

Thank you to both of these talented artists for their lovely work.

If you’re an artist and you create another image of Mr. Penn, please do share it with me and I may post it here and on social media.  I love seeing what the fantastic Gotham fans create!

The Delights of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition

If you are in the NYC area, and are a fan of the hit show Downton Abbey, you owe it to yourself to visit the delightful (and extremely well-thought-out) fan experience: Downton Abbey: The Exhibition.  It is 2 1/2 floors of recreated settings, audio-visual experiences, and of course lots of those stunning vintage and bespoke costumes.  There are enough things to read, see, and enjoy that my husband and I spent a full two hours to make sure we didn’t miss anything.  It’s been extended through September 3rd only.  After that, it may travel to other cities.  But if you’re in the NYC area, this is your best opportunity to see the full exhibit.  Frequently when shows like this tour, they are reduced in size for the road.

This exhibit is a lovely way to revisit the terrific performances and design elements of this much-loved show.  And it’s leavened with a good sense of humor as well.  Make sure you take the interactive survey to determine whether you would qualify to serve at Downton Abbey; it’s quite amusing.  And of course there’s a gift shop if you want to buy a memento for yourself for a Downton fan in your life.

A Scorchingly Brilliant Billie Piper in an updated Yerma

I’ve been so busy there hasn’t been much time for posts–but I’ll try to catch up with a few now!

My husband and I have been huge fans of Ms. Billie Piper since her performance as Rose in the reboot of our beloved Doctor Who.  We’ve loved everything we’ve seen her perform, including a heartbreaking Hero in an updated Much Ado About Nothing and in a chilling dual role in the three seasons of Penny Dreadful, among others.

When we heard her Olivier Award-winning performance in Yerma was coming to the Park Avenue Armory in NYC this Spring, we jumped to buy tickets before it even opened.  Her performance, and the entire production, burned itself into our memories.  However much we admired her work and knew she would be remarkable, we perhaps weren’t prepared for the utter raw abandon with which she attacked the tragic title role.  It’s a shame that this production couldn’t have been done on Broadway, where it would have been available to more audience members, and had much better recognition and award eligibility.  But given the unique design of the set (audience on both sides of a large plastic “box”) and Ms. Piper’s busy schedule, perhaps a Broadway run simply wasn’t possible.

I’m just grateful we were there to experience it.  The utterly magnificent adaptation and direction by Simon Stone gave Ms. Piper and her excellent fellow performers a claustrophobic contemporary world where nothing is really private–including one woman’s complete unraveling and implosion because she is unable to give birth.  Set design was also remarkable, and costumes and lighting were just right; this production was an organic whole start to finish.

Lorca’s play, and Stone’s adaptation, show in unsparing detail how focusing on the one thing you don’t have, instead of everything you do, can lead to madness and destruction.  It was a harrowing, unforgettable evening with images and a message that still comes back to haunt me.

This was simply one of the best performances, and productions, I’ve seen in my life.  The National Theatre Live did make a recording of a performance, and it is popping up here and there.  If it is anywhere near you, anytime: SEE IT!!!  You will never forget it.  For that matter, anytime Billie Piper does anything: see it.  She is always utterly honest, and utterly remarkable.

Turncoat: My Latest Audiobook Sheds New Light On Infamous Traitor Benedict Arnold

I’m thrilled to share that my latest title for Recorded Books, Turncoat, is now available, and it’s a cracking good tale. It’s also true.  Award-winning historian Stephen Brumwell turns his expert eye on infamous American traitor Benedict Arnold; he offers new evidence and a compelling argument as to the real reasons behind Arnold’s betrayal of the American independence movement. If you thought it was all about money, Brumwell will make you think again. In the process, Brumwell makes a strong case for Arnold’s time bearing a sobering resemblance to our own.

This is a thoroughly-researched and entirely engrossing account of the birth pains of America, and of what it takes for an avowed American patriot and war hero to turn his coat from blue to red. His recounting of the entirely accidental way in which the planned treason was uncovered, and what happened next, reads like a top-drawer Hollywood screenplay; it’s a true cinematic nail-biter.

If you’re a fan of American History, this book is an absolute “don’t miss”–and if you like listening to your American History, my audiobook version will give you about 17 hours of immersion in a remarkable true story.

You can order Turncoat on Amazon,

or you can buy the recording from Audible.

Either way, you’re in for a fresh and fascinating look at a critical moment in American History.  If you listen and enjoy, please be sure to leave a positive review on Audible and/or Amazon.  Thanks!

You can also learn more about historian Stephen Brumwell and his other works here.

My Last Appearance in Gotham Season 4 was Memorable

In case you haven’t followed my Gotham saga, it’s been an incredible and wonderful ride.  Last summer, I auditioned for and was cast as Mr. Cobblepot’s (aka The Penguin) craven and fussy bookkeeper Mr. Penn for three scenes in last fall’s Season Premiere.

That first episode magically led to a total of seven episodes across Season 4. And every single one of them was a joy to do. From the very first read-through, the cast welcomed me and helped me fit right in.  The entire company, including producers, writers, cast, and crew, including hair, makeup, and design, and their stable of super directors, are all the most talented and lovely people imaginable.  After working together for three years before this season, they have created a genuine family, and it’s a pretty wonderful group. Add to that an amazingly sweet and supportive fan base, and you have a recipe for something truly special.

When last viewers saw me in Ep411, the half-season finale, I had been surprised by the ruthless Sofia Falcone and the Sirens, and tortured by Tabitha. But I did not divulge Mr. Cobblepot’s whereabouts. It was not clear whether I was left alive or not.

When I got the script for Ep415, I was astonished to learn those insanely clever writers in the Gotham room had found a way to weave my character into the main plot–and to make me a wanted man! As I read the script, I realized everyone in the Gotham underworld–including Sofia and Mr. Cobblepot–wanted me very much dead. Thankfully, Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock wanted me alive.  The episode also revealed something crazy and fabulous about Mr. Penn: I was hiding out at a posh resort offering its clients anonymity while undergoing a particularly bizarre and hilarious form of Regression Therapy.  The attached photo should give you some idea.

As I read the script, I could barely breathe–I was certain this was the episode where I would finally buy the farm, or kick the bucket, as they say. Incredibly, despite many bullets fired in my direction, and most of Gotham wanting me six feet under, Mr. Penn survived and escaped.  Someone “in the know” told me that in fact the writers had killed me off a couple of times in early drafts of earlier episodes this season–but happily, they decided to keep me alive. I did not appear in the rest of the season after Ep415–but Mr. Penn is still very much alive.  And last seen in a onesie.

To celebrate my return in Ep415, the fan-run virtual sticker company Telfie even issued a limited edition Mr. Penn sticker.  How neat is that?  Maybe one of these days Mr. Penn will show up in some fan art.  That would be insanely cool. Or get invited to a ComicCon.  That would be another dream come true.

What’s next for Mr. Penn? I literally have no idea. Stay tuned…!

New Audiobook “The Kevin Show” Revisits an Incredible True Story

Back in 2016, I was honored when Olympic athlete Kevin Hall chose me to narrate his remarkable autobiography, Black Sails, White Rabbits.  If you haven’t already listened to it, Kevin is a terrific, honest writer, and his story sounds like something Hollywood might have made up–but it’s all real.

While I was down at Riverside Theatre performing in The Mystery of Edwin Drood this winter, my agent’s office called with an audiobook offer from the lovely folks at Recorded Books: The Kevin Show, by NY Times best-selling author and noted journalist Mary Pilon.  As it turns out, this is Mary’s objective take on Kevin Hall’s story.  I was thrilled at the chance to revisit Kevin’s remarkable life through a journalist’s eye.  And The Kevin Show is fascinating, start to finish.

The Kevin Show was released in March, and at the launch party, I was delighted to meet Mary, and to see Kevin again.  It was a wonderful evening, in celebration of a wonderful piece of writing–and an incredible man.

You can listen to a sample of both books on my Voiceovers page. Or:

You can purchase The Kevin Show here.

And you can purchase Black Sails, White Rabbits here.

Both are well worth a listen, and all the more illuminating if you listen to both!  If you listen and enjoy, please be sure to leave a positive review on Audible and/or Amazon.  Thanks!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Riverside Theatre Was a Hit and a Blast

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while–I have a lot of catching up to do now. If you’re not already following me on Instagram and/or Twitter, those are the places for late-breaking news. It tends to take me longer to sit down and craft blog posts.

That said, The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Riverside Theatre was a joy from the table read through the final bow. Director D.J. Salisbury set a tone of community and kindness that greatly enriched the entire experience. The cast, crew, and musicians were singly and collectively terrific.  And we were a big hit!

Riverside Theatre had never tried such a large cast show in their black box theatre, the Waxlax Stage.  But it was the perfect space for our huge barroom/musical hall set, and for the intimacy of our production. We were out there chatting up the audience before the show (in character, of course), and many of us ventured out among the patron tables in the course of the show, as well.  It was truly immersive, and a total delight.  The audiences ate it all up.

I first played the role of Bazzard a shocking number of years ago, just after the original production had closed on Broadway. To be able to revisit Bazzard after all these years, and at a theatre I love so much, was truly a gift.  I don’t get to do musicals often, so I am thrilled when they come along.  And a Dickens-inspired musical with multiple endings?  It doesn’t get any more fun than that!

While Bazzard is usually voted the Detective, Dick Datchery, in this new, streamlined version of the show, I was also selected as the male Lover many times–and at a couple of performances, I was chosen for both roles!  And, happily, at one performance (with my family present, as Fate would have it), I was chosen as Murderer!

This was one of those productions where we whispered backstage that we wished we were doing an open-ended Off-Broadway run, rather than a 3-week engagement.  But I’m grateful for every moment of the entire experience.