Marcie is a bilingual caseworker by day, a university adjunct by night, and an aspiring writer at times in between. An import to NEPA, she has been active in the arts for many years from theatre to forensics to music. Her interest in the arts continues as founder of Ink, an area writer's group, a founding member of Voce Angeli (NEPA's only all-female chamber choir), a contributor to Project Wednesday, and as a columnist for Thirty-Third Wheel. She loves all things Pittsburgh, particularly the University of Pittsburgh where she earned her Master of Arts in Linguistics. She lives in Scranton with her handsome husband, Pete, and their horde of cats: Napoleon, Gimli, King Ajax, Sam, and Dean.
Experienced and brand-new playwrights’ works make up the Diva Theater Production’s “6X6 One-Acts Show” this week. An annual tradition at the Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton, this year’s show has a one-act for every season the production company has been in the area.
New to writing plays, but not new to creative writing, James Scott Flannery’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is one feature of the show, starring Flannery and Michael Madajeski. Flannery shares that while screenplays have been more of his genre in the past, this one-act has inspired him to attempt a full-length play now.
Full-length plays are known territory for Thirty-Third Wheel’s own Marnie Azzarelli, though. Her piece, “Hairworm,” came from an acting class exercise at Diva, but she and her mother (and director), Margo Azzarelli, are known local playwrights. The sequel to their work, “The Bristol,” will be produced at Diva later this season.
Michael Pavese is another local writer of NEPA. His plays have been featured at the Olde Brick Theatre and at Gaslight Theatre Company in Wilkes-Barre in their Playroom series. He was excited to be able to work with director, Paige Balitski again this year with a new set of animals in “Another Day at the Lab.” Balitski is also directing Flannery’s play and K. K. Gordon’s comical one-act, “Killing Naked Roses.”
The show also features John Schugard’s “Fun with Richard and Jane” which he is also directing, and Sarah Regan’s “Summer Storm,” directed by Paul J. Gallo and featuring Susan Parrick and Jennifer Frey.
Surely, the Diva One-Acts are not to be missed. As Marnie Azzarelli says, writing a complete story portrayed in twenty minutes is “very satisfying.” These pieces should satisfy all audience members with their varied themes and styles.
This show includes adult language and themes.
Call to reserve your tickets for this weekend’s shows soon—seating is limited and it’s filling up fast. The show runs Thursday (January 25), Friday (January 26) and Saturday (January 27) at 8 p.m. and Sunday (January 28) at 2 p.m. Call Diva Theater Productions for your tickets today at 570-209-7766!
That’s when Zack Hammond decided he needed to be a comedian. He experienced comedian Christopher Titus’s “Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding”—a comedy appearance treating his dysfunctional family, and Zack decided comedy could be a way for him to better cope with the dysfunctions in his own life.
A Comedian Is Born
Zack began attending all of the open mic nights he could. When he turned twenty-one, he signed up to perform at Wise Crackers (when it used to be at the Clarion in Scranton), and he shares that “it sucked.” The host announcing it was his first night to perform probably didn’t help. The guy that heckled him for being an English major probably didn’t either. Still, Zack made it through the tough Pennsylvania crowd, figuring he had to keep at it in order to be better.
Zack’s got a list of comedians who’ve influenced him to keep trying ranging from George Carlin to Richard Pryor to Patton Oswalt and Doug Stanhope, who Zack opened for in Scranton earlier this year. There are writers he encountered in his English major days that move him, too—Hemingway, Joyce, Milton, and the more contemporary David Foster Wallace, who Zack really seems to admire. He likes that the author is “clever and smart” and adds that the asides in his writing translate to comedy easily. With society heading down a sad path of stupidity, Zack is grateful for his English background that got him not only reading, but writing, too. In the recent Creative Writing Conference hosted by King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Zack shared with students that his career in writing isn’t just about jokes and being funny, but that the literary techniques of foreshadowing, plot and structure are crucial to not just setting up a good joke, but being able to carry them through a successful comedic act as a vehicle as well. You’ve got to have these to keep audiences interested, and more importantly, laughing. “Comedy has limits, unless it’s good,” he shares. Structure and mechanics of writing are clearly what helps make the comedy last.
I asked Zack about inspiration for new material. He says there isn’t anything like that. He just takes things he notices (that often annoy him) and he tries to comment on them in a way that will be funny. He adds some advice from Carlin—the idea that you have to divorce yourself from society. Zack echoes the truth in this concept. Good comedians need to put anything and everything on the table as potential material—even themselves. He writing isn’t only about the mechanics of it, but working on the analysis of material, too, including self-awareness.
Zack’s tried other creative writing with screenwriting, skits and sketches, but isn’t a big fan of writing these out, as visualizations of an idea are sometimes easier to just explain. He isn’t interested in writing comedy for others to perform either as it can be frustrating for his vision to take the form he wants through the actions of others who might interpret things in unintended ways or just disregard his direction all together. Plus, long-form comedic writing is a big commitment, and shorter forms are more Zack’s style. He believes it’s more exciting when it’s you performing and you get to see firsthand how successful the comedy has been received.
But writing comedy is challenging, to be sure. Zack shares that it’s not like performing music where you can hear it when you practice it to make adjustments or corrections. “With comedy, you don’t know it’s funny until someone laughs at it,” he confides. Then, editing can take place to see if a bit is too wordy or if there’s a better way to get an idea across. He adds, “You have no idea how much gas [a bit] has until you test it out.” You have to learn how to proofread onstage to fix it offstage for the next show.
Some Sage Advice
I questioned Zack about what advice he had for aspiring comedians who want to get on stage. He said simply, “Don’t.” I’m fairly sure he was joking, But it leads to the advice he has to give. One, be motivated—nose to the grindstone, full-out hard work will be what gets you the big payoff. Two, “Be yourself 100%.” You can’t rely only on imitation or emulation and feeding off of others. You must “bear your soul” and “suffer and such for a very long time” until –hopefully—things click into place. He adds that becoming a comedian is a “very long road of highs and very depressing lows. You question yourself all the time and have moments of doubt where you wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea. You have to be passionate and crazy to do it.”
You can find Zack Hammond (to follow him around like a groupie) on Facebook ( Zack Hammond: Comedian) or find him at the following upcoming shows, several of which he’s hosting or head lining:
December 22: Stroudsburg, PA @ The Sherman Theater at 8 p.m.
December 28: Binghamton, NY @ Peterson’s Tavern at 8:30 p.m.
December 29: Erie, PA @ The Harlequin Ballroom at 8:30 p.m.
December 30: Hershey, PA @ The Vineyard at Hershey at 8 p.m.
January 12-13: Wilkes-Barre, PA @ Wise Crackers at Mohegan Sun Casino at 9 p.m.
And hunt down his albums online: Sorrow Tree, Appalling and Utilitarian.
The youngsters at the Olde Brick Theatre have quite the holiday spectacular planned this year. Their upcoming performance, A Little Diva Holiday Show: One-Acts for Children & Teens features four one-act plays by local playwrights.
First is “The Shortest Day” by local actress Lorrie Loughney. She shares that her play helps audience members (and the kids especially) to learn about the Christmas traditions we have today. Shannon O’Malley, one of the young performers, says the best part of being in this Celtic Christmas fairytale is working with new people and getting to see the play come together. This echoes the one-act’s director, Sandra Connolly, who claims the best part of this performance experience has been helping the young actors better understand how theatre works and letting the kids learn how to express themselves in character.
Connolly also directs “The Kid Who Hates Christmas” by Margo and Marnie Azzarelli. Marnie Azzarelli hopes that audiences recognize it is important to spend time with family at Christmas while you still have them with you. This mother-daughter writing team is passionate about history and family and their play has both, according to Marnie. Margo hopes people will come to the youth performance not only to support local arts, but for the opportunity to support our future actors and actresses, too. She says, “There may be a future Meryl Streep in the cast”—perhaps it’s one of the young actresses in their play.
Ted LoRusso’s “The Threes of Throop” is also running in this performance set. Mia Scotti, an actress in this Christmas elegy, feels LoRusso’s one-act has great detail and that it’s fun to play a real-life character, as the play is based on a portion of the childhood of Lou Bisignani of Actor’s Circle fame. LoRusso and director, Laura M. Heffron, both feel that the kids are rising to the occasion and challenging themselves and their imaginations. Heffron adds that everyone is wearing many hats to make this production happen, too, and that the collaboration taking place throughout all aspects of the performance is phenomenal, and the youth are embracing it.
Heffron is also directing “Mother’s Little Elfer” by Wendy Wescott. The large cast of this play had a great deal to share about it, most agreeing that they thought it was funny, but people could learn a lesson from it as well. It’s relatable, they say, too, because nearly everyone has an Elf on the Shelf to keep them in line.
Diva Theater Productions is pleased to present local playwright Jeff Boam’s Man on a Canvas at the Old Brick Theater in Scranton. It opens on Friday, November 10.
When talking with the cast, they unanimously agreed that Boam’s play is singular. Set in 1920’s New York at the Algonquin Hotel where members of the famous “Vicious Circle” met (think Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, Alexander Woollcott and the gang), the play moves forward to modern-day Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the story of boxing and boxers who won’t fight continues. Actor David Spitzer feels the actors’ portrayals of historic personages helps add to the uniqueness of the show. Actor Michael Madajeski jokes that all of the drinking the Algonquin Round Table members did makes the play, but his humor fits in, particularly since actor Dante Giammarco feels one of the best parts of the rehearsal process for the show has been getting the chance to watch Boam’s comedy develop in his fellow actors. He confesses it leads to some “delicious” moments on stage.
If that’s not incentive enough to go, maybe Boam’s boxing theme will pull you in. The production, which began as a screenplay that Boam admits he “forced anybody with a pair of eyes” to read, has his hard work and determination pay off in play form. Director Paige Balitski was happy to take on the show, which follows other productions of Boam’s at the Old Brick including Behind The Six and The Judas Sheep. But boxing is in Scranton’s blood. Boam even consulted with the city’s own “Irish” Gene Reed when writing to make the boxing aspects as believable as possible. Boam shares, as well, that the comedy would appeal to fans of plays like The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can’t Take It With You; it is in true Kaufman and Hart style.
So come for the history and boxing and stay for the good time. Man on a Canvasruns November 10, 11, 17, and 18 at 8 p.m. and November 12 and 19 at 2 p.m. For ticket reservations, contact Diva Theater Productions at 570-209-7766
Dan Pape is a mysterious fellow. When we first met at the NEPA Creative Writers Group, I’ll be honest—I was intimidated. His writing was visceral and powerful in a way I could only dream of mine being. I know I need to share his works with you.
A fan of Ghostbusters, beer, and hanging out with friends, Dan has countless facets to him. Getting a start in middle school as a writer, he’s dabbled with many genres: lyrics, novels, short stories, and poems (his main squeeze for now). Having recently entered the blogosphere, too, it’s certain his time to shine past the bounds of this region is nigh.
Dan’s enigmatic appeal is not only in his writing but in talking with him. One thing that is not obscured is his emotion captured in his works through his words. His allusions run from classical to modern, and even if you’re not sure of their references, you still feel what he wants to get across. And he challenges you to want to find out more.
Dan started writing recently on The Game Chateau’s blog, Rolling the Dice. A different approach to blogging, the site takes topics that all contributors for that quarter write to. Dan’s contribution, “Rapture,” is bittersweet and magnificent. His first piece of magical realism ready for the masses (in the vein of some of his favorite writers including Marquez and Borges) pulls the reader into the narrator’s raw, heart-rending world. The seeming brief romance of two young women ended abruptly from intolerance punches deep—and leaves you willingly wounded. He talks about this piece humbly, as he does about most of his writing, saying that he was concerned about taking a chance on writing from a woman’s perspective, and from another sexual identity’s perspective as well, but that in the end he wanted to do the characters justice. He went on to add that he hoped his piece would, “[help] to put [a sensitive topic] out there by a voice you don’t expect it from,” and that hopefully his sincere treatment of the trauma involved in the story would help others see people who are “different” as not so different from the rest of us.
Dan doesn’t mind a bit of pain himself it would seem though. I had heard through mutual friends about his monstrous Master’s thesis pursuit of James Joyce. Having tried to read several of the author’s works (Finnegan’s Wake? Come on. That’s just jibberish…), I felt compelled to find out why Dan had chosen such a great, and complex author for his topic.
“I thought if I could pick it apart, maybe I can learn something about the craft [of writing]” he confesses. And what a pursuit it sounded like he was on. It involved a whole section of the library and special access to Joyce’s notes on his masterpiece Ulysses. Dan insists that the novel is “the most human thing I’ve ever read” and he appreciates its commentary on loss and the randomness of its topics just adds to its beauty.
The Joyce influence is clear in Pape’s works, whether it’s a story or his poetry. We discussed poetry as a genre while we were talking, too, and Dan had some spot-on insights. He feels it’s time for poetry to make a comeback—that it is a way for writers to attack all of the “poisonous stuff out there” though he admits that online rights are sketchy and unclear as to who owns what, and that that can be a downfall of fighting the powers that be with the written word. Still, he knows that if poetry can be taught well to younger generations—and not as some unreachable and opaque genre that no one can penetrate—that poems can push our culture forward and out of its seeming recent complacency.
“Anyone can try poetry and with practice [they] can get pretty good at it,” he goes on to say, and his hope is mine: that the intimacy and directness of poetry can get people to take notice.
Some Sage Advice
Not only poetry is accessible to all the would-be writers out there. Dan says writers should find a group to share their work with, and give feedback on others’ works in return. And then, he put it even more simply—in a list!
Read great writers.
Join groups to hone your craft.
Meet other writers.
Just get out there and do what you have to do, in other words. And like Dan Pape says, “You’ll find something about it that’s lifelong. Don’t be afraid.”
And for the record, he wore the black cap long before Jim Halpert from The Office did.
It’s that time of year when people flock to anything spooky. This October should be no different, as all of NEPA ought to be flying to see the Diva Theater’s production of TheBirds. Based on the Daphne du Maurier short story, the play version of The Birds will appeal to any lover of the story or of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie of the same name. But be warned—no version, whether play or movie—is just like her story. Each has its own personality and its own thematic outlook.
I spoke with Paul J. Gallo, director of the Diva Theater’s version, and asked why people ought to come out to see the performance. He said just that: “It’s its own piece of work. There are birds and there are dire straits, and while it seems like man versus nature on the surface, it’s really [a story of] man versus himself.” He suggests that this is the key to the play version. In his work, playwright Conor McPherson gets to delve more deeply into how humans survive when everything in the world is out of sorts.
Gallo is pleased to be putting on a show that’s not been seen in Northeastern Pennsylvania. That makes him pleased for his cast and crew as well who are working hard to give the area theatre in its best form—something “organic that has a life of its own.” The actress playing Julia, Lindsey Matylewicz, echoes this idea. When asked about the biggest challenge she’s faced with this show, she smiles and says that as her first dramatic work (as opposed to prior comedic roles), The Birds has been a test for her as she’s had to work hard “rounding out her character and her motives.” Additionally, he feels that the work gives its actors the challenge of the larger messages it has to share about humanity, that the play goes well with the time of year, and it gives the crew the creative task of how to build up the threat of birds inside of a theatre.
Speaking with Jennifer Frey, who plays the authoress Diana in the production, gives insight into the real machinations of the work. She says, “as in any good dystopian story, there are internal and external monsters.” Gallo mirrors this sentiment, adding, “The terror of the play comes from the characters themselves,” and states that working up the tension of the characters trapped inside because of the birds is a challenge, too. While the movie focuses on the fear of the birds and their attacks, the play looks at how horror comes from within us all.
The Birdsruns October 6, 7, 13, and 14 at 8 p.m. and the Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. will be held on October 8 and October 15. Reservations are strongly suggested. You can contact Diva Theater -Productions at 570-209-7766.
Seeing my writing friend, Sara Hubert, is like seeing a beautiful morning sunrise. Her shy, but quick smile and glow welcome and warm hearts all around. They are a beacon of the caring and creative light inside of her and her works.
Sara and I met recently to mull over many topics to do with her writing, but they all go back to her vivid imagination and her myriad talents in not only writing, but art as well.
“Weird Horror” was Sara’s response when I asked her to share what she called her writing style. It seems apropos, as the first story of hers I’d heard dealt with brownies overtaking a business (and we’re not talking desserts here, folks). She’s into writing about strange surprises that pop up when you’re expecting something completely different going in. And it keeps things interesting—not only in her written works, but in all of her artistic ventures.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s stick to the writing things first.
Sara says she began writing as a child—and that her mother has saved her early works. One she remembers writing was a tale of a camel salesman, complete with illustrations. Not really the weird horror one might see later, but it was a progression to get to that over time with scary movies and Stephen King novels working their way into her imagination.
She finds inspiration all over—in books, movies—and in her online wanderings. She keeps a folder on her computer with images and ideas for use in future works. One example she knows is in the list of possibilities in a small mouse clinging to a Queen Anne’s Lace flower. She thinks he’s ready for her to write his adventures out—and says they’ll be weird ones, too.
Her works are not only weird horror though. Many times, they take a spiritual turn. Sometimes after meditating, she’ll be calm and centered enough to just let her mind take her where it will. Sara says, “You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react. [That] makes you mindful. There are all sorts of paths possible from one incident.” And it seems, from talking with Sara, that that’s the whole idea—the journey of seeing where things end up.
But Sara’s interests go further still. She loves animals (and has multiple, adorable pets), she’s an artist with her own Etsy shop, and she is a painter. She hasn’t incorporated her art with many of her writings since the good old camel salesman, save the story of one of her pets of yore who inspired a Yule story for Sara’s mother entitled “Olaf the Yule Rat.” She hopes to turn it into a book. That’s a children’s story to watch for, certainly.
Another Writing Form
I wanted to talk to Sara about her storytelling skills with regard to role-playing tabletop games as well, as she runs the game “Unknown Armies” that all of her players (including me) jones for when we’re not playing. Effortlessly she leads us through 2024 as teenagers recruited to work for a Raccoon Corporation/Pentex sort of conglomerate that employs magically-gifted people for artifact investigations (among other morally questionable assignments along the way). It is a dark, weird, and sometimes horrific game that Sara doesn’t ever look nervous running. I asked her how she does it so easily. Nonchalantly she smiles and shares that while she has plotlines constructed in outlines of where she wants things to go, the process is really cooperative, depending on how we, the players, decide to adventure in her world—and that’s the challenge of it that she loves. This cooperative idea is really symbolic of Sara—she obviously cares for others and values all opinions, whether they’re her own or not, and it’s obvious she takes joy in finding how others will respond to things that come up in-game. And one of her other miracles of gaming that I’m a huge fan of, and am planning on using in my own writing, was used in character creation for the game. Instead of having us write a background story, as is usually the case in games like these, instead we were instructed to come up with a five song playlist that describes our character. It’s one of the best things I’ve had to do. Talk about making you think. That’s a Sara thing, too.
Moving Forward and Sage Advice
Sara’s main writing venture coming up is participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this November. She and her husband, Karl (watch for an article on him here sometime soon), will be competing with one another to produce books from their active, exciting brains. She’s still deciding where the novel will go, but looks forward to pushing herself, which is the advice she has for all aspiring or new writers. “Move out of your comfort zone,” she says. “If you want to write about something, go experience it. You might find something you really like doing. That’s good advice for life in general.” She’s so right—and she practices what she preaches.
Sara is a featured writer at “A Halloween Execution”hosted by Ink Writers Group at the Game Chateau in October where she and other featured writers will be sharing creepy writings of the season. Look for her, too, in Elle Hammond’s upcoming blog, “Rolling the Dice” as a contributor, also starting up later this month.
Sara’s got a lot of good things to say. You don’t want to miss them.