Something for Everyone, but Specifically Just for You: Remembrances of Sondheim

As the New York Times obituary put it, a “Titan of the American Musical” has left the stage. Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91.

The whole article is a long and excellent read — and I tend to agree with Mark Evanier in that there doesn’t seem to be much for me to individually add about my own personal connections to Sondheim’s work.

However, one thing that has become evident to me with the outpouring of articles and anecdotes this past weekend is how many people have such specific connections to Sondheim and his work… as if each and every one had their own personal relationship with him.

We can talk about a central goal of art being to touch people — and for great artists being able to touch a lot of people, but for an artist to make such a singular impact to so many individuals with such specificity?

That’s an artist who has given the world gifts on a scale that cannot be understated.

Fred R. Conrad took this great photo of Sondheim for the New York Times back in 1990

Besides the New York Times piece, there’s a fun list from Linda Holmes over at NPR covering 10 Stephen Sondheim songs you probably know even if you don’t define yourself as a fan. PBS News Hour’s piece has some great clips from an earlier interview where Sondheim reveals how he thinks of lyrics and songs.

And for specific, personal connections to Sondheim, it’s hard to top Helena Fitzgerald’s memoir of an essay displaying how Sondheim taught her about life. One section sticks with me:

Sondheim lived a long and enormous life, died old and accomplished and loved at ninety-entire-one years of age. His death should feel neither cruel nor unexpected. But it does. I am still living in the world that he built, and cannot imagine it without him. What a hideous thing it is to live in a world without Stephen Sondheim. What an enormous piece of luck it was to have been alive at the same time as him.

Finally, I’ll link to this video of frequent Sondheim collaborator Bernadette Peters singing one of his best-known songs that, once you’re watching the show it’s in, you realize contains multitudes.

Globetrotting – Radio Edition

I remember playing around with shortwave radio growing up in the previous millennium and the excitement at finding broadcasts from other countries.

Well, thanks to some enterprising folks over in the Netherlands, you can do some globetrotting yourself without leaving the comfort of your Internet browser. Radio Garden is a project that allows you to tune into all sorts of small radio stations all across the globe. Be warned, it can be a bit of a timesuck.


Wanna Get Away from it All? NASA Edition

With the prospect of pandemic restrictions being lifted, thoughts of vacationing further afield have come to mind… but am I thinking far enough?

Thanks NASA.

“Prince Prigio” Receives Multiple TIVA Awards

Jabberwocky Audio Theater has been one my main creative outlets in the past few years, which has been simultaneously challenging and fortuitous during the pandemic.

It’s challenging, because one of things we like to do is bring everyone together to record at the same time, an old school method that served many a vintage radio show well for decades. Now we needed to account for various different home recording set-ups, where even equally good home studios can have different sound qualities.

However, it was fortuitous because, unlike filmmaking, we could go ahead and make a whole show, which we did. And not only that, it was one of my absolute favorite fairy tales from childhood: Prince Prigio, a send-up of fairy tales that pre-saged works like The Princess Bride and Shrek.

While doing the adaptation and serving as narrator was rewarding in and of itself, I’d be lying if I didn’t appreciate recognition, as I think the whole cast and crew did a bang-up job — and as a judge from previous years of TIVA Peer Awards, it’s a tough process (they will happily not award anyone in a given category if they feel the submissions were not good enough).

Here are the awards and here’s the link if you want to listen.

  • Peer Bronze: Web Series (Through the Looking Glass)
  • Peer Silver: Acting Voice Over – Audio Narration, Male (Bjorn Munson)
  • Peer Gold: Sound Mixing (William R. Coughlan)

See You Soon, Space Cowboy

It’s probably obvious that I’m a science fiction fan and, if you look at my own series, Rogue Tyger, a fan of the “crew on a ship and mayhem ensues” sci-fi sub-genre. And while it’s a very different show from what I’m trying to do, the landmark anime series Cowboy Bebop was and is a huge influence — and not just in terms of the title.

So, of course I’m going to check out the upcoming live-action version from Netflix and immediately checked out their opening credits teaser that dropped the other month:

Okay, exciting to see the transition to live-action. I fully expect things to change, but it feels a bit Adam West Batman at times. I mean, Cowboy Bebop is nothing if not style and you get a sense of style, but I still remember Disney’s Black Cauldron and the cute-ification of Gurgi. Don’t mess this up, folks.

So next, this drops.

On the one hand, this is an absolute blast. There’s a sense of play and meta-storytelling that tells you this isn’t your average show. On the other hand, even with the hint at Vicious, is this too wacky/silly? Maybe. I mean, part of the joy of Cowboy Bebop for me was not just the inventive worldbuilding and sense of style, but the fact that they could go from absurd and comical to serious quite quickly. Because even if the characters didn’t approach life somberly, it was a very serious solar system out there with things that could quickly kill you. And again, I get that something with the tone could change in going to live action, and it could be its own thing, but even so:


Finally, this drops:

Yeah. There we go. Many of the beats hit just right. Funny. Serious. Bizarre. That’s my Bebop right there.

Just don’t mess it up.

Space Race, ISS-Sequel Edition

I could say it’s the recent big-screen adaptation of Dune, but really any time is a good time to muse about the state of space exploration.

The Russian Zarya module approaches Space Shuttle Endeavour and NASA’s Unity module in 1998. (Photo via the article and NASA)

And the space race is evidently heating up in Earth’s orbit, as per Eric Berger’s article for Ars Technica. Several groups, both national and commercial, are looking to have a permanent station in orbit. Well permanent for a while, since nothing gold can stay, due to wear and tear and cosmic radiation. So the ISS will be gone soon.

And it seems to be not so much “what will replace it?” but “how many stations will replace it?”

Keep watching the skies!

Writers: Beware the Hope Rustlers!

Could be I’m just thinking of writing more this week, what with NaNoWriMo looming and having just finished J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer, I’m thinking of how little writing I’ve done of late.

Reading the book above will certainly inspire you to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. J Michael Straczynski (aka “JMS” as he often referred to) spends a good amount of time validating the choice to be a writer and to create, even though the amount of work involved is significant.

Part of the work, especially early on, is trying to avoid the people who feed off the hopes and dreams of writers. JMS recounts some notable examples in his own career and he’s not the only one. Mark Evanier has a great column on what he calls “Unfunded Entrepreneurs” ready to harness your creativity for absolutely nothing in return. The fact that the article is over 20 years old yet still relevant is sobering. On Scriptnotes, both John August and Craig Mazin regularly debunk the bullshit “realities of the industry” presented by less-than-honorable producers, agents, and managers, eager to gaslight young writers. Basically, there’s a whole host of people who want to make money off, not their dreams, but yours.

In fact, writer-producer CJ Walley contends that this host of people is a fixture within the Hollywood ecosystem in a page on his site, Script Revolution, documenting what he terms “Goldrush Economics.”

Several readers may find some useful info on the site in general.

It’s hard, because in many other walks of life, “you get what you paid for” rings true. And I certainly have encountered too many filmmakers in the indie sphere who should go ahead and spend the money for that location or extra gear rental or, I dunno, cast and crew health and safety?

But within that space come the gaslighters, trying to convince people that they are the ones that can make connections, open the right doors, and that you need to pay to play… and doesn’t everyone want to play?

And this isn’t to say there aren’t useful services for writers and aspiring writers out there, but for too many of these would-be indispensable middle men and women, you mention free resources or anything involving running stuff by lawyers and you get a nigh-on allergic reaction. This should always raise red flags.

I’m especially wary of people who insist that only professional consultants will do, when there is so much quality free information out there and working screenwriters willing to share it (one self-proclaimed mediocre screenwriter has some choice words on this front). Free resources are out there and they are valuable. Upgrade from “free” to “cheap” and you still have a ton of options before you necessarily need to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Speaking of which, if you’re a screenwriter or aspire to be, definitely check out Scriptnotes. Always interesting, often insightful. A huge chunk of it is free and their back catalog doesn’t cost too much either. You can even check out their listener guide to see if the topics of yore would be worthwhile to you.

The Script Revolution column estimates 5,000 – 10,000 spec scripts are written each year by aspiring screenwriters. Think about that. That means there are likely thousands upon thousands of new aspiring screenwriters added to “the supply” each year. That’s a lot of hope to prey upon.

Don’t be prey.

The Wild Zebras… of Maryland

There’s several feature film ideas incubating in various corners of my brain from fanciful takes on family history to delving deeply into local history… and now I have another idea that anyone is welcome to take, but by gum I’ll have to write it if someone doesn’t: a tale about the wild zebras of Maryland.

via the article and Getty Images

That’s right. Zebras. Creatures more familiar to African savannas and grasslands have found that the state just below the Mason-Dixon line has grasslands that are just as welcoming. Is it the proximity to Washington, DC? The omnipresent Old Bay? Who knows? All I know is that zebras are almost in my neck of the woods as of this writing. The story possibilities are endless.

Oh, I won’t be constrained by the reality mentioned in this article, but definitely check it out as it’s a great jumping off point. There’s so many questions it raises and the enterprising writer could do well to come up with some creative answers.

Now do I know any zoologists with zebra experience I can interview…?

UPDATE: One of the zebras has been found dead due to an illegal trap. So, for everyone, I want to point out that this is objectively sad and I’m sad to hear this. However, for you screenwriters out there: there’s your way to set up the third act.

So Many Banned Books, So Little Time…

I’d previously pointed out that this week is the ALA’s annual Banned Book Week where you to can stick it to censors by reading books they feel would be better left unread or perhaps burnt to a cinder.

There’s so many books to choose from, you may wonder where to start, so I’d suggest checking out the ALA’s list of most challenged books that goes back over a decade.

You’re sure to find a book that tickles your fancy in a way that a censor finds most improper.

A screenshot of the American Library Association's website listing challenged books.

I’ve generally started with some of the books that seem to have been on school reading lists, but, for whatever reason, weren’t assigned books in my classes. So in past years, that’s led to me checking out The Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (the book I read for last year’s week).

This year, I’ve been reading several memoirs and oral histories in general, so Beyond Magenta felt like a natural choice. I think one censor spontaneously combusted at the mere thought of it. This makes me happy.

Remember, you don’t need to worry about finishing a chosen banned book this week, but it’s a great week to start reading.

Get Ready for Banned Book Week 2021

As readers of this blog may recall, I always celebrate Banned Book Week usually by reading a frequently challenged or banned book — something I highly encourage all of you to try. It’s fun, It’s educational, and it it’s often deadly to per-conceived notions you didn’t even know you had.

The American Library Association has a great site where you can learn about some books to check out… and your local library just might have a display this week. There’s books for all ages that scolds and people-just-trying-to-keep-mumblemumble-safe don’t want you to read. Check ’em out!