A Shakespearean Tale

Christmas Fun with Shakespeare, Mice Tails & Music!

A Shakespearean TaleAnother opening, another show! A Shakespearean Tale! is back! FFP’s very first public production back in summer 2012 will revive in December 2014, this time at the Pilot Point Opera House.

A cast of 29 (or so, not counting a few “young’uns”) is ready to take it on, only one of whom was in the first production. Rehearsals are underway and performances are scheduled for December 12, 13, and 14, with 7 pm shows for Friday and Saturday, and a 2 pm matinee on Sunday.

Shakespeare the Dog is back, in all of his stuffed glory, all cleaned up and ready to charm the youngsters. Originally a Costco bear, he was reborn a dog with floppy ears. Abby the artist and costume designer is creative that way. Our version is plenty big enough, but when we walked into Costco last week, there sat a truly massive stuffed bear that stopped almost everyone (including us) in their photo-phone tracks. See the Facebook page for that picture!

To see photos of the first FFP production, and the original homeschool co-op show, click on the blog category A Shakespearean Tale.

Now on Amazon!And now A Shakespearean Tale! has joined the world of ebook and print-on-demand self-publishing. Ebooks are up at Amazon, B&N, Apple and elsewhere. The full-color print book is awaiting the first proof at IngramSpark.

So, come see the show! And get the book for a great Christmas treat and a truly fun way to introduce family members of all ages to Shakespeare, Southern charm, and the power of a few good words!

We’re on YouTube!

FFP’s Down Yonder Girls

We decided we just had to share several of the songs from A Shakespearean Tale!

So your director came up with some storyboard ideas and one of our cast members (my artsy photographer daughter) shot the video. We did a quick immersion-style, teach-ourselves tour of iMovie and produced our very first music videos.

We did A Mother’s Song and A Good Word or Two. See them on our FamilyFriendlyPro channel on YouTube. Type the name of the song followed by Family Friendly Productions in the search bar and they will pop up.

You’ll also notice that we now have a Video Tab and both videos are available there.

Everything is original — the songs and the video footage. Even the sunrise is out our back door and so is the horse — his name is Red. Isn’t he quite the star?

Go Down Yonder is next. It should be a lot fun. Look for it soon!


Our First Recording Session!

Jessi, Kelsey, Mikayla, Jillian and Aly with Music Director Susan Merritt at the keyboard

We have a lot of marketing ideas for A Shakespearean Tale! and they all need a CD recording of the seven-song score. So,…we gathered up the “Down Yonder” girls from our summer cast and headed for the recording studio of a great friend, singer/songwriter Doug Raney.

With remarkable optimism, we scheduled two afternoons of recording. Aly, Jillian, Mikayla, Kelsey, and Jessi are all fairly young (Aly is the oldest) and new to the discipline of performing for microphones and a digital recorder. “Oops, do it again,” (and again and again) is the order of most recording sessions, as anyone familiar with the tedious task is well aware.

However, these kids work so well together and have such great attitudes (and fun) that we captured three songs on our first day in a minimum of “takes” and finished the last four songs the next afternoon with remarkable efficiency. Even so, it’s a bit of a tense, testing, and tiring  challenge for everyone, including the musicians, though our smiling sound man seemed to sail through it with ease. Actually, we all had fun and enjoyed both sessions.

FFP’s Down Yonder Girls

Now we’re working on scheduling our fiddler and mandolin player (and possibly bass and snare), George Merritt, to lay down some final tracks for several songs, and our “singing mom,” Angela Geis, to do the lead track for “Mother’s Song.” Angie had three kids in the summer cast. Her wonderful voice was too tempting not to ask her to play the role of Granma Gertie Lear and provide the maturity we were looking for in the song dedicated to “every mother who gets her strength from above.”

When it’s finished, the CD will allow us to put song samples on the website.

Ben J. Pierce in A Shakespearean Tale!

Ben J. Pierce as Will Surrey

FFP’s recent production (and world premiere!) of A Shakespearean Tale! featured Ben J. Pierce in the role of star and storyteller, Will Surrey, proprietor of the single gas station in the “charming” town of Stratford Corners, Alabama, in 1955.

Ben began in our homeschool co-op drama class productions years ago. You’ll recognize his smiling face in the header of the FFP website. He was always a delight to work with, easy to coach, eager to be expressive, and blessed with a very good memory for lines.

He discovered he really liked acting and now he’s a professional with an agent. We thought we’d tell you a little about him.

When Ben was 10 years old, he loved watching the Nickelodeon television show BrainSurge.  He asked his mom how he could be a contestant and she told him to do some research to find out.  He had to be 11 to audition. Close to his 11th birthday, he got an email that BrainSurge was opening up auditions for their second season.  Ben made a video audition and, 10 days after its submission, the show called and offered him a spot.

Here’s how Ben’s mom, Cynthia, describes what happened:

Ben gets slimed on BrainSurge with Jordin Sparks

Within days we were flying out to Los Angeles to tape. He was assigned to the special episode co-hosted by American Idol’s Jordin Sparks. He competed alongside 5 other great contestants and ended up winning the whole competition. In traditional Nickelodeon fashion, he was green slimed along with Jordin Sparks!  It was such a fun experience and it sparked a desire in him to “do more.” We prayed about it and decided to leave it in God’s hands instead of me doing research and finding out how to get started in the television/film industry. Within weeks, a fellow homeschool acting family posted that Cathryn Sullivan, acting coach to such big-name stars as Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, had moved her studio to Lewisville, Texas, and was opening up her very first homeschool class during school hours. This felt like an open door to us, so we walked through it.

It has been three years now and Ben has since then been blessed to be signed with The Campbell Agency and has worked in short film, commercial, fashion show, print, and now theater with the excellent Family Friendly Productions group. He even had the fun opportunity to perform an original comedy routine at the Hyena’s Club in Dallas last fall. He was most recently cast for a kid’s variety show that is in “workshop phase,” so only the Lord knows what may or may not come of it. But all along the way he has had a blast and is enjoying meeting so many new and talented people.
As for the Totinos Pizza Rolls commercial, (done during rehearsals for A Shakespearean Tale!) this is his first official television commercial. He has done industrial commercials, which are like in-house training videos for companies. His were for educational materials. The funny thing is, I didn’t ask his agent for any of the details.  I probably should have, but we were just so happy he was chosen out of so many wonderful and talented boys who auditioned. It is such an honor. We give God the credit for all his opportunities. I don’t even know how much he is getting paid!  Crazy, huh?  He doesn’t do it for the money, he does it for the love of acting.
Ben fit right into the cast of A Shakespearean Tale!, befriending all, clowning around, leading by example, and easily working well with everyone, from the adults to the youngest actors. No “I’m a pro” attitude with this fellow — he’s just an all-around great young guy, as he has always been.

Ben’s mom added the following comments on what it takes to launch an acting career:

Keep that eye peeled!

It is amazing how much hard work and time (and money on training) goes into developing an acting career. He has worked for three years just to get to the place of booking his first TV commercial. There is no such thing as an overnight success. People who we see show up seemingly out of nowhere into stardom have actually been working for years and years to get that kind of recognition. It’s just that no one recognized them before!
Well, as Will Surrey would say, keep an eye peeled for this young ‘un. He’s well worth watching!

Curtain Closes on Spectacular Night!

A Shakespearean Tale cast in their start-of-the-play costumes

We were concerned. Friday night’s performance was so well done, could the cast do even better on Saturday night? Could they top it? Could they go out on the “highest note”?

Yes, they could, and yes, they did!!

It was actor and audience chemistry at its best. The house was literally packed (stuffed!), but everyone laughed and clapped and cheered and “aw-w-wed” all through the production, pushing the actors to new heights. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. The energy of actors and audience feeds off the other and creates the best experience for both. Each side gets invested in the story and the songs, then literally “work together” to create a thoroughly enjoyable journey into the imagination!

Everyone went “down yonder on a Saturday night,” suspended reality for a couple of hours, and had a great time!

FFP wants to thank all those involved, all those who came, and all who wished us well on our first venture into the public arena. We look forward to packaging our materials, planning more projects, and seeing as many of these kids again as possible in the not-too-distant future! And new kids! C’mon along! You’re all welcome!

A happy cast after the final curtain in their end-of-play costumes. Cheers!


Petruckio does it again! He tames Kate.

Clowning on the set.

Rosie & Will Surrey & Shakespeare the dog.




Now They’re Really Acting!

Petruchio/Petruckio — Can you believe he used to be shy?

I don’t know how to describe the joy, fun, gratitude, and pride a writer feels when a young actor stops reciting lines and thinking about “being in a play” and suddenly grabs hold of their character, throws themself into a role, gets beyond confidence, thinks on their feet, connects with their fellow actors, plays to the audience, and suddenly has a great  time really, really acting! And reacting!

These two have never been shy!

That’s what the cast of A Shakespearean Tale! did last night (Friday, July 20). Believe me, it’s a thrill for a writer/director!

They get  it! They’re having fun! Now the audience is having fun! Everybody’s into it. Finally — the script comes alive!

We had another full house and the energy in the story and the songs rose to a new level. We are grateful for lots of serious compliments. Thanks to the couple with literary and drama background who saw the poster, came to the show, and loved it!

Now we get ready for our first “Closing Night.”

Three cute little mice! And great little actresses!

It’s fun, it’s relief, it’s exciting, it’s poignant. Working with this entire cast and their families has been a complete delight, extremely rewarding, and well worth the stress of making it all happen.

Opening Night a Success!

The opening night of the world premiere of A Shakespearean Tale was a great success! (According to us and everyone involved!)

As this is our first paid, public production with more than one show — in contrast to our years of one-show, homeschool-drama-class productions — this was our first “Opening Night”! We’ll go at it again tonight (Friday), and Saturday, July 21, 2012, will be our first “Closing Night.” It’s a whole new wonderful and exhausting experience.

The whole cast did a great job! Scenes, lines, and songs went remarkably well. Acting was expressive. The head mics worked. The batteries held out! Everyone worked together and helped one another. Drama is the ultimate team sport. (We’ll blog more on that later.)

The venue is relatively small, but we had a packed house and were thrilled about it. And the audience learned a little Shakespeare, realized how often they unknowingly quote Shakespeare, giggled, “aw-w-wed,” and laughed, and heard some great fiddle music by Denton-area musician George Merritt (with his wife Susan on the keyboard).

As soon as the curtain (we’ll blog about that curtain, too) closes Saturday, we’ll get back on the process of packaging A Shakespearean Tale for the website catalog!

As Will Surrey says, “C’mon along! You’re all welcome!”

The Rose Effect — Costumania!

It has oft been said over the past 11 years that the most fun of one of our drama productions is the zany trip to Rose Costumes — the “Alice in Wonderland” destination in Denton, Texas.

There is nothing like a good costume to get a young actor (or any actor, for that matter) in the mood. It can be a transforming experience. And…, it’s just a lot of fun!

Jared, Brandon, Zach, Aly, and Raegan with Rose Costumes manager Annemarie

Some of the cast members of A Shakespearean Tale made their “pilgrimage” recently. Our dashing Will Shakespeare asked, “There’s tights?!” It was a revelation!

Abbie, Jared, Brandon, Zach, and Raegan. Nice pants, Zach!

Petruckio of Alabama finds an additional identity as Petruchio of Verona. Stuffy and selfish lawyer Katherine Macbeth of New York discovers her alter ego — Katharina of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Legal secretary Phebe Hamlet becomes Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and queen of Denmark. And Stratford Corners, Alabama’s own Ofello finds himself stepping into the pointy-toed, high-heeled shoes of William Shakespeare — and tights!

Remarkably, they all threw inhibition to the winds and found the costumania to be a great time. Rehearsals will take on a new dimension as these actors can now “feel” the grand substance of their character.

Rose does it again!

Any Tips on Memorizing Lines?

Off book — the dreaded state of no script. Like Linus putting down his blanket.

Some actors are very good at memorizing lines. Many struggle with it, just like every group in every area of life.

All I can do is give a few tips I used when studying for all the big essay tests I took in college and graduate school (yes, all essay, no multiple guess in those days).

It always helps me to go, in steps, from the big picture to the precise details.

Do a “skeletal outline” of the play and get it down in your head. For A Shakespearean Tale, it might be:  London, NYC, Alabama — Gas Station, Grandpa’s Place, Gas Station — Imagine, Typing Pool, Good Word, Mother’s Song, Go Down Yonder — whatever is most relevant to you. I have found that when I have a timeline, or a skeletal outline, I can hang all the little details on it where they belong and it is all much easier to remember.

Look at things scene by scene and ask yourself some basic questions.

Take, for instance, the character of Earl Shylock, the Alabama lawyer in A Shakespearean Tale, as he enters the office of Macbeth and Macbeth in 1955 New York City:

  1. Where did I just come from?
  2. How did I get here?
  3. How do I feel?
  4. What do I sound like?
  5. What is my business here?
  6. What message do I have to deliver?
  7. How do I feel about that?
  8. How are they going to feel about that?

Talk about it with someone. This helps you get into the character as well as give you a map in your head of where you are going when you are “under pressure” [either on a test in school, or on the stage]. Athletes literally visualize every action of their race, their dive, their routine. You need to do the same.

Earl Shylock, Esquire, and Phebe Hamlet

Rehearse your lines OUT LOUD, with the moves, even if you have no one listening. That’s how you will be delivering them — not in your head. These lines are designed to be spoken, not read. This engages your whole being, mental and physical, and your whole body, not just your mouth. You’d be amazed what that type of integration does to anything you are doing. This will also help you get the right words down correctly. The writer wrote it that way for a reason.

Though there are times getting the basic “gist” of the line can end up with you saying something even more effective than what was written (if you are “into it.”)

The audience really wants to get to know your character. They want to know why they should feel sad or happy or why they should be laughing. Communicating that is your job.

Then there’s that old, inescapable discipline — practice, practice, practice.

Sorry — no way around that one, no matter what you’re doing. (Believe me, I’ve tried. No silver bullet.)

Acting and the Computer Animator

Family Friendly Productions

One of our longtime (since 3rd grade) actors has turned his interest in art and cartooning into a $40,000 DreamWorks scholarship at the Ringling College of Art and Design. (He’s a homeschooler.)

Hunter as Black Bart in “Not Exactly How the West Was Won”

Hunter will be playing the role of William Macbeth, Senior, Esquire in our current production of A Shakespearean Tale before he heads off to start his freshman year in Computer Animation at Ringling in Sarasota, Florida. Hunter was Black Bart in our production of Not Exactly How the West Was Won a few years ago.

The Ringling College was founded in 1931 by John Ringling, noted art collector, real estate developer and circus impresario. Just getting accepted into the Computer Animation program is very difficult. Here’s a quote from the Ringling website:

The Computer Animation program at Ringling College of Art and Design is ranked #1 in North America by 3D World magazine for the second year in a row! 3D World is an international magazine for 3D artists.

In Ringling College of Art and Design’s deep and specialized four-year Computer Animation degree program, you will develop skills in modeling, lighting, motion and sound – while learning how to tell a story. At the same time, you will gain command of the technical skills required in today’s highly competitive animation industry.

Talking to Hunter and his mom, we were told that one of the recommendations for Ringling Computer Animation students is to take an acting class! In fact, Ringling highly recommends that their computer animation students take an acting class there at Ringling. Notice that “actor” is listed in the skill set of computer animators on the Ringling site:

Artist, animator, actor, storyteller, modeler, lighting director, set designer, costumer, sound designer and film director – you will use all of these skills and more.

Acting is a skill of communication, storytelling, persuasion, and entertainment that is necessary to many disciplines.