FFP Productions

A Pirates’ Tale Opening Night a Success!

Wow, what a cast!

Wow, what a cast!

Did I say before that we have 41 actors on stage, often all at the same time, in this production of A Pirates’ Tale?!!

The Gentlemen Pirates

The Gentlemen Pirates

Needless to say, it was a LOT for this director to wrap her head around in getting everyone and everything shipshape. Wow! Plus we had the largest and youngest group of kids we’ve ever worked with — 16 “poor and orphaned” kids kidnapped off the London docks, some of whom had stage experience, and some didn’t. And these kids had a lot of rapid-fire lines and were on stage almost the entire play. That’s a lot to ask of a bunch of youngsters from 8 to 11 (one is 7, only one is 12). It’s also a lot to ask of our young stage manager, Elaina, who had to line up all these “little varmints” for at least 3 entrances. I considered giving her a sword!

BUT, these little troopers hung in there and hunkered down and studied hard and pulled together and burst out like a real team on Thursday night. In fact, the energy level from everyone on opening night was such that our wonderful, incredible sound guy, Chip, was scrambling to turn down the mics! This was true for the entire cast, the older ones ranging from 12 to 17.

Clowning on Set

Clowning on Set

The really wonderful thing was to watch ALL of them help each other, cover for each other, improvise when things didn’t go quite right, and turn possible negatives into positives. They genuinely rose to the occasion! Now that warms a director’s heart, for sure!

So, through a very short month of not-that-many rehearsals, we toiled, and worried, and almost despaired, and pushed and drove and coached and encouraged — and they worked and studied and waited around and practiced and got tired and hungry and suffered info overload — and it finally, at the last minute (literally) all came together.

There was hope. Then, Thursday, there was success. They did a really good job, and had fun doing it. But the story isn’t over. Stay tuned!

Crazy Fun with Noah

Build an Ark ending

Starting Over Again

“Hey, Dad. What is rain?”

Starting Over Again is FFP’s fresh and funny perspective on an ancient and mind-boggling story — Noah and the Ark.

Major General Angel inspects new recruits

Major General Angel inspects new recruits

Here are some moments from the recent upper-grade drama class production for our homeschool co-op program. The kids had a great time and did a fantastic job. You can see that the costumes are not exactly “historically correct”! That’s all part of the fun.

A number of the songs in this musical are drum-driven, so we brought in our own “Vic the Stick” Cleaver with his electronic drum set to provide the upbeat rhythms we needed, plus some great sound effects. Added to our regular keyboard and guitar, we were cookin’! Live music is always the best way to go if you can do it! And most groups either have, or can find, willing musicians.

Look for Vic in the blog posts about our recording sessions for Sam Shade. And, if you’re in the Denton, Texas, region, look up Vic Cleaver for drum, piano, and guitar lessons. He’s a great teacher!Noahcast


Seasick?! We have enough to clean up already!

Seasick?! We have enough to clean up already!

Does Noah have both oars in the water?

Does Noah have both oars in the water?

No Mystery It Was a Fun Show!

RKClumpgroupTheRadioKidsFFP’s own Radio Kids revealed The Mystery of the Clump in the Night at our end-of-semester, homeschool co-op program and had a great time! And so did the audience!

A co-op of some 50 families draws a substantial audience, but there wasn’t any nervousness visible in this performance by our lower-grades drama class (elementary grades). The kids did a wonderful job, and they only get to rehearse once a week, for about 50 minutes, for only 10 weeks, with two quick dress rehearsals. Anyone who has ever put together a reasonably substantial show knows that’s insane. It is. But we do it anyway. And it works. The bar stays high, in spite of our limitations. And the kids reach for it!

RKClumpIntheMicA radio play is something of a “different animal.” It is a skill in itself. It requires the actor to hold a script and read from a script, always into a microphone, while acting for two audiences — the imaginary one, and the live one in front of them. And The Clump is a radio play within a play. It begins as a regular play, with no scripts, as the audience gets to know The Radio Kids as everyday kids who are local radio stars in 1940 America.

Our modern-day, cell-phone-using, television-watching, internet-using, elementary-school-level kids had to learn some things about American culture in 1940. It was fun! And they enlightened the audience with a little cultural literacy in an entertaining way. Nan may have her dad’s Popular Mechanics magazine with a story about the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the amazing new “telly-vision,” but, as Swell Sammy Sakowitz makes clear, “It’ll never replace radio!”

RKClumpBobAnother new challenge was the use of pantomime. The actors met the challenge of helping the audience (and themselves) “see” a bologna sandwich, a baseball bat, and “the clump”!

And, of course, with a radio play, you have to have sound effects (SFX)! Our SFX actor did an amazing job of playing 5 parts, as a Radio Kid who also played “Mom,” and as Bob the Bologna Man, and Bud the Baseball Slugger, while doing physical SFX with wood and pans and cans and other SFX with her voice into the microphone. She literally wore several hats (and coats).

RKClumpsingThis was the “world debut” of this brand-new play and it features two radio jingles (yes, we added one). It is perfect for elementary-school plays (public or private schools), but it could also easily be done by middle school, junior high, or senior high students. It would really be funny with adults dressing and acting as kids!

Did we find out what “the clump” is?! I think we have to wait for the next show!

Recording Sam Shade Songs

We finally have all the Sam Shade songs “in the can”!

It has taken longer than we thought, and our battle to conquer our innovative delivery system (innovative for this industry!) has finally been won (we’re pretty sure). We have vocal tracks (for rehearsal, the “here’s how it goes” tracks) and instrumental accompaniment tracks for those who just aren’t able to muster their own musicians.

Recording with Doug is fun!

Recording with Doug is fun!

Here you see our wonderful sound engineer, Doug Raney, clowning  a bit with Zach and “the girls.” From left to right, you see Shannon furthest from the camera, then Aly and Sable. This particular session featured Zach as Sam Shade with Aly in her role as Sylvia Songbird, together singing “the blues” in their version of It Looks Like Christmas. Later, the girls recorded the full version of It Looks Like Christmas, in the roles of Thelma Typefast, Kitty Kindly, and Sallie Socialite.

Abby adds a track and Doug clowns!

Abby adds a track and Doug clowns!

Zach took on the role of gangster Bugsy Bigtime and helped the girls record the swinging Out on the Town Tonight. Next came the girls doing an entertaining job on Broadway Wannabes. Then the girls “lamented” the bluesy, jazzy That Man of Mine.

Our younger “Down Yonder Gang” managed to lay down We’re Orphans in one take! Then they made remarkably quick work of  Jesus is Christmas.

The grand finale is the upbeat The True Meaning of Christmas which brought all 7 girls together. With me on guitar and Susan Merritt on keyboard, poor Doug was outnumbered 9 to 1 in his little studio! But he just grinned and held up very well!

Vic the Stick makes it all swing!

Vic the Stick makes it all swing!

“Vic the Stick” Cleaver put the finishing touches on the recordings with a cool combo of his regular trap set and his electronic drums. Now we’re really bluesy and really swingin’!

Our good friend Victor Cleaver is a popular instructor of piano, guitar, drums, and percussion in the Denton, Texas, area. Find him at vcleaver (at) verizon.net (use the “at” sign).

Doug Raney is a really cool guitar teacher, songwriter, and performer in the Denton area. Find him at dougsguitar.com.

Now, to finally finish prepping the materials and get all three Sam Shades up and running!

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.

Songs — Singable and Memorable!

“We’re all still singing your songs around the house.” “I can’t get that song out of my head!” “We’d love a CD of the songs in the play.”

That is music to a writer’s ears! When people — adults, kids — can sing a song, remember a song, and be unable to forget a song (!), that’s when you know you’ve written a catchy or pleasant melody, with solid, tight structure, good rhythm and rhyme, and meaningful (or catchy, or clever, or memorable) words.

And if the song is singable, it almost always means it is playable — that any reasonably accomplished guitarist or pianist can sit down and play the song, many times by ear.

At FFP, we love music. Music is fun. We love to play it, and to sing it, and to teach others — especially young people — how to sing good songs. We like to write songs that represent a wide variety of genres. And we don’t “write down” to kids. We don’t do “kid music.” We do music. Young people, from kindergarten to high school and up, have remarkably sophisticated tastes in music and an ability to appreciate well-constructed songs in a variety of popular styles.

The young people we work with also enjoy jumping into “good styles gone by,” such as jazz, Big Band, soul, 50’s/60’s rock, 60’s surf, folk and folk rock, 40’s/50’s Broadway, Western, Appalachian, and so on. That kind of cultural literacy is a good thing! And it’s fun.

Another thing that can be fun is some outlandish juxtaposition — a James Brown-style song in Old Testament Egypt, sung by a silent-movie era character.

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.