Thursday, March 29, 2012

Taking Chances

I love to read a good book where an author takes a chance on the story and allows the characters to go beyond what is expected.


I'm thrilled when I read about someone switching careers midstream to chase a dream - because life is too short.


I'm aware that taking a chance may involve failure, but if you don't 'go for it' - you'll never know.


That is what a few friends did over 15 years ago when they decided to start their own theater company in New Jersey. I didn't know the people at the time (yet know most of them now), but they made the decision to view theater in a different way. Allowing the ensemble to shine and choosing shows that fit that genre.


I joined them as an actor several years later and then I began to lead them as an artistic director while we decided to shift focus from ensemble to 'lessor known' works...things people rarely get a chance to see. A few years ago, I walked away from the group to concentrate on my writing - but I am thrilled to say they are in their 15th anniversary season, lead artistically by an amazing woman (who I adore) and have learned that taking chances comes with great sacrifice...but also great reward.


4th Wall Theatre was always known for doing the musical that other groups seemed to shy away from. You wouldn't catch them doing "Annie" or "Oklahoma" - but you would find them doing "Das Barbecue" and "Dessa Rose". (Bet people reading this many not know those last two musicals, but both are gems that you should run to see if ever in your area.) A few years back, they took another chance and decided to do plays - still staying within their mission of choosing those others would sometimes not produce.


This weekend, they are doing that very thing with a small piece called "Speech & Debate". A play written by the then 27 year old playwright Stephen Karam that ran in NY a few years back and has had a life in a few theaters willing to take a chance with a play (with a title that doesn't garner enthusiasm). But the dark comedy makes a statement on the cultural of social media, the youth of today, and what it is like to be peering into adulthood in the age we live in. All while doing a 2 minute musical number of an accused witch from "The Crucible" that time travels to meet a teenage, gay Abe Lincoln....yes, that old story.


I personally can't wait to see the show this Friday night. Not only because I have such an affinity for this group and because I love live theater, but because I'm always going to applaud and champion those that are still not afraid to step out beyond the norm and take a chance.


I challenge all reading this to take a chance to. Go see a movie you'd usually not want to see. Read that book that is not what you are known to pick up. And if you're in Northern NJ, join me and check out this crazy play brought to us by a group who loves to live life on the edge.







Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sofa Saga

Have you ever had an ongoing issue that you just wish would go away? Last April, it was time to buy a new sofa and a well known company was giving proceeds of sales to autism for National Autism Month. So we jumped on it thinking "this is awesome!" 


And then it all went downhill.

Almost two months to get it delivered. Then the throw pillows were completely wrong (as we had specifically asked for different material on those). And then we noticed the sofa cushions were not holding up. (Granted: we live on that thing every night...but come on - it should hold up better than that!) So a 'technician' was sent out (like some sofa surgeon) who said "Yes...this needs new cushions," and reported back to the store with his 'expert opinion'.


While waiting for months for our sagging sofa to be fixed, the correct throw pillows arrived in the store (but we had to go get those ourselves). Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Holidays flying by like it was nothing. (Calling the store hoping someone would understand the sadness of the situation and grant me a reprieve like Bob Cratchit as we continued to wait.)


So finally they send out someone in early January (7 months after the first delivery when we noticed it wasn't holding up) and we're so happy to get new, plump cushions for our tired butts....and they show up -  with one cushion for the chaise end of the sofa. Seriously. The delivery guys tell us "the paper says you were to get all new cushions, but this is all they sent." They replace it (which it doesn't want to fit...so they shove it into the fabric sleeve, take photos...I take photos..."everyone smile for the worst furniture store board" - and I even take a photo of the sheet we signed stating what all was missing).


At this point in January, I'm tired of dealing with the store. So I call corporate and become best friends with a woman who is set on helping me. She asks everything that happened with the delivery men (who wouldn't even leave me the old cushion so I could cut it up and create better padding on the ones not replaced). She has me send her my photo spread of what all I've taken and she places a new order for the cushions.


I'm finally told last week they will be delivered today. (Cheers from all.) I stay home and wait. The man comes in a regular van and pulls out my cushions. (Wait!!! Where are the 3 for the back of the sofa you may ask: not here.) He starts to remove the sleeve on the chaise to change that cushion once again only to find that the previous men broke off the zipper and now he can't replace it. More calls back to the main store. Excuses of how he is a 3rd party tech who knows how to place foam into fabric sleeves and the previous men didn't know what they were doing. He changes the other two, leaves me a plain cushion for the chaise and has me sign his invoice. I ask for a copy.


"We don't give copies."
"Fine. I have a camera. I'll take a photo."
"I need to check that with the main office."
Phone call made.
"I can't allow you to take a photo of the paper."

Seriously??? I can't take a photo as a receipt of what he wrote down as I did with the delivery men previously? 


Out comes a hand waiting for a tip: my tip - don't work for such a bad company who continues to offer sagging sofas to customers!


At this point, I just want to burn the couch and start over. Is that so wrong?



Monday, March 26, 2012

Carrie: The Musical


I felt as if I had stepped back in some strange time warp. The year was 1988 and I saw Carrie: The Musical on Broadway. It was also some time around then, I saw the off-Broadway play Steel Magnolias at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Well, those two came together when I caught the 2012 revamped Carrie playing at the Lortel this weekend. And I'm so glad that I did.


The musical of Carrie has been the butt of numerous jokes. The idea of turning Stephen King's book into a musical baffled many. It was the largest flop in history. Even the title of a book of flops. But for those of us old enough to have seen Betty Buckley & Linzi Hately in the original (and trust me, the amount of people that say they actually saw it have grown beyond the number the theater would have held) - we have been waiting for years for someone to rework this musical. For many of us, the scenes between Carrie & her mother were opera gold. Beautiful arias and duets that sent shivers down your spine. And then the rest of the show would happen. And you would ask yourself "what bad 80s nightmare have I been dropped into where the torture is unending dance scenes, pyrotechnics, and some cutesy telekinetic dance number with shoes." (You can search the internet to see others videos of the original or someone has put together a listing from both productions.) 


But many have said the show could be fixed. It deserved to be salvaged. And the writing team returned under the directive eye of Stafford Arima (who at my age also saw the show at 19 the first time around) and have scaled down that vast show from the late 80s. The critics have seen it, they've weighed in - but let me share my thoughts.


Marin Mazzie & Molly Ranson in Carrie
What worked before still works. Marin Mazzie gives us a different Margaret White than the crazed woman we are used to seeing. Hers is more a woman teetering on the edge (perhaps after playing a bipolar mother in Next to Normal) - but it still works for me. Her Margaret has a heart, pain, emotion that begs for us to understand her and feel for her. Many have complained she is not crazy enough...but I really appreciated her performance. (Even as I type that - I still love to hear Betty Buckley sing this score and glad we have the internet to hear her on the songs.) Others have stated that Molly Ranson is not enough of an outcast, but her performance made us feel for Carrie and cheer for her (even though everyone in the audience knows where the show is going) She has a great voice for the role.


But where this performance works more for me is the changes to the other characters. I loved that it was moved to the present where bullying is such a hot topic. The actors playing the other 'kids' were believable - something I never felt the first time around (and remember: I was 19 when I saw it then and still didn't understand why every word was accompanied by a kick split in the air). There seemed to be more emphasis placed on these people and how they felt (new songs) rather than "let's all do the same dance moves in the same white clothes and sing about killing a pig." (And thank God they got rid of the song "Don't Waste the Moon" which sadly I can still sing in my head.) I understood each of the characters a little more as solos made us see inside of them (and isn't that what musical theatre is about?) I know there were original songs to give us some insight into Sue and others, but they were overshadowed by the enormity of that production. And by having less people on stage now - each person had a purpose and a real character. Not just 'ensemble wearing white #8'. 


2012: Didn't wait for Mazzie
This production was greatly aided by being in a smaller venue. Scenes were created with chairs and projections. Afterwards, I told my other half all about the huge white set from the original and how the prom/destruction scene was one hot, expensive mess that could never be created by any other theater company. But what they did with projections in this small space made perfect sense to me. (And somehow plastering the kids against the wall in a final tableau was really cool!)


Everyone waits for the 'blood' scene in Carrie...and it was cleverly achieved in this show. And I still found myself feeling for her and her mother by the closing scene.


1988: Greg & Buckley after show
It was awesome to return to 24 years ago and see this again. I know critics still didn't enjoy Carrie returning to New York - but I hope perhaps it will give her 'new life' in theaters across the country.




Sunday, March 25, 2012

Books, Friends, NYPD - oh My!

Greg at the RBF.
Saturday in New York City was quite a day from top to bottom. To driving in and getting the perfect parking spot, to enjoying the rush of a highly charged room of authors and publishers, to losing my voice from the constant noise level - it was all exciting.


The Rainbow Book Fair was the first book fair I had attended and was unsure what to expect. I showed up with not only my own books, but those of all the ASD Publishing authors. Believing readers from the GLBT community could enjoy a diverse choice of books - I saw no reason not to include them all. (And that was just about true as I sold a few copies of most of the titles.) The day is never ending and you feel like those people you have passed numerous times at a flea market when you attempt to not make eye contact. Only this time, I was on the other side: unsure how much to pitch myself and my books. Luckily, I shared a table with author Arthur Wooten and he and I have read all of each other's books and could pitch for the other.

I've done readings of my work before, but reading in front of a room of people who have not shown up because of me was nerve-wracking to say the least. Luckily - we only had four minutes (and I felt pretty darn good as someone came back to the table after I read and purchased the book!) A huge thank you to that person.

A gaggle of authors/publishers.
The best part for me was getting to meet the internet/twitter friends I have met the past several months face-to-face. To hear the voices of people that you only read status updates and blogs - to see them working just as hard as you are to get others to read their works...and to go out for drinks once the entire thing was over: wonderful! Kergan Edwards-Stout, Alina Oswald, David Hallman, Don Carrel, Ken Harrison - my twitter friends who were all working so hard. Awesome! (Plus other tweeters that stopped in like Brian, Melanie, Pamela, Richard, Justin ... made the day so great!)


I must say the night didn't end too well...or should I say 'morning'. At 3:30 am, some loud mouth person in our hotel decided to have a phone conversation with his girlfriend in the hallway to assure her he did not have sex with another woman at a club. And an hour later, the NYPD was banging on a door to escort someone out of the building. (This was a Hilton - it wasn't like I was staying at the Flea-Bag Motel.) Needless to say, sleep didn't happen.


So for the book fair and meeting all those wonderful authors/publishers that invaded NY from all over the country (and Canada too, David)  - I give it 5 stars.


For the Hotel mid-morning drama - I give it 1 star. (And that's only because the plot shift that the NYPD brought to the story.)



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Random Thoughts This Week


I haven’t been great about blogging lately, but some things have come up over the past few weeks that have made me go “hmmmmmmm” – so just thought I’d share.

1)      It must be hard to be a conservative in the arts – especially in Hollywood. I am first to admit I’m pretty darn liberal, but why shouldn't people be able to speak their mind? The truth is - that's how they feel even if they speak up or not. I’m sure we all know people that feel a certain way about a big topic in the news…a way that may be contrary to us. Look at social media. Ever get into it with someone on FB? And have you worked with that person in what you felt was a ‘liberal setting’ in life? That’s why I sort of feel for those Hollywood types who can’t seem to speak out without getting attacked.

2)      How do people feel about those that see an opportunity & run with it? Now, there are times that good can come out of that and I feel one should seize the moment and go for it. But recently there was a certain person who seemed to take advantage of being at a certain place surrounding a very high profile person. The demise of one seemed to elevate this person. To me, that’s not using an opportunity for good.

3)      I’m getting closer to 9,000 tweets since joining twitter last year and thinking about what I’ve learned. I love the information I find on twitter and love to re-tweet and share. There are amazing people in this world that can be so supportive, it’s mind boggling. There are also those that use every opportunity they can to make every piece of social media (blogging, social sites) point back to selling their product or themselves. It’s a really tough line, but when you find your ‘tribe’ that has your back: it’s a great thing. Oh…and also, every time I hear the word “tribe” used on the internet – I always think of HAIR: THE MUSICAL.

4)      I found I had to re-read my patience blog as some recent events are making me feel impatient again. Doing some nice breathing exercises to calm down. Must remind myself: nothing I can do about it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

People on the Road

Thank you to those that got involved in my Patchwork of Me giveaway! 


I have to say that I was really impressed with the road trip stories that people shared on my Facebook page and blog. All of you wrote wonderful stories and I couldn't chose. So I turned to other judges to make the call. (And I must say: many of you were complimented as having written full out short stories as if being published in a magazine. Kudos to you!)

The copy of PATCHWORK OF ME goes to Amy Dewey for her raw, honest, simple telling of a poignant road trip in her life. (Amy - please email me greg at ggallen . net with your address.)

Thank you all for sharing! But also...don't forget Goodreads.com is giving away three copies in their giveaway going until April 1st. So enter that giveaway as well for another chance to win an early copy.

I'm really excited about the new book coming out in just one month! Patchwork of Me is about family: the family we create from those closest to us - not always those in which we were born. I look forward to hearing people's thoughts after they read the book! To see how this 'family of friends' affect readers.

Check out a few early reviews and get ready to pre-order online soon!





Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Is Patience in Your Vocabulary?


I've never been a patient person. 

Ask anyone that knows me. I usually want things to happen right away and will work hard to achieve it. I'm not good at waiting for 'x' to arrive. The sooner - the better.

But something big happened this week. My computer went down for two days. It was as if the end of the world had hit and I couldn't do anything! My to-do list was growing and I knew I had many things to accomplish. It is 2012. We are slaves to technology and when it is not right at our fingertips - we don't know how to react. (Okay...perhaps I shouldn't speak in the universal 'we' - but this is ALL me.) 

But here is where things turned around.

In the past, I would have freaked out. The computer would have ended up against the wall. The stress would have eaten me alive from not being able to get to that technical 'to do'. Large amounts of food would have been consumed as stress drives me to the food pantry.

But I took a deep breath and said "there is nothing I can do about it". And like that...I was able to let it go.

What? Who am? That is not Greg - at all.

I'm not sure where that calmness came from, but I somehow realized it was out of my control and things would occur when they occurred. That small realization was actually very large - like one of those 'ah-ha' moments that Oprah talks about. (I feel like I'm having a few of those lately, so maybe patience was due.)

I'm not saying this new Greg is going to stick or that I'll handle it the same way in the next situation...but for a moment, I felt like I had grown up a little. 

I should since 43 will be knocking on my door in one month.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Visting Chicken Boy's School

Gabe (C) and some friends.
Today was an amazing day. Not only because it was the 2nd day of learning that MeeGenius has published Chicken Boy: The Amazing Adventures of a Super Hero with Autism and the exciting media blitz has started...but because of a party thrown in a third grade class at Radcliffe Elementary.

Yes, that's the school that will be getting the library of books from MeeGenius and it's where my godson Gabe attends school. He is mainstreamed in a regular class and those kids were the most supportive group of friends through this entire contest. Daily asking his mom about the votes, saying they read the book and voted, and cheering Gabe and his book on all the way. So today the teachers and Gabe's aid threw a celebration party for the winning book. Gabe's mom made the entire class t-shirts with chicken boy's battle cry on it.

How lucky was I that I got to go and witness it?!

I LOVE that Gabe (down left) is into whatever is on his finger.
Smiling third grade faces are the best. All eager to tell you what they thought of your book. All excited to put on their shirts and take photos for the newspaper that had shown up to cover the story. All eating cupcakes and showing such love for my godson...it really moved me. Then I was asked to step up in front of the class and talk about how the story was born on our Wednesday night dinners to Gabe's favorite restaurant and how his sister and I came up with the ideas and I wrote them on a napkin. Their young eyes were glued to me as I spoke (and they had plenty of questions too)!
Cards made for Gabe.

I started doing book signings and readings last fall for my novel, but it's been a while since my audience wasn't even old enough to THINK about driving. But I loved it. I was right back to my past of doing years of children's theater and remembering the honesty a child can give in a simple statement.

"You Inspire all of us"
Yes, Gabe got tired during the photo shoot - but he was a great trooper. And when we left, the teacher gave his mom a stack of cards the kids had made for him congratulating him on the success of his book. We went home and read each card and was so touched by what the children had to say.

I hope I get a chance to talk to much more of our future in these types of events. The budding writers have much to ask and I'm more than happy to share.

A congrats to Gabe and a huge thank you to the third graders at Radcliffe! They helped us win the popular vote - and some awesome MeeGenius books are coming their way!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

And The Winner Is...

Everyone that helped get the word out about Chicken Boy! That's who won. #TeamChickenBoy has been the most supportive group of friends and strangers anyone could ask for since we started the MeeGenius Author Challenge back in November. (I think I actually submitted the manuscript in late September.)


Well, it's all come to an end and Chicken Boy: The Amazing Adventures of a Super Hero with Autism has been named the People's Choice and Grand Prize winner. I'm truly honored to be a small voice in the autism community. For me, that's what this entire endeavor has been about. I'm grateful to MeeGenius for offering authors this platform to get the word out about their books (and I think it was pretty obvious to all, that's exactly what it turned into with 6 weeks of voting over two rounds). The amount of people I've come in contact with that have shared how the book has touched them has meant the world to me.


I've always been one to write about adversity & diversity. I think back to my first children's musical I ever wrote. A Halloween musical about a group of misfit 'monsters' that lived in the basement of this old hotel. Funny that at 14 I was already identifying with those that couldn't find where or how they 'fit' in. I should have known then that bringing that kind of awareness would always be my platform. No matter if I'm writing for children, adults or blogging about the fat guy who's attempting to lose weight. It's what I know and it's what I write.


I hope that others will identify with that story through Chicken Boy. That being labeled "different" isn't always such a bad thing. Not to fear someone who is not exactly like you. And mostly, not to shun them.



Gabe: My Chicken Boy
Now thanks to MeeGenius, you can buy that eBook starting today on their site. And I've already received so many messages about 'when will it be in print' that my promise to all those waiting: I'll do everything in my power to get this book into a print version so that readers have options! (That sounded like a political promise, but let's leave politics out of this.)


Thanks again to everyone! To voters for making me the People's Choice. To MeeGenius for creating this challenge. And to my godson for inspiring me...even when he didn't know he was doing it.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Words That Scream for Connection

I met writer/poet Travis Laurence Naught last summer because of that superhighway we call the internet. Now, several months later - he has a book coming out on Tuesday published by ASD Publishing. Travis is an incredible writer that uses poetry and prose to share his strong, brutally honest and sometimes titillating views on the world. He calls some of his work "NC-17" based on the sexual frustrations he has from being in a wheelchair for all of his life. Hence the title of his book The Virgin Journals.


Travis has been writing as long as he can remember, but credits his fascination with Jim Morrison and Jack Kerouac as to why he turned to poetry. And poetry has truly worked for him by his standings in certain contests, open mike nights he has attended, and poetry of his one can find by doing a simple google search.  His love of basketball is also quite evident after working with the team at Eastern Washington University where he graduated with a degree in Psychology.  


His honesty is not only found in his writing. Travis lives in that honesty with his disability every day and sometimes can throw people off in the way he responds to them. He knows there is no hiding or denying the fact he is in a wheelchair. After all, he was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy as an infant - so he sets people at ease with a simple turn of a phrase - phrases people will be able to find in his book.


The Virgin Journals is an exploration of one man's struggle to deal with not feeling 'alone' (though Travis admits to hardly ever being alone as he lives with his parents). But as a twenty eight year old man, he longs for a different kind of connection - that of love. So he has broken up the book into three sections of Life, Love and World. Each carrying profound views that I personally think readers will react strongly to.


I highly recommend connecting with this incredible man via his Facebook page or twitter. Words can build small bridges between us even when so many miles can seperate. I know it's worked for me being in New Jersey and Travis being across the country in Washington. I'm glad the internet connected me once again to a stranger I'd otherwise have never known.


The Virgin Journals is available on bn.comAmazon.com, www.asdpublishing.com or indie bookstores with an official launch date of this Tuesday, March 6. 


Knock em' dead, Travis!