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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How To Have a Playreading at Your Home and Turn Your Friends Into Actors

Since I was in high school I’ve always used playreadings as my primary social event when gathering friends together.  Many people would love to try their hands at acting, and if they can easily read out loud and have a sense of fun, then I suggest you invite them over for a playreading in your house at a scheduled time and date.

Here are the steps I go through when I invite you for one of my playreadings:

1. Choose a Play.  The first time you do this, and for most of the subsequent times, choose a light comedy.  These playreadings are for fun only, and no one pretends that high art is expected to occur.  Instead the goal is lots of laughter.  After all, at my playreadings alcohol is served.  Years ago there was a great older woman named Kitty who was one of the regulars at what came to be called performances by “The Whaley Players.”  She was very good at playing her various parts even though she drank quite a bit.  As the reading reached near the end she’d start having trouble getting the lines right or even reading them at all, but Kitty handled that with aplomb—she simply made up what seemed appropriate, and frequently came up with lines better than the playwright’s. 

What play should you choose to start with?  Most can be found at the library either as a lone volume or in collections of plays.  Others will have to be ordered online—Amazon has a large collection at usually very cheap prices, just search by title—and then duplicate.  Here is a list of proven successes at playreadings:

“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde.  Very funny, and with eight good roles (four men, four women—the actor playing the butler Lane can double and also play the servant in Act Two).  The text is available online at  

Act Three of "The Importance of Being Earnest"

“Arsenic and Old Lace” by Joseph Kesselring (3 women, six men—with some doubling in the small male roles).  Two elderly women compassionately murder their houseguests.

“The Foreigner” by Larry Shue (2 women, five men).  When an Englishman pretends not to speak English at all while staying at a Georgia Bed and Breakfast chaos ensues.

“Visit To a Small Planet” by Gore Vidal (2 women, four men).  An elegant visitor from outer space means to land in Manassas, Virgina, during the Civil War and witness the battle there, but accidentally ends up in 1951 and nearly causes total destruction of the planet.

“Mary, Mary” by Jean Kerr (2 women, 3 men).  When a man about to remarry is forced to work through tax returns with his ex-wife their old romance is rekindled, causing major complications.

Once you get into these affairs your friends will begin to suggest other plays.  As you move beyond comedies, you can try more serious fare such as plays that became famous movies (for example, “Doubt” or “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”—and with the friends who are very good at this the Whaley Players have done Shakespeare), or even musicals (letting the original cast album perform the songs while guest read the dialogue).
I should note that while some of these plays are English I tell my guests that no one is expected to perform with an English accent (though some do—my husband, David Vargo, is a former professional actor and he can do more or less any accent he needs to assume). 

2.  Assigning Roles.  Read the play yourself before you decide to have the playreading, and as you do so start casting it in your mind.  Remember that the guests are not going to be on the stage, but just reading the parts, so old people can play young ones, men can play women and vice versa, etc.  Some guests might want to read the play ahead of time, but I discourage that.  As I said above, this isn’t high art and I don’t want people working at their roles.  Often I don’t tell them what parts they’ll be reading until I hand them the scripts.  If someone refuses to come without knowing, then fine, let them read it ahead of time, but make sure they know this is will all be quite casual and the others reading it cold. 

3.  Other Issues. 

Royalties?  For these casual in-home fun events no royalties need be paid, though technically copying the plays on a copying machine for handing out to guests would violate the copyright laws. 
Timing?  Most plays can be read in two hours if the host gets right to it shortly after the guests arrive and doesn’t permit too long a break between acts.  After the play is done the evening can last for a good long time, as plot and other matters are rehashed.  
Food and Drink?  I always offer snacks to nibble on during the reading and make sure my guests are well-beveraged (featuring the Whaley martini and a full bar, plus soft drinks, coffee, etc.). 

Through the decades The Whaley Players have read hundreds of plays (for a description of one I organized at the home of now Senator Elizabeth Warren and her husband in 2000 where Elena Kagan was also a member of the cast, see Related Posts below).  At the end of each reading we applaud the performance and then I remind my guests that if there’s a part they’ve always wanted to play, let me know and we’ll try and set up another playreading starring them in that role.  After you’ve had a number of these playreadings you start to develop a stable of reliable people you can call on when you need cast members for the next one.

So, if this sounds like your sort of thing, I highly recommend you give playreadings a trial.  It can lead to hours and hours of great fun with good friends, many of whom will uncover talents they didn’t know they had.

Related Posts:

“Elena Kagan and Me,” May 23, 2010;

Friday, April 18, 2014

Just Published: My Novel “Corbin Milk,” a Thriller Detailing the Adventures of a Gay CIA Agent

After years of working on it, I’m proud to announce the publication of my thriller “Corbin Milk.”  The novel concerns the adventures of a gay CIA agent, a good-looking and very smart bodybuilder named Corbin Milk for whom the CIA finds the most interesting uses. I got the idea for writing this novel while reading an article in The Advocate, the news magazine of the gay community. The article concerned an anonymous Army captain who was riding slowly through the streets of Bagdad on a tank during the liberation of that city when he locked eyes with a handsome Iraqi man standing on the street. Though it could have gotten them both in major trouble with their respective communities, the two men had a great times thereafter on a number of occasions. Surely, I thought, the CIA would see possibilities in the fact that gay sex is very far off the radar in a heterosexual world. In that world men and women are constantly aware of sexual tensions between two straight people, no matter what the setting—even in church, for example. But that world is more or less blind to similar gay encounters.

The novel has been years in the making, and the whole experience surprised me in a number of ways.  First was how easily it flowed onto the page—more or less writing itself.  The second thing was that, while the novel is clearly a thriller about the exciting (I hope) life of a gay CIA agent in three different venues (a kingdom similar to Saudi Arabia, Amsterdam where Corbin seduces the head of the Russian version of the CIA, and the United States, where Corbin must battle a boss is making sexual moves), what amazed me was that a love story between Corbin and a man named George Yancy became a major part of the novel.  Who knew that I could write a romance about two people struck dumb with their attraction to one another?  This entanglement is particularly inconvenient for Corbin, since it interferes with and threatens to destroy his very successful CIA career.  The final thing was that I was unsatisfied with the ending for a number of years until suddenly last fall the obvious fix occurred to me.  As soon as I had that in place I was ready to publish.  (I should also mention that there's quite a bit of humor in this complicated tale.)

Initially a small publishing company was willing to publish “Corbin Milk,” which was exciting to think about given how hard it is to find a publisher for new novels in the 21st century, but then one of the two founders of the company had a major illness and the company called a halt to all projects.  Eventually I chose the self-publishing route, which has proved such a success for my first novel “Imaginary Friend” (an atheist thriller).  Thus “Corbin Milk” is now available on both and Kindle (I hope to shortly have it available for Apple’s iBook too).  The price is $11.84 for the paperback from Amazon and $2.99 on Kindle.  The cover was designed by my husband, himself a graphic artist, and here it is:

There’s no hard core sex in the novel, though there are scenes in which sex does occur.  Since I wanted the book to be accessible to straight readers as well as gays, I kept the sex to a very vanilla minimum, though I trust it will prove quite erotic in appropriate segments.  At one point Corbin must explore the gay leather world in Amsterdam, and that was major fun both to learn about and then insert into the book.  Experts in both the Netherlands and the leather world were very helpful, particularly the incredible Athena Lyons, once a big name in the straight leather community.

Various snippets of "Corbin Milk" have appeared in this blog (see "Related Posts" below).  “The Thunderbolt” describes how Corbin met George Yancy, the love of his life, at a party in D.C., “How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” details George's attempts to become a heterosexual, and “Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight” reprints a segment of the novel in which a five year-old Corbin Milk discovers he is gay.  Finally there were two segments having minor sexual scenes; see “Fifty Shades of Leather: Corbin Milk in the BDSM World,” and "Seducing Straight Men" (which, to my surprise, has been a much-viewed post on this blog, averaging ten hits a day from all over the world).

Mata Hari
I have no knowledge how the actual CIA uses its gay agents, but they’re missing a major opportunity to get inside otherwise impenetrable foreign venues if they ignore how easily a gay sexual liaison might do the trick with no one aware of it other than the participants.  During the early part of the last century Mata Hari did similar things in the heterosexual world even though everyone was watching her (she had a night club act), but her adventures were so obvious that she ended up being executed.  Corbin Milk has a happier ending, and, indeed, he turns up as a minor character in my other published novel, “Imaginary Friend,” where he helps the beleaguered hero escape from his many troubles.
I’m quite proud of “Corbin Milk” and sorry to be done with exploring his and George Yancy’s adventures.  If you read the book, let me know what you think of the final result by writing me at
Oh, and of course thanks for buying this book which was such a pleasure to write.  Should you enjoy it please write a review on  Reviews really help sell a self-published book like this.
Related Posts:
“Frightening the Horses,” April 7, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,” September 3, 2010
“Listen to Me Reading My Novel on the Radio,” December 11, 2012
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
“Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight,” January 25, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
Fifty Shades of Leather: Corbin Milk in the BDSM World,” December 26, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013