Here are answers to some recurring questions we've been getting. Always feel free to Email us with any questions you might have. We'll write back when we can. Thanks! Write to: ORIGINALCAST1@aol.com.
Dear Chip: We like the script we got and would like to license a production. Do you mind if we add a few extra songs to the show, and some lines to set them up?
Dear Friend: A good rule to remember: You cannot alter any script without permision of the copyright owner (which would be me, if we're talking about scripts tht I've written). If you wish to modify the text of a copyrighted script in any way, you need to obtain permission from the copyright owner (or his agent) for the specific proposed changes. Some writers do not permit any alterations to their material. I will not give permission to people to add new songs or lines to a script, or to rewrite songs or lines; I will usually be more flexible, though, if someone is proposing simple trims, cuts, or edits, so long as the edits do not compromise the play. And if someone asks permission to add an extra chorus to a number to create a longer dance break, I'm usually fine with that.
"The George M. Cohan Revue" (written, arranged, and originally directed by Chip Deffaa; published by Bakers Plays)
"George M. Cohan: In his Own Words" (written, arranged, and originally directed by Chip Deffaa; published by Samuel French Inc.)
Dear Chip: You have written five different shows about George M. Cohan. Which is the best of the Cohan scripts you are offering?
Dear Friend: That is a matter of personal taste, and what your needs are. If you want a big-cast show, The GeorgeM. Cohan Revue or George M. Cohan: In His Own Words, presented with a good-sized chorus, will be fun. They are big, full-length, two-act shows (each more than two hours in length). Yankee Doodle Boy is a simpler show to mount; a cast of six can do a great job, and it runs just 65-minutes.George M. Cohan & Co. requires just two actors, and runs an hour and forty-five minutes.
George M. Cohan Tonight! is a 95-minute solo show--great if you have a performer up to the challenge of holding an audience all by himself. (There's no better solo showcase to be found for a strong singer-dancer-actor.) Different shows wll be more appealing for different people.
Dear Chip: We are thinking of doing one of your plays at our school, but most of our kids can't read music. Dear Friend: That's not a problem. It's always nice to be able to read music. But it's not necessary for every singer to be able to do so. Many fine professionals learn music simply "by ear." And it works out great.
Janell McCarroll, Alyssa Campochiaro, and Peter Charney, helping make demo recordings for "The Seven Little Foys"
Barrett Foa, recording for us.
When you license a show from us, we'll get you a piano/vocal score for your music director. And we have demo recordings of our shows. Singers can listen, learn the melodies that way.
Clark Kinkade and Seth Sikes recording demo's.
Dear Chip: I bought the script of one of your musical playsat a drama book shop, and would like to do a production of it, but the published script only includes the dialogue and the lyrics, not the music. Where do I get the music?
Dear Friend: Yes, you can buy a reading copy of a published script from any number of theater bookstores. But if you want to license the show to produce it, you need to contact the publishers directly (see the "LINKS" page on this website for the contact info) or myself, and pay a licensing fee. Once you've gotten a license to do the production, the publishers or I can supply the musical score(s) that you need. Theater book shops typically carry scripts; but piano/vocal scores needed for productions are usually available only from publishers.
The script to Chip Deffaa's musical play "Yankee Doodle Boy" (published by Drama Source)
The piano/vocal score for Chip Deffaa's musical play "Yankee Doodle Boy" (published by Drama Source)
Dear Chip: We'd like to do one of your plays but do not have much money for sets.
Dear Friend: Don't worry about it. If you deliver a good performance with honest feeling, you will reach your audience. And simple sets can be quite effective. I often like staging things minimalistically. In our production of "The Seven Little Foys" at the New York International Fringe Festival, we kept settings to a bare minimum. In the scene in the photo above, for example, we used only a few trunks and suitcases to suggest a hotel room; some blue lighting helped establish a lonely mood. In the scene in the photograph below, the only set pieces are a chair and a table with a Victrola on it. The backdrop is simply a black curtain. But in both cases, the simple settings made it easier for the audience to focus on the actors. (If you would like to see more shots from that production, please go to the page on this website that is titled "Foys at the Fringe.")
Ryan Foy and Michael Townsend Wright in a scene from "The Seven Little Foys"
I've usually staged my Cohan shows as simply as possible, using the minimum number of set pieces. As the photo at left reminds us, you can do an awful lot with good lighting alone.
Theater, ideally, should be more about performers than about sets. And a simple, minimalistic set can help us focus more on the performance.
So don't fret if you don't have a big budget for sets. Get dedicated performers! Put on a show!
"The Seven Little Foys"
Dear Chip: We're considering doing a production of your show, "The Seven Little Foys," but are not sure we could find suitable actors the exact same ages as the characters described in the play.
Dear Friend: If you're interested in doing the play, do the play! Actors need not be the exact same age, in real life, as the characters they are portraying. People going to see a musical comedy tend to suspend a certain amount of disbelief the moment they step into the theater. If you select actors with the right spirit, they'll win over your audience right away. When we cast "The Seven Little Foys," several of the kids were actually older than the characters they were playing. But they acted with such flair, audiences embraced them. If actors are having a good time onstage, it's contagious.
Jon Peterson as George M. Cohan
Dear Chip: We would like to do one of your plays, but our actors cannot tap dance like the actors you've had in New York. Should we skip the musical breaks in the score, if we can't fill them with tap dancing?
Dear Friend: Keep the musical breaks in place! If your performers cannot tap dance, find moves that they can do. Strutting, striding, marching in place... there are many ways of moving to a beat that can look quite effective. George M. Cohan liked to stride with style across the stage; his sheer delight in the moment was contagious. If you can't tap dance, find showmanly ways of moving to the music. Enjoy it! (But are you sure you need to rule out tap-dancing altogether? If people are willing to learn, most people can pick up some basic tap steps surprisingly quickly. ) The photos at right are from a recent production at a school, in Katonah, New York, of my show "Yankee Doodle Boy." The dancing by these school kids (ages 7-14) was of course simpler than what we did in our original New York production, but they made use of every dance break in the score, and were wonderfully effective. And fun to watch!
Dear Chip: We really would like to do one of your shows, but we don't have dancers who can come close to doing what we saw your dancers do in New York.
Dear Friend: We hear things like this a lot. We've been lucky to have some exceptional dancers in our shows. When I hold auditions, finding dancers I like is a high priority for me. When Eric Stevens--seen in the photos at left rehearsing for "The Seven Little Foys"--auditioned for the show, he did a dance combination that was so exciting he would have earned himself a part even if he wasn't also a very fine singer and actor. One of the reviewers praised Eric, Eddy Francisco, and Mitchell Schneider as "dancing demons." Another reviewer said that no show in New York had better teenage tap dancers than we had in in "The Seven Litttle Foys." If you can find some strong dancers, fine. But you can have great fun doing a show, regardless of whether you have strong dancers or not. Remember--the goal is to tell a story, to touch your audience, and to entertain them. There are many different ways of doing that. If you license a script and score from us, find a way to interpret the dialog, the lyrics, and music, that works for you. And let us know how it went! We love hearing from you.
Eddy Francisco, choreographer Justin Boccitto, Jacob Burlas rehearsing dancing for "The Seven Little Foys"
"George M. Cohan Tonight!"
Dear Chip: We like the script we just got, but we have our own ideas concerning costumes, set design, and blocking, and want to do something a lot different from the production we saw in New York. Is it OK for us to do our own thing in terms of costumes, set designs, staging?
Dear Friend: Absolutely! Knock yourself out! I love seeing new ideas in terms of design or staging, and you can take all the liberties you want there. The text of the script is copyrighted, of course, and can't be altered without permission.
Michael Townsend Wright in a scene from "The Seven Little Foys"
But every director, choreographer, designer, actor can--and should--bring his or her own interpretations to the material. Each musical director, of course, will bring his own personality to the notes, too. Have fun with it! We do!
The photo below is from the Millbrook, Alabama, Community Players' recent dinner-theater production of "George M. Cohan & Co.," directed by John Collier. They used the exact same script we used in our original New York production (now published and licensed by Eldridge Plays), but created their own unique settings and staging. And that's great! (Cohan would haved the huge flag they used at one point.)
Jon Peterson as George M. Cohan
Dear Chip: What do you look for when you audition an actor?
Dear Friend: While I like performers who are triple-threats (who can sing, dance, and act well), what I'm actually looking for in an audition is the overall impact the performers make, the personality they project, the stage presence they have. I'll take a perforner with great presence over one with stronger technical skills but less presence, any time. I look to see if a performer has a light in his or her eyes. What kind of energy are they giving off? Am I enjoying their company? When I first auditioned actors to play George M. Cohan for a show of mine, back in 2002, I saw a zillion actors who seemed okay (if unremarkable); but the moment Jon Peterson arrived and began singing, I knew he was the one. When he finished his first song, I told him he had the job and I was sending the other actors home; the auditions were over. He asked if he could sing a second song for me; I told him I'd listen for the pleasure of it, but he already had the role. He'd be Cohan.
Similarly, when Rayna Hirt auditioned for "The Seven Little Foys," I knew within moments that she'd be in the show. She simply owned the room, as soon as she stepped into it. (Theater pro Luis Villabon, who was helping me run the auditions that day at Ripley-Grier Studios, felt the exact same way as I did, writing me a note immediately: "Cast her!") Rayna was dancing and singing, and already I was imagining how she, Eric Stevens, and Dea Julien might appear in the finale. (And they were fierce!)
With none of those performers, incidentally, did I feel any need to ask them to come for a call-back to help me make up my mind; I simply offered them roles. When a performer's got it, he or she has got it. And you know! Even in rehearsal photos (like the one below), their terrific energy comes through.
Rayna Hirt in "The Seven Little Foys"
Ryan Swearingen and co. in "Yankee Doodle Boy"
Dear Chip: Is it all right if we change the keys of songs, to better suit our singers' voices?
Dear Friend: Absolutely! One of the first things I do, after casting a show, is have the performers run through their songs with the music director, so that we can find the ideal keys. And then we transpose the arangements. We want to be sure that every singer is heard to his or her best advantage. So feel free to put songs in different keys. if it will help your production. (And if you would like us to provide you with printed arrangements in different keys, we can often do that for a fee.)
Dear Chip: I've just written my first play. Will you read it, help me find an agent and producer, and get it produced?
Dear Friend: The best advice I can give you is--get the script up on its feet some place. ANY place. Do a reading, whether it's at your home, or in a friend's back yard, a hall, or a church, or a school, or wherever you can find space. Having actor friends read the lines out loud will help. Then find a way to perform the play before people--again, it doesn't much matter if it's for free (or for a nominal admission fee) in your home, or in a school, a barn, a bar, or from the back of a pickup truck. You will learn a lot by doing. And if you're just starting out, your time is far better spent getting your plays read aloud, and then performed ANYWHERE, than by sending scripts to writers, agents, producers. You will learn from seeing your play tried out before audiences. Listen to the feedback you get from your cast members, and from your audience members. It doesn't much matter where you start. I remember when Charles Busch--whose plays I really enjoy--was first trying out his play "Vampire Lesbians..." in a bar, on a budget of something like $30. Audiences found him, embraced that very funny play. And it move to Off[-Broadway, where it ran for years. He's had great success since then, of course, Off-Broadway, on Broadway, and in film.
Here's how I began working on "One Night with Fanny Brice." As soon as I had a chunk of it written, I asked Dea Julien--a terrific actress, now in the national touring company of "West Side Story"--to meet me at a Starbucks in midtown, NYC. Over coffee, she read me the first scenes there, and I got a feel for how the piece was developing. When I got more of the script written, I asked Kimberly Faye Greenberg (whom I'd liked in "Danny & Sylvia") if we could read through it at her apartment. She wound up starring in our first production.
Chip Deffaa working with Kimberly Faye Greenberg on "One Night with Fanny Brice"
Dear Chip: I am thinking of presenting one of your plays in my community. Could you just send me a free copy or two? Just Xerox a script in your spare time and mail it to me at the following street address....
Dear Friend: If you would like me to Xerox and mail a script to you, please mail me check for $10 (payable to Chip Deffaa Productions LLC). No, I don't really need the money. In fact, that $10 won't quite cover the actual costs of Xeroxing, binding, and mailing a script. But asking people to pay $10 does tend to help sort out who is serious or not. Someone who does not want to spend $10, but does want me to spend time photocopying, binding, and mailing him a script probably isn't too serious. My time is valuable. And so is yours. If you're serious, of course I'll be glad to help.
Dear Chip: We were thinking of producing one of your shows ourselves, or having you do a production for us. Can you tell us the pro's and con's of us doing our own production or having you do one?
Dear Friend: Let's talk more about that by Email or by phone. I can bring a production of any of our shows, directed by me, to your community. Or grant you a license to produce your own production, with your own cast. Licensing fees depend upon such factors as the size of the venue, number of performances, cost of admission. But we can make it happen, either way. And if you do your own production and also want to hire me as an advisor or consultant,that option can be arranged.
Jon Peterson, in performance as Cohan, in Milwaukee (Gary Mattison, music director)