“LES MISERABLE” VERSUS “LESS MISERABLE” — Marilyn Armstrong

“Les Miserables” is coming to Boston. I know this because the advertisement for it is on TV every few minutes. I read the book originally in French, back when I could actually read French and sort of mumble in French if forced.

I never spoke the language well, but I could read surprisingly well. However, I have to admit that “Les Miserables” was very long and frankly, I just didn’t understand why whats-his-face, the detective didn’t just say “screw it” and go back to Paris. Buy a high-quality bottle of red and get bombed.

By the time I was nearing the end of the book I was sick of everybody and even though I don’t drink, I was ready to get bombed too.

Unlike most cop thrillers, no one got shot. No car chases. Okay, no cars, but how about horse and carriage chases? Or even people running fast? Something, please. A little action maybe?

Much less miserable!

So the other day with the advertisement reminding me that I should see the show — I didn’t see the play on Broadway or the movie. The book really did me in. I realized what we needed was an alternative to “Les Miz” titled “Less Miserable.”

It would be a book about thieves who are not all that miserable. They live comfortably in the suburbs of Paris. The real drama (which isn’t in the book, but is occasionally referred to) happens in court. Lawyers duking it out. Meanwhile, everyone adjourns to whatever they call a pub in France. I don’t think they taught us that word.

Much less miserable, don’t you think?

If I could write plays I’d enjoy writing “Less Miserable.” It would be a lot shorter than the original book and the police guy would give up after one long weekend. Why? Because his boss would object to so many overtime hours and tell him to pack it in.

Like real bosses do.

THE CURSED SCRIPT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I wrote a script for our audio theater group a few years ago about a serial killer – and it has nearly killed us. We have had numerous trials related to this script and have yet to finalize it or perform it.

We were supposed to perform it, in its original form, at an Audio Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. However, teenagers were performing there too so we were told that our content had to be ‘family friendly’, which apparently meant no serial killers. Guess what the piece the teenagers wrote and performed was about? You guessed it!

A serial killer!

Tom and me in 2016

The next snafu with this script came when we tried to record it, as we do with all our pieces. We take the actors’ track and add music and sound effects as necessary and put the finished recording up on our website.

The recording also gives the actors a chance to hear a fully produced version as the audience hears it. We usually all get together in our basement studio and read through the piece exactly as it will be performed.

Barbara Rosenblat recording in our studio

However, with this script, there were scheduling problems with the actors so we had to record it piecemeal – with one or two actors recording their individual parts with someone just feeding them cues. This is how they record voices for animated movies but not how we work.

The piece never fully came together as a dramatic play because the actors weren’t acting with each other as they would be on stage. Acting ‘against’ each other adds dimension and depth to each actor’s performance and to the scene as a whole.

Sande Sherr performing at our house

It also made it exponentially harder for Tom to edit together a cohesive piece from everyone’s multiple, solo takes. It took Tom six months to pull the individual performances together into a finished, albeit inferior, product.

Tom recording in our basement studio

A year later, the group finally revisited the audio version of the piece and decided that it needed to be shortened and rewritten in parts. At this point, Tom and I were pretty much ‘over’ this script and couldn’t see how to improve it.

But we mulled it over and suddenly a light bulb went off. We cut out a few scenes at the start, shortened a very long scene at the end, and toned down an over-the-top main character. Once we tweak some of the dialogue and create an interesting montage for the beginning of the play, we’ll be ready to present it to the group. Again.

First page of the cursed script

We have no idea whether we will ever perform this piece or whether we will just shelve it along with other not ready for prime time scripts we’ve written over the years.

Tom and I are so jaundiced about this script that we won’t be too upset if we end up scrapping it. After all, we’ve been through with this one, I think our attitude would be R.I.P. Some things are just not meant to be. But you never know.

SHINING AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

I just read a really interesting post on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo called: SHINEIn her final paragraphs she said:


Don’t we all wish to be loved and accepted for who we are in our entirety? Yet we hide the good, even from ourselves, behind a socially acceptable modesty while brandishing our flaws and frailties as if they alone define who we are. They do not. We define who we are. As much by how we choose to see ourselves as by anything else. If we see ourselves whole, perhaps others may too. They cannot until we do, as we project outward only a fragment of who we are. The saying ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to mind. Maybe if we love our whole selves we can love others wholly too.

We are told that the very physical fabric of everything we know, including our own bodies, is made of the matter from which the stars were formed. Our physical forms exist because somewhere, aeons ago, a star died. If that is so, why should we not simply shine?


I realize the answer is really simple. We don’t shine because we need to work. We have to have a resume. We need to be “people-people.” No one wants to hire someone who shines. They want to hire people who fit in, people who won’t jolt the company “culture.”

I never figured out what company culture was, actually. Most of the places who exalted their company culture have long since gone bankrupt. Usually what company culture really meant is “we don’t want to work any harder than we absolutely have to.” These are places where mentioning deadlines were enough to get you out the door.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

They hired many more people than they needed to do the work because the people they hired couldn’t really do the work. More to the point, they didn’t do the work. They intentionally worked so slowly I found it hard to believe anyone could write that slowly. They thought THREE PAGES A DAY of technical material was plenty. I used to write between 20 and 50 and on a really good day, I could write half the book. Sure I’d have to go back and edit, add graphics, double check information, and test the document against the product.

But I got the work done. I got the basic draft put together quickly which left me time for serious rewrites and corrections once I’d Beta-tested the product.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I worked at Intel for a year. It was a good job. Good pay. Also, not far from home and I didn’t have to drive into Boston. I had to work a 10  hour day every day, but I only had about 45 minutes of work to do. I was so bored I thought it would kill me. Ten hours of sitting in front of a computer — with NOTHING to do.

Shine? I could barely keep my eyes open.

And then, I got sick, stopped working, and got old. I don’t have a resume anymore. I’m not working for anyone who pays me, so I don’t have to lie to anyone, fake anything, pretend anything I don’t feel. With all the physical problems I have, I can’t begin to tell you how deeply I enjoy being me all the time. I’m not sure how the rest of the world feels about it, but I’m happy.


Shining is best done by the rich and the retired. Shining is not an option for most of us who have to show up to work and smile.

NowI CAN shine.

INSTRUMENTAL AND PERFORMANCE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Instrumental

I started learning the piano when I was four. I was so tiny, I couldn’t reach the pedals. They had to add blocks — like on an old-fashioned bicycle — so I could use them.

By the time I was 10 or 11, I played pretty well. Not as well as I was supposed to play, but well enough to play complicated music, which, as it turns out, could be heard all over the neighborhood. It was amusing listening to all the neighbors humming whatever I was practicing.

The house I lived in was on top of a hill and the sound of the grand piano wafted with the breeze.

By the time I was 16 and starting college (I skipped 7th grade), I decided to be a music major. Not because I was a brilliant pianist. I wasn’t. But I really liked my piano teacher. Coming as I did from a dysfunctional family, she was the nicest adult person I knew and I adored her.

The problem was not that I didn’t play well. I played almost well enough to be a professional. In the music business, the difference between playing “almost well enough” and “well enough” is a gap the size of an ocean. It sounds like a minor thing, but in music, it isn’t small. It’s huge.

I remained a music major despite all hints to the contrary that said: “You aren’t going to make it.”

Piano lessons

These hints included having very small hands, which meant a lot of “large” music was impossible for me. It included a number of teachers pointing out to me that doing well on exams wasn’t going to “do it” for me as a musician. I was okay, but I wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be a music teacher and I wasn’t a composer.

I didn’t see myself as a conductor either — and piano was the wrong instrument for me. Unfortunately, it was the only one I knew — other than a little bit of messing with a guitar or a ukulele. And even worse, I had a case of stage fright so severe I couldn’t play for my teacher, much less an audience. I should add that I never overcame it.

I was one credit away from finishing my music major when I realized there was no future for me in professional music. I switched to speech & drama (a combined major) which was the degree I eventually got.

It was even less useful than music. By the time I completed college, I realized what I really wanted to do, but I would need an extra year of school to make up for some of the basic courses I’d missed — like “economics,” and “political science,” et al. Somehow, without realizing it, I had actually finished my major as well as the required number of credits for graduation.

No matter how hard I begged — and my professors begged with me — they would not let me stay an extra year and complete a second B.A. These days, it would be no problem, but back then, schools were a lot more rigid than they are these days.

I didn’t have the basics for an M.A. in anything in which I was interested, so I said “screw it” and went off into the world where I did what I always wanted to do anyway: write.

Until a few years ago, though, I could still play. The only thing that stopped me was pain from arthritis in my hands. Unlike arthritis in the rest of my body, “hand” arthritis is the result of years of playing the piano. Almost every serious pianist retires by the time they hit their 60s because their hands no longer work. It’s the price you pay for pounding on the keyboard from age four.

My piano teacher had trouble playing for more than a few minutes and her older sister, who played brilliantly, could barely perform at all.

Everything comes with a price tag. The funny thing is I knew this, even when I was quite young. But “60” was a million years in my future … and now it’s a pretty long way in my past.

I finally sold my piano. I couldn’t play anymore and it killed me to see it waiting there and not be able to use it. I still have a ukulele, though. Just in case.

KISMET OR KARMA? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My husband, Tom and I are part of an audio theater group called “Voicescapes Audio Theater.” This is our main hobby and our passion.

Tom and I write original short scripts (eight to twenty-five minutes) for our group, both comedies, and dramas. Tom also directs, edits, and handles all the technical aspects of our audio productions, such as sound effects, microphones, sound equipment, recording, etc. Tom is also now doing online marketing for us on Facebook and Instagram. He has created and manages our website, https://www.voicescapesaudiotheater.com.

You can go to our website and listen to all of our pieces in the podcast section. You can also watch a video of an eight-minute piece, “Kidnapping 101” to get a sense of what it’s like to watch us perform live. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EckvRFlDOFs

Tom acting in “Kidnapping 101”

As I mentioned above, we also do live performances. This is not a simple operation. We need to pack tons of audio equipment into our SUV. We have to use a ramp to get the heaviest, bulkiest piece into the car. Then we have to unload everything and hook it up at the venue. The set-up takes from two to three hours. After our one to one and a half hour performance, we have to break everything down and reload the car. Then we get to unload again when we get home. It’s quite an undertaking. A true labor of love.

Tom loading our largest piece of equipment into the car

Our shows are a compilation of our short pieces, usually with a mix of comedies and dramas. We get a great response whenever we perform. People love our shows and praise our writing, acting, and overall productions. Our shows are nothing like the overdone, dated radio dramas from the old days of radio. They are more like sophisticated, clever, modern short plays.

We haven’t been able to reach large audiences yet. One problem is that people don’t really understand what audio theater is. It’s really just a form of theater – with actors on a stage performing a dramatic piece. The actors are just standing behind music stands, reading from their scripts as they act. They are accompanied by sound effects and music, which make it a full, dramatic performance.

Three actors performing. The guy in the back is doing sound effects

Our other problem is that we don’t have the money to do adequate marketing, in general, or for individual performances. So, among other venues, we have been performing at libraries in Westchester, NY for two reasons. First, they do their own marketing and get their own audiences (usually 20-40 people). Secondly, they pay us! Not much but it more than covers our costs.

Sande in character

So we performed at a beautiful library in Mt. Kisco, NY a few weeks ago. One of our group members, Sande, invited eight friends to our performance. They arrived and we chatted with them while we waited for the rest of the audience from the library. Five minutes before the show. No one. Five minutes after we were scheduled to perform. No one. There are still only Sande’s eight friends in the audience.

Part of our Mt. Kisco performance

The library person who booked us apologized and admitted that they have trouble getting people to show up to any of their events. Now she tells us! At least their check cleared!

We went ahead with the performance anyway. The show must go on! It was demoralizing to have literally no one from the library or the town show up. But we gave it our all. It turns out that those eight people were an awesome, enthusiastic audience! In one piece, three women were laughing so hard they were crying. That is very gratifying to a performer! So it turned out to be a positive experience for everyone.

Another group of actors performing at Mt/ Kisco

Skip ahead a week. One of the women who was laughing uproariously was so impressed with us she told her friend about us. Her friend works at a New York Community Arts Council. That group has two theaters and has regular shows that draw large audiences.

They were excited to hear about us and immediately booked us for a show for next year in their 60 seat theater. They said they expected to fill the theater with no trouble. In addition, we’re getting paid more than twice what we get from the libraries pay us!

Sande and Tom acting up a storm!

So maybe we were meant to be in Mt. Kisco, despite the lack of audience. Our private show for Sande’s friends produced a wonderful and totally unforeseen result. A big positive for our group rose from the ashes of a less than successful show.

Kismet or Karma? Either way, we’ll take it!

A WORLD-SHARING EVENT – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Share Your World – April 9, 2018

Been anywhere recently for the first time?

Well yes, actually. We went to see VoiceScapes — the audio performance group of Tom and Ellin Curley. The show was at a library in New York. It was an audio performance and I got to be the photographer.

So, from loading the monumental amount of equipment to unloading it. Setting up. Rehearsing. Performing. Breaking down the set. Loading it all back into the car, then back to Connecticut.

I’m sure Ellin and/or Tom will write a bigger and better description of the event and maybe include some of the material. It was a lot of fun.

It was also something different and unique. Since I’m an audiobook devotee, I got to meet a few of the voices I have listened to and loved and watched them “do their thing.” It is always delicious to meet the people you admire.

It reminded me of a view Broadway shows with one or two actors doing the performance. This was five people. It was intimate — with a lot of laughter.

Along the road to Connecticut

We also had the wildest ride I ever remember where we experienced every form of weather — in a 3-1/2 hour drive which should have been 2 hours. From near-blizzard snow, to drenching rain, to sunshine, and glowing sunsets, we saw it all.

List three favorite book characters.

Impossible to name just three. I’ve read thousands of books and there are so many characters, I couldn’t imagine naming three– or even 103.

What is your favorite non alcoholic drink: hot or cold?

Real (not diet) Coke, with a bit of ice for a cold drink. Coffee, with a bit of half-and-half, for something hot.

Morning coffee is ready

You can’t choose hot OR cold. Coffee is the drink of the morning and Coke is an after dinner treat.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?

This was a good week for smiling. It was Garry’s birthday and we went to visit Ellin and Tom for the weekend. There was an event — a performance of Voicescapes on Garry’s birthday — which was Saturday, so we got to celebrate is birthday on Sunday instead.

A two-day birthday and a cake so delicious it would be hard to describe. A kind of crisp chocolate covering — not icing, more like melted chocolate that was then chilled to make is more chocolate. Chocolate cake with a pure whipped cream filling.

That was SO good!

Home again!

IT’S SHOWTIME! – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My audio theater group, VoiceScapes Audio Theater, has been performing live, one hour shows of short, original, contemporary pieces. We perform mostly at local libraries about an hour from our home.

Unloading
Down the ramp
Wheeling the box into the library

Libraries are a particularly good venue for us because two of our actors are popular, prolific, Audie Award winning book narrators, Barbara Rosenblat and Robin Miles. They are rock stars in the library and audio book worlds. So we get enthusiastic audiences of 30-40 people for each show.

Most important, we get the thrill of performing before a live audience!

Ellin Curley

I don’t perform because I am not an actor and we have professional actors who do all the acting. But I write most of the pieces we perform, along with my husband, Tom.

With the audience
Show time!

So I sit in the audience through the actual shows. It’s not the glamorous place to be. But I can’t tell you how awesome it is to feel the rapt attention of an audience and to hear wave after wave of laughter for something you have written. It’s an experience that is hard to describe. It’s beyond gratifying, approaching incredible!

But that’s the ‘sexy’ part of what we do. Nobody sees what goes on behind the scenes to get our show ready for prime time.

First, there’s the highly unglamorous task of packing up all our volumes of audio equipment. Microphones and mike stands, speakers, tons of wires to hook everything up, props like telephones, gaffers tape (of course), etc., etc. Tom has found canvas bags that fit most of the smaller items. These bags, along with eight bulky music stands, have to be brought up from the basement to the garage.

Barbara Rosenblat

Then we have to load the car. This is a highly precise and technical operation. Everything only fits if it’s all put in just right. We also have a giant ‘box’ that contains all the mixers and all the audio processing equipment. It’s on wheels but it weighs a ton. We have to jerry-rig ramps with pieces of wood to get this unwieldy piece of equipment up into the back of our SUV. This all takes plenty of blood, sweat and tears.

Once we arrive at our performance venue, the process has to be reversed. The giant box has to make it down the ramp and into the performance space. Everyone in the group chips in to help with all the unloading and setting up.

This involves dealing with lots of wires, which always seem to get tangled, no matter how careful you try to be. So untangling long expanses of wires is one of the most time-consuming aspects of the process. Once untangled, the wires all have to be plugged into and hooked up to the right mikes, speakers, outlets or whatever.

Once set up, all the equipment has to be tested and adjusted. If there’s more time before the show starts, we can squeeze in a quick run through of one or two of the more technical pieces.

The whole process, from arrival on site to show time, takes three hours! After the show, breaking everything down and packing it back up again, only takes about 45 minutes, with everyone helping out. It’s much faster to break down a complex set up than to get it up and running. Thank goodness!

L. J. Ganser and Robin Miles

After the show, the cast (and I ) get to go out for drinks and a late lunch or early dinner. Hanging out together is one of the best perks of doing live performances. It’s a great reward for all the hard work we put in to put on a show.

The cast – from left to right, Tom, Barbara Rosenblat, Ellin, Sue Zizza, Sande Sherr, and behind, Robin Miles and L.J. Ganser

Check out our website at https://www.voicescapesaudiotheater.com and hear some of our fully produced material. Go to our Facebook page and friend and follow us to keep up with what we’re doing as a group and as individual performers.