Sunday, July 29, 2012


Mark (Daniel Berryman) and Roger (Aaron C. Finley) in RENT at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Photo: Tracy Martin

Angel (Jerick Hoffer, center) and the company of RENT at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Photo: Mark Kitaoka

The company of RENT celebrates “La Vie Boheme” at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Photo: Mark Kitaoka
reviewed by Alec Clayton

More than fifteen years ago I began hearing raves about a Broadway musical called “Rent” because of my friendship with Steve Schalchlin, composer of another musical, “The Last Session,” which has many of the same fans. Living on the West Coast, I didn’t expect to be able to see it for ages, but the touring company brought it to Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. I was so very excited to go and so disappointed in the show. The sound was terrible. It was so painfully loud and distorted that I could not make out the lyrics, and since there is no spoken dialogue the lyrics are pretty much the whole damn show. I went home and borrowed a CD of the cast album and listened to it and thought, Ah hah! Now I know what all the fuss is about. The music was rocking, raw and in places unbelievably tender as the exuberant young cast sang about being young and poor and facing life and death at the end of the 20th century.

I didn’t get to see it again until 2010 when I reviewed it twice in one season, first at Tacoma Musical Playhouse and then at Capital Playhouse in Olympia. Both shows were great. They shared Best Musical honors with “Annie,” also at Capital Playhouse, in my Critic’s Choice column that year.

Now Seattle’s premiere musical theater, the 5th Avenue Theatre, is staging a new version of “Rent” with an all-local cast. We attended opening night and came away feeling as if for the first time we had witnessed something comparable to or maybe even better than what I had hoped to experience that first time back in the ’90s with “Rent” performed in a major performance space

Director Bill Berry made a point of casting young actors. In a program note he said that touring companies and many community theaters use 35-year-old actors even though the characters as written by Jonathan Larson are in their early 20s. Berry wanted to capitalize on that youthful energy with actors who are actually the ages they portray.

The cast is outstanding. My favorites were Aaron C. Finley as Roger and Naomi Morgan as Roger’s girlfriend, Mimi. Chemistry is overused as a term for the relationship between lovers on stage, but by God these two have it. From the electricity of their clashes to the tenderness of their longing for one another, they open up their hearts and share their pain with the audience, and they each have clear, strong voices that carry well on soft ballads and can be gritty on the hard-rocking songs. There is similar chemistry between Maureen (Ryah Nixon) and Joanne (Andi Alhadeff).

Berry’s casting decision brings up two interesting considerations. The first is that right here in the Puget Sound region we have a talent pool that, while not as deep, is just as talented as that in New York. There’s no need to go all the way across the country in search of talent.

The second consideration is how big a role expectations play in the enjoyment of a performance. For example, after seeing three staged performances and one film version of “Rent,” I expect certain characters, the drag queen Angel as a prime example, to look and act a certain way. In previous shows Angel was campier and so clearly a drag queen and so gay as to make Liberace look like Clint Eastwood. In this version, if you didn’t read the cast list or know in advance, you might think a woman was playing Angel. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who played the part on Broadway and in the film version, is from the Dominican Republic. I don’t know if the character was originally written in as Latino person of color, but that’s how I picture him in my mind. Juan Torres-Falc√≥n at Capital Playhouse and Thaddeus Wilson both fit that understanding on my part, and they each played it as high camp. Jerick Hoffer, who plays Angel at the 5th Avenue, wears a red-orange wig, has light skin and no visible trace of Latino cultural heritage. And he’s not so campy and I missed all the camp even if it was a little too stereotypical. In other words, my expectations may have kept me from enjoying Hoffer’s performance as much as I should have. He’s very good.

Highlights are, of course, those musical numbers that have been most memorable over the decades (fulfillment of expectations again): the wonderfully playful “Tango Maureen,” Maureen’s “Over the Moon,” the rocking ensemble of “La Vie Boheme” with dancing on the tables and Maureen mooning Benny (Logan Benedict), the beautiful “Seasons of Love” at the opening of the second act, Roger and Mimi’s touching “Without You,” and the breathtaking “I’ll Cover You” by Tom Collins (Brandon O’Neill).

Two actors familiar to South Sound theater-goers appear in the ensemble: Casey Raiha, who has appeared in many shows at Harlequin and Capital Playhouse, and Antonia Darlene, a star in many, many musicals in Olympia and Tacoma. Although an unnamed character, Darlene stands out in two scenes, first as a homeless person confronting Mark (Daniel Berryman) and then on her electrifying solo on “Seasons of Love.”

The staging of this production is outstanding. The set by Martin Christoffel and the lighting by Tom Sturge, are both stunning. In light of my mention of sound problems when the touring company came to Seattle, I should also mention that sound designer Kai Harada did an excellent job.

WHEN: Tues.-Wed at 7:30 p.m., Thurs. and Sat. 2 and 8 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sun. 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. through Aug. 19
WHERE: The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., Seattle
TICKETS: starting at $49
INFO:  or 888-5TH-4TIX or call the box office at 206-625-1900

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Dreamed a dream of painting

The Weekly Volcano blog Spew

by Alec Clayton

Champagne Summer, oil on canvas, 48" x 60"

Last night I dreamed a dream of painting. I had laid a large canvas on the floor, and I was down on my hands and knees drawing a jagged slash of vivid red across the canvas with a cattle marker. Cattle markers are a kind of oil stick (oil paint mixed with wax in a crayon form) that’s approximately the size and shape of a cucumber. Before I retired from painting these were my primary drawing/painting tools. I use the term “drawing/painting” because my method, quite often, was more like drawing than painting —slashing, scumbling, pushing the paint about with oil sticks and those cattle markers on canvas that was stapled to the wall or to a board on an easel or laid out on the floor. It had to be on a hard surface because stretched canvas is too springy and flexible and I pushed into the canvas with great force.
So that was what I was doing in my dream last night, pushing the waxy paint around on the canvas while I crawled about it on my hands and knees, worried about getting paint on my newly laid linoleum floor. Over and over I worked on this one section trying to get the texture and the edges of the jagged red stripe just right. At one point I decided that I needed a sharp, straight edge in one part of the stripe, so I got some masking tape and taped off a line about two feet long. Then I decide I needed to swipe the red across one area with a trowel. That’s something I used to do quite often when I was painting. I would squeeze out globs of oil paint from a tube or pour it from a can and then using a piece of wood or some kind of scraper as a trowel I would drag a swath of paint across an area of canvas. That created a look I could get no other way. In my dream I could not find a trowel because I had cleaned out my studio and gotten rid of all my painting tools (which, in fact, I have). But I went out into my garage and found an old triangular scraper of the type used to spread concrete, and that worked quite well on my painting.

And then I woke up, and I was exhausted but stimulated, slightly out of breath with a hint of angina. It was a little after four in the morning. I lay in bed for another hour or so unable to go back to sleep, thinking about my dream-painting experience.

I know why I had that dream. I had spent much of the day before looking through all of my old paintings, hundreds of them, some framed and hanging on my walls throughout the house and many more stacked against the wall in the large room that used to be my studio, and even more on unstretched canvases rolled up and stacked in a corner of our laundry room. I was taking inventory in preparation for a planned studio sale to get rid of paintings for which I no longer have storage space. Looking through all of the old pieces, many of which I had not seen in years, brought back memories of some 40 to 50 years as a working artist, and most vividly of the last 15 or so years in which I worked primarily in the manner described above.
I loved painting. I was obsessive about it. But the work was hard and it left me exhausted, as I was reminded when I awoke from a dream of painting and was worn out and overly stimulated. 

Ten years ago I had triple-bypass surgery. For a long time after that I was physically unable to work in my studio. For a while I tried doing digital art instead, but that did not satisfy my artistic urges. Four years later I tried to get back into painting because I had been offered a couple of one-person shows (2006 at Art on Center Gallery in Tacoma and 2007 at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia) and I felt like I should have a few new paintings. So during those two years I made about five new paintings. I used to do that many in a week. Among the new paintings were a large painting called “Champagne Summer” and a smaller one called “Parents of Narnia,” both of which represented a somewhat new approach to painting combining elements of the figure painting I had done back in the ‘80s with elements of my more recent abstract paintings.

Then for two years I didn’t make any more new paintings until I was asked to be in a four-person show at the Convention Center in Seattle, so I did one last painting to include in that show. It was little painting called “Lioness,” and it was the last painting I ever did. That was in 2009.

Lioness, oil on canvas, 31" x 24"
Parents of Narnia, oil on canvas, 21" x 25"

People ask me why I quit painting. They can’t conceive of a man who spent his whole life making art just giving it up. Well, there were many reasons. The physical strain, which I have already mentioned, was paramount. And then there was the mess. My god what I mess. My studio walls and floor were covered with paint. My clothes were covered in paint. Bits of the oil sticks I used would break off and if I wasn’t careful I’d step on them and then track them throughout the rest of the house. God! How hard it was to clean up that mess! I couldn’t even take a break and sit down on the couch without changing clothes. I had long since started using rubber gloves to protect my hands, but in the process of working on a single painting I would wear holes in the fingers and my fingers would then be paint-smeared and almost impossible to clean. Painting was just too much of a big production. Plus, I was spending much more of my time writing and writing satisfies whatever it is that drives me to create.

My studio, the biggest room in the house, was unusable other than as a place to stack old paintings against the wall. In order to make it livable we had to replace all four walls and put in a new floor. So here I am now, almost 70 years old with a big, beautiful but empty room at home; still alive and healthy 10 years after open-heart surgery, a retired painter and now freelance writer and novelist who paints only in my dreams and that extremely rarely.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Olympia’s Matter Gallery moves into new digs

The Weekly Volcano
The new Matter Gallery, photo by Bob Snell

Olympia's Matter Gallery, named Best Olympia Gallery two years in a row, has moved a few blocks to Washington Street in the old Capitol Theatre building, one block north of the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

It's a modest-sized space that is nicely laid out so that even though there is slightly less square footage than in their previous location it seems larger and there is actually more wall space. And it's a more colorful and lighter feel.

It's also a better location for foot traffic, as evidenced by the fact that in its first week it made twice what it made in the same week last year, according to owner Jo Gallaugher.

As before, the art in Matter is displayed in a salon fashion, not with revolving shows featuring a few artists but with works by many artists all crammed in as in an overstocked gift shop. (Matter's website lists "more than 100 artists creating sculpture, paintings, furniture, lighting, jewelry, garden art and metalwork.")

A majority of those artists work in some variation of found or recycled materials.

New artists to the Matter stable include Helvi Smith, Sheri Fox, Michelle Connolly and Dan Levin.
Smith's "Tower of Power" series comprises abstract paintings on canvas with repetitive "tower" contour shapes beneath a horizontal march of squares in bright yellow-green, orange, blue and yellow drawn with a Jackson Pollock-like drip technique. They're very colorful and decorative.

Fox is showing very interesting "8-Way Fraken Tiles," flat sculpted shapes in rusted metal connected by wires. They have a medieval or industrial look and can also be seen as something like corsets or other laced-up contraptions of torture. They're designed to be taken apart and rearranged and can be purchased either as individual tiles or the whole as a unit.

Connolly is showing a group of wall-hanging faces in painted metal with fascinating textures and interesting shape combinations. One of my favorites, called "The Hustler," looks like a long-necked woman a la Modigliani. Also by Connolly is an airy little contour drawing of a face in twisted wire.

Levin has a number of small metal and found-object sculptures, a few of which feature globes and have a steampunk feel. Like "Stratosphobia," which has a little doll hand reaching upward inside a clear glass globe and a toy airplane circling the globe as if circumnavigating the earth.

Among the old hands at Matter are George Kurzman and Pat Tassoni. Kurzman is showing a large series of small assemblages in painted wood, metal and found materials and globs of black that appears to be asphalt or tar but could be paint with sand mixed in. Most of these are abstract but some have recognizable subject matter. These are outstanding works of art. Tassoni's popular lamps made from found objects are nicely displayed on a tiered stand in a back corner. For those few who may still not be familiar with his lamps, nearly all of them look like variations on the Space Needle. They make me wish I needed a lamp.

Also on display are quirkily humorous clay figures by Nancy Thorne Chambers; some really fun paintings by Coco Edmunds, including perhaps my favorite in the whole gallery, "Wonder Sense," a whimsical painting of two tiny, shadowy figures lost in a maze of many colors; and one small abstract painting by Mian Carvin called "Our Changing World," which is a simple painting in tones of red, orange and green with a scraped and rubbed surface and a great antique pink and white picture frame.

[Matter Gallery, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 422 Washington St. SE, Olympia, 360.943.1760]

Friday, July 20, 2012

Animal Fire Theater’s Hamlet in the Park

Animal Fire Theater’s “Hamlet” in Priest Point Park is exciting. Opening night was especially exciting because just as the conflict in the play began building toward the climactic fight scene, thunder began rumbling and lightning strikes could be seen in the distance —a fitting end to a dramatic outdoor performance.

Shakespeare in the park is an honored tradition with performances all over the world by troupes both amateur and professional. Patrons bring lawn chairs or quilts to spread on the grass, and they bring food and beverages.  Mosquitoes and other distractions are to be expected, accepted and overlooked—bring repellant.  Sometimes there are even animals to contend with.

Writing in the Olympian, Molly Gilmore quoted director Austen Anderson: “You have weird interactions with animals when you spend enough time out here. Birds have flown right between two actors in the middle of a scene. We had a raven that kept hopping around the set last year; we had to keep shooing it away.” Anderson was referring to incidents during rehearsal and during Animal Fire Theater’s “A Midsummer Night's Dream” last summer.

There were no animals spotted during the opening night performance, but we did have to ignore the sound of traffic going by on East Bay Drive and at least one airplane overhead.

Promotional materials describe this “Hamlet” as raw, fast and energetic. The stage area was a strip of lawn with a wooden platform, steps going up on two ends, trap doors on top and rough curtains on the sides. Roughly constructed curtains in “the wings” hid actors, props and costuming from sight. Costuming was mostly contemporary.

If anything was lost due to the roughness of the sets and lack of sophisticated sound and lighting it was more than amply compensated for by energetic and passionate acting. No dialing it in with half-hearted performances from these troupers; they give it all they’ve got.

Jay Minton in the title role of Hamlet was astounding. He was funny, he was tragic. His madness and his cleverness were palatable. And he does a terrific voice when talking to Yorick’s skull.

Emily Donkin Jones was a marvelously expressive Ophelia. She came across alternately as flirtatious, pouty, and emotionally damaged.

Kate Arvin played Horatio with intensity. One slight problem was that in the opening scene I had a hard time clearly hearing her words despite the fact that she was practically screaming. Her passionate shouting seemed to overwhelm her enunciation, but that was only in the first scene. After that she was excellent. And it didn’t seem at all out of place that she and Korja Giles as Marcellus were playing the part of men.

Christian Carvajal —to my knowledge the most experienced actor in the cast — was strong and sure in the role of Hamlet’s detested “father uncle” King Claudius.

The only other actor in this cast that I was familiar with was Morgan Picton, recently seen as Napoleon, the militant leader of the pigs, in Olympia Family Theater’s “Animal Farm.” I described him in that show as blustery and proud with a loud and commanding voice. Much the same can be said of his performance in the triple roles of King Hamlet’s Ghost, the Player King and the Gravedigger. His is a commanding presence in each of these divergent roles.

“Hamlet” is considered by many to be Shakespeare’s greatest play. Indeed, many theater professionals consider it the greatest play ever written by anyone. The poetry, the drama, the humor, and the complexity of themes and characters certainly make for a terrific evening’s entertainment.

It is also a very long play, but here it has been stripped down to just about two hours with no intermission. In the Olympian article the director was quoted as saying: “We want to kind of strip Shakespeare down to its basic intentions, to its physical reactions. Shakespeare is very poetic, but poetry isn’t always that exciting to watch. You need the action. You need the characters in life or death situations, struggling against something.” I must say that the action was exciting; but so was the poetry, and I was glad to see that many of Shakespeare’s most profound and most enjoyable word play was left intact. I re-read “Hamlet” before going to see this show, and I didn’t miss any of the dialogue that was cut. The cutting was so skillful that unless you are a Shakespearean scholar you’d have to compare scripts side-by-side to even tell what was taken out.

I highly recommend this play.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. through Aug. 5 in Priest Point Park, Olympia (park in the lot by the playground and walk into the meadow behind the bathrooms).

I also recommend the Animal Fire Theater blog for insightful commentary.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Slice of summer at TCC

Two-person show embraces summer themes

"Deckside #2," by David J. Roholt
I really like Alain Clerc's paintings, although not so much the ones on the left as you enter the gallery at Tacoma Community College. He's in a new two-person show with David J. Roholt, who's work I do not like as much, except for a group on the right side wall in the back gallery including a couple called "Taper" and a wonderful painting called "Deckside #2," which is a kind of hybrid between Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" and some of Richard Diebenkorn's early work.
I've never seen works by either of these artists before, so it was a treat to visit this show.

Clerc's works are simplified still life paintings and landscapes and figures. Mostly still life compositions and mostly with bottles and plates and many, many, many watermelon slices rendered flat and highly stylized with minimal detail and very subtle brushwork. They are reductive to the point of being emblematic with just a few clues for recognizing the objects depicted. Tables, for instance, are flattened and viewed as if looking directly down from above, and the watermelon slices are crescents with dots to represent seeds.

The four paintings mentioned above, which are the first to greet visitors upon entering the gallery, are about the least interesting of the bunch. There's nothing particularly fascinating about his color choices or the arrangement of his bottles and potted plants and watermelon slices in these, and the flat paint application is boring. Every other Clerc painting is excellent, and perhaps none so much so as the very next painting after these four, the one that faces the front door. It's called "Passersby." Perhaps more than anything else in the show it conveys a sense of mystery, and there is a tremendous surface tension created by some very subtle but energetic brushwork within essentially flat areas of color. Similar brushwork is a hallmark of all of Clerc's best paintings in this show.

Whereas Clerc's paintings are flat in a Pop Art fashion, Roholt's are heavy with globs of impasto paint and gestural marks. He paints figures and scenes that practically disappear within his slashes of color. In some the paint is so dense as to look almost like a Jackson Pollock drip painting. This is the kind of stuff I normally like - all of this energy and richness of surface. But in most of Roholt's paintings it becomes too chaotic. An example would be the two figure paintings in the back gallery, each with a very similar single female nude in what could be a field of dense jungle foliage. In one the body is painted in natural flesh tones and in the other the body is painted with the same dark blues, greens and purples as the background. The one with the natural skin colors suffers from a cacophony of harshly contrasting colors; the other, which is almost a monotone, is a much better painting. You get the texture and the energy and see the figure without any of the clutter. His boat scenes and flowers in vases in the middle gallery suffer from the same kind of clutter.

By way of contrast, there is a group of paintings on the other side of the gallery of swimmers. You can't make out the figures, but you can see the splashes of water and the floats marking the swimming lanes. His frantic brushstrokes are held in check by a unity of direction and by restricting his colors to the blue-green side of the color scale. He creates the excitement of a race without being literal, and the near-monotone coloring helps unify the imagery. These are excellent paintings, as is another one called "Deckside #2," mentioned before, which has more color contrast, but the contrasting hues are confined within three large shapes. This may be the best of his paintings.

Among Clerc's best are "Pink Chair," a Matisse-like painting of two people in a pink chair, "Evening Swim," which employs a dramatic contrast between a big black shape and the blue of a swimming pool, and "Table With Centerpiece," a peach-colored table with a pink-on-pink color scheme and a watermelon slice. His color choices, composition and use of subtle surface markings in these paintings are masterful.

[Tacoma Community College, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Aug. 16, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma.]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Love Letters

What a lovely concept. Lakewood Playhouse is doing Love Letters by A.R. Gurney in August with nine performances by nine different two-person casts. As the name implies, it’s a love story, and what makes the Lakewood Playhouse production so neat is that it is being performed by actual loving couples, actors who met each other and fell in love while working in theater.

The first performance on Aug. 10 will feature Jen Davis & Alex Smith. Aug. 11 will be Jen Ankrum & Blake York, the matinee on the 12th will be with Sharry O’Hare & Micheal O’Hara. The Aug. 17 show will be with Stephanie & Jerod Nace, Aug. 18 with Terri & Robert Puett, the 19th with Aya & Randy Clark, the 24th with Samantha Camp & Bruce Story, the 25th with Rachel & Alan Wilkie, and finally on the 26th, Bethany Bevier & Nic Olson.

All tickets are $15. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday.  Obviously there will be much more than your own schedule to consider when deciding which show to attend. Already many friends on Facebook are talking about going to multiple performances.

BOX OFFICE at (253) 588-0042

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph (Matthew Posner) and cast. Photo by Kat Dollarhide

reviewed by Alec Clayton
The News Tribune, July 13, 2012

The 10th anniversary revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse boasts some fun twists on the original. In a curtain speech Artistic Director Jon Douglas Rake said that Rice and Webber had used bits from “Joseph” in many of their other musicals over the years, so TMP decided to throw in references to many of their other shows, such as “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera” in this one. The changes are not in the lyrics or the story – they remain unchanged, but in staging, costuming and some of the dance moves.

Such changes are in keeping with the style and spirit of the original, which already includes parodies of earlier Broadway musicals such as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (in the country song “One More Angel in Heaven”) and of pop culture figures such as Elvis, the king of rock. In this version we also get a glimpse of the king of pop, Michael Jackson, and a bit of Bollywood and many other little surprises.
Joseph (Matthew Posner) and cast. Photo by Kat Dollarhide

This show has been a crowd pleaser throughout its history because it retells a popular Bible story and because of its tongue-in-cheek mix of musical genres from calypso to bubblegum rock to country, it has never been one of my favorites. In comparison to Rice and Webber’s other Biblical musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” it is a silly little frothy confection. But this version is enjoyable. The cast and crew do a commendable job.

Cherity Harchis is outstanding as the narrator. She has a powerful and beautiful voice and assumes the role with earnestness. And Matthew Posner, who has probably never turned in a less than excellent performance in his career, shines as Joseph. He sings up a storm. The ensemble, the youth ensemble, and the many actors who get brief solos in the parts of Joseph’s many brothers are all great. Almost any one of the brothers could fill a leading role competently. F. James Raasch as Rueben is particularly fun to watch and listen to on the delightful “One More Angel…” and Mikey Dela Cruz throws himself into “Benjamin Calypso” with great energy.

On the downside, Andrew Fry seemed a bit wooden as Jacob and Potiphar, at least in part because a bad fake beard hides his facial expressions; and Steve Barnett’s over-the-top Elvis impersonation just didn’t get it. To be fair, that part is so ridiculous that hardly anybody can pull it off. Also on the downside were the wigs worn by Joseph and Jacob. Otherwise the costuming and makeup was great and added to the campy feel.

The highlight of the show for me was the “Canaan” song done with French berets and a parody of a Parisian music hall singing style (think Maurice Chevalier), and a prop so funny that I can’t describe it without spoiling the fun. And there is a French-style Apache dance interlude in the middle of this number that is spellbinding, featuring Arthur Cuadros, Kristin Burch and Stephanie Graham (I’m told Graham did it with a broken bone in her hand).

TMP is known for their big production numbers pulled off with style thanks to Rake’s direction and choreography, sets by Will Abrahamse and lighting by John Chenault. This production is no exception. So if you’re in the mood for a light and uplifting musical with lots of laughter to see “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through July 26.
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$27
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

Friday, July 13, 2012

What is Ghost Writing – Is it Wrong?

by guest blogger Karen Cole

Karen Cole

Does it matter that a celebrity autobiography was not actually written by the celeb, or that a fiction writer is taking credit for a book someone else wrote from her plot outline? In other words, what about the ethics of ghost writing - and just how much of the work is done by the ghost and how much by the named author?

When it comes to ghost writing, a lot of people think that there is something illegal or otherwise wrong about hiring a professional writer to work on their memoirs or other works. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with it. Every state in the USA has laws regarding “work for hire” projects, which is what ghost writing entails. It’s legal all through the United States and all over the world, as far as I’m aware. So it doesn’t matter whether or not a book is penned by the author listed on the cover, or if it is even entirely written by someone else.

This certainly applies fully to celebrities as well, although the media doesn’t seem to believe it, serving up steaming plates of how terrible it is that so-and-so didn’t write their own book, screenplay or rap music lyrics. This happens all too frequently, and the truth is that hiring a ghost writer is the same as hiring a mechanic to work on your car. It’s still your car, and you own all of its parts and the body of the car, keeping all rights to it, but you are hiring someone else to do the work and repairs on it. I wish people would get it, that ghost writing is no different than hiring someone to do work for you on a regular or intermittent basis is – it’s simply a “work for hire” project in all cases.

Also, in the case of fiction writers and others, a lot of people simply don’t have the time, the inclination or the professional talents of a paid professional writer. So writing a book from a plot outline or any writing, tapes or interviews supplied by the author client is perfectly legal and all right to do. The ethics of ghost writing are legally sound, and it just doesn’t matter how much work is done by the ghost writer and how much of it is done by the named author client of the ghost writer.

And usually a legal contract is signed regarding this, in cases where a lot of money is involved and also where the client wants to ensure that they keep the full copyrights to all of the material, whether it’s created by the client or the ghost writer. So the idea isn’t to lie, cheat or steal here; it’s to create solid writing and editing work that involves the client’s original ideas, plus any new ones and new material supplied by a paid professional writer - who can work the material into the right “shape” to make it much more marketable and saleable. Nowadays, publishing is a hard industry to enter, so having a professional writer prepare your work really assists you in a lot of cases. The better the ghost writer you hire, the more likely that your work will be properly reviewed by a book or literary agent, and finally picked up by a commercial publisher.

Karen Cole is Executive Director at Ghost Writer, Inc - ghost writing,  professional marketing, promotions, sales and publishing.

Note from Alec: I'd love to hear from readers what you think about these ideas.