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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    The Opera Lively Serial Novel Project

    Back in my college teaching days, I had my students write serial novels. Each person would contribute a chapter, one after the other, letting the story develop freely. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. But it was always an interesting challenge.

    I thought we might write our own opera-related serial novel. I know most of us aren't professional authors, but we all enjoy writing (or we wouldn't be here). Anyway, this type of collaborative method isn't intended to produce a masterpiece. But with such a bright group of people, we may come up with something fun and memorable. So take a chance and join in!

    The guidelines are simple: each chapter should develop already given characters, plots, and themes; provide exciting new interest of its own; and create opportunities for future writers. Make your own distinct contribution, but honor the conventions established in previous chapters.

    The novel can become as long as we want. You can write more than one chapter, but let a few others have their turn before you jump back in. Let's try to keep these chapters anywhere between 500 and 1,500 words.

    I've offered a first installment below. If you're interested in participating, write a short post reserving the second (or third, or fourth) chapter for yourself, so we don't have people working on the same chapter simultaneously. Once it's your turn, try to add your contribution within three days.

    * * *

    To make things easier for our authors, I'll provide a running synopsis of the novel as the story unfolds:

    Chapter 1 (Amfortas): Francesca Crivelli, the finest Tosca of her generation, is planning to give up opera for her lover, the tenor Marcello Gui. As the two give their final performance at the Memorial, an American regional opera house, Francesca contemplates the people who will be upset by her choice (her mother, her voice teacher, her agent) and those she will be happy to leave behind (the surly old conductor, the fat slob of a Scarpia, Marcello's jealous wife). She worries that her final stage fall is unsafe, and recalls a strange, silent stagehand. After the performance, Francesca is horrified to find that Marcello has actually been shot dead onstage. In the confusion, no one notices that the corpse holds a note with the words, "Come Palmieri."

    Chapter 2 (AnaMendoza): Police detective Joe Green, who knows nothing about opera, investigates the scene of the crime. He talks to the company's general manager, who insists that every precaution was taken, and is more worried about losing his dream cast for Saturday's upcoming Opera Goes to the Movies broadcast. Green and his female partner interview the firing squad extras one by one, and learn that anyone could have tampered with the rifles and replaced the blanks with real bullets. An extra named Zach mentions a man who directed them to shoot the lady. As Green takes a walk down one of the hallways, he finds a photograph of a man with his hand stuck inside the jacket of his old-fashioned uniform.

    Chapter 3 (Aksel): The great Baroque mezzo-soprano Amelia Wells gives what she claims is her last performance, in Dido and Aeneas, at the Lyric theater. Drinking from a prop bottle of poison, she feels dizzy during her final lament. After the show, General Manager Nathaniel Robertson is displeased with the performance, but even more so when singer Jennifer Graves cries out that Wells has died onstage. Robertson orders the curtain closed and announces the arrival of the police.

    Chapter 4 (Amfortas): Soprano Helga Graunstadt, in her final performance as Brünnhilde at the Grand Opera House, dies leaping onto a pyre secretly rigged with a flame thrower. Detective Alberto Risi, an avid opera fan, brushes off a tactless remark by one of the police officers at the scene. He then gets a call from Detective Green, who in turn has heard from Detective Karen Lindstrom investigating the Amelia Wells murder. Green points out the pattern of opera singers murdered during their final performances. Risi, troubled by Green mentioning Francesca Crivelli and the photograph of the man in the old-fashioned uniform, says that he has something to tell the other two detectives.

    Chapter 5 (Aksel): The three detectives meet in Risi's cluttered office. Risi identifies the photograph as his uncle, Giovanni Risi, a descendent of Napoleon who starred nearly twenty years ago in a Paris production of a new opera about his famous ancestor--and died of a heart attack during the final performance. Risi can't understand why the photograph would be at the Memorial, a theater where his uncle never sang, though he did sing at the Lyric early in his career. Green mentions the man who told the firing squad extras to shoot the lady, causing Risi to wonder if Francesca was the real target in that killing. The detectives agree to further question those involved.

    Chapter 6 (CountessAdele): Several days after the murders, which the local media calls accidents, soprano Linda Freeman plans to tell Detective Lindstrom something her friend Amelia Wells had confided shortly before her death. She also contemplates a frightening secret admirer who has been sending her flower arrangements wherever she goes. As Linda goes onstage to sing Constanza in The Abduction from the Seraglio, a role she is about to give up because of pregnancy, she herself is abducted, but manages to stab her assailant with a hair pin. Detective Lindstrom learns about the kidnapping and the bloody pin from Linda's manager, Susan Parker, and informs the other two detectives.

    Chapter 7 (Amfortas): Linda wakes up in a stone-walled room filled with flowers. Her captor, a white-haired young man named John in a tuxedo, cape, and domino mask, says he loves her and abducted her to save her from the killer. Meanwhile Detective Risi looks in on Francesca, who has been ordered to keep performing despite her fears. He tells her that regardless of their past together, he still loves her. Green and Lindstrom enter, with a photo of Amelia Wells's poisoner, a muscular man in his forties with grey eyes and a shaved head. Risi recognizes him as the tactless police officer from the Graunstadt murder. He realizes he may soon have to reveal more of what he knows about the descendants of Napoleon.

    Chapter 8 (CountessAdele): John invites Linda to a candle-lit dinner in his stony lair. He tells her he has been following her career for a long time; Linda wonders how he knew she was the killer's next target. John asks about the father of Linda's unborn baby, becoming increasingly irate, and finally violent, as he demands the man's name. As Linda hurries back to her room, she is accosted by the shaven headed man, who orders John to keep an eye on her. Alone in her room, Linda contemplates the keys she stole from John.

    Chapter 9 (Amfortas): The Opera Goes to the Movies live broadcast of Tosca goes on as planned. Detective Risi, along with his colleagues, keeps a nervous watch on Francesca. Robert Freeman, Linda's half-brother from overseas, demands results in the investigation. Risi asks if he is the father of Linda's child; Freeman is evasive. Meanwhile Linda, trying to escape, stumbles on John playing the piano; his strange sadness touches her, leading to a passionate kiss. But the shaven headed man, who is John's father, rails against corruption of the bloodline and drags Linda away. Back at the theater, Francesca stabs Bruzzini, her Scarpia, only to discover that the knife is real; the man dies before her eyes.

    Chapter 10 (Countess Adele): As the shaven man manhandles Linda, he challenges John to stop him, but the latter meekly submits to his father. The villain drags Linda to her room, then begins choking her. Just as she is about to die, Linda draws the dinner knife from his pocket and stabs him in the chest. Outside, John hears signs of a struggle. Entering the room, he finds his father lying dead. Furious, he grabs Linda and the knife, then stabs her in the back and watches her die. Promising not to disappoint his father, he prepares for the live Tosca broadcast.

    Chapter 11 (Amfortas): At the Memorial, Risi explains to the other detectives that Robert Freeman is not the father of Linda's baby. He reveals that the shaven killer, Marius Walewski, is from a line of bastard descendants of Napoleon who hate other branches of the family. Twenty years ago, Marius's father Sebastian murdered Risi's uncle Giovanni during a performance of an opera about the emperor. Risi is certain that Francesca, also a descendant of Napoleon, will be a target when she appears as Adriana Lecouvreur, a role created by her famous ancestor, the actress Rachel. Green suggests using her as bait to trap the killer. As they speculate on the unstable John Walewski's involvement, a package arrives containing Linda Freeman's severed head.

    Chapter 12 (Almaviva): Shaken by the grisly package, Karen Lindstrom asks Detective Green to escort her home. Meanwhile a man hiding a bleeding stomach wound under his overcoat makes his desperate way through the city. In the cab ride, Green's comforting of Lindstrom quickly becomes erotic. On the subway, the wounded man, barely alive, recalls the aria from Werther he sang to great acclaim onstage. Green and Lindstrom arrive at the latter's apartment and begin serious lovemaking. A buzz at the door interrupts them. They go downstairs to find the bleeding man collapsed at the front entrance. Just before he dies, he warns them that Detective Risi is not what he appears.

    Chapter 13 (Aksel): On the outskirts of the city, a rich elderly man is surprised by a visit from John Walewski. Calling the man his master, John announces that Francesca Crivelli will soon be taken care of. The master says that one other person will then remain to be dealt with, but refuses to give any more information. John announces that he murdered Linda Freeman because she killed his father; the master is displeased to learn of her kidnapping and death, and of her head being sent to the police. He angrily dismisses John, then orders a servant to kill the young man.

    Chapter 14 (Amfortas): The detectives watch Francesca perform in Adriana Lecourveur, having made sure that no one can come near the prop violets to poison them. Nevertheless, Francesca is taken ill after she kisses the flowers. Risi tells Green that she has been saved by a special anti-toxin lipstick; now they can let the killer think she is dead and keep her safe in seclusion. Risi figures out that the poison was dripped down from above; looking up, he sees a grinning John Walewski on the catwalk. As he cries out in alarm, Risi is arrested by Green for the murder of tenor Philippe Duchamp, who had said that Risi is not what he seems. Risi admits that he has a secret, but not what Green thinks. A pleading voice from up above cries out that he did what the master wanted; there are sounds of a struggle on the catwalk, and then a man—not John Walewski—falls crashing to the stage floor.

    Chapter 15 (Vesteralen): The rich elderly man, Antonio (Tony) Forli, explains to his aunt Caterina how he was behind all the deaths, employing killers with their own Napoleonic motives to throw the police off the true goal of revenge on Francesca. Tony has captured John Walewski, planning to give his body to the police, and is confident that his dead servant Ricardo won't be recognized by his old enemy, Detective Risi. Later Caterina tearfully reads a letter from her granddaughter Beatrice, a young singer who, rather than submit to demands to perform Tosca in the nude, gave up the role to Francesca and committed suicide.
    Last edited by Amfortas; August 26th, 2013 at 01:46 PM.

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  3. #2
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Chapter 1


    "Ah! Morto! Morto!"

    She knelt by the bullet-riddled body, weeping uncontrollably.

    "O Mario . . . morto . . . tu . . ."

    The firing squad had marched off, leaving her alone with her fallen lover.

    "Così. . . . Finire così!"

    As she paused in her lament, she placed her mouth close to his ear and whispered:

    "Remember this, bastardo?"

    She gave his behind a playful squeeze, so the audience couldn't see. In rehearsals, it always sent him into hysterical giggles, and they would end up rolling on the stage floor in each other's arms.

    "Così? . . . Povera Floria tua!"

    But she had tried that trick once too often. This time he managed to maintain his composure. She knew she was wicked to do it during a performance, and he would spank her for it later, back in his hotel room. She would make sure he did.

    Not that any of it mattered, of course. Not after tonight.

    Confused voices sang offstage.

    "Ah!" . . . "Vi dico pugnalato!" . . . "Scarpia?" . . . "Scarpia."

    That was her cue. Francesca rose and made her way upstage, preparing for her final plunge. The voices were closer now.

    "La donna è Tosca!"

    In a moment they would enter from stage left, pursuing her. Only a few more seconds left. And then, nothing would ever be the same.

    "Che non sfugga!"

    Already in her brief career, Francesca Crivelli had been hailed as the greatest Tosca of her generation, perhaps the best since Callas. But after tonight, that was all over. The driving ambition, the international opera scene, the constant grind of travel. She would give it all up—she and Marcello--for love.

    How many people would be made unhappy by her choice? Her mother, no doubt. And her sweet little old voice teacher. Her agent would never understand. Of course not—she was his meal ticket. But she was tired of living for others. Vissi d'arte? Fine, for a while. But in the end, she wanted to look back and say, "vissi d'amore."

    Spoletta and Sciarrone made their entrance right on cue, pointing up at her.

    "Attenti agli sbocchi delle scale!"

    Horns and strings collided; the orchestra was out of synch, as usual. All because of the maestro, that senile, surly old taskmaster. Good riddance to him as well. And to that fat slob of a Scarpia who groped her throughout the second act.

    Climbing the stairs, she stole a glance out at the house. Somewhere out there, in that darkness, Marcello's jealous wife sat watching. That bitch would be furious when she found out he was leaving her. But there was nothing she could do about it.

    She reached the top of the angular, transparent tower. How she hated these eccentric "regie" directors. This one wanted her fall to be spectacular, breathtaking. But it was also dangerous. Earlier today she had noticed the padded mats down below weren't in their proper place--she would just miss them. Naturally, she had thrown a huge fit about it. But that strange, silent stagehand who always made her uneasy had merely nodded and walked away.

    Now, looking down, she couldn’t see anything below her. All was dark backstage. Had the mats been positioned properly?

    Spoletta bleated out his impotent threat:

    "Ah! Tosca, pagherai ben cara la sua vita!"

    Still unsettled about the mats, she called back by rote.

    "Colla mia!"

    Something wasn't right. This wasn't as they had rehearsed it. But she couldn't worry about that now. Her cue had come. She turned and cried out her defiance:

    "O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!"

    The music surged. Summoning her courage, she flung herself into the void . . .

    * * *

    As the final chords blared, the audience erupted in applause. The curtain came down, and all was sudden bustle behind the scenes.

    Francesca, rearranging her dress, made her way to center stage.

    "OK, I was a naughty girl. I apologize. Now get up." She smiled, giving him a playful kick.

    But Marcello didn't move. She looked at him more closely. Along with all the stage blood covering his shirt, something thicker, deeper, darker seeped out of a very real hole in his chest.

    "Oh no! Oh Dio!"

    She flung herself over him, trying to will him back to life.

    The curtain rose. At first the audience was taken aback by the unexpected tableau. Then, pleased by the novel curtain call, they broke into even more boisterous applause.

    "Brava! Brava!"

    As the cries rained down, Francesca wailed over the lifeless form.

    "Marcello! Marcello! Dead! Dead!"

    A crowd of extras and stagehands gathered around her. They stood awkwardly, uncertain what to do.

    In the commotion, no one noticed the small note clutched in the victim's right hand:

    Come Palmieri.

  4. #3
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Oh! My! God! This is quite spectacular, Amfortas. The problem is, I wouldn't ever be able to match this. While I actually am a published author in my field, it's technical language (a textbook), and I don't think I'm any good at writing fiction. So, sorry, I can't contribute. I'd rather continue to read with delight. I'm kind of curious to keep reading... go on with your story, please, it's up to an excellent start! Oh well, if we had our old buddy Alan from TC still here (he quit due to health-related reasons), he'd be able to write as well as you do... But I'm afraid I'm not up to this level at all, and I wonder if anybody else here is - because you're quite good with words and humor... Anyway, maybe Aksel? Aramis? We do have some creative types here... but wow, the level of quality you have impacted on your first chapter is hard to match.

    If people can jump in and do as well, it will be great... but if not, please continue to write your novel!!!
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); February 25th, 2012 at 02:49 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  5. #4
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Aw, thanks. But I don't mean to scare people off. I tried to write lively chapter to kick things off, but it doesn't mean that others have to come up with something just like it. Now that we've had a dramatic opening, we can take time to introduce characters, add complications, raise and answer questions. The possibilities are endless, and none of them are wrong.

    That's the idea, anyway. So I hope someone will take the plunge and write Chapter 2. Once the ice is broken, hopefully more and more people will feel like joining in.

    They better . . . because right now I have *no* idea how I'd continue the story!

  6. #5
    Senior Member Involved Member AnaMendoza's Avatar
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    Wow! I'd love to try, but I don't know if I'm capable of it. My mind's a blank. Okay--let's do a bit of pep talking here...let's look at the rules.

    1: develop already given characters, plots, and themes;
    Well, there are definitely plenty to be developed!

    2: provide exciting new interest of its own;
    Um, I dunno about that.

    3: create opportunities for future writers.
    That's simple. It simply means you can't kill off ALL the characters in one installment.

    hmmmm

  7. #6
    Senior Member Involved Member AnaMendoza's Avatar
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    Okay, I'll go for it. My installment due early on Monday the 27th?

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  9. #7
    Member Member desiree's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amfortas View Post
    Chapter 1
    I anxiously await the next chapters!

  10. #8
    Senior Member Veteran Member Aksel's Avatar
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    I'll do the third chapter. This sounds like a totally awesome project!

    EDIT: How do you guys feel about rather implausible links to the Illuminati and/or descendants of Napoleon?

  11. #9
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aksel View Post
    I'll do the third chapter. This sounds like a totally awesome project!

    EDIT: How do you guys feel about rather implausible links to the Illuminati and/or descendants of Napoleon?
    Good, as long as a character named, erm... La Bellissima comes on top at the end.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  12. #10
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Just checked in. We've got some takers. Woohoo!

    Thanks for the response, guys. So now we've got AnaMendoza down for Chapter 2, and Aksel for Chapter 3.

    Try for a three-day turnaround if you can, if only because we're all eager to see what you come up with. But don't get anxious if it looks like you'll run a little over--this is supposed to be for fun!

    These are *your* chapters, so take the story in whatever direction you like. This early on, a second or third chapter doesn't even need to have any clear relation to the first one--the connection can be worked out by later writers. Ideally, you don't want your contribution to feel like a completely different style or fictional universe. But that still leaves you a lot of freedom!

    Thanks again for stepping up to the plate, and happing writing!

    [By the way, we all remember that "Come Palmieri" is also a line from Tosca, right? Just checking!]
    Last edited by Amfortas; February 25th, 2012 at 04:51 PM.

  13. #11
    Banned Top Contributor Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amfortas View Post
    [By the way, we all remember that "Come Palmieri" is also a line from Tosca, right? Just checking!]
    Yes, Scarpia sent it to Palmieri and Palmieri wrote back "ok, I'll come".

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  15. #12
    Senior Member Involved Member AnaMendoza's Avatar
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    Chapter 2



    Judging from the general manager's explanations, this was a terrible accident that could not possibly have happened. Detective Green listened with great patience. Evidently, all imaginable precautions were taken, and the idea was so ridiculous that no precautions would even have been needed. The Rorschach-blot shaped stain of blood on the stage floor in front of them was a reminder that something had happened.

    Green changed the subject, or so he thought. "You say she jumped from there?" He pointed up at the top of the oddly skewed tower. "Wouldn't that be dangerous?"

    "Absolutely ridiculous! We have endless safety precautions. That fuss she raised today, well, you know how temperamental great artists are." Detective Green nodded companionably. He was a good listener, as several murderers could have attested. The general manager's voice trembled as he went on. "It was a dream team. The finest Tosca, Scarpia, Cavaradossi, any opera house could have assembled. That's why they chose us for the Opera Goes to the Movies broadcast. We may be a regional company, but our productions are world-class."

    His voice trembled even more. "And it's next Saturday! What am I going to do?"

    Green didn't particularly care what the general manager was going to do. He had a firing squad to interview.



    By the time he was halfway through with the firing squad, he was feeling rather depressed about the future of America, if it lay in the hands of kids like these. College kids seemed to get younger every year, he'd noticed, and, to be fair, people don't show to their best advantage when they know that they've just killed someone famous--this Marcello seemed to have been famous.

    His partner poked her head around the door. "Time to bring the next one in, Joe?" He nodded.

    The next one was named Zach, and he was an extremely unprepossessing specimen, with thick glasses and pimples sprouting from between the hairs of an extremely sparse attempt at a beard. He probably didn't usually bite his nails, but he was making an exception this evening.

    "It was Josh's idea. He says he likes theater, and he applied to be a summary this year."

    "A summary?"

    "Someone who just stands around on stage and doesn't sing. They told him they needed a..." Josh gulped. "A firing squad, and he said he could get us--we're in ROTC, so we'd know how to handle guns." He took a deep breath and went on. "And it couldn't have happened!"

    Green had figured out by now that it couldn't have happened. Enough people had told him that.

    "I mean, we loaded them! It was a sealed box of blanks!"

    "After you loaded them, did you march straight onstage?" Green already knew the answer.

    "No sir, we left them there while we got our uniforms on."

    "Did anything unusual happen, before you got on stage?"

    "No sir, but we were a bit confused. You see, we were last minute replacements--I don't know what went wrong. So they told us where to go, and when we were walking up there, Carlos whispered to me, 'Wait a minute, do we know who we're supposed to shoot?' I thought it'd be obvious, or they'd have told us, but I asked a guy we ran into in the hall. He sort of smirked, and said 'Shoot the girl. The opera's named Tosca, and she's Tosca.' And as soon as we got down the hall, Josh whispered that he must have been kidding, we were supposed to shoot the guy."

    Zach's face filled with sudden irrational horror. "Did we shoot the right person?"

    "I don't know," Green said. "I don't know opera either."



    With many more interviews to go, Green felt a sudden desire to stretch his legs for a moment. Down the hallway to the corner and back should get the blood flowing to his brain again. Halfway down the hall, he leaned over and picked up a photograph--a picture of a man, slightly pudgy for his elaborately epauletted uniform, his hand tucked inside his jacket like someone saying the Pledge of Allegiance on a cold day. He shrugged. "Probably costume design for one of their shows," he thought.

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  17. #13
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Yay! Chapter 2 is in the can! The investigation is under way, and detective Joe Green (!) is on the case! Thanks, AnaMendoza. Now Aksel, it's up to you!

    We still need takers for Chapter 4 and beyond. If you're enjoying this project so far, please consider making a small contribution--to the novel itself! You don't have to write a long chapter, just something to advance the story, in whatever direction you like. One thing to consider: if you don't feel secure writing a chapter on your own, you can team up with another forum member, brainstorm ideas together.

    Let's keep the story rolling, folks!

  18. #14
    Senior Member Veteran Member Aksel's Avatar
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    Yay!
    Chapter three will probably be up on Thursday, or something. I'm in the middle of rehearsing a scene from Beckett's play Endgame, so the schedule's a bit stuffed. But I'll pack it in there.

  19. #15
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aksel View Post
    Yay!
    Chapter three will probably be up on Thursday, or something. I'm in the middle of rehearsing a scene from Beckett's play Endgame, so the schedule's a bit stuffed. But I'll pack it in there.
    Great Aksel, we'll all look forward to it!

    Are you in a production of the play? In an acting class? Which character are you playing? Do you get to sit in a trash can?

    I must know these things.

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