Stephen Foster and Chuck Pelletier
We like to think we have a pretty cool duo here at Fusion with myself and Steve…however joining us in The Green Room today is a duo that really have been a huge catalyst in our love for what we do. Charles (Chuck) Pelletier & Stephen Foster. Welcome!
Now the last time we saw you both wasn’t too long ago back at our Warsaw Festival in November 2019. The world has changed a lot since then. How have you both been keeping? And have you found that the time inside has fuelled your creativity or halted it?
Stephen: Thank you so much Dan & Steve for treating us and our film “That’s Opportunity Knocking” with such high regard. The feeling is mutual, indeed. Well, this awkward, weird time has forced me to go deep within and create new and hopefully better plans. I’ve been creating websites and trying to rebrand and organize our work to further our brand as writers/actors/directors.
It is fair to say that when you have a project you fully immerse yourselves into it. Firstly to Chuck. How do you find the process of writing a script to then writing a song, what comes more natural to you?
Chuck: No one has ever asked me that, which is strange, because it is SUCH a great question. Writing a song is much, much more natural for me. My grandfather was a published lyricist in Boston, my father wrote songs, and my older sister had an acoustic guitar and wrote songs the whole time I was growing up. And all of them were actually very good at it. My sister used to write songs around the house, the way other sisters play board games, or talked on the phone. It was just part of what the family did. So from an early age, junior high I guess, I started writing humorous, parody lyrics, and was known around my school for it. I started writing songs in high school. I still pick up the guitar at least once a day, and still ideas just come out. Scripts are very different. Script ideas come to me while I’m daydreaming, while driving or laying down or doing something mundane. But that’s the easy part, just the beginning of a long, long hard process of rewrites upon rewrites. And I often write with Stephen, because the process is so much harder than a song. Song writing I generally do alone.
Now to Stephen, in Warsaw you had your pen and notepad open whenever I saw you- is your process free and flexible when it comes to creativity or do you need to get in the zone and stay there until complete?
Stephen: Dan, you caught me! You told my secret to the world. Yes, I do take an old-fashioned notebook with me everywhere and plenty of pens. Leonardo da Vinci kept his notebooks, and I keep mine. Anais Nin said, “Keep a notebook and one day it will keep you!” I write 80% of all my first drafts by hand. I edit and add as I move it to the computer. I’m a travelling writer. I never wait for inspiration, I write regardless of my “mood.” I write to process my creative “junk.” In fact, what you caught me writing on those days in Warsaw was the difficulty of a creative project that had taken a toll on me professionally and privately. I’m in the rough draft stages of a book about creative challenges. It might be called “Creative Differences” or if something magic happens, I might not finish it!
So, no, I don’t have to be in the zone, I’m a write-whenever-you-can kind of guy, but I do tend to finish a project and move on to the next. I don’t like to work on more than one writing project at a time.
You both have so much fun with everything you do- could you ever imagine doing something gritty and serious?
Stephen: I actually think of myself as a serious actor/writer but because I’m 5 feet tall and have a goofy voice, it always looks and sounds funny.
Chuck: Stephen never fails to make me laugh as an actor, and we just love writing comedy. I can’t imagine doing anything serious. Life is serious. Life is hard. Who needs more of that?
Stephen tell us a bit about your process and reasons for publishing your wonderful DIY survival guide for actors ‘Awakening the Actor Within’?
Stephen: ‘Awakening the Actor Within’ came about because in college I got seriously damaged as an actor. I worked my ass off and NEVER got cast. I went to a college that had a “professional” theatre attached to it so they produced shows and cast much of the leads from people outside of the school instead of the students. They used students for “grunt” work: lights, sound, stage management, costumes! I quit college and stopped acting. No one took me under their wing and told me I was funny. In fact, I was studying “serious” acting technique (Uta Hagen) and stuff like Shakespeare, Chekov and Ibsen and it never felt “right” to me. I should have been studying Woody Allen or Carol Burnett. I met my pal Scott Wilkerson, and he got started asking me questions, and I would respond as Judy Garland, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Karen Carpenter and Elaine Stritch. One thing led to another, and we somehow wrote, directed and produced a 2 man 4 diva show called “Divanalysis.”
So much for giving up acting! That put me on track and through that show new doors opened, I did tons of theater, tried to work as a legit actor in Hollywood in commercials and films. Through it all, I made notes on my progress. Kept track of what worked for me and handed those tools to actors as I met them at auditions and rehearsals. I eventually put everything together into a workbook for actors to put themselves through an acting training program that would move and change with them as they grew as artists. It’s very user-friendly and helpful especially if an actor has been wounded and damaged.
Could you both ever see yourself bringing a new publication to life as a joint venture? Do you feel that you are always learning in this industry?
Chuck: Writing a book sounds like a lot of work to me. I think I’ll leave that to Stephen. He’s up at 5 AM every morning at his desk with pen in hand. That’s Ernest Heming”way” too early for me. I’m always learning, and always challenging myself, but right now filmmaking is the craving.
Stephen: Before Chuck & I created “That’s Opportunity Knocking” we wrote screenplays and pilots that won screenplay contests, but were never made. After they get produced, it might be fun to publish them in a volume of some sort. The computer age has made all this feasible.
Now to the moment of possible confusion- this could all feel a little bit like ‘Inception’…. So we are in our Green Room, yet you also have your own version of ‘The Green Room’!! Tell us about your wonderful Off-Broadway musical and the processes behind bringing it to life?
Stephen: I believe ‘The Green Room’ Off-Broadway only happened because we worked our butts off on “That’s Opportunity Knocking” and won awards. Success breeds success! ‘The Green Room’ is a 2 act musical that Chuck Pelletier, myself and his friend from high school, Rod Damer, created. It was based on a one-act play Rod had written, Chuck added music, I was running a theater company Off Hollywood and zip, zap, zop, we produced it. The reception was so great, we developed it into a 2 act musical which has never stopped growing. Having the show land Off-Broadway is EVERY playwright’s dream and ours came true. It was exhilarating and a lot of work, as is everything in the biz if you don’t have a HUGE budget and a BIG team behind you, but we consider any achievement a success and a breakthrough.
The show premiered to a standing ovation is Los Angeles and you have played at other venues in the United States and Canada, is the plan to see how far you can go with this and conquer Europe….when the world lets us travel that is?
Chuck: Yes, that would certainly be the dream. We’ve had productions in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, and someone in London is now interested. But yes, the continent, my, my, that would be great as well. We just created a new website for the show, greenroomthemusical.com, and one of the things we are proudest about is that there are video clips on there of many of the productions we’ve had. There are something like 15 different casts represented on these clips, all singing their hearts out on one song or another from their production of the show. I don’t know why more writers of musicals don’t feel this way, but we get SO excited about absolutely every production, we’re like little kids. Regardless of the scale, regardless of their budget, we love the fact that we can give them all a little screen time. How exciting would it be to have one up there in French or German.
Is it right to assume you feel a lot more pressure with Live shows as opposed to filming? I guess it isn’t a case of ‘fix it in post’ or getting some more B-Roll?
Chuck: Whoosh, yes. Theater has that live aspect, you never know what’s going to happen. Marlon Brando became famous doing “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway. Then he started doing films, and never did another Broadway show. Someone asked him later in life if he would ever do another Broadway show, and he said, essentially, it’s so, so much harder, that he couldn’t imagine wanting to do that again. Also, I am a bit of a control freak, so film is a far better venue for control freaks. You can tweak the project until it’s the way you want it, and then it is what it is.
Stephen: And actually, we did start in “live” theater and transitioned into film. 10 years ago the technology to create films was very expensive so theatre became our outlet. Now that we have online platforms and social media, all the time and money we put into doing theater, we can put into making films. And that is what we are doing with our small production company Round Earth Entertainment.