Kevin T. Baldwin in the News and Writing It
Headshot photo by Robert Thomas
Article on playwright Kevin T. Baldwin
written by Molly Loughman of the "Acton Beacon"
'The Seventeenth Coffin' tackles gun control.
Gun control and religion are the focus of “The Seventeenth Coffin,” a new one-act play being performed by Theatre III in Acton this weekend.
Written by Kevin T. Baldwin of Worcester, the play centers around a priest, Father Weems, coming to terms with a great tragedy and taking a stand when the gun control debate hits close to home.
“It was shortly after what had happened with the shooting of the kids down in Connecticut (at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012). Right after that, there were several other mall killings and school shootings. It just kept building up and I kept hearing from people on why God would allow this to happen. I tried to address this in a way that was personal for me and I think people can identify with it,” said Baldwin, who added his first experience with Theatre III is going well. “I don’t try to put out any answers. I just make suggestions through the plot. I let the audience decide for themselves that maybe this is something they hadn’t considered before.”
As the story unravels, Father Weems, played by Baldwin, sits and watches helplessly as a stream of coffins passes near him following a mass shooting. The severity of physical and emotional devastation in its wake becomes overwhelming.
At odds with Father Weems is Father McManus, played by Art Stoumbelis, who not only believes in God, but also has argued multiple times with Father Weems regarding his belief
in the right for “responsible people” to carry weapons. Based on priests he grew up with, both Father Weems and Father McManus are composite characters in Baldwin’s story.
“It was very therapeutic (projecting them in my story). It was good to revisit that era in my mind,” said Baldwin, who left the Catholic Church more than 20 years ago and has since
been in an Episcopal church. Father Weems examines questions of gun control and more as he encounters an unusual woman, played by Lexi Deschene, who has come forth to console the priest, although he does not know why.
Baldwin said the play is about the birth, death and the revival of a one’s beliefs.
“I easily could have gone one way or the other. When I was growing up, my father was a rifle instructor for the Pathfinder Club in Weston. I was a very good shot. It meant a lot when we’d hear my father call our names for certain merit badges, so it’s not I was against guns
how the debate has been going on for so long because both sides refuse to compromise. “It’s to put the discussion out there and Father Weems and Father McManus are on opposing sides of the discussion.”
“For the first couple of performances, we’ve had extremely positive feedback. A few people mentioned it touched them or that they cried. So far no one has come up with a negative response,” said Baldwin, who hopes to soon present “The Seventeenth Coffin” at the at the New Players Theatre Guild in Fitchburg.
When asked what he hopes people walk away with after seeing his play, Baldwin replied, “To not take for granted how short life can be.”
Article on playwright Kevin T. Baldwin
written by Paul Collins of "Vitality Magazine"
Local playwright shines a light on Alzheimer’s disease
By Paul Collins
There are many people who harbor the secret dream of writing a play, for when a theater darkens, at once there is that collective hush that falls over the audience. Suddenly, the lights go up on the stage, and for a short period of time, the here and now slips away and there is magic in the air as the actors bring characters and stories to life. We’re taken away as the actors open doors to our hearts and minds. We are transported to another place and time that is far from the realities of our own lives.
However, sometimes a play can also heighten and intensify our own realities in ways that are both poignant and all too sobering. Such is the case withBottom of the 9th, a one-act play about Alzheimer’s disease, brought to life from the creative mind of Worcester playwright, director and actor, Kevin Baldwin. The play, performed by the New Players Theater Guild of Fitchburg, opened in May, and in response to having shared the script with him, Baldwin even managed to garner a letter of praise from none other than former President Bill Clinton.
Baldwin is the author of many diverse plays that are rooted in love, human failings and triumphs, and even in hauntings. Asked about what has inspired him to write his various plays, he said, “My plays are mostly about the human condition and interpersonal relationships.” He added, “One common thread through most of my plays is that readers will find that I actually like my characters. I don’t approach my works trying to make all my characters one inch away from suicide. My two-act play, Haunting Lusitania, is more about love reaching across time, but we learn a lot about more heroic and flawed people aboard the ship as it is torpedoed.”
In thinking about what it is that people look for in a play, Baldwin said, “No matter what the format, principal characters must go through an experience that somehow causes them a significant personal change by the end. I don’t mean a physical change like they wind up two inches shorter than they were at the start. I’m talking about a change such as in how they may view life.”
As to what his own creative process involves, he mused, “I’m always writing stories in my mind. Starting is always the hardest part. Once I do begin writing and am unfettered by extraneous outside factors or distractions (you know, like life), then I become like a runaway train and I do not, cannot, stop until I complete the task.”
Asked about where he sees his work taking him in the future, the Worcester playwright said, “Maybe to Aaron Sorkin’s (creator of the TV series The West Wing) house to jam with Stephen King? That would be awesome.”
Baldwin would like to travel more as a result of his work being presented in various parts of the world. “One of my plays, Murder at the Fishnet, was premiered in New Zealand. I would have enjoyed attending, but sadly, extraneous outside factors and distractions (you know, life) made it impossible.”
When all is said and done, Kevin Baldwin is one those rare people one comes across every once in a while who is talented, interesting and fortunate enough to be engaged in doing work that, clearly, is a labor of love for him. We should all be so lucky.
Paul Collins is a freelance writer from Southborough.
NEWS ARTICLES WRITTEN BY
CORRESPONDENT KEVIN T. BALDWIN
A Gathering of Heroes
By Kevin T. Baldwin
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
PROVIDENCE, RI: The Flash, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Spawn and Deathlok all walk into a room.
That might sound like the start of a joke, but in fact it did happen over the weekend at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. The five actors playing super heroes of the past and present gathered as part of the Rhode Island Comic Con.
John Wesley Shipp (aka "The Flash" of the 1990s television series of the same name), Reb Brown (from the 1970's television incarnation of "Captain America"), Jackson Bostwick, (the first of two actors to play "Captain Marvel" on the Saturday morning television series "Shazam"), Michael Jai White (from the motion picture "Spawn") and J. August Richards (of the new ABC television series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") all spoke to an eager crowd of over 300 people on how they felt while working on these projects and who their own heroes were.
With Comic Con Panel Moderator (from l-r) J. August Richards, John Wesley Shipp, Jackson Bostwick, Reb Brown (not pictured: Michael Jai White)
Brown, looking as fit and muscular today at 66 years old as he did while playing Captain America, spoke about stunt riding while on motorcycles during his tenure as the star spangled Captain.
"I crashed the thing," Brown said, laughing. "I was on the shows ‘Miami Vice’ and ‘CHIPS’, too, and I crashed (motorcycles) during them, as well."
But Brown said he was grateful for his time and recognizes the responsibility of playing the super hero, especially when he attended a showing of the more recent movie incarnation of "Captain America" featuring new "Cap" actor Chris Evans.
"Kids look up to you and the kids who grew up watching me were watching how I'd react to the movie," Brown said. "But after awhile I was just as blown away by the movie as anybody else in the audience."
Jackson Bostwick was not as enthusiastic about how DC Comics has treated his beloved Captain Marvel character.
"They've made him kind of stupid," Bostwick said. "They don't even call him 'Captain Marvel' anymore. They call him 'Shazam'."
Bostwick pointed out that 'Shazam' was what Billy Batson would call out to a mythical wizard in order to change into the muscular Captain Marvel. "Shazam" was actually the acronym S-H-A-Z-A-M which was the initials of gods Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.
A spin-off character, Captain Marvel, Jr. also from the early days of DC comics, would call out "Captain Marvel" in order to do a similar superhero transformation but, according to Bostwick, that wouldn't be possible now, given DC's new direction.
"They really have made a mess of it, I don’t like it," Bostwick said. "It’s a real problem."
John Wesley Shipp is in a rare position for an actor due to the success of the recent incarnation of "The Flash" on the CW Network. While not playing his 1990s "Flash" character he does get to portray the father of the latest "Flash" played by actor Grant Gustin.
"I didn't read comics growing up, so I had nothing to base my (original "Flash") character on," Shipp said. "I based my Flash on what the writers and director had written on the script pages and I was just blessed that it was so well done. I just wish it hadn't taken 24 years to bring the Flash back to television."
Due to tight security on the set of the ABC Marvel television series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Richards didn't know he was going to be playing the cyborg superhero "Deathlok" until the day of shooting.
"They sent me to a place way, way outside Los Angeles where they scanned me for what would ultimately be my 'Deathlok' costume," Richards said. "But they didn’t tell me why."
When producers finally informed Richards he would be playing "Deathlok" he said he went back his hometown and sifted through his own 1000 comic book collection and actually found some old "Deathlok" comics with which to do his research.
Throughout the comic's run, the character of Deathlok had an ongoing symbiotic relationship forced upon him as he shared his human side with a cognizant, high level computer, which he 'affectionately' called "'Puter".
"One time, and after a lot of lobbying, and I mean a lot, lot, lot of lobbying (with the show's producers), I was able to work in saying the name 'Puter'," Richards said.
As actors, the men recalled some of their own acting heroes they had the pleasure of working with over the years.
Bostwick recalled working with late actor David Carradine of television series "Kung Fu" and motion picture "Kill Bill" fame.
"I don't think I ever saw somebody drink so much (as David Carradine)," Bostwick said. "I'd walk into his trailer and he'd be passed out drunk on the couch. But the second they called him to the set, he'd get up go over, and never missed a beat."
Reb Brown shared his experience working with legendary actor George C. Scott of "Patton" fame in the film "Hardcore".
"I had this scene where I had to throw (Scott) down the stairs," Brown said. "He told me 'Don't hold back on me, now, kid. Gimme all you got'...so I did. I beat him up pretty good."
Just the mental image of Captain America throwing General George S. Patton down the stairs might prove a little unnerving for a patriot, but it did not dissuade both actors from performing their duties.
"(Scott) came up to me afterwards, patted me on the head and said 'Not bad, kid.'"
Brown would later co-star in two movies with another TV superhero. He made the action films "Cage" and "Cage II" with Lou Ferrigno of "The Incredible Hulk" fame. Ferrigno himself was also scheduled to appear as part of the panel at the convention but cancelled with no reason given by event promoters.
J. August Richards mentioned working with Morgan Freeman and being in awe of the "Driving Miss Daisy" actor (who also has a superhero connection as he performed his character "Easy Reader" with "Spiderman" to the delight of many children on the early PBS show "The Electric Company").
"There’s just nobody out there better (as an actor) than Morgan Freeman," Richards said.
Echoing Richards opinion of Freeman, Michael Jai White said he was most "professionally impressed and personally inspired" by his "Spawn" co-star Martin Sheen, not only as an actor, but as a human being.
"We would park in the same area, and I would pull in behind Martin and follow him to the set," White said "And, along the way, Martin would run into people from the cast and crew, and he would not only say 'Hi' to them in passing, he would have real conversations with them, knowing things about them and sharing an actual dialogue with them. I realized then that I have no excuse as an actor not to know everything I can about the people I am working with."
Recognizing the responsibility of being a hero to the young, Bostwick also mentioned becoming friends with another legendary TV superhero, Clayton Moore, the original "Lone Ranger".
"I told Clayton that he inspired me and I tried to approach 'Shazam' the same way he approached the 'Lone Ranger',' Bostwick said. "The Lone Ranger never talked down to kids. Kids can be quite a cruel audience if you try and get away with talking down to them. They can sense the insincerity. As ‘Captain Marvel’ I never talked down to the kids on our show, not ever."
LETTER TO PLAYWRIGHT KEVIN T. BALDWIN FROM
FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON
ON "BOTTOM OF THE 9TH"
Rescuing Gary Gnu and the "GREAT SPACE COASTER"
By Kevin T. Baldwin
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Wilmington, MA - It may be hard to imagine for many over the age of 40, but it has been 33 years since "The Great Space Coaster" hit the airwaves and when then 30-year old actor/puppeteer Jim Martin brought his puppet character "Gary Gnu" to life.
The show mixed puppetry, animation and live action, long before computer generated animation dominated the airwaves. Premiering in 1981, and running on old UHF stations until 1986, the show was then re-broadcast briefly on USA Network before cable stations like Nickelodeon began developing their own original cartoon shows. It has been off the air since the early 90s.
Martin, who is now 63 and living in Pittsburg, PA was in Wilmington, MA recently as part of a "Pop Culture Expo" in May and spoke about the show's impact and enduring appeal.
"I've had many people come up to me and say that, when they were kids, because the show was on so early in the morning, their parents would tell them to get out of bed or they'd be late for school, but they (the kids) would just ignore them," Martin said, "But if the parents said to the child to get out of bed or they would miss 'The Great Space Coaster' they'd leap out of bed."
Many adults who grew up watching the then-popular early morning children's show might remember how "Gnu", long before "America's Funniest Home Videos" would showcase films of people engaged in routine or unusual activities.
The only difference, according to Martin's wife and business partner Crystal, is that "Gary Gnu" "always misinterpreted the activities" which she said made it funnier. Jim Martin did both the voice and puppetry for Gary Gnu.
The couple, married nine years, together run "Tanslin Media" and have made it a mission to bring back "Gary Gnu" and "The Great Space Coaster" which is one of many once-popular programs to not have ever made the transition to DVD.
"It's a very costly process," Martin says of the transfer of each half-hour episode of the show which he now owns. "We first had to track down the rights holders which took some time as the show transferred through a number of hands."
Martin said the show was originally produced by game manufacturer Hasbro’s New York advertising agency Griffin-Bacal, then was sold to Sony Electronics and then subsequently to German company TV-Loonland for overseas dubbing and distribution.
"We actually had to track down a lawyer who spoke German," said Martin of his effort to acquire the rights to the show. "After all that, though, it turned out most of the half-hour tapes were being held in storage in a warehouse in New Jersey."
When Martin finally acquired the rights to "The Great Space Coaster" he also became owner of "Gary Gnu" as part of the deal. However, the program only exists on old film masters that need to be converted to digital format if the company ever wants to distribute "The Great Space Coaster" on DVD or Blu-ray.
Now, Martin and Crystal have a campaign going to raise funds to have the 1,000 half-hour tapes from the warehouse digitally mastered for distribution to bring back, as Martin said, the long lost Gnu "to those who grew up watching him."
"We were doing music videos long before MTV," Martin said, "And we did many celebrity interviews."
According to Crystal the company needs to fundraise between $30,000 and $40,000 in order to finish digitizing the original masters of the show.
"We did an Indiegogo (online fundraiser) campaign which raised enough money to have 20 episodes digitized," Crystal said. Not all of the episodes were in the warehouse and any other remaining episodes of the series are, so far, unaccounted for. There are a small number of clips of the show, in varying quality, found on YouTube and other sites on the Internet.
Martin's career as a puppeteer on television began through a chance meeting with Carroll Spinney, aka "Big Bird" and "Oscar the Grouch" from the PBS series "Sesame Street". Spinney told Martin to come to New York where he became a mentor to Martin, who got to work alongside other "Sesame Street" puppeteers including Muppets creator Jim Henson.
"I was Ernie's right hand (puppeteer) as Jim (Henson) was operating his left side and doing Ernie's voice," Martin said. "I was in awe of Jim and to be working with him was amazing."
Right handed puppeteers tend to get overlooked in the business of puppeteering, according to Martin, because they don't do the voice, but if it weren't for one right handed puppeteer, John Lovelady, he might never have landed the role of "Gnu" on "The Great Space Coaster".
"John Lovelady was the puppet captain and producer of ‘The Great Space Coaster’," Martin said. "And one of his many responsibilities was to audition the puppeteers and suggest to Griffin- Bacal which performers should be hired for the program."
After being hired for the show, in addition to voicing "Gary Gnu", Martin also performed the principal character roles of "Baffel", "Edison the Elephant" and "M.T. Promises". After the show ended, Martin eventually worked on "The Muppets Take Manhattan", Disney's "Bear and the Big Blue House" and on numerous "Sesame Street" and "Elmo" direct-to-video programs. He received the 2002 Emmy Award for Outstanding Direction in a Children's Series for his work on "Sesame Street".
"The Great Space Coaster" was nominated for four Daytime Emmy Awards and won the award in 1982 for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children's Programming (Graphic Design) according to the Internet Movie Database. The late composer Marvin Hamlisch ("A Chorus Line") also contributed music to the show.
Beyond releasing the old series onto DVD, both Jim and Crystal Martin said they believe there might be a future for "Gary Gnu" in personal appearances and a possible web series.
"It would be great if Gary could pick up right from where he left off thirty years ago," Crystal said. "Just looking at the stuff people do and misinterpreting things. He just doesn't realize that the viewer hasn't been around to see it."
For more information, readers can visit www.tgscoaster.com or www.translinmedia.com.
The play is part of Acton Theatre III's 2014 Short Play Festival. Performances are Dec. 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Theatre III, located at 250 Central Street in Acton. The $20 tickets are available at the doors, which open at 7 p.m. The show is presented cabaret-style. Ticket price includes two desserts, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and water. There is a limit of 80 seats per night.