Al Schnupp, Interviewed by AUTHORITY MAGAZINE as "Social Impact Author": GOODS & EFFECTS Is Released May 29
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Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Al Schnupp of ‘GOODS & EFFECTS’ Is Helping To Change Our World
May 27 · 10 min read
GOODS & EFFECTS presents the journey of a middle-aged woman, Hannah, who, after losing her husband and sons, embarks on a new life. Because Hannah’s husband is not a practicing Mennonite, he is denied burial in the church cemetery. Being alienated by those close to her prompts Hannah to begin to question the tenets of her religious upbringing. She creates a network of friends who are diverse; she rejects much of her faith-based past and adopts a more humanistic position.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Al Schnupp, a retired faculty member of the Theatre and Dance Department of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Mr. Schnupp studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and holds a doctorate from UCLA. He performed in summer stock and directed or designed approximately eighty productions for academic and professional theaters. For two years he was scenic designer for Wichita State University Summer Theater. Mr. Schnupp was the recipient of the Margo Jones National Playwriting Award for the play My Body, awarded by Texas Women’s University.
His play, Censored, about the life of artist Käthe Kollwitz, was produced professionally at The Invisible Theatre. His improvisational game book Bravo! was published by Meriwether Published Ltd. The Stone Circle, a full-length adult puppet show, was co-authored and designed by Mr. Schnupp; the show was produced at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta and won an UNIMA International Citation of Excellence. Zero to Infinity, in its original form as a play, was selected to be performed at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, Region 8 Festival and was produced at Cayuga Community College. The Site was produced at the American Theatre of Actors in New York City and at Walkerspace in New York City.
Living Stones was produced at Cal Poly and showcased in Los Angeles. Antigone and Letters to Soldiers Lost was produced at Cal Poly and in New York by Auburn Players. He is the author of The MerryWinkle International Troupe of Vagabonds Performs a Delicious Potpourri of Fantastical Fairy Tales and Astonishing Folk Legends. His play CrossRoads won an Art Inspires grant and was produced in New York at Cayuga Community College. The Collection, a play about art collector Peggy Guggenheim that featured fifty interactive paintings, toured Central California. inclusivity — the Ivy Bottini Story was produced at Emerald Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee. GOODS & EFFECTS, a novella, has been published by Golden Antelope Press. As a visual artist, Al participates in a variety of art and craft festivals in California and has shown his work in several galleries.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was raised in a strict Mennonite community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was a world of black and white, a stern code of right and wrong, a distrust of outsiders, an insistence on conformity. As a child of eight, when my older brother was dating a young woman who was gay — the term for non-Mennonites — I was told one Saturday evening by my father to remove the tire valve stems from my brother’s car, a punishment for his defiant behavior. Years later, in church, as a young man, I would be condemned before the entire congregation for my involvement in theatre. More and more, I realized this was not my home.
GOD IS NO FOOL by Lois Cheney had a profound effect upon me. In the author’s collection of brief musings, God was irreverent, snarky, with little tolerance for self-deception on the part of his disciples. The book, making light of dogma, mocking the absurd justifications people cultivated, presented me with a new version of theology. The writing was theatrical and complemented by growing interest in crafting stories for the stage.
WHY MAN CREATES is an animated short by Saul Bass and Mayo Simon. Released in 1968, it won an Academy Award for Best Documentary. When a high school teacher showed the film in class, I was profoundly charmed and inspired by the image of an egg being cracked open to reveal a butterfly. Years later, I would hear the phrase, “Creativity is linking two previously unrelated ideas.” That notion would reverberate throughout my life, proving time after time, when I marveled at an act of originality, to be true.
In 1980, after studying theatre in New York City at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I returned to Lancaster to produce a season of summer theatre. Our venue was a large, 40-by-60 foot, two-pole tent that was erected on a slightly sloping lawn of a resort. Everything had been meticulously prepared. Nothing was overlooked. Except for one possibility — a most common occurrence of the area — thunderstorms. One evening, thirty minutes prior to curtain, the skies opened and wept without apology. A contemporary American play suddenly became a Greek tragedy. Actors, in makeup and costume, desperately dug trenches around the skirt of the tent to channel the water away from the theatre. Water, pouring over the edges of the awning, rushed across the sawdust floor, cascading over cables backstage that powered the lighting and sound systems. The few attendees who attempted to brave the weather for a night in the theatre were bemused by a motley crew of ill-cast thespians playing disaster respondents.
GOODS & EFFECTS presents the journey of a middle-aged woman, Hannah, who, after losing her husband and sons, embarks on a new life. Because Hannah’s husband is not a practicing Mennonite, he is denied burial in the church cemetery. Being alienated by those close to her prompts Hannah to begin to question the tenets of her religious upbringing. She creates a network of friends who are diverse; she rejects much of her faith-based past and adopts a more humanistic position. It is my hope that readers will find a human rights champion in Hannah and will applaud her quest for justice and inclusion.
There is a moment in the novella when Hannah decides to combat racist acts of terrorism directed against a black family. Hannah decides to recruit a group of women from a distant city to dress up as witches. Together, they conspire a trap to ensnare the bigots. The scene plays out like a Laurel and Hardy movie, with fast-paced action and a smartly executed evening of revenge.
Originally, GOODS & EFFECTS was a screenplay and Hannah, a fictional character, was a Baptist. As I transformed the screenplay into a novel, I realized I was avoiding an opportunity to delve deeper into her journey. I was sidestepping my mission as an artist, limiting my creative options, avoiding an exploration of my heritage. It became imperative that Hannah be a Mennonite. This change — from Baptist to Mennonite — brought greater integrity. It challenged me to unapologetically explore my roots. It fostered authenticity and deepened my attention to detail because, in spirit, Hannah and I share the same journey.
Throughout my career as a writer — particularly as a playwright — I frequently chose to write about female artists and activists. CENSORED is about German artist Käthe Kollwitz. Ms. Kollwitz fought for gay rights, was an advocate for socialized health care, and opposed the Nazi party. As a result, she was labeled a degenerate artist. INCLUSIVITY — THE IVY BOTTIN STORY is about an iconic LGBTQ champion. Ms. Bottini co-founded the NYC Chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women), served as its president, was an AIDS activist, performer and a visual artist. THE COLLECTION is a play about art collector Peggy Guggenheim, who supported numerous artists and helped Jewish families escape Germany in the early 1940’s. These women all had clear causes, deep passions and unwavering courage. I believe the actors who performed in these plays and audience members who saw the plays were impacted in a meaningful way — reviews and personal notes are a testimony to the positive influence of these stories on stage. Given my admiration for such innovative and inspiring women, I was compelled to participate in the Women’s March in Washington in January 2017.
As an author keenly concerned for social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, there are many causes I support: Black Lives Matter, sensible gun control, stand-alone bills in Congress, the celebration of immigrations, just and humane treatment of persons seeking asylum, universal health care, taxing corporations, limiting the role of lobbyists in Washington DC, expanding voter rights, abolishing the electoral college, upholding LGBTQ rights.
Leadership is a person’s ability to bring divergent groups together, inspire them to act, to solve problems, to uphold truth, to live a life of integrity. Michelle Obama is a model of exemplary leadership.
You will be able to create your own family. You will find a tribe who supports you. The tribe is not the tribe you are born into. It is the people you invite into your life and who receive you with open, nonjudgmental arms.
Travel to foreign lands. To walk among people whose language or customs are unfamiliar to yours will energize and enlighten you. Surrounded by the unknown, one becomes a child again; one is thrown into a state where he is easily filled with wonder.
Beware of myths. Do not succumb, for example, to the popular, “You can do or be whatever you wish to do or be.” That is true and that is a lie. It takes others for dreams to be realized. So, beware. Most myths are feel-good explanations that lack a full measure of truth.
LIFE LESSON From THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” From . . . is it a Bernard Baruch saying or a quote from TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE by Mitch Albom? “Forgive everybody everything.” Knowing and living those realities may be unachievable aspirations. But, oh, what great aspirations they are!
I would most like to have a private lunch with Bette Midler. She makes me laugh. Her work is balanced, from zany to profound. That twinkle in her eye. Politics that align with mine. That scene in THE ROSE where, on the telephone, she explains to her parents that it is perfectly fine if they do not attend her concert. The hurt, the lie, the subtext, the longing — it is a scene that should be studied by anyone striving to be an actor. The night I saw her in HELLO, DOLLY in New York City. Ms. Midler momentarily forget her choreography and bungled her steps. “I’ll get it tomorrow night,” she said. And the audience’s love for this performer only deepened, seeing her make a mistake, witnessing her humanity. But there is a selfish reason, too, in wishing to have a discourse with Ms. Divine. It is about connections. “Bette, would you consider reading my play ZERO TO INFINITY?” (Now a novel, entitled ZERO*). Would you consider playing the role of Maxie? The part was written for you. Honestly, you were the person I had in mind when crafting this over-the-top character. There’s more, Bette. It’s about connections. Could you petition Nathan Lane to play Zero? And while we’re putting together an ideal cast, may I suggest Alan Cumming for Inspector Oodles?”
* Synopsis of ZERO How does an egotistical buffoon with no talent become the darling political celebrity of his country? Maxie convinces her husband, Zero, to commit a bizarre crime that showers him with riches, making it possible for him to campaign for leader of their country. With Horace as Campaign Manager, the trio embarks on a whirlwind of fundraising, cover-ups, debates, makeovers and scams. Meanwhile, Inspector Oodles and his assistant, Minnie, assume a variety of disguises to uncover the true identity of Zero and his cohorts. Who will garner the most votes: the Zealots, Hysterics or Fanatics? An outrageous fable, fueled with invented words, that lampoons American-Style politics.
My online presence. www.playsanddesigns.com