Here’s a link to an E-Poets Network “Videotheque” article by Kurt Heintz about Paul’s seminal role in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s Chicago spoken-word/performance-poetry scene.
Presented since 2004 at continuing-ed programs, retirement homes, libraries, theaters, and other venues throughout Illinois and Wisconsin
THE LYING GAME: CONFESSIONS OF A FICTION WRITER
Whether you’re a working writer, an aspiring writer, or simply an avid reader, you’ll find food for thought (and for inspiration!) in this candid “inside look” at the creative process. Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas details techniques that bring the human condition to light and performs excerpts from his own work to demonstrate “the lies that tell the truth.”
WRITE YOUR LIFE! THE ART OF MEANINGFUL MEMOIR
Entertaining and often moving excerpts from memoirs of both the famous (Katherine Graham, Anwar el-Sadat, Wisconsin author Ben Logan) and the not-so-famous help to illustrate author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas’ useful tips about how best to document your own life experiences for family, friends, and posterity—with a focus on theme. “No one can tell your stories but you,” McComas says—then shows how.
POETRY IN (E)MOTION: THE MANY MOODS OF VERSE
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas demonstrates the wide range of moods, themes, and emotions that poetry can evoke, through lively readings of—and commentary about—works by contemporary poets (Maya Angelou, Billy Collins) and their predecessors (Shakespeare, Frost). Three “musical poems” (songs), performed live on guitar, fill out this enjoyable program.
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: LOSS & LOVE
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas gives dramatic performances of fiction excerpts by Tony Earley, O. Henry, Joyce Carol Oates, and others that address the challenges of loss, the redemptive nature of love, and the intimate relationship between the two—in literature as in life. (Paul brings his guitar and throws a song into the mix, too!)
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: WORKIN’ FOR A LIVIN’
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas gives dramatic performances of short stories by Melissa Bank, William F. Nolan, Larry Brown, Joshua Ferris, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that address the satisfactions and struggles of the work-a-day world in which most of us spend the majority of our waking lives. A lively discussion follows. (Paul brings along his guitar and throws a song into the mix, too!)
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: MYTH & MYSTERY
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas gives dramatic performances of works by Alice Sebold, Edgar Allan Poe, himself, and others—plus a Sioux origin story—that address and embody the story-telling traditions of legend, fable, mystery, and myth. (Paul brings his guitar and his Lakota tribal drum to spice things up a bit!)
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: COMING OF AGE
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas gives dramatic performances of work by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Raucher, Maya Angelou, Aimee Mann, and others that address the ever-popular topic of that singular journey of discovery from childhood into adulthood. (Paul brings along his guitar and throws a song into the mix, too!)
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: LIFE LESSONS
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas gives dramatic performances of works by P.D. James, Ernest Hemingway, Carson McCullers, Tony Earley, and himself that address birth, life, death, and beyond, asking those biggest of questions: What is life’s meaning. . . .and what, in the end, is it all for? (Paul brings along his guitar and throws a song into the mix, too!)
FIRST-PERSON FICTION: STORIES IN THE KEY OF “I”
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas gives dramatic performances of first-person short stories and novel excerpts by Mark Twain, Jayne Anne Phillips, and others that showcase the power and punch of this most candid, self-disclosive, intimate literary “voice”—one that engenders a uniquely close bond between writer and reader/listener. (Paul brings his guitar and throws a song into the mix, too!)
“WORDS OF WISDOM” IN STORY, SPEECH, SAYING, AND SONG
Sage counsel can take many varied forms: scripture, songwriting, story-telling, scolding—even “sweet nothings” in the ear. All of these and more can convey words of wisdom. . . that is, for those who will listen. Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas dips into the Old and New Testaments, Buddhism, and Native American traditions—as well as works of fiction, nonfiction, rhetoric, and drama—to explore the ways in which we document and share our life lessons. (Paul brings along his guitar and throws a song into the mix, too!)
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: TWO TALES TERRIFICALLY TOLD!
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas recites and analyzes two short stories—his own critically-acclaimed “Now I Know My ABCs,” and Joyce Carol Oates’ classic “In The Region of Ice”—that share themes of need, struggle, isolation, and the importance of providing a “ministry of presence” to the dispossessed. Also included: a live performance of the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” A brief discussion will follow.
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: IN THE BEGINNINGS. . .
The most vital and, often, most memorable pages of any narrative are the last ones—and the first. For purposes of reading, analysis, and recitation, the advantage of “the beginning” is that it stands alone, requiring no background or introduction. Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas gives dramatic performances of especially compelling initial pages from fictional works by a variety of authors, then explains how each deftly “hooks” the reader—or listener—while setting the stage for what’s to follow.
FUTURIST FICTION: THE ROADS NOT (YET) TAKEN
Who hasn’t longed to look into a crystal ball to see what lies ahead for humanity? Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas, an expert on (and occasional writer of) speculative fiction, performs and analyzes excerpts from several authors, including Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, P.D. James, William F. Nolan, and himself. Writers of futurist fiction, Paul contends, are our modern-day prophets, whose words we ignore at our peril. Don’t worry, this isn’t space-aliens and robots; it’s keen and relevant “socio-forecasting.” (Paul brings along his guitar and throws a song into the mix, too.)
WRITERS YOU MAY NEVER HAVE HEARD OF. . .TILL NOW!
In the baker’s-dozen presentations to date from author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas, we’ve sampled the Bard and the Bible; dipped into Poe, Proulx, and “Papa”; heard from Oates and O. Henry, McCartney and McCullers, Mark Twain and P.D. James. This time we’ll “meet,” through their brilliant writings, eight lesser-known authors—all of them living, writing, and getting published today—whose work you probably don’t know, but should. . .and, now, will! (Special guest Maya Kuper—a Chicago-based singer/songwriter/keyboardist and rising star—contributes an original song on voice and piano.)
SONG LYRICS AS POETRY: THE “MUSIC” OF WORDS
The most popular and influential poetry that’s been written over the past few generations lies embedded within songs. Yet sometimes, when we hear a song, the music gets in the way of the words. Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas “liberates the lyrics” by performing a number of songs from the past 100 years without the notes and then discussing their contents. He’ll also perform one song both ways, to show the impact of the musical element—and he’ll sing yet another song not with his vocal chords, but with his hands, in sign language. Prepare to hear and feel songs as you never have before!
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: HERALDS OF HOPE
During hard times, hope can seem a waning resource—which just makes it all the more precious. While chronicling conflict, many writers leaven the darkness and drama with ample doses of “light.” In the spirit of the hope-driven holidays Hanukkah and Christmas, author/actor/educator Paul McComas performs short works by Tony Earley, Emily Dickinson, Joseph Iron Eye Dudley, Jane Mendelsohn, Adalbert Stifter, and himself that hold out hope for humanity, in large ways and small. (He also brings his guitar and adds “hopeful harmonies” from songwriter Shawn Colvin.)
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: STEINBECK PLUS SEVENTY-FIVE
Three-quarters of a century after the 1937 publication of Of Mice and Men, we’ll take a look at this “Great American Short Novel,” plus four other books by John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row, and Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas performs dramatic readings from these classics, as well as providing analysis of the Salinas, California native’s work, particularly his status as a master chronicler of—and avid advocate for—“the have-nots.”
THE ANATOMY OF A FILM (70 min.)
Learn to see movies as you’ve never seen them before! Author/filmmaker/educator Paul McComas discusses and demonstrates cinema’s unique status as “two media in one”: film, he notes, is at once a narrative medium, like fiction and drama, and a visual/compositional medium, like painting and photography. Film is also the most collaborative of all media, for only through the successful interaction of script, direction, acting, cinematography, art direction, lighting, editing, sound, and myriad other elements can effective, compelling cinema can come into being. Paul screens a 25-minute narrative movie, using it to de-code the “language” of film, from camera movements (tilt, pan, dolly, zoom) to editing choices (direct cut, dissolve, fade-in/-out), and explaining the meaning that each technique conveys—often subconsciously—to the viewer. You’ll leave this program with a greater appreciation of movies—and a whole new way of enjoying them!
DISCUSSION DOUBLE-FEATURE: “HIGH NOON IN CASABLANCA” (70 min.)
In this follow-up to his “Anatomy of a Film” program, author/filmmaker/educator Paul McComas focuses on two classic American movies, Michael Curtiz’s beloved Casablanca and Fred Zinneman’s pioneering High Noon, that were made a decade apart (1942 and 1952, respectively). Paul will introduce, screen, and discuss segments from both films, which have striking similarities (a love triangle; the pivotal use of a theme song)—but also significant differences: while the earlier, patriotic film uses war as a backdrop for romance, the latter uses romance as a backdrop for armed conflict, in the process critiquing our country. If you think you “know” these movies, think again, for there’s still a lot to learn from each—especially when they’re considered together.
BEST OF THE BARD, part 1
Has there ever been a more gifted writer than William Shakespeare? Certainly not in our tongue: with their deft dialogue and soaring soliloquies, his plays-in-verse represent the apex of English-language wordsmithery. Shakespeare also displayed a genius for both understanding and chronicling the human condition; as a result, his work (especially the dramas, be they tragic or historical) ring as true today as when they were written, more than four centuries ago. Author/actor/educator Paul McComas performs dramatic readings from five of the Bard’s best— Hamlet, Henry V, Julius Caesar, King Lear, and Macbeth—offering analysis of the selections in terms of form, content, theme, and impact. A biref Q&A/discussion follows.
BEST OF THE BARD, part 2
Has there ever been a more gifted writer than William Shakespeare? Certainly not in our tongue: with their deft dialogue and soaring soliloquies, his plays-in-verse represent the apex of English-language wordsmithery. Shakespeare also displayed a genius for both understanding and chronicling the human condition; as a result, his work (especially the dramas, be they tragic or historical) ring as true today as when they were written, more than four centuries ago. Author/actor/educator Paul McComas follows up on the prior installment of this two-part program by performing dramatic readings from six of the Bard’s best—Henry IV Part 1, King Lear, Othello, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest—offering analysis in terms of form, content, theme, and impact. A brief Q&A/discussion follows.
One Film, Two Visions
For his third film program, Paul McComas (son of St. John’s resident Hazelyn McComas) brings along a partner: fellow author and film scholar Dave Luhrssen, Arts & Entertainment editor of the Milwaukee Shepherd-Express and founder of the Milwaukee Film Festival. Dave and Paul will introduce and then screen a 25-minute black-and-white film: The Grave, a “western with ethical and supernatural overtones” from 1961, starring the iconic Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen, The Man Whot Shot Liberty Valance); co-starring veteran character actors Elen Willard, Strother Martin, Lee van Cleef & James Best; and written & directed by TV auteur Montgomery Pittman (Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip). Paul and Dave will then discuss (and perhaps even argue about!) all aspects of the film—its narrative structure, its compositions and shooting style, the performances, the use of sound, the story’s relationship to the archetypal “Hero’s Journey,” etc.—before opening up their presentation for 10 to 15 minutes of audience Q&A/discussion.
MISS MARTIN’S MODERN-LIT MASTER CLASS
In 1977, English teacher Janet Martin (1942–2012) “rocked the world” of high-school junior Paul McComas, teaching Modern Literature in a way that compelled him not only to read more (and better!), but also to write. A generation later, Paul—now an author/actor and an educator himself—picks up the torch, performing and analyzing excerpts from the three books and two plays that comprised his beloved “Miss Martin’s” curriculum: A Man for All Seasons (Robert Bolt), Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), Grendel (John Gardner), Lord of the Flies (William Golding), and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard). Though a tad less “modern” than they were in ’78, these literary masterworks—when presented with the mastery of Miss Martin (or her onetime pupil)—remain as rich and illuminating as they were on their dates of publication.
STORIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: MY FICTION, YOUR FEEDBACK
In this focused look into the creative process, author/actor/educator Paul McComas performs just one of his most acclaimed short stories—then discusses its origin, development, themes, techniques, and meaning(s). Finally, he “opens up the floor” to your thoughts, impressions, and questions in a sure-to-be-lively discussion. For those who would like to read the piece in advance (an option, but not a requirement), free copies will be provided one week beforehand; pick them up at _______________ .
OPEN WRITING WORKSHOP
Author/actor and writing/literature educator Paul McComas leads residents in a monthly writing group through which they can explore and expand their talents at writing poetry, fiction, memoir, and essays. Entertaining in-class exercises alternate with encouraging group critique of participants’ work. No pressure—just fun; bring a notebook and pen, and see for yourself! Ongoing monthly at The Hallmark (Chicago) since 2006 and at The Breakers (Chicago) since 2007.