WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Children's Theatre, Now For Adults!

[Alternative title to this blog: Erika Dabbles in Dramaturgy.]

I wrote the first draft of Don't Eat The Apples while I was working at summer camp in 2007. The camp was very much in the red and instead of spending money on the scripts that I would ask for, the camp director would print me out copies of "Junior" versions of plays for my campers. Say what you will about kids, but they know the difference between high quality and crap. (It's this writer's opinion that parents DON'T take kids to the theatre because they don't want to be bored - or to bore their kids. Like anything else, there's a lot of crap out there.) While reading through the script for Peter Pan Junior, each child expressed their disgust at this watered down version of the story. So we added back in, as one child put it, "the good parts," taking the liberty to edit where we saw fit (since someone had taken the liberty to edit J.M. Barrie already), and turned it into a show that the kids could be proud of. 

Somewhere during the process I uttered the fatal statement, "We could write something better than this." And there it was - we were writing a play.

The first draft was written in 72 hours, and many of the roles were written for the children at the camp at the time. In a turn of events that threw me for a loop, it was successful. The kids in the audience laughed. The adults in the audience laughed. The counselor that couldn't understand why a kid would sign up for a theatre class over his soccer game actually complemented us afterwards. He was in disbelief that he enjoyed himself. And I was in disbelief that I had accomplished a goal - I reached two audiences with one play - who knew? I was pleased. And so, DETA made its way into a folder on my desktop, presumably never to be seen again. 

You know... until I opened my big mouth once more. 

The CoLab had been searching for a play to put up that would involve more of the community. After the success of Dearly Beloved, we were committed to putting up a second show that met our usual criteria - fun, fun, learning curve, are we really using this work lights again, fun. This time we all wanted to act (a crazy notion) and we wanted to involve kids. "I've got this play that I wrote in college," I started... So we decided to mount the show - I made some edits, we hired a director, gathered the perfect storm of actors, and cast ourselves. (Nepotism is a thing, dudes.) And we began the rehearsal process.

Due to the way this play was written, I felt a weird lack of ownership over the words. First off, I wrote them in collaboration with two of my co-counselors. Secondly, we had written the original version in such a short amount of time, that I didn't always recall why I had worded something one way or why a particular action appeared in the script. This made it easy to allow changes when they were asked for, but it also put me in an uncomfortable place opposite the text. I knew I was hearing my words out loud, but they sounded foreign to me. Sometimes I was proud of them, and sometimes I cringed. The more I listened to this play, the more I wished it had gone through a formal editing process. The more I memorized my lines, the more I wished I had expanded certain thoughts and plot lines. The more I thought about HOW MANY PEOPLE were involved in producing something I had casually written, the more nervous I got about actually putting up this show. The actors were doing a great job, but I felt that there was something wrong with the words. And that wasn't a happy feeling (or one that I've shared before this blog post).

And then last night happened... and I realized something. This sure ain't Shakespeare. But that's not what our audience is looking for. I've been preaching about how much I love working with and acting for children because of their honest, visceral reactions to the theatre. You say to them, "This room is filled with jelly." And suddenly, there it is, the room is filled with jelly. And THAT'S the quality about this show that made me suggest it in the first place. The story is silly. The writing is simple. The editing is less than perfect. But the framework for imagination is in every word, every breath, every character. It is, exactly what I set out to write. Fun for the actors - there are no limits to what you can bring to these characters physically or vocally. Fun for the adults - there's some jokes in there especially for you. And a blast for the kids - who doesn't want to see a hero named Archie and (a very revamped) Red Riding Hood take on a sorcerer, a witch, a troll, a wolf, AND a magic spell and still be home in time for dinner? (Admit it, you want to see what this all about now, don't you?)

So what's my happily ever after? I'm proud of this show I've written. I'm proud of the work the cast and crew has put in so far. And I'll be even prouder come Saturday when I've shared this with the next generation of theatre-goers. And for those of you out there thinking... hey, you spent this whole post talking about how this is a show for kids, why should I come see this show on Saturday morning? This isn't Peter Pan Junior. This is a play written to be accepted and interpreted on two levels - those under 3 feet tall, and those over.  
Still scoffing at me? Then ask yourself, why would twelve well-respected members of the Boston Theatre Community have happily and willingly signed on to do this show?

Come see the Boston Premiere of Don't Eat The Apples this Saturday, January 28 at 11 a.m. at Unity Somerville. Can't make it? You have two more chances - Saturday, February 11 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets available here. (And they're cheap, kids. And grown ups.) See what the fuss is about.


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