Production on "The Sea Lion's Friend" is complete!

We're happy to announce that words and pictures are now in the hands of our publisher and printer! "The Sea Lion's Friend" is set to arrive this fall and we think you are really going to like it. 

It's the tale of an unlikely friendship between a sea lion and a sea gull, two inseparable buddies who do all kinds of fun things together. With a sea lion and a sea gull, as with us humans, it's their similarities, rather than their differences, that unite them.

Stay tuned!

 

From Page to Stage

Guest blogger Stephen L. Fredericks, Founder & Executive Director of The Growing Stage – The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey, shares his thoughts on adapting children's books for live theatre.

Over the 33 year history of The Growing Stage – The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey’s history we have had the opportunity to bring both original stories and popular adaptations to life on our stage. And both bring a unique challenge when taking them from the page to the stage.

Many of the titles that would be considered classics are familiar to all ages and are multi-generational like PETER PAN, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, TREASURE ISLAND and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Others are less so either because they are age-specific and fairly recent works such as HARRIET THE SPY, HOLES, KNUFFLE BUNNY or PINKALICIOUS. Both types of material present very similar and unique challenges.

The Growing Stage's set for the stage adaptation of KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Musical, script and lyrics by Mo Willems and music by Michael Silversher. Set design by Perry Kroeger.

The Growing Stage's set for the stage adaptation of KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Musicalscript and lyrics by Mo Willems and music by Michael Silversher. Set design by Perry Kroeger.

When a book is solely written as readers we all take the authors words and create a world in our own minds that is unique to each of us as we follow the adventures or journeys of the characters. We see young Jack who is in search of a better life for his Mother as he climbs the magical beanstalk or a family shipwrecked hiding from pirates in SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. So in this instance we have a bit more freedom as artists as we take the authors words and apply them to the script, set, costumes and lighting designs. We follow the author’s original intent and honor their words, but share them in manner that translates to the stage performance, more like one would as if following a map.

The unique challenge in this instance is taking what may appear wildly fantastic from a world created by ink to life on the stage so that it meets the expectations of the audience and is physically possible for the production.

For those works that also feature incredible illustrations, like the Shankman and O'Neill series, we are presented with additional information that we can then apply to the stage adaptation. Color schemes and styles can be translated directly to the stage in all design elements such as set, costumes and even lighting. The unique challenge in this instance is taking what may appear wildly fantastic from a world created by ink to life on the stage so that it meets the expectations of the audience and is physically possible for the production.

As in any artistic work, regardless if it inspired from an original thought or an adaptation from an existing book, collaboration and trust are the keys to success. Working directly with the author, illustrator or playwright provides the theatre’s artistic team with the opportunity to not only honor the intent of the original work, but also breathe new life into an existing piece by expanding its audience and the method in which it can be appreciated.

Thanks!

Stephen L. Fredericks
Founder & Executive Director
The Growing Stage – The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey

The Growing Stage-The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey is a non-profit professional performing arts center dedicated to theatre for young audiences. A member theatre of the Association of Actor’s Equity, they provide opportunity for all to learn and grow through participation in the arts.

Their mission? To nurture the development of the performing arts through education and to create, produce and perform works that engage the entire family. Learn more about The Growing Stage - The Children's Theatre of New Jersey at www.growingstage.com

#9 The world is a fairy tale

The real world is no less magical or colorful than a children’s book, if you pay attention to what you see and understand that every person, creature, and object has a story.  Small acts of heroism occur daily – when one colleague stands up for another in the workplace; when a child’s friend defends him or her against a bully; when someone takes in a stray cat or faces the music with honesty despite potential consequences. Love, of every kind, is also a constant presence, as are the amazing moments when we connect with a stranger as though they have known each other forever. And don’t forget the daily instances of everyday people making a stand against everyday challenges. These are heroic deeds, wonderful tales of colorful people doing all the things that make great stories worth reading – and writing.

Understanding this is the key to real storytelling. But it’s also the key to empathy, because seeing others as the protagonists in their own stories helps us understand life from their point of view.

#8: Where Did THAT come From?

Getting a creative idea is like being struck by friendly lightning. My initial reaction is always, “Where did that come from?”

The fact is, the best creative ideas aren’t chiseled or built; they are glimpsed out of the corner of the mind’s eye – an unfamiliar shape . . . a spark in the darkness. The trick is to recognize them, trust them, and allow them to take form in your open palm.

I have always been driven – and exhilarated -- by the idea that there’s some splendid secret in the corner of my mind, just around the next bend, waiting to be written, or painted, or played. In fact, when I recorded a CD of original music with some friends several years ago, I named the band, “Secret” and the album, “Corner of the mind.”

Another way to look at it is that ideas are like aliens who are far more advanced than we are. We don’t find them. They find us.

#7: There is so much more to a book ...

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Chances are, you have a book that you grew up with that holds a special place in your heart. Maybe you liked the story, maybe you liked the characters, maybe you liked the art. For me, there was a series of Sesame Street Golden Books that were my favorites.

Titles like "The Monster at the End of this Book" starring your furry friend Grover introduced me to the notion of books jumping off the page and into my world. He spoke TO me, he tied the PAGES together, he peaked out from the next page to plead with me not to turn the page. How did he do that? He was breaking the fourth wall! "Big Bird's Red Book" made me feel smart while making me laugh hysterically. Big Bird, you see, while looking in his grocery bag for something RED to show me, was missing the endless parade of citizens, animals, catastrophe's and silliness behind him, all centered on red items. That's comedy!

I loved these books, and not just because I loved the show like all the other kids. The real reason was something I wouldn't fully appreciate until I was much older, well into my adulthood. Let me explain.

Now that I have a daughter, I read these same books to her and I find myself doing the voices for her, acting out certain scenes, pointing out the details. She's engaged and she's excited to sit on my lap with the book she's chosen. (With luck, she'll have the same nostalgia rush when she sees the books for the first time in 30 years, just like me. More on that phenomenon I share with my sister in another post.) By reading them together, we're exploring these worlds just like my mom used to do with me, with voices and movement and excitement! My mom added a flair of the theatrical to story time and perhaps that's something that stuck with me long enough to ultimately push me to the stage. Even now, when doing impressions for my daughter or performing with my comedy troupe, Out of Order Improv, I can't help but wonder if it all stems from story time.

So when I read Maurice Sendak's quote "There's so much more to a book than just the reading" that's how I interpret it. Books can be an experience, one to be shared together.

So I want to hear from you. What books were your favorites? What stories can you share about them? Let's keep story time going!

#6: Just Do It

People always tell me they wish they could write, or illustrate, or play guitar, or paint. This is a wish that can be granted in an instant.

Write. Draw. Play. Paint! 

I recently came across a saying in Zen Buddhism that, “enlightenment is closer to you than your own face.” The same can be said of art. It is immediately available at all times. Although training can help with some formal avenues of art, it is not required to create meaningful work. I met a young boy who made magnificent creatures out of anything he could find around the house and glue. I’ve seen people do amazing things with bits of hardware. I, myself, began playing guitar on a single string without so much as a single lesson. When I felt comfortable, I added a string. Today, I’m pretty good. I certainly never “learned” to write children’s books.

Art is closer to you than your own face. All you have to do is do it.
(So what are you waiting for?)

#5: The Power of Boredom

When we were bored as young children, we simply imagined our way out of the boredom by dreaming up something that interested us. We imagined not just fantastic creatures, places and activities, but entire mysteries, with complex plots, that grew and evolved over time! Our imaginations weren’t some isolated inner process. We lived them!

I believe the powers of imagination that we developed to fill our own empty time were the foundation for my lifelong creative explorations (including, of course, Shankman & O’Neill books).

Today, I’m never bored because there’s never enough time to finish my own thoughts and imaginings. So that’s what I do, happily, in every empty moment.

The next time you’re trying to figure out how to structure your child’s time, consider this: when it comes to developing imagination, boredom is a wonderful teacher.

#4: On Fear

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Working in New York City and living in New Jersey affords me ample time to indulge thanks to the lengthy commute. Recently, thanks to my addiction to Radio Lab, I've started listening to NPR's Invisibilia, a show that in their own words "explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior". A recent episode focused on fear and it features a weapon we can all use to fight it: Fear = Thinking + Time.

Jason Comely offered it up (more about him here) and it got me thinking, what in the creative process do I fear and could this be worth exploring? I often find myself hesitant to start a new project, afraid of taking the "correct" first steps, afraid it will not be good enough (you know, all that swell nagging your brain likes to do when you set out to create something new). What I've recently learned about these little hurdles though, is that simply starting is sometimes enough. If I don't think too hard about it and get bogged down in planning, I've killed two koopa troopa's with one scone (don't kill birds with stones). I've started and I've denied myself the time to dwell on those inherent fears. For me, it's "don't over think it, dive in."

How about you? Is there anything you fear that you can tackle with this in mind? 

#3: Rhyme Against the World

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Kids don’t have much control over the world around them. (Heck, who does?) But if you teach them the power of imagination, they can create their own rich inner worlds where they can play by their own rules, experience unlimited adventure (without consequence), and enjoy a lifetime of rewards. One way to help children unlock the power of imagination is to show them examples of creativity and explain that these were created by people, just like them, using nothing more than imagination and hard work. And one example of creativity that speaks powerfully to children is a rhyming book. (I know, because I was a child once.)

When I discovered, as a child, that I had the gift of rhyme and meter – that I could hone the music of words into shiny gems of thought and story – I felt as though I had discovered a treasure, a treasure that had no cost and that no one could take from me. By exercising this gift, I also discovered the awesome power of discipline (a lesson that has served me in ways far beyond creative writing).

For young children, rhyming books are more than just a shelter from the storm: they are proof that we have the power to create our own joy and sanity, regardless of external events, by exercising our inner gifts. That is an important lesson for a child. And for us all. 

I encourage parents and teachers to read rhyming books to their children. But do not forget to point out that someone, a person like them, created these stories out of nothing but imagination and hard work. And that we all have imaginations and the ability to work as hard as we like.

#1: Bad Eggrolls, Good Ideas

People often ask me how I come up ideas. They seem genuinely interested in understanding the magic process that they believe differentiates “creative” people from themselves. I’ve never been sure that “creative” people actually have more ideas than anybody else. I think it may just be that we take our ideas more seriously; we think they’re worthwhile so we act on them. I’m guessing if most people have a fleeting thought about how funny it might be to chronicle the imaginary habits and quirks of an extremely sophisticated lobster, they would chalk it up to stress or a bad eggroll and move on.

We “creative” people on the other hand (Dave and I), devoted some months of our life to developing the idea in the form of a new children’s book (“When a Lobster Buys a Bathrobe”). If you have never considered yourself a particularly creative person, but would like to change that, you might start by taking your ideas more seriously. The more offbeat, the better -- because “strange” also means “original,” and that’s what creativity is all about.

So the next time you get a bizarre thought, write it down. Then ask yourself whether it can be written, drawn, photographed, painted or otherwise brought to life. Because a bunch of people are going to purchase and enjoy our new lobster book . . . even if it was the result of a bad eggroll.

(bad eggroll. bad.)

(bad eggroll. bad.)