Plays rely on recycling all the time. Parodies and adaptations of classic works, fairy tales, and even the Bible are a common way for playwrights to break onto the stage.
Most of my published plays are stage adaptations of familiar stories – fairy tales and other classics that have stood the test of time. I’m okay with being less than original when it comes to writing plays. There are so many fantastic stories out there that are begging to be rewritten for a live audience. I figure if Shakespeare can do it, so can I. For example, his play The Two Noble Kinsmen is a remake of Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. (If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to read them side-by-side.)
If you are new to writing plays, adapting a familiar story is a great way to get your feet wet. Of course, it is crucial that before you do anything, you check to make sure there are no copyright restrictions. In essence, anything published before 1923 is considered public domain. That’s why fairy tales, Shakespeare, Dickens, and even Bible stories are fair game. Many works are public domain even beyond 1923 due to various copyright registration rules. You will want to do your research if in any doubt.
I find adapting classic stories for the stage very rewarding, even if the basic idea is not originally mine. Using the given framework of plot and characters still allows for a lot of creativity. It is up to me to make the story come to life – literally. In the previous issue of Fellowscript, I emphasized that a play is not the same as a movie. This is important to keep in mind, even when writing adaptations. The playwright must decide how the story will be staged without the use of complicated sets and scene changes, and how the motivation of each character will come across in their dialogue and actions without sounding contrived. It’s always fun to add some unexpected twists, as well. In my stage version of the Peter Pan classic called Hook’sNemesis, Captain Hook is a neurotic female who has her psychologist as well as her mother on board the pirate ship. My premise started with the thought, “What if Hook had Mommy issues?” and it went from there. (Her mother always wanted a boy…)
Many Christian playwrights choose to adapt Bible stories for the stage, which is another way to hone your skills as a playwright. Another thing I mentioned in last issue’s column was the fact that plays are meant to be produced. Why not offer to write your church’s next pageant? Easter and Christmas are the two most popular, but there are hundreds of other dramatic stories that are easily adaptable to the stage. (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat comes to mind.) However, understanding the basics of dialogue, stage movement, and other theatrical dynamics can be the difference between a ‘nice’ Easter pageant and a truly moving experience.
Writing plays is a skill set that takes some practice. Scripts also tend to require a fair bit of revision once they are test driven with real actors on a stage. That’s why recycling play ideas from other works is such a great way to start. There is enough to think about in terms of dialogue, action, scene changes, and just the sheer logistics of making it work without having to wonder if the plot has merit. As a bonus, audiences love watching their favourite stories come to life. It’s a win-win!
*Much of this article was originally printed in the May 2016 issue of Fellowscript Magazine.
Today marks an important milestone for me. It is the tenth anniversary of my dear mother’s passing. In honour of her memory I am reposting an article I wrote several years ago on my previous blog, and which has been shared multiple others times, probably because of its impact. It is the story of a vibrant and amazing woman. So here, for the first time on this blog, I present to you… THE DOREEN METHOD. Enjoy
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The Doreen Method. That’s what we call it at our house when I cook something strange or new off the top of my head, or sew something without a pattern, or clean in a haphazard whirlwind …. or do just about anything in a somewhat off the wall and non-traditional way. It’s a tribute to my mother, Doreen, and in a few minutes you’ll understand the full connotation of the phrase.
My mother was the most awesome, unique, creative, wild, crazy, loving, off the wall, caring, artsy, forgiving, nut case, wonderful women I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Really. I know what you’re thinking. We all think our own mother’s are the best – or at least we say those kinds of things … especially when our mother’s are dead and gone, as mine is. It’s easy to remember the good traits and amplify them to some degree. So forgive me if my memory is somewhat biased.
But, cutting past all the platitudes and nice fuzzy feelings, my mother truly was an inspiration to not only me, but many other people, including family, friends and former students. You see, she wasn’t perfect, but it was the way she embraced life and saw the beauty and creativity in things that I think inspired so many. She was a teacher, an artist, a musician, a mother and grandmother, a prayer warrior, and a true and loyal friend. Somehow, she had a knack for making everything into a creative adventure. Some might even have called her eccentric. (Okay, maybe even a ‘loon’ as my brother in law so affectionately likes to say!)
Let me give you some examples. As a dutiful wife in the fifties and sixties, she managed to keep up with the expected house hold chores, but she was never one much for canning, sewing, baking … all those things a ‘good’ wife did. She was much more apt to play with her kids – create magical forts out of blankets, or have impromptu picnics on the kitchen floor. She never shied away from building, sewing, or painting if it meant some kind of fun and creative project that we kids could share. I remember how she made ‘treasure’ out of tin foil (I think) and put it in the root cellar that we had for potatoes and such when I was very small. We went down there together and with wide eyed amazement, she showed me the buried treasure that she had found! No matter what magical adventure she created, I always knew it was just a game – but I enjoyed every moment of those fun filled childhood trips invented by my mother. I wonder how many mother’s actually take the time to play with their kids any more? Usually the best times were those that were fairly impromptu and had little in the way of preparation. Her vivid imagination was enough to spark the ongoing ‘play’ when she had other chores. I never remember being bored as a child.
As an artist, my mother would paint just about anything she could get her hands on. Rocks, doors, walls, stair wells – even entire buildings! She painted many murals over the course of her life, some on the sides of old buildings (long before this was a common sight) and painted every backdrop for every figure skating carnival/church concert/school play for decades. Of course, being the creative free spirit that she was, making a mess was just a hazard of the job. She was not known for being pristine! So what was her solution? Well, if there wasn’t anything else suitable, she could be found wearing a pair of under-panties on her head to keep her hair clean! (True story on more than one occasion!)
She was also ‘famous’ for her fabulous bedtime songs. Bedtime rarely took place without a story or a song or both. One that she was especially renowned for within the family was an old thirties song called “The Sleepy Town Express”. It was this very song that I sang to her as I sat by her bed during her last hours on earth. She fell asleep to it’s tune at around four am. The next day both of my sisters and my two female cousins reported being awakened at that hour ‘dreaming’ the song. I painted a series of pictures based on this song that was later published as a children’s book.
I could keep rambling on and on. As a teacher, History, English, and Science all came alive with her imaginative projects. She loved putting on class plays and musicals at both school and church. She continued to invent stories and imaginary worlds with her grandchildren and great grandchildren and always came to visit armed with a new craft or some other fun and messy project.
Somehow I feel as if I am not truly expressing how truly individualistic and inspiring she was. She was a maverick for her day – into health foods and yoga (standing on her head each morning) back in the sixties and seventies long before either of those thing had become mainstream. Her artistic nature and creative talents inspired me to pursue my own life of creativity, although I will admit that as a teenager I was sometimes embarrassed by her free spirited and artsy ways.
I’ve long since gotten over that, obviously. As I get older I recognize that the old saying ‘You get more like your own mother’ is true. In my case, I say ‘bring it on’. I would be honoured to be like her in any small way and to carry on the legacy of creativity that she embodied. Even more than that, however, I want to be that kind of woman of faith. When she came to Jesus, after searching and experimenting with all kinds of other religious philosophies, she embraced her faith wholeheartedly and set such a high standard that I am sure I can not ever measure up. I’ve talked about all the fun and freedom that she projected, but hers was also a life of great sorrow and personal pain. (Another story for another time perhaps.) Despite her own tragedy and mistreatment, she was steadfast, loving and forgiving. She was an uber-prayer-warrior if ever there was one, and I know for a fact that it was her tenacity in prayer that brought me to faith in Christ, as well as my then boyfriend. (Who later became my husband.) He always cites her as his spiritual mother and one of the most influential people in his walk with Christ, and I know it’s true. She was a shining example – all cliche and fluffiness aside!
So, to end this post, let me just say, “Long live the Doreen method!” This is our family’s affectionate way of saying, “If you don’t have a recipe, make it up; if you don’t have the directions, experiment; if you like something, do it; if you feel like singing/painting/ whatever – go for it.” This is a tribute to her – Doreen – that fearless woman of faith that paved the way with a life of creativity and inner joy that still stands above the crowd as an example that I am proud to emulate.
Why do I love words?
I often cite the time as a young mother I borrowed my mother’s old typewriter and thus began my love affair with writing. I’ve also written about the time I wrote my first play back in Grade Four and how that impacted me to write and direct in the future. Or I’ve mentioned my high school English teacher who encouraged me to write and gave me that small seed of hope that I really could be a writer some day. But I think the love of words and beautiful language goes much farther and deeper than any of these incidents.
My grandmother loved reading and could quote long passages from the likes of Longfellow and Shakespeare. She was the ‘go to’ person when any member of the family needed a poem to recite for public speaking. (We did that in those days…) I can still see her, eyes closed, as she recited the first lines of Evangeline, Longfellow’s epic poem.
“This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pine and the hemlock, bearded in moss, in garments of green, indistinct in the twilight.”
The words were haunting and beautiful. She would then go on to tell the rest of the story in her own words, for it was a tale too long for little children.
The impact was profound. I read the poem to my own children one year when we homeschooled and were studying Canadian history. Then, a few summers later, we visited Nova Scotia and the fabled site of Evangeline’s tragic tale. I now have a granddaughter named Evangeline – not by coincidence, I suspect. (Here is a painting I did entitled ‘Evangeline’ which I gave to my daughter.)
Reading books to children and telling them stories has a huge impact. Never belittle the bedtime story or the importance of sharing words with your children and grandchildren. It has lasting effects.
As I press onward in my quest to become the person God wants me to be, I can’t help but reflect on how gracious God really is. I am hard-wired to be creative – writing, painting, playing music, directing for the theatre … these are a just a few of my passions. Sometimes, however, I get annoyed when I have to do all those other things that continually take my time and attention away from what I love. I get angry when it seems like people don’t appreciate all my efforts. I get impatient when my writing career isn’t progressing as fast as I would like it to. I get discouraged when I get another rejection letter for a manuscript I’ve sent in for perusal.
Then I have to stop and ask myself. Why do I write? Why do I paint? Why do I do any of the things that I pour my heart into? The bottom line is, I do it because I love to do it. It’s the way God made me – with a desire to constantly be in ‘create’ mode. But ultimately, that need to create, no matter in what form, needs to be a reflection of the Creator Himself.
Now, I’m not talking about always including ‘religious’ symbolism in my work. I don’t think that is necessary. Creation itself speaks about God’s glory, but there isn’t a placard anywhere saying “Made by God”. Similarly, whatever I’m doing, be it directing a secular play, writing a novel, or painting a picture, it must be reflective of who I am as a unique individual created in the image of God. Also, I must remain true to the calling that I feel on my life. No watered down ‘pansy’ work for me! I’m just not that inspired by anything too sentimental or flowery. Some people (like my husband) might like to tease me and say I’m a bit of a cynic – maybe even a rebel, but I’m really not the romantic type, even though, I write Romantic Suspense.
Once, quite a few years ago, I entered a juried art show with some Intaglio prints I had made. The subject matter was quite melancholy; the color palette mostly black. The adjudicator asked me if I was depressed, which made me laugh because nothing could be further from the truth! I feel very content and satisfied with my life, (and did back then, too) but I have always been fascinated by the deeper, darker side of the human psyche. It’s why I love Shakespeare’s tragedies, like twisted stories (’The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson is the BEST STORY EVER WRITTEN!) and admire artists like Kathe Kollwitz. I’d far rather watch a Sci-fi flick than a romance, and – I’m being honest here – I really do not like bonnet romance. Period.
It’s why I feel there is a market out there for the kind of Christian fiction that I write. I like a story with a little bit of an edge – something slightly unexpected and that contains characters that are ‘real’, with their less than perfect flaws and all. At one time I felt apologetic for my tastes and interests, (Well, maybe not, but it makes me feel good to say so …) but I have long since given up trying to please every one all the time.
I am grateful for a husband who loves me for who I am, idiosyncrasies and all. I’m also grateful for children who have learned to stand up for themselves as individuals while maintaining their faith in Christ. Which brings me back to my first point. I am grateful for God’s blessings, especially in regard to making me the way I am. I am so blessed to be able to love and worship Him in freedom, without fear that I am ‘doing it wrong’. I am who I am and God made me that way. As long as I keep my eyes fixed on Him, I need not worry about trying to please another.