Friday, November 18, 2016

Guest Post: How to Save the Juicebox Theatre

Hi folks!

We're thrilled to have Rebecca Donnelly, author of How to Stage a Catastrophe guest-blogging for us today.

Her bio:

Rebecca Donnelly was born in England and has lived in California, Florida, and New Mexico. She has a MA in Humanities and a Master's in Library and Information Science. These days she writes and runs a small rural library in upstate New York. Her debut middle-grade novel, HOW TO STAGE A CATASTROPHE, the story of a children's theatre in the Florida panhandle, will be published by Capstone Young Readers in April 2017. Visits Rebecca's website here and get all kinds of insider information, including how to pre-order her book!

And now, on to the post!

My debut middle-grade novel, How to Stage a Catastrophe, is a pretty fast book. It’s 252 small pages, including a few blank ones and some nifty graphs and charts (thank you, Brann Garvey, for rendering them so well). About 47,000 words, but it doesn’t feel like that many to me. Within those pages are three acts, and a bunch of scenes, like a play. The whole thing isn’t written in script format, although there are a couple of scenes that end up that way. Mostly, it’s written as if Sidney Camazzola, the energetic narrator, were directing a play in his head. And sometimes he has a little trouble keeping track of things.

Me, too. The first problem I had was what to do with all these elements of the story that kept bouncing around inside my head. They’ve been there since 2011, or, if you take the long view, since 1989, when I first set foot on the stage at Alameda Children’s Musical Theater to play the Spider in the non-musical adaptation of James and the Giant Peach. I only did three plays there (I was also Veruca Salt and, less gloriously, a few small roles in the very non-musical adaptation of Tom Sawyer) but I never lost that feeling of the magic of a performance.

Back to 2011. I was taking a break from another writing project when a kid popped into my head and said, “I cut my own hair. It’s because I’m an orphan. My mom says she’ll do it for me, but I tell her orphans don’t let their moms do things like that.” What kind of kid says that, I wondered, when he’s clearly not a real orphan? A theater kid. But it was clear that Sid was no actor. That line changed eventually, but Sid stuck around. In fact, there is no story without Sid, because he’s the director of his story, and he tells it exactly how he pleases. He starts off with, Presenting the story of how we saved the Juicebox Theater. (It’s not cheating to tell you that. I don’t want you to worry, is all.)

The rest of the book took three years to write. I had a lot to work in there: Sid’s best friend Folly and his dreams of a business empire; the sayings of Zap Zapter, Folly’s mentor in business and life; a couple of small mysteries; a bunch of acronyms; a girl and her life-size puppet; another girl and another life-size puppet; a real dog who plays a dead dog; a kid who never gets a speaking role; a Golden Bowtie; cookies; cockroaches—you see what I mean. I wasn’t writing a book so much as packing for a trip, with only a glimmer of clue where I was going. 

I got there eventually, with Sid and his cast and the contents of his prop closet. And they do save the Juicebox Theater, which, if you weren’t aware, was in serious financial straits. They do it in a single summer, which seems fast to me, but that’s the way it should be, in theater and in books. The real work happens behind the scenes, and what the audience gets to see is the magic.


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