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Saturday, February 23, 2013

WRITING INSPIRATION: How and Why I Wrote "Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story"

A little princess peeling a potato (or, if you want to, imagine it's a grapefruit)
Hello, everyone.  It's Saturday, February 23rd here at Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and today, I'm going to share with you a little bit about the writing process of one of my published plays, a sweet little story with a fairytale element called Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story.

Once upon a time, I was blessed in my life to be in a relationship with a young woman who had a little girl.  I had never been in such a situation before, and it came with some nervousness.  After all, I wasn't the girl's father, and I really didn't know all that much about how to be such a huge part of a child's life.  She was one years old, with a pretty little smile and a cute, single ponytail on the top of her head when I met her.  She was just grasping the art of walking, and took wide little Frankenstein steps.  I liked her right away, and, of course, as my relationship progressed with her mother, I loved the little girl with all of my heart. 

It was my first experience with a love that can only be described as paternal.  I watched her grow from the age of 1 to the age of three, and was a part of her life on a daily basis for this time.  Eventually, the relationship between me and her mother came to an end, and I missed the little girl very, very much. 

Children teach us a great deal.  The greatest lesson they can give, if you are willing to pay attention, is how to see the world through their eyes, and, perhaps remember what it looked like when you were that age.  It is not always easy, and at times, the communication gap can be very frustrating, but it is a joy, all of it, and you see the joy in it all the more clearly when you are no longer a part of it. 

I have too many fond memories with this little one to pick a favorite, but there are some that stand out and always make me smile.  I remember picking her up at her babysitter's, and it was close to Easter, so her babysitter had given her a little gift baggie with some candy and some crayons.  As we drove home, she took one of the crayons from her baggie and and began to draw on my car.  "Sweetie, you can't do that, okay?," I said.  "You can't draw on my car."  She smiled, and told me, "But I can, Bobby!  I can!"  There was no hint of defiance in her voice.  She was assuring me that the crayons worked, and were, indeed, leaving a mark on my car.  It was just so adorable, that I couldn't help but laugh, and I let her draw on my car.  In fact, months later, when I was no longer a part of her every day life, I would look at those markings on the car and feel a new, bittersweet longing to see the girl who was not my daughter, but who I loved like one. 

So, in any case, it was missing this little girl and wanting to write a play for her that inspired me to write Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story.  I was back in my hometown of Dover-Foxcroft and had been for about a year.  Patrick Myers, the executive director of the Center Theatre at the time, recommended me to direct the one-act plays for Foxcroft Academy, my old alma mater (and also where I teach drama part-time now).  I was going to direct three one-act plays, and the caveat (something about a grant for funding) was that one of the plays had to be good for children, something we could perhaps take to local schools.  So I offered to write that one, and took the opportunity to write the play I wanted for the little girl who had changed my life.

In the play, the little girl, Sky (called Sky Baby by her mom), is 4 years old and a little bit of a genius.  She's a bit too smart to just be precocious.  Sky's mother and father are divorced, and her mother is dating a sweet guy named Barry, and it appears they are getting serious, because, when the play starts, Sky's mother is making clear that Barry will be telling Sky her bedtime story for the night.  Barry is very nervous, and is truly afraid that Sky just doesn't like him. 

After Sky's mother leaves Barry and Sky alone, Sky begins to make it clear that Barry cannot read her a story, but has to tell her a story.  So they begin to create a story together, and, as they do, characters from the story come into Sky's room, turning it into a fairytale land.  Sky becomes Princess Sky Baby, Barry becomes the Nervous Knight, and off we go.  As they create this story together (often stopping and snapping back to the real world), they get to know one another, and Sky starts to understand a bit more about her parents' divorce. 

Some of my favorite moments are when Sky instructs Barry on the art of telling stories.  I kind of made her expert.  She talkes about "raising the stakes" by creating a Giant Monster Person, and, when Barry worries that this is too scary and perhaps they should make the monster nice, Sky tells him, "He can't be nice from the beginning, or his character will have no place to grow from.  Gee whiz, Barry, don't you know ANYTHING about telling stories?"

Since I was writing the play for students at Foxcroft, I could tailor some certain parts and scenes.  For example, in the original script, I had two International Students from China who were involved, and so I made them the Mysterious Ladies of the Forest, who gave Barry and Sky Baby instructions in Chinese, with Barry and Sky Baby trying to figure out what they were saying... at the end of the scene, they spoke to them in perfect English, surprising the two.  "You needed to learn how to really listen," they tell Sky and Barry, before skipping merrily away.

I submitted the script to Brooklyn Publishers who had already published my plays Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel and my ten minute duet, Death and Pez (which will have its own blog post sometime down the line).  David liked the script, but asked me to change the Mysterious Ladies scene to somehow make it work for schools which perhaps did not have International students.  So I made the scene with the Two Mysterious Ladies into a big charade scene, with Barry and Sky Baby trying to figure out what the Ladies are acting out.  Then, at the end of the scene, the ladies speak to them, keeping the same kind of surprise from the original.  David liked the change and agreed to publish the script. 

When we performed at the Center Theatre, Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story was a great success, but it was an even bigger success when we took it to Guilford Primary School.  We performed it on a small stage that was used as a strorage space, and even had a photocopier on it.  We covered up alot of the stuff, but I decided to leave the photocopier and had my actors add a few last minute lines about how Sky Baby was so smart, all she wanted for her birthday was a photocopier (these did not stick it out for the published script).  I think it was about a hundred kids who were there, grades 1-4, and they loved Sky Baby, the play and the character.  It was a high school girl named Vanessa Cousins playing the part, and many of them wanted her to come over to their house and be their friends.  Kids truly are the best audience for theater... they accept things so quickly, and, as long as you don't take a wrong turn in the writing, they keep that acceptance all the way through.  You tell them Sky Baby is four, and they believe you, as long as she keeps acting like a four year old (with a heightened vocabulary... but still with the occasional tantrum).  Barry, also known as the Nervous Knight (who was pretty obviously based off of me), was played by John Levenseller.  The rest of the cast included Paige Hobbs as Christine, Sky's Mom (and the Queen in the story within the story), and Patrick Taggett as the Giant Monster Person (who was half-person, half-monster, and who was stealing all the grapefruits in the village).  Kids loved it when the Nervous Knight confronted the Giant Monster Person at the end, but, not with violence (Barry wouldn't allow it), but with an epic round of thumb wrestling. 

Not only did the kids love it, but the teachers loved it for the lessons it taught about working together, not judging people, and the way it handled a sensitive subject like divorce.

I am proud of this one, not only because I wrote it for someone special, but because I know it works.  I saw it firsthand.  Sadly, of all my published plays, it is the only one that has never received a production (since the first one I had before it was published).  I don't really understand why not.  A playwright pal of mine told me he didn't like the title, but, who knows?  I'm hoping it will find some productions some days, as I do think it is a play of some good merit, funny, and, touching.  And I know for a fact, because I witnessed it, that kids absolutely LOVE it.

So, if you're looking for a sweet, funny one-act for kids, feel free to check out Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story.  You can find it by clicking here:

Thank you for checking out Theater is a Sport today.  If you would like to become its fan on facebook, you can just follow this link:!/TheaterIsASport

I'll see you tomorrow.  Until then, I'm Bobby Keniston, assuring you of this one thing:  theater is not only a craft and an artform, but is also a sport.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this play. I actually helped costume it. It was great fun, and deserves to be performed many, many times.