Thrilled to announce that Street Theatre Company and Playhouse Nashville have commissioned me to write ICHABOD: MISSING IN SLEEPY HOLLOW, an adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for STC's ClassAct Dramatics youth division! Here's the announcement Street Theatre Company put on Facebook today:
As REALLY ROSIE heads into closing weekend, we're thrilled to announce the winner of our writing search for ClassAct Dramatics' October production of an original adaption of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. ICHABOD: MISSING IN SLEEPY HOLLOW by Jeremy Sony - Writer was chosen from among submissions to Playhouse Nashville -- our partner on this exciting endeavor. Auditions by appointment only are August25th from 3-5pm and August 26th from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an audition slot. Rehearsals will run September 9th-October 3rd. The show will run October 4th - 12th, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7pm and Saturday afternoons at 2pm. Auditions will consist of cold readings from the script. Casting ages 8-18. CONGRATULATIONS, JEREMY!! We can't wait to stage your script!!
This script was selected as part of this year's Playhouse Nashville playwrights contest. Keep watching my blog for updates on the process as this script is still in development for its October premiere.
About the Play
Ichabod: Missing in Sleepy Hollow picks up right after the Washington Irving story "ends". Shortly after Ichabod disappears, his students, led by the fearless Hanna, meet their new school teacher, Abigail Seymour. While none of the grown-ups seem concerned about what happened to Ichabod, Hanna is determined to find out the truth and she tries to enlist her new teacher to help solve the mystery. Abigail is more focused on teaching than chasing ghosts---that is until she has her own run-in with the headless horseman! Worried that Abigail might befall the same fate as Ichabod, the students race to retrace Ichabod's final night in Sleepy Hollow before the headless horseman returns! Along with the new characters, we learn some new revelations, gain clues on who the Headless Horseman could be and meet all the original Irving characters. This spooky tale is perfect for the whole family!
Thank you to everyone at Street Theatre Company and Playhouse Nashville. I'm thrilled to be working with ClassAct Dramatics on this adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow!
NOTE: This is part one in a series about the images and characterizations of women I see depicted in mainstream media; how those images might affect my future children; and what responsibility I have, as a man and writer, when it comes to writing for women.
Full disclosure: I don't have a daughter. I don't have kids. My wife and I are still in that abstract place where we talk about our future kids in relation to the world around us... abstractly; like we're giving ourselves bench tests as to whether we could see ourselves parenting --- not abstractly, but in real world concrete ways.
One day, while perusing Pinterest, she found a onesie that had Disney's Bambi on it. It was pink. The onesie, not the deer. "Cute," she said, but kept looking for another option. My wife, for the record, is a huge fan of Bambi. Her first cat was named after him. Yes... HIM. She likes to remind me that Bambi is a boy's name. Because he's a boy. So she was relieved to find a similar Bambi onesie in blue. Her extended search was not because she's abstractly thinking about us having a baby boy and heaven forbid he wear pink, but because we're not huge fans of pink (we're really not) and she was seeing if there were alternatives, because no matter the gender of our abstract future children, we'll be actively seeking a variety of colors with which to surround them. I wonder sometimes what color we will paint our abstract kids' rooms. Will we determine the paint swatches by their gender? Will we do one of those gender reveal cakes with the pink or blue cake mix? What toys will we buy our sons and what toys will we buy our daughters and what toys will suit them both? What books and movies and shows will guide them too as they grow up?
This got me thinking about some recent posts I've read about female characters, their portrayals, and what we're putting in front of our children (and ourselves). More and more, I have started to become acutely aware of how creative property --- movies, plays, books, TV, comics, etc. --- is branded and marketed; how the powers that be (executives and focus groups) decide what my abstract future kids will see when they walk through the toy store or clothing department. What they see on TV. On magazines. The heroes they follow in books and on film. You see where this is going.
The world markets differently to girls and boys (I know, newsflash right?). It just does. We perpetuate it. Not all of us, but enough of us that the powers that be don't seem too concerned (just maybe a bit). Earlier this year, you may have read about an animated female character getting a makeover so she could be more marketable off-camera. I read those stories and something about them frightened me. This is not, however, another blog post ripping Disney a new one for taking Merida (the heroine of Pixar's BRAVE) and giving her a sexy new look (full disclosure, Disney: many of us have no problem with sexy in appropriate settings --- it's just that Merida is NOT one of those settings, because kids don't need sexy, they don't need to grow up that fast, and it's frightening enough that seven year-olds fawn over Justin Bieber and Taylor Lautner. Please, Disney, don't make it worse). No, enough people have gone after the Mouse House and Disney has retreated back to the literal drawing board. No, what this is --- this is me looking around at the recent Disney Princessification of Merida and seeing a bigger, more frightening pattern. I didn't invent the word princessification, it is a thing... a way of the world which promotes being a princess as a lifestyle choice to emulate (full disclosure: that's not what frightened me). Disney is probably the chief campaigner of the princessification movement. And that would be fine, if Disney left its princesses alone during the marketing phase and promoted them as the princesses we see on screen. What frightens me isn't that Disney (and, to be fair, every other marketing engine on Earth) is telling young women (and, by extension, young men) that girls have to be pretty --- it's that they're telling them that being pretty is all they have to be.
Again, there are lots of articles out there bringing up good points about how society advocates a superficial world --- teeth whitening, hair color, color contacts, diet pills, anti-aging creams, plastic surgery, shows about plastic surgery, etc.; there is an overwhelming bombardment on our senses (especially if you read magazines or watch late-night infomercials) telling adults that we're not pretty enough. We need help. We need the magic product to make us desirable. This marketing extends downs to our kids (abstract or real, depending on where you are in the parenting spectrum), especially girls. While that's not something to be excited about, I think Merida's makeover brought to light a much scarier scenario than "you should be pretty." Mark Whiitington mentions it in his opinion piece on Yahoo Voices: they took away Merida's bow and arrow. They took away the tomboy. They took away everything about her that made her, well, HER.
What I've noticed, beyond Merida, is that ALL the Disney princesses have been "Merida'd" --- they've all been princessified. Not just made prettier, but portrayed in one single light. They have, in some form, been stripped of the very identity, gumption, or spark that makes them role models.
Look at the image above. The eleven princesses. They are dressed for the party, for the ball, and I'm sure Disney would say they're just dressed up because that's what they wore for their coronation ceremony... they're just dressed up. There are plenty of people who will argue there is no shame in wanting to "feel pretty." Heck, I like to put on a suit, trim my beard, and polish up for date night with my wife, and she likes to get dressed up too. We like the pretty, but not when it means losing the awesome power that comes with being independent and self-aware. Merida lost her bow and arrow. How about Rapunzel and her frying pan? I guess we don't need women defending themselves. And Belle, seriously, do you ever see her with a book anymore? The woman should be leading a literacy campaign. And Mulan --- she SAVED CHINA --- but she isn't proudly wearing her armor when she hangs out with Cinderella and Snow White? Why not? They don't seem to embody the spirit of the women that kicked some ass during their films. That's where I take issue.
You want to push pretty, Disney? Push pretty. But also push the image of women who take care of themselves. Show my future daughter that women should read books, they should put on armor and fight for what they believe, they should be totally prepared to defend themselves, stand up for themselves, speak for themselves. Yes, Disney (and anyone reading this who thinks I'm over-reacting), the image above is not the end-all be all image of those women, as they live on in their movies and books, but it is the MAIN image you promote of them. It's the defining image you sell to us. You sell to our children. You choose not to sell the empowering images --- the scholar, the warrior, the independent spirit --- you choose to leave that out at the end of the day. And side rant: where the heck is Giselle, who slayed a dragon and saved her prince? I know she was only a cartoon for like 10 minutes before she turned into Amy Adams, but seriously --- the girl scaled a skyscraper and battled a GIANT dragon... oh wait... maybe that's why she's not in this line up; she's more than just a pretty face (note to Disney: so are they all).
All that being said --- how do I write women? I'm not asking, like a "how to," but asking in a self-examination kinda way. Looking over my work and my future work, this whole topic of discussion makes me ponder. Do I write women characters that have more than one dimension? Do I emphasize the pretty over the gumption? Are they strong? Independent? Are they awesome princesses of legend or are they marketed to sell? Am I creating role models for my abstract future daughters? What about my abstract future sons? What about my real life nephews and real life Goddaughter? What type of women am I showing them in my writing?
In Writing for Our Daughters Part II, I'm gonna try to tackle that.
Please share and keep the discussion going. I've just opened up my comments, so if you have thoughts about the words I've said, I'll read them (and reply if warranted). Thanks for reading.
I came across a quote this week, thanks to a Facebook status update on the Writer's Digest page, that I felt compelled to blog about. The quote is this:
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
― Frank Herbert
Of the comments that followed, there seemed to be a general approval and consensus (he typed redundantly) that this was true. 494 likes. 121 shares. So yeah, I'd say Frank Herbert nailed that one. Except, with all due respect to Mr. Herbert---an author whose career brought us only one of the best-selling science fiction novels of all time (I'm talking about DUNE) and its sequels---there is a real ending when telling a story. It's not "just the place where you stop," I say, emphasizing the respectfully.
Perhaps, Mr. Herbert and I consider endings in the same light and it's our lexicon that is different. He's no longer alive to expand on this comment and before I'm eviscerated for taking a science-fiction legend to task on the semantics of narrative structure, I'll concede that he could simply mean that in any story there lies a point where you stop telling it, but it's not an "ending" for those characters. It's literally where the story "stops" and you, the reader, are no longer privy to that world. Okay... yes, sure. However, I think this brings up an interesting question. What's the difference between ending a story and stopping one? And, to that point, why is it important to make the distinction?
Taken literally, the quote jumped out at me as saying that you can just end a story any old place---as it's "just the place where you stop" and that's what stuck in my craw a bit. I'm from the school of thought that a story, properly told, has a "real ending" in that it has a predetermined end point based upon the structure of the story leading up to it. Between "Once Upon a Time" and "The End" there lies a structure that takes us through the story. Where it stops is contingent upon where it begins, and conversely so.
If a story is going along, happy as Larry, and it stops---because that's where you decided to stop it---and if it does so at just any old point, that's what it will feel like. A stop. Not an end. The difference? One is dying in your bed at a ripe old age surrounded by loved ones, and the other is falling off a cliff on your honeymoon. Now if life, yeah, unfortunately, sometimes, it just stops. Not everyone gets a real ending in life---but in stories? They should. An "end" done properly brings about closure; it is a natural conclusion to a series of events that when put together, tell a story. Usually, we're waiting for something to happen. At some point, a question is raised. Will the farm boy win the dog-sled race and save the family farm? Will a band of misfit coworkers stop a media conglomerate from buying out their record store? Will Batman stop the Joker from destroying Gotham? All of these are movie examples and bonus points if you knew all three; but the point is that these stories, once that question is posed to the audience, had a "real ending" determined. We knew that once the question was answered, we had reached the "real ending"---we had found closure. If the story stopped before that moment, it would feel incomplete. If the story stopped long after the question was answered, it would feel long and tired.
I always had devastating trouble with endings in my early writing (heck, I still do if I haven't figured out the real ending to my story). It always seemed simple to begin a story. Present the setting, present character, and make something happen. After that, I would write and write and ultimately come to a point where I hit a wall. Or I fell off a cliff. The storytelling stopped, but there wasn't an ending. Just a stopping point. And this troubled me. And I couldn't figure out why I had such trouble with "the end" until I realized that I was only writing "the stop" or, more precisely, "a stop." No closure. No sense of a completed story arc. Just an empty cliff face. If the story doesn't stop at the end, then Mr. Herbert's right: there is no real ending, it's just "a" place where you stop. Not "the" place.
Are there exception to this rule? Sure---sometimes it's not about asking a question. Sometimes, it's about jumping in and then jumping out of a longer story, showing us a "slice of life." In these instances, I can see where Mr. Herbert's quote works well. We accept that we're along for a ride and when it's over, it's over. We don't know when that stop is coming, until we're there; but in those cases, we're prepared for it. In those structures, we aren't promised (whether implicitly or explicitly) a real ending. Though even in real world examples, like a documentary, I can see where this approach, this pop-in and pop-out with narrative abandon (which seems ripe for documentary---actual slices of life) is altered to craft a more structured narrative. We apply storytelling conceits to even the things we call "reality" programming (let's be honest, most of that is completely scripted). Documentaries do it. Magazines do it. It's slice of life, but the story tellers craft it with narrative; giving us a starting point, a map, and a real ending at which to aim. Why? To keep us engaged. We're often presented with a person to follow, with whom we can identify, and a question is asked about that person as to what they might accomplish over the course of the documentary/article/story. When the outcome of that goal is revealed, through accomplishment or failure, you understand there isn't anything more to say. That feeling you get, at the end of a book or film or story, that feeling that the story teller is about to stop---that feeling happens for a reason---that's your real ending.
Any time you make an effort to craft a story through plot---those choices and actions your characters undertake and the complications that ultimately ensue---you are jumping onto the bandwagon and proclaiming with those words that there is a "real ending" to be had. Something is supposed to happen, something that signals back to the beginning. There is a reason stories begin where they do---it's why we have inciting incidents and intrusions. Those first moments are the set-up and clues that create the road map for the story we're about to travel. We take our audiences on a journey when we tell a story. Our goal is to get our audience home, safe in their beds, feeling all sorts of closure when they say goodbye to the world in which we've placed them. Not push them off a cliff. Or worse---no bed, no cliff; just letting them watch the ending go by and then leaving them stranded, wondering why they're stuck on a journey, listening to a story that they know should have already stopped.
That's why it's important to know your real ending. To know when exactly the journey is over. That's why we don't call it the stop---we give it a more deserved moniker: the end. It's not just a place to stop. It's THE place. Mr. Herbert said it himself. He doesn't consider this the "real ending," but, respectfully, that's exactly what this is.
Every word we push out into the public sphere is a statement we intend one way, but which can be perceived in another. One day, the things I say and write may be used against me --- and I might not be there to defend myself. This happened to Fred Rogers about five years ago on Fox News. Why am I bringing this up now? Because earlier this morning, a good friend of mine posted a story on his Facebook written by Rollie Williams from upworthy.com titled "Fox News Spends 6 Minutes Describing Why Mr. Rogers Was An 'Evil, Evil Man'." You can click that link to read Mr. Williams thoughts on the whole matter, which --- like my response below --- is in reaction to the Fox News story talking about what Mr. Rogers has taught a generation of children. As I said, everything we put out there warrants a response from someone else. If you have time, check out the 6 minute video (audio is slightly off, unfortunately) and see my response below it.
Or just scroll down to read my response, and find out what Mr. Rogers taught me.
This is my response, which I posted as a comment on my friend's link. I copied and pasted it verbatim as it was written fast and furiously after watching the video, and rather than spend time editing and adapting it for the blog, I opted to let you read it as it was posted to my friends.
[This turned into a much longer, emotional response than I intended when I started this comment; but I'm leaving it here nonetheless.] Wow. Just... I kept waiting for this to be some horrific April Fools Day joke. While I have, as a college instructor, experienced the "students begging for a grade" and will say that there are *some* people in this world who feel entitled (and that those people exist in EVERY generation), it has nothing to do with Mr. Rogers. I like when the guy attacking Mr. Rogers says he's not talking about his own generation, but this next set of kids... even though Mr. Rogers has been disappearing from airwaves steadily since his last episode in 2001... it's this guy's generation (MY generation from the looks of him), and those before us since the 50s-60s that watched this awesome show and learned that yes, we are special. April nailed it* --- feeling like you are special doesn't equate to feeling entitled. What Mr. Rogers taught me as a kid was that people should be nice to each other, that imagination was a gift and to hold onto it (thank you, Mr. Rogers, for that, considering I'm pursuing a career in working with my imagination), and the main thing he taught me is that I was worth something. I was the little nerd kid with giant glasses that would get picked last, picked on, and bullied. It was programs like Mr. Rogers (and, thankfully, my loving parents & family) who gave me the self-confidence and resolve to stand up to bullies and not let it get to me; to know that nothing they teased me with was my fault. Maybe I wasn't good at sports, but I was good at something. And that was using my imagination. But never for a second did that mean I would just be handed a career as a writer or artist. No, I knew I still had to work to make that happen. Like I said, feeling entitled comes to people who are handed everything and never have to work for it from a young age... Mr. Rogers never gave me anything I didn't have to work for. I still had to work to be what I wanted, to be myself, to not let others push me down, and that's not an easy thing when you're one of the "not cool" kids. Mr. Rogers only reminded me that there was something inside me worth fighting for and working for and it's sad that his show is no longer a staple on television. And it's sad that people attack him for only wanting us to learn kindness, friendship, imagination, and that we're special. Unique. We should respect those qualities in each other, the qualities that make us different. Maybe if we all learned how special and significant each person is, we might not attack each other the way we do. Clearly, this news guy didn't watch the same Mr. Rogers that I did.
*April, another friend, left this as part of her comment: "I grew up on Mr. Rogers, and I'm doing quite well. I work hard. I don't feel entitled. I believe that I am special. The idea is that you are special exactly for who you are..." [posted with permission].
Thank you for reading. If you, like me, grew up on Mr. Rogers and don't consider him an evil man, you can still find his shows airing on some PBS stations; or you can visit pbskids.org and find Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood online.
Thoughts. From my brain. Anything to do with how we tell stories and the stories we tell each other. Literally and figuratively.
Writer. Husband. Father. Effulgent dreamer. A Fightin' Irishman (@NDdotEDU '01). A playwriting Bobcat (MFA in Playwriting, @OhioU '13). I write plays. I'm a geek. I wanted to be an astronaut. I go places in my head.