Monday, May 17, 2010

Plays for Children—and Adults

Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, one of the inspirations for Ben and the Magic Paintbrush. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Ben and the Magic Paintbrush is an adaptation of an ancient Chinese folk tale, but it owes a great deal to early Disney movies.

Its author, Bathsheba Doran, grew up watching those films, which often featured children who helped change the adults in their lives for the better: “I liked that structure very much,” she says. “In Mary Poppins, the kids cause the grown-ups (with the help of Mary Poppins) to undergo an evolution.”

And so in her story, orphaned siblings Ben and Megan teach the grown-ups around them a thing or two. The talented pair—Ben’s a painter and Megan’s a human statue—deliver a comeuppance to the greedy couple who try to take advantage of them, and bring together another couple who become their surrogate parents.

Doran, a British native who lives in New York, has been at SCR throughout much of the rehearsal process to watch her world premiere take shape. She took a few minutes to talk about writing for children and what sort of stories she liked as a child.

Where did the idea originate?
This was a story I remember from when I was little. It came in the form of a tiny children's book with wonderful drawings. One particular image that stayed with me—the image of a bird flying off the piece of paper onto which it had been drawn.

But when I re-read the book, the story was a lot more frightening than I had remembered. So I decided to keep the basics of the myth, but to use it as a jumping-off point to write something that that I thought children would love.

What do you want children to take away from the play?
I want little boys to know they can be artists, and little girls to know they can be astronauts. I hope they'll see the merit of loyalty, and that even though they are children they can effect enormous change.

Mainly though, I want them to fall in love with going to the theatre, the way that I did when I was a child. So I've tried to write something that they will like, and something that their parents will like, so that they can enjoy the experience all together, without the barriers that usually exist between children and grown-ups.”

What sorts of stories did you like as a child?
I was obsessed with the British author Enid Blyton. I liked stories where kids were the main agents and they would go on these big adventures, and adults didn’t really exist except for the criminal that they would have to capture on their vacation.

Enid Blyton wrote 700 books, and I read about 650. I owe my love of reading to this author. They were not great literature, but they were compelling.

Ben and the Magic Paintbrush runs May 21 through June 6. Tickets are $17 to $29.

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