My book, Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras, celebrated its one year anniversary of being published in January. I didn’t get to celebrate with too much fanfare since I was preparing for rehearsals of Peter Pan Jr., which I’m directed for the Worthingway Arts Program. I look back at my journals and see the planning of the play version of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras beginning to be created. It really is a situation of the chicken and the egg: which came first, the book or the play?
Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras began as an idea for a children’s book. You can read more about the evolution of the story of a baby duck to a book-loving girl named Penny here. My old journals have characters that were cut from the original version of the play: penguins and a giraffe. Cowgirls don’t ride penguins, they don’t want their tuxedos to get dirty. Cowgirls don’t ride giraffes, they’re too busy knitting scarves for winter. The giraffe existed somewhat to get a “winter is coming” joke in there, but also it’s ridiculous and funny to see a giraffe knitting a scarf worthy of the Fourth Doctor.
As we near the year anniversary of the CATCO is Kids production of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras (March 10), I’m proud of the 9 Theatre Roundtable Award nominations the production received! We won two for acting: Abbie Ogilbee (Jack) and Ben Tracy (Ostrich, et al). It was remarkable to see a production that was written for families and young audiences get so much recognition.
I’m working towards getting Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras its next production. The audiences had so much fun with it, I can’t wait for the next time I get to watch it with an audience!
Of course, most of my energy is focused on Neverland (Peter Pan Jr. opens April 20). And on Oz (My play The Throne of Oz opens May 4). Then, I’ll be heading back to Baker Street.
There’s always another project!
My wife has been on a research trip since Wednesday, so I’ve been on my own with my son Jack since then. I’ve taken Jack to rehearsal on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s been really fun (and somewhat stressful to be honest) to have him there. Jack enjoys seeing the actors; he loves playing pretend. He was a little disappointed that he didn’t have his turn to pretend being an animal. Wednesday, he wanted to be a manatee. Thursday, he wanted to be a bunny. And yesterday, he was a kitty. I let him play on the stage when the actors went on a break. He’s having a difficult time understanding that the actors aren’t just taking turns pretending to be animals, they’re actually following a script! During breaks, Jack wants me to be Penny while he pretends to be an animal. It’s adorable.
As far as the play, it’s going amazingly well. Joe Bishara is a beast in the best possible sense. He drives hard and fast and expects you to keep up. And to the credit of the cast, they do. Each actor has come a long way, and they keep making new choices to further refine their characters. One thing that Joe told them yesterday is he doesn’t want talk down to the audience members. Yes, we’re creating a performance for an audience that includes children, but they deserve authenticity. It’s the same reason I like Doc McStuffins so much: they tackle emotions and situations from an authentic place. (Notice I didn’t say we’re creating a performance “for children.” I know there will be adults in the audience, too. It’s a very deliberate choice to say that I’m writing for “audiences that include children.”)
The progress of the cast was especially striking yesterday. Jack and I skipped rehearsal on Friday; the kid needed to get to bed early... And so did I quite frankly. Yesterday, there were so many moments that were solidified and strikingly different from just a single rehearsal that I missed. That’s not to say there wasn’t work to be done, but the progress was clear. The three leads have come a long way and, if they continue the hard work I saw yesterday, they’re going to rock things out on opening day this Friday!
As for me, this week is going to be fun and busy and somewhat overwhelming. Tomorrow, I’m spending most of my day at West Broad Elementary School, reading the book of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras. The students will also meet Emma Shachter who plays Penny! I have five sessions of 30 minutes a piece with a five minute break in-between. I’m excited to share the story with them and answer questions the students (or teachers) might have. Before I meet with them, I have an interview with Fox28 for a segment on Good Day Marketplace that will air on Thursday!
I’ll be at every performance of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras this weekend, so come say hi! I’ll have copies of the book with me, so you can pick up your own copy if you haven’t already gotten one. I’m very proud of the work being done by all the artists involved. I can’t wait for you to see this show!
Last night, we had our first rehearsal for Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras. It was the first time I’ve heard the play out loud with different voices. My head and work has been so focused on the book version, there were moments I’d forgotten about completely. We were also treated to seeing some of the costumes for publicity photos. Now, I’ve had the experience of seeing characters from my plays come to life before, but this was different.
Usually, when writing a play, I keep my character descriptions to a minimum. This allows for collaboration; I want the director and designers to come up with their own visions for the characters. I may say what the character is wearing or offer a color idea, but it’s never terribly specific. This time, there’s a very specific image of Penny and her friends from the book.
It was surreal to see the characters from the book walking around. It felt like being at Disneyland. Without the churros.
We also got to hear some of the music by composer Russell Boiarsky. Each animal has a theme from a different musical genre. Each melody is so playful; they immediately make you smile. There’s even a "theme song" for the play that Russell describes as sitting in a “saloon that serves chocolate milk.” I’m listening to it right now. I couldn’t get it out of my head after I first heard it last night. Especially this part that’s playing right now, the horns. Man, this show is going to be so much fun!
One of the best parts of last night was my son Jack. He stayed at home with my wife, but I sent him a couple of pictures of people in costume. My wife said that he was narrating what was happening in the pictures he received and was very curious as to where the Jack character was. He also asked to FaceTime to say goodnight. So, I stepped out of the theatre to make the call. Jack was already in his pajamas, excited to see me. “Can I see the animals?” I told him the actors weren’t in costume anymore, that they were practicing. “Can I see?”
I took my phone into the theatre, telling Jack that he had to be very quiet. He whispered to me, “Daddy. Can you get closer?” I took a couple steps into the theatre while the actors were practicing blocking for a song. When it was over, I stepped back out to finish my call with Jack. “Daddy, can I watch the rest of it?” I had to explain to him that the actors hadn’t learned the rest of the play yet. I reminded him that he’s coming to rehearsal with me next week. I told him I loved him and gave him a kiss through my phone’s screen. He climbed into bed. I went back into the theatre confident that Jack was going to love this show. And my heart was glad.
Not a bad way for rehearsals to begin.
You can get your copy of the book here.
The show opens March 3. Tickets are available now!