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!
I’ve been trying to think of what I want to say about the production of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras and how things ended up, but there's so much that I don't know where to start. So, I’ll just ramble and see where I end up!
Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras was the first play of mine to be professionally produced. Yes, I’ve had plays produced, but not “professionally.” And the fact that it was a play for families and young audiences doesn’t diminish that experience. Some people have asked me if it’s strange to me that my first play to be produced was a “children’s play.” My answer is no; it’s not strange. First off all, I didn’t write a “children’s play.” Yes, I wrote the play with my son Jack in mind, but I also wrote it for me, an adult (as far as I can tell). I also wrote the play for all the parents that are bringing their kids to the theatre, maybe for the first time. And I wrote it for adults without kids who are curious about what the title means or who love theatre.
What I’ve done is essentially write a Disney movie (maybe Disney Junior tv movie...) for the stage. In a way, I’ve returned to my first love, animation, and used those ideals to create a play that was, hopefully, entertaining to all audiences. There was enough laughter from adults and kids each time I saw it to know that I did have some success! And the fact that my son Jack wanted to see it over and over (I think he saw 5 of the 10 performances) tells me I succeeded in my original intent: write a play that Jack loves.
It went by so fast: the rehearsal process, the growth of the actors into their characters, the performances, the events surrounding the play (interviews, book readings). It all went by so quickly. I feel as though I’ve bungee jumped, and now I’m still springing up and down after the main jump has happened.
Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras isn’t finished. The book is still out there! I have some small rewrites to do and then the play is going out into the world in search for a second production. And third. And fourth...
For me, I still have to work on the next plays: Tatterhood for Columbus School for Girls and, as announced, The Throne of Oz for CATCO is Kids. I’m a working, professional playwright. Yes, I still have a day job, but it’s a good gig. My goal from grad school (over 10 years ago now) was to someday have a relationship with a cool theatre in whatever town I called home. It was a small, simple goal that I had started to fear would never come to fruition. But here I am. You have to define your success. For me, it’s having my plays in front of audiences.
And you know what’s cool? I’m writing for future audiences. I’m writing for audience members who may become lifelong theatre lovers because of my work. Some of the best moments of the production was seeing all the kids, excited about the show before, and even more excited after. Some girls came dressed up as cowgirls, some had boots, some had hats, one came out completely decked out in full regalia! It was awesome. On opening night, I sat in front of a boy named Silas who was 2 1/2 and Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras was his first play. That’s beyond special. It was also great to see so many girls at the show.
After each show, I signed copies of the book and spoke to the parents and kids about the performance. I asked them if they enjoyed themselves and what their favorite animal was. They had a great experience. I had a great experience. The final day of performances, I had run out of books to sell at the performance, so I'd created a way for parents to order a copy that I would then sign and ship to them. My wife offered to hand deliver a couple of them for me since they were near her various errands that week. At one house, a confused mother answered the door. “I’m delivering Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras,” my wife said. From behind the mother came a young girl, “Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras! It’s here! It’s here! Can we read it now?” “I guess we’re going to read this now,” said the mother.
My heart is overwhelmed with satisfaction. Thank you to the director, Joe Bishara, for inviting me into this place. Thank you to the actors, designers, and crew who brought this show into being. Thank you to Columbus Makes Art and the Greater Columbus Arts Council for supporting my work.
And thank you to all the audience members who helped this show become a success.
Be excellent to each other.
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!