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.
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!