Monday, January 18, 2016

The Amazing Karma Wilson

Karma Wilson
I had the honor of adapting Bear Snores On for the stage. It is one of my favorite rhyming picture books. The story is filled with heart, humor, and friendship. I asked the very busy Karma Wilson if she would answer a few questions about writing and her beloved book.

JK: First of all, THANK YOU, Karma, for being on my blog, and taking the time to answer my questions! When I took a class on rhyme for children, your book, Bear Snores On, came up over and over as one of the finest examples. Did you study rhyme, or does it come naturally? 

KW: I’m funny. Rhyme has always come naturally to me. I have studied it in very small doses and practiced different structures, but my stories are organic to what appeals to me in cadence, rhythm, and rhyme. I find rhyme easier to write than prose because the structure I choose to write in sets automatic limits for me. I don’t have unlimited word choices. I’ve got guidelines. J

The Hare from Bear Snore On
Illustration by Jane Chapman
JK: I read that your mother was a writer. Did she write for children? Did that inspire you to become a writer?

KW: She writes non-fiction for adults, mostly in the addiction recovery genre. But she always wrote for me. She wrote sick notes in rhyme, treasure hunt clues in rhyme, and made books and fairy tales available to me at all times. She has tried her hand at a few children’s books, but doesn’t consider it her genre. 

Karma Wilson
Photo: Scott Wilson Photography

JK: Where do you get your wonderful ideas for your stories?

KW: I like to tell kids it’s a good idea to keep your mind open so story ideas can fall in. I find if I’m open to possibilities anything can become a story. I once wrote a book that came to me while reading a sign in a zoo (Never Ever Shout in a Zoo).

The cast of Bear Snores On at Stages Theatre Company

JK: As you know, I have had the privilege of adapting Bear Snores On for Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, Minnesota, and it has been a delight. Have you had other stories adapted for the stage? If you have seen them, how did it feel to see your story unfold in front of an audience?

KW: I have seen many photos from classroom and school presentations, and an orchestra once did a musical adaptation to the play which was performed while the book was read by a narrator. Every such production is a special gift to me. The theatre and literature have always been so closely tied, and I like to think I write stories that adapt well to stage drama. I was quite interested in the theatre as a teen and when I went to community college I actually produced and directed a play as a part of a theatre course. J  I thank you so much for your amazing work on the Bear Snores On stage adaptation!


JK: What was the first book you had published? 

KW: Bear Snores On! J                                                       

JK: How has the world of picture books changed since you began writing?

KW: Well, when I started nobody ever sold books through the computer (via the web and email). The way books are produced and advertised has changed a great deal.  I think that rhyme has become a lot more prevalent in recent decades—and is now much more varied in pace, style and presentation. But for the most part I still think good stories written for all children are what appeals the most. 

JK: Do you have a set schedule for your writing?

KW: Absolutely not. 

Bear Snores On
Illustration by Jane Chapman

JK: What is your idea of a perfect day?

KW: I have never experienced one. Every day has some touch of sorrow, annoyance, anger, or fear…but good days for me include fascinating discussions with people I love, moments with my pets, time spent with a book (writing or reading), strong coffee and home cooked food.

JK: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

KW: Cook, sing, facebook (I live rural and social media is a way for me to connect), read, travel and look into new scientific discoveries about the world around me. 

JK: What is your next project? 

KW: I’m working on a poetry book about the night sky. Each spread will feature a poem, a fact, and a photograph about stars, the moon, and astrological events. This will hopefully become a series of books about many different subjects called The Poems & Facts Series. My life partner Scott Wilson will provide the amazing photographs! 

For more information about Karma, visit:

Nicholas Dekker as Hare, R. Brent Teclaw as Bear
Photo by Bruce Challgren
For more information about Stages Theatre Company's production of Bear Snore On, please visit:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Talented and Prolific Nancy Carlson

Nancy Carson
Photo Credit: Craig Perman

I am very excited to have the amazing author-illustrator, Nancy Carlson, on my blog today! I have known Nancy for a number of years through my work at Stages Theatre Company, where many of her books have been adapted for the stage. I was fortunate enough to be the playwright and lyricist for HARRIET AND WALT, a delightful story about an older sister with a tag-along younger brother. As the oldest of four, I was all too familiar with the expectations and responsibility that being a big sister can sometimes require.

Nancy has written and illustrated more than 60 children's books since 1979. Her most recent book is SOMETIMES YOU BARF. Publishers Weekly had the following review for Nancy's book, I LIKE ME! "The foundation of a healthy self-image, the cornerstone of a happy and successful life, is what Carlson's work is all about." For more information on Nancy's books, visit

JK: What do you do to get your creative juices flowing?

NC: I like to get outside and hike or ride my bike.

JK: What are you currently working on?

NC: I am working on lots of new ideas but none I can talk about yet. I am not sure at this point which will actually become a book. That said, I am very interested in trying my hand at some non-fiction books for the very young.

JK: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing or illustrating?

NC: Go look at art, travel and hike. I also love to spend time with my granddaughters Charlotte and Lillian!

JK: When did you know you wanted to draw and write stories?

NC: I decided to be an illustrator and author in kindergarten! I have been drawing since I could first hold a pencil. My parents read to me so I have always loved picture books.


JK: Do you have a favorite story that you’ve written or illustrated?

I really can’t pick a favorite because they are like my kids. I think my new book, SOMETIMES YOU BARF, is pretty funny and kids seem to like it a lot!

JK: (Sidenote) Kirkus Review said SOMETIMES YOU BARF is "A delightful and helpful treatment of a somewhat taboo topic."

Nancy teaching

JK: You have such a definitive style as an artist. Your use of colors and textures is always delightful. How did you come about your unique style?

NC: I have always loved color and patterns because of my favorite artist, Matisse. I approach each illustration hoping that it can stand alone as a piece of art. As an artist, my art has changed through the years and it is still changing. The fact I do a doodle a day that is posted on my website has helped my art evolve and change as an artist. The act of drawing each day has also helped me with book ideas and character development.

JK: How many books have your written?

NC: I have 67 published books. Out of that number I am not sure how many I just illustrated, maybe 10? Also in that count I actually wrote one book, T FOR TWIN CITIES, but I did not illustrate it.

JK: Who is HARRIET AND WALT based on? Did the story really happen?

NC: Kind of I do have a little brother named David Walter that I used to have to watch and take with me when I played outside.

JK: What is it like to see one of your stories come to life for the theater?

NC: I love it. I have never been disappointed. I am usually a bit nervous on opening night I have to admit!

HARRIET AND WALT at Stages Theatre Company
Photo Credit: Bruce Challgren

JK: How has the world of picture books changed since you began?

NC: Picture books seem to attract a younger audience now than when I began. That is affecting the subject matter in picture books. I also notice there are a lot less words than when I started writing.

HARRIET AND WALT at Stages Theatre Company
Left to right: Scout Peterson, Noah Paquin, Megan Collins
Photo Credit: Bruce Challgren 
JK: What advice would you give someone just starting out in the world of picture books?

NC: Join writing groups, know your audience i.e. child development, less is better so edit your work as much as possible and don’t give up.

JK: Thank you so much, Nancy! Check out Nancy's links, and information about HARRIET AND WALT, the musical, below!

For the link to the musical adaptation of HARRIET AND WALT, please visit Samuel French's website below. You will find information about the script as well as song samples.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Just Write It

It's always rather terrifying to put your work out there. Not everyone is going to love or even like everything you do. (To read a humorous story on how I first discovered this as a child, please visit: Adam Szymkowicz: I Interview Playwrights Part 783: Jennifer Kirkeby)

On the other hand, if you don't share your creations, there is 100% certainty that you'll never know the impact you may have. Don't we all want to share our stories in some way?

I've written many plays, and I recognize how fortunate I've been to have seen them produced. These experiences of collaboration have taught me so much. What works, what doesn't, what could have, and what should have. I've learned to trust my gut in ways I didn't used to, and that's empowering.

Sometimes the audiences are very vocal. In my case, it's mostly families and children. And believe me, children will let you know what they think! You can see it before you hear it. The restless movement in their seats, or the stillness and huge eyes. Then the voices. I've heard everything from "Is this EVER going to be over?" literally shouted from a poor little guy who couldn't handle anymore dancing fairies, to "This is the BEST show I've ever seen! How did you make it?" from a little girl was enchanted with the very same musical.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Stages Theatre Company
Photo by Bruce Challgren

The Mitten by Jan Brett
Stages Theatre Company
Photo by Bruce Challgren
I recently sent in a page of a middle grade novel that I'm working on called The Phoenix Theater to Literary Agent, Alex Slater of Trident Media Group through Kathy Temean's wonderful blog, Writing and Illustrating. It's called Free Fall Friday, and people submit the first page of what they're working on and if chosen, are critiqued by an agent. Not only was Alex very complimentary which was wonderful, but reading his thoughts on other's work was just as helpful.

So, just write it. There are eyes and ears just waiting to read and listen to what you are working on! Here's the blog :

           Jennifer Kirkeby / THE PHOENIX THEATER / Middle Grade

Tears of happiness welled in Annabelle’s eyes as she beamed at the standing audience, still clapping enthusiastically during the fourth curtain call. She squeezed her parent’s hands as they took another bow. The audience roared. She squealed, and her parents laughed.
Annabelle had never felt so proud in her ten years of life. Not only had she just played her first leading role as the streetwise Ginny in the 1920’s production alongside her parents, but her father had also written and directed it. And if tonight’s audience reaction was any indication, Always was destined to be a huge hit.

She searched the fourth row and found her nanny, Marion, grinning back at her. She was brushing away the large tears that rolled down her dark rosy cheeks. They winked at each other as they had promised they would.

The photographers began their flashing frenzy, shooting blinding white light with every click. Each one hoped to capture the photo chosen for tomorrow’s paper. Her father thanked the audience and invited them all to the opening night party.

Annabelle would wonder about the following moment for years to come. How it began, why it happened, and if there was anything she or anyone else could have done to prevent it.
She smelled the smoke before she saw it. At first, Annabelle assumed it was the obnoxious stage manager, Thomas, who was forever puffing on one of his stinky cigars. But when she looked offstage left, ready to give him a death glare, she knew instantly that no cigar could create the black billowing smoke that was rolling in from under the door.

Here’s what Alex had to say: 
THE PHOENIX THEATER by Jennifer Kirkeby
This is an excellent opening page. The writing is clear and concise, the action is captivating and inviting, and the tension demands the reader read on. I liked the way the play’s name is revealed in a stylistic and natural way. I like the expressive language: “flashing frenzy,” “blinding white light,” “black billowing smoke.” Most of all, I like the way the author sets-up the tragedy that unfolds. It’s a useful device that is employed well here: introduce the moment from the future, as a point in history, thereby captivating the reader with curiosity: what event could stand so tall in a character’s memory? Then, introduce the moment in all its horribleness. Therefore, the reader sees the moment as the character sees it: epic, irrevocable, and in the past. This is a great example of how to tease the reader in the opening pages, which is an effective technique.
Here is more info about Alex:
He is looking to build his list. When asked how he became an agent at Trident, concentrating in the expanding children’s, middle grade and young adult businesses, Alex simply replies, “It was only natural.” While karma is not an established business concept, it is clear that Alex’s career arc led him in this happy direction.
Start with Alex’s love of fiction, and in particular the stories that captivate the minds and imaginations of young people, from those so young that books are read to them, to young adults who get captivated by creative fiction. “I love to let myself go, and become the reader, whether the story is directed at a ten-year-old or a teenager,” says Alex.
Next is Alex’s experience at Trident, where he has been since 2010. He became a very successful agent representing the company’s children, middle grade and young adult authors in many licensing arrangements in the global marketplace for translation and in the English language in the U.K., having placed books with publishers in dozens of countries. Alex was Trident’s representative at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, as well as the broader-based London and Frankfurt book fairs. His experience in representing fiction in these areas showed him what elements in stories work well, and how to maximize the value of what an author has created.
He is now building his list domestically at Trident, while keeping his focus on these areas.
Alex’s plan is to, “Look for stories that will rise above the rest with characters that will be remembered well past childhood, with the potential to cross over to other media and formats,” such as programming, games, motion pictures and merchandise. “Trident is the leader on taking advantage of the latest opportunities presented by changing technology,” says Alex, and, “I will be there to help make the latest innovations happen for my authors.”
“I believe that the most successful writers have a bit of the dreamer in them.” And Alex passionately believes that he can help turn their dreams into reality.

Twelve Dancing Princesses
Stages Theatre Company
Photo by Bruce Challgren

I'd love to hear from you. What have you done recently that took you out of your comfort zone, and are you glad that you did?

Also, please visit my new website:

Friday, December 19, 2014


I have always wanted to be in a flash mob. Seeing the people's faces as they begin to realize what's happening before their eyes is priceless. Especially when it brings them joy. 

About a month ago, I was at an audition, and was asked if I could do the robot. Since I used to do mime professionally, I said yes, and showed them what I could do. The room became really quiet, and I wasn't sure if they liked it, or couldn't wait for me to leave. Luckily, it was the first one.

Flash forward a few weeks, and here's the Microsoft Commercial that I got to be a part of with a whole bunch of talented and truly awesome people, including the gracious and amazingly talented Chloe and Halle Bailey. And by the looks on the people's faces who watched, we all felt the joy!

Wishing you the Happiest of Holidays and a Fabulous 2015!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Interview with Award-Winning Author Jennifer Kirkeby

Jennifer KGet to know Jennifer…

JENNIFER KIRKEBY is an actress, playwright and children’s writer. Kirkeby adapted ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas; The Far-Fetched Fable of the Frog Prince; Madeline’s Christmas,based on the book by Ludwig Bemelmans; and Dot and Tot of Merryland, all of which are published by Dramatic Publishing. Other adaptations include Nancy Carlson’s Harriet and Walt, a musical about sibling rivalry, (Samuel French); Llama Llama Holiday Drama and Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney;Aladdin and His Magical Lamp; The Mitten by Jan Brett; The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch; Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, and Giggle Giggle Quack and Duck for President by Doreen Cronin, and If You Give A Moose A Muffin by Laura Numeroff. Original plays include Midlife Madness, an adult comedy; and Eyes Wide Open, a play about eating disorders (Samuel French). Her ten-minute play, The Glass House has won numerous national awards. Several of her monologues and scenes have been published by Smith & Kraus Publishers in Audition Arsenal for Women in Their 30s and volumes 2 & 4 of Winners Competition Series. Kirkeby is a member of The Dramatists Guild of America, Inc., The Playwrights’ Center and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and SCBWI. For more info, visit her websiteblog, and Facebook.

Quirky Questions 

What do you think will be the next popular catch phrase?


What do you do every day, without fail?

Look forward to that first cup of coffee! 

What is something you wish you did every day, without fail?

Live in the present. I try, but it’s a tough one for me. 

If you could dis-invent one thing, what would it be?

Nylons. No one should be made to feel like a sausage in a casing. 

What makes you want to throw up?

Abuse and cruelty. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks?

I’m going to tell you, but you can’t tell my husband. We recently got new cable, and the Comcast guy explained to me that one of our remotes can change stations, volume, etc. even if you’re not in the same room as the TV. So I sometimes take that control, go upstairs, and change the channels and volume on my unsuspecting husband. He hasn’t caught on yet because I don’t do it too often. Timing is everything. I find it hysterically funny. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though. He used to stand in our closet wearing a scary Halloween mask and wait for me to walk in until I destroyed it. The mask. Not the closet. 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you?

“Your writing made me feel like there is someone in the world who truly understands and cares about me.” 

What do you waste time doing?


What’s the biggest inconvenience about where you live?

That’s an easy one, boy-you-betcha. Winters in Minnesota. They are inconvenient in many ways.

1. You freeze your face off, (and other important things).

2. You have to drive in very dangerous and slippery conditions. I’m from California, so this took me a while.

3. You have to shovel. Especially when your husband had hand surgery during a record-setting snowy winter so he could golf in the spring, and your snow blower was broken. Like this past winter for example. Do I sound bitter? HOWEVER, I’m convinced these pesky winters are one of the reasons we have a plethora of amazing writers in Minnesota, so there’s the upside for ya! 

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your name be?

Kirkeby the Krusher.

If you could own a store, what would you sell?  

Books for animals. Maybe it’s just my dogs, but they love it when I read to them. My daughters are in their twenties, and suddenly they think they’re too old to be read to. They actually get embarrassed when we go to Target and I head to the picture books and start reading to them. Can you believe it? So yeah, Baboon Books it is. 

What book (either because of its length or subject) intimidates you?

Moby Dick. 

What was your favorite childhood meal?

Tomato soup and grilled cheese. My mom would make it for me when I was sick, and I felt comfort and love in every bite.

TenWriting Questions

Ever feel you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

No. I believe your character must be 100% authentic. Your character needs to talk the way they would talk in real life, and do the things they would do if they were living down the street. Besides, no one can pick out a poser faster than a young person, right?

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Walking helps my creativity. Or reading a great book or blog from a writer that I admire. And here’s where my theater background comes in. I talk to my characters. I ask them lots of questions. It’s their story after all. They should be willing to pull their own weight now and then. It’s surprising what they’ll tell you if you get them at the right time. And give them chocolate.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Ask yourself why you want to write. Is it solely because you want to become published? Because that’s the wrong reason to write. Ask any writer you admire about that one. You have to LOVE writing. Perhaps you want to change people’s perceptions, inform or entertain, or maybe you want to release some nagging pain that you’ve been carrying around since childhood. Just know that like anything, it takes years and years and YEARS to become a good writer. Join SCBWI, take classes and read. Read as much as you possibly can.

How would you define creativity?

A glorious gossamer of amazing thoughts that magically form themselves into a work of art. Not really. I just wanted to write “glorious gossamer.” I would define creativity as a need to express and communicate with others in a fresh and unique way. It might come out of an injustice that you experienced. It could come from a hummingbird that looked right at you, and you’ll never forget that glorious moment. All I know is when I’m in the zone, there is nothing like it.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing rather than a job that offers more stability?

I’ve been involved in theater and dance most of my life, so clearly I never went for stability and security…but even before I began school, I would “write” choreography. I would map out my dance with squiggles for turns, sharp jutting lines for leaps, etc. I wrote some poetry on a dare in high school and was secretly thrilled that it was chosen for a book and published in our local paper. I was the feature editor for my college paper, and began writing plays about fifteen years ago. I’ve written for the classroom for over 30 years. It really comes down to my utter stubbornness and need to live my life in the arts in order to make sense of the world.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Hemmingway, Camus, Kafka, Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury & Libba Bray. I also think there are literary geniuses writing picture books. I’ve come to the conclusion that picture books are like Zen paintings, and you must be a master in order to be brilliant at it.

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

Rejection. My husband said something years ago that has always helped me. After finding out that I didn’t get a job I thought I had nailed, he said: “Now you’re one audition closer to getting your next job.” It’s a process. I’ve had to change the way I perceive the word “rejection.” I try not to let it be personal. Often the people who we think are judging us and our work are actually hoping we’re a fit. It makes their job so much easier if we are. I try to be the answer to their problem, always give my very best, and if it doesn’t work out, I go for a walk then start on my next project. After I cry, of course. I am human after all.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve experienced in the realm of your art?

Keeping myself motivated when there are long stretches where I feel like I’m limping along barefoot on an endless hot and sticky highway, seeing nothing on the horizon but the mirage that’s shimmering like a mean girl who won’t let me play on her team because I’m afraid of getting hit on the head with the ball, but how is that my fault when my dad said I couldn’t play ball when I was a kid because I was “just a girl”, and the black tar of the road goes on for an eternity and seems to be saying: “What’s the matter, Jennifer? Can’t take the heat?” And I really can’t sometimes, but that highway doesn’t seem to give a hoot, so I wait for the black limo that will eventually pull up, roll down its window, and someone who looks a lot like George Clooney says, “You look like you could use a ride and a cool drink. And say, are those manuscripts in your sweaty hand? How about if I look at your writing, and maybe hook you up with some of my friends?” And scene.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Currently I’m working on a musical for children, a YA magical realism manuscript and several picture books. I haven’t landed on one genre because I love so many things in each of them.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

I think being the oldest of four kids had something to do with it. I babysat a lot and loved to tell stories. Some were horrific and I have apologized multiple times to my siblings about the ghost family I told them haunted our house when they were young. And how President Washington was killed by a crocodile that came out of the drain in his bathtub. My poor brother shared that story with his class, and everyone laughed at him including the teacher. It’s amazing my siblings still talk to me…

How do you know when a book is finished?

With my plays, it’s the deadline. I complain about them, but honestly, they are the best thing for me. Otherwise, I seem to think that I’ll come up with something brilliant if I just keep on writing, but the truth is, I’m prolonging the ending which should have happened already, and now the kids are squirming in the parent’s seats, and it’s my fault because I thought that I was being amazing by adding those extra scenes, but now half the audience needs to go to the bathroom, so for the love of Pete, end it already!   

What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?

I remember when GPS became available. I wrote a skit about a GPS that talked to a teenage couple on a date. It told them what the other one was really thinking. Another example is when I adapted Doreen Cronin’s wonderful picture book, Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type for Stages Theatre CompanyWe used a large screen to show the words as the cows and Farmer Brown were typing them. The kids in the audience squealed and loved seeing the words. There are so many great opportunities to work with the crazy world media is creating. But when all is said and done, it’s still great story and character that’s the most important. 

What traits do creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

Creative people are dreamers. They see things differently. They’re extremely sensitive. They’re walking microscopes and telescopes. They don’t just listen – they’re sponges. Not that other people don’t do these things, but creative people have superpowers.

I love my husband to pieces, but we have very different sensibilities in this area. When we were first dating, we were standing on a mountain. I looked around at the startling blue sky, the soft mountains that looked as if they could stand and become dinosaurs, the way the sun lit up the valleys and how the trees swayed in the breeze. I was thinking about the wonderful life that we were going to have together. I assumed he was having similar thoughts, so I asked him, “What do you think of when you look around this valley?” He looked right, and left, then pointed and said: “I never noticed the 101 freeway cuts through that mountain over there.” We still laugh about it.

Have your personal expectations limited your creativity? 

Absolutely. My expectations are often ridiculous. When I was in the first grade, we had been practicing our writing, and our teacher was ready to announce who had the best handwriting in class. I fully expected to be called. I held my pencil with robot precision, and already had calluses from trying to be “perfect.” When our teacher said, “Rocky Carzo”, I could barely hold back the tears. I wasn’t perfect. But Rocky was. Even sharing this makes me sad. That I was so hard on myself. And still am. This month I read a great blog called The Crushing Weight of Expectations by Robin LaFevers. She quotes my hero, Anne Lamott who said: “Expectations are resentments under construction.” We have to let go of the unrealistic expectations and those voices that tell us we aren’t good enough. That’s just silly. Find your voice and write up a storm. There’s nothing like it!

Twas the

About Brittney Breakey

I love reading children’s fiction, coffee dates with my husband, trips to the library, thrift store bargains, chips and salsa, music of all kinds, lazy summer days, competitive games of Pictionary, and celebrating a long day of writing with ice cream and peppermint tea. I’m a two-time graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature, and I’m currently working on a humorous mystery for middle graders. I launched Author Turf in January 2011, and it has been an absolute honor to work with so many inspiring authors, promote their work, and learn about their writing processes. I hope you enjoy each and every interview.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas at Dallas Children's Theatre

From left, standing: K. Doug Miller (Toy Soldier), Chloe Friedman (Toy Soldier), Ryan Page (St. Nicholas), Johnny Lee (Toy Soldier), Ryan Thomas (Toy Soldier), Meghan Miller (Ballerina Toy); from left, sitting: Tru Ramsey (Jack in the Box), Cameron Anthony (Ragdoll) in <em>\'Twas the Night Before Christmas</em> at Dallas Children\'s Theater

Review: Twas the Night Before Christmas | Dallas Childrens Theater | Rosewood Center for Family Arts

To All, A Good Night

Dallas Children's Theater brings the story of Clement Moore, and his famous poem, to life with 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

published Sunday, November 24, 2013

Photo: Karen Almond
Meghan Miller (Queen of the Sugar Plum Fairies) in 'Twas the Night Before Christmas at Dallas Children's Theater
Dallas — ‘Twas the weekend before Thanksgiving, and all through the city, theaters prepared for their holiday shows, from traditional to not-so-pretty.
Fortunately, one of the first holiday productions to open this season is not only pretty, it’s charming and warm and sets the perfect tone for Christmas. It’s also new to the area, which is a welcome bonus, when most of the holiday theatrical offerings are shows that have been done before, or to death in some cases.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, which tells a partially fictionalized story behind Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, is making its North Texas premiere at Dallas Children’s Theater through Dec. 22. Written by Jennifer Kirkeby and Shirley Meir, the production was commissioned and first produced by Stages Theatre Co. in Minnesota in 2009.

For its North Texas debut, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is directed by DCT Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt, who leads a large cast by DCT standards. She’s assisted in bringing the familiar poem to life by Doug Miller as associate director and choreographer and Vonda Bowling as musical director. Their combined efforts result in a heart-warming Christmas card for area audiences.
When we meet Clement Moore, he’s faced with the challenge of writing the New York Evening Post’s annual Christmas piece, which is expected not only by the paper’s readers, but also by President James Monroe, who traditionally reads the newspaper’s annual holiday offering to his children every year. Moore reluctantly takes on the task — he considers himself to be a “serious writer.” Moore tackles the project at home, surrounded by his wife and five children on Christmas Eve.

The real Clement C. Moore wrote the poem for his own children, according to the Poetry Foundation. He had six children at the time, and recited the poem for them on Christmas Eve in 1822. The Moore family eventually included nine children. Moore was indeed a serious writer, author of historical biographies and books on language. But he also was a poet. His most famous poem was published anonymously as “A Visit from St. Nicholas” the year after it was written. It wasn’t until 1844 that Moore was credited with the poem in an anthology of works by New York poets.

The charming, fictionalized version weaves in holiday magic to help Moore with his writer’s block in the form of giggly sugar plum fairies, toys coming to life, and of course, St. Nick himself. Along with Moore’s family, they contribute clever phrases and ideas that break through Moore’s writer’s block.
As Clement Moore, Brad Jackson showcases his natural storytelling abilities and physical comedy skills. His interactions with the sugar plum fairies are sweet and awkward. As his wife, Catherine, Monique Abry achieves the balance of being a loving mom and family disciplinarian as her frazzled husband tries to meet a deadline on a night that was meant for family time. She also contributes a lovely voice, featured in her song, “This is the Time.”

Other standouts in the cast of 24 are Finley Jennings, the exuberant and outspoken daughter, Charity, who punctuates her outbursts with “oh, pickles!” and Deborah Brown as the gossipy caroler, Ruth. The Moores are fortunate to have strong carolers in their neighborhood, anchored by well-known local talents including Brown, Sheran Goodspeed Keyton and Wendy Welch.

When it comes to design, the exquisite costumes by Lyle Huchton take center stage. Each piece is beautifully detailed and accessorized. Be sure to look closely at the sugar plum fairies. Each one has something just different enough to make them unique individuals—like snowflakes.

The story unfolds in the Moore’s home, a large, warm, wood-toned expanse of a house decorated for Christmas with greenery and bows. In real life, Moore’s family lived in a mansion in an area of Manhattan that would become Chelsea Square. H. Bart McGeehon’s set, with its high arched windows and carved mantel over the fireplace looks like it was transported directly from that place and time.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is a delightful mix of story, whimsy, magic and song. It can be enjoyed by the whole family, but probably best for children 5 and older. The younger ones may not recognize Moore’s story at first, but when it’s time for the classic poem to come to life, it’s Christmas magic.

Photo: Karen Almond
From left: Ryan Page (St. Nicholas), Sierra Stead (Sugar Plum Fairy), Sophia Lasley (Sugar Plum Fairy), Grace Bush (Sugar Plum Fairy), Brad M. Jackson (Clement Moore) in 'Twas the Night Before Christmas at Dallas Children's Theater
  Thanks For Reading


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