Sunday, August 11, 2019

How I Spent My Summer (2019)

Providence, RI

For the past several years I have taken a moment before the school year begins to reflect upon the fleeting days of summer. What does "summer vacation" mean to adults? Well, we do have school age children, and are each professionally tethered to the academic clock. We work, but we also play, and enable play.

The opportunities during warm weather months are great, and we endeavor to take advantage of them. This year my wife and I celebrated twenty years married, my daughter and I watched all of Stranger Things 3 over the course of two days, the boy and I went fishing. And there was so much more.

Beck Center for the Arts
KING LEAR

Feels like a million years ago now, but the summer began with a five weekend run of King Lear at the Beck Center, directed by Eric Schmiedl. Performances were only three a week (Fri, Sat eve & Sun mat) and there was something about that schedule which made performance much less of a struggle than a traditional, non-professional four show a weekend schedule. Just that much more manageable.

And yet, the focus I needed to exhibit, the hyper self-awareness, to conduct myself as this stoic, wound-up character. At times it was maddening, walking out in the lead, having the first line for this three-hour ordeal. One night, I cannot even comprehend how this happened, my tongue lost control and I stuttered my first line, in its entirety. It was through a supreme effort of will not to lose all confidence right then and there. I do not know how I was able to remember the rest of my lines.

Contemporary Youth Orchestra
JASON MRAZ

Working as an actor in a play (as opposed to writing or directing one) is that you are compelled to attend every performance. This is one of the reasons I don’t like acting, but only one of them.

As a result of this selfish commitment, I missed out on the opportunity to see my daughter perform with Jason Mraz. As a violin player with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, she had been working on his catalog all spring, taking three days of rehearsal with this incredibly charming pop star culminating in two sold out performances at Severance Hall.

I was welcomed to one of the rehearsals, which was a delightful consolation prize.

Great Lakes Theater
CAMP THEATER!

Teaching middle school students to improv can be very challenging, and for a very good reason. Young people can be emotionally abused for making themselves look silly.
A: Help me to milk this water buffalo!
B: Uh, no.
The basic tenet of improv is YES, AND which is to say, agree to what is being offered and then add something to it. This year during Camp Theater! we had a camper who was not only very good at this, he raised acceptance to a new level. Shaun and I noticed that whenever someone made him a suggestion, he would not only agree, he would say, “Excellent!”
A: I have created for you a new dress made entirely out of termites!
B: Excellent, they will go so well with my new maggot boots.
It was the introduction to an inspiring summer of discovery.

Culver City Public Theatre
ROSALYNDE & THE FALCON

While I have had a number of my published plays produced in other cities, this was a first -- one of the works I wrote for Talespinner Children’s Theatre was being revived, and on the west coast, too! Culver City Public Theatre produced Rosalynde & the Falcon. Not only that, but it was an outdoor performance, offered for free to area families! And you know I love free.

ROAD TRIPS

July was an odd month, in that I shared a bed with my wife for perhaps one out of every three days. This is no sign of marital tension or anything like that, we were simply not in each other’s presence. She spent a week on silent retreat in Kentucky, we traveled separately to and from Maine, and I took my daughter on an extended weekend to New York City.

We visited potential schools on that journey, something we also accomplished driving home together from our Maine vacation by way of Providence, RI. My son and I drove there the week before, enjoying authentic Buffalo, NY buffalo wings and spying fancy cars.

Come From Away
COME FROM AWAY

For three years we have been subscribers to the KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square, and in all that time I was never so unprepared to be completely delighted and moved by a musical like Come From Away.

Come From Away is a magical illusion, with songs that still echo in my head, a small company, their everyday wear belying the speed and specificity with which they assume dozens of characters, to tell a story of tragedy without leaning into the tragedy (we all know the tragedy) instead focusing on what the best people do for each other no matter who the other people are.

One of our dates for the evening pointed out how refreshing it was to see a cast of characters who were entirely adults, and I have to admit I hadn’t noticed. Was that it? I polled my friends on Facebook, wondering if younger audiences preferred, for example, the teen-directed Dear Evan Hansen, but I received almost universal praise from all ages for this special Canadian musical … which did not win the 2017 Tony Award for Best Musical, whereas that other play did.

Story Board
WRITING "HOLMES"

Just the other day, Missy asked me about my writing process, and I have had a number of different processes, which is only correct. I am a creature of habit, but breaking them is as significant as adhering to them.

To complete the new touring script, I spent just one working week away from the office. I gathered all the notes I had made, then went into the attic to find an old cork board so I had a place to post them. I used drawing paper to create a “story cloud,” connecting one plot point to the next and filling in all of the details in between, with lists of actors and characters and who would be available to do what when.

It was all mapped out before I had created a single word of dialogue. The entire thing was drafted in three days, completed just before heading out of town for two weeks.

Barnstable
FRIENDSHIP, MAINE

Actually, I spent only seven days in Flood’s Cove this year. Sometimes that happens, but it felt even shorter as my wife and daughter (and mother-in-law) were flying in on a Monday, only to have their flight cancelled at LaGuardia. They did not arrive until Tuesday evening, and their travel drama troubled me for the better part of those two days.

There was an interesting collection of folks, so much coming and going, and the weather was hot. I missed cool weather, mornings by the fire, a slow pace, and perhaps most of all my father. His absence has been felt the past several years, this time he was just absent.

Hofbräuhaus Half Marathon
SEVERE ALLERGIC REACTION

Last week I ate something which tried to kill me, or rather my body tried to kill me for something I ate. I’ve never had an allergic reaction, to anything. And yet, something in that sushi made my heart race, and my skin turn beet red.

I’m fine, but it was scary in a manner in which I am not used to being scared. The week that followed was one of dragging my ass from place to place as I coped with the side effects of medication meant to ensure that whatever was in my system had run its course.

That also meant not exercising for the better part of a week, so ironic following my time running the Hofbräuhaus Half Marathon just the day before my attack.

TRAINING FOR THE CHICAGO MARATHON

Which is where I am left today. Hotter days of summer are behind us, the days already noticeably shorter. I am currently training for the Chicago Marathon, October 13. Have been all summer, and raising money for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.

Preparing for New York in 2006, and for the Twin Cities four years ago, August is when the training is supposed to be ramping up, pushing further across the city in preparation for the big day. Instead, I have had to take the better part of a week off, and it is discouraging.

But then, has it ever been easy? And isn't that the point.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Rough First Draft Complete

So, Wednesday night I did something impulsive. I had put together the final pieces for the rough first draft of Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street. And by rough first draft I mean, I wrote all the words, put in all the puzzles, sprinkled all the clues, chosen all the songs, and created all the “choose your own” scenes.

Hadn’t read it over, not more than once. But it was all there, beginning to end, all the working bits and pieces. Time to edit.

But first, I announced on Facebook that “I have just completed the first draft of a new play for children,” adding that I would provide a copy for reading to anyone who wanted to respond with comments.

This was an impetuous act, but then, what is social media for? After all, these are my friends, my followers, my colleagues, and dare I add, fans of my writing. There will be development through the company in the weeks to come, but why not start out just sharing it with people, and letting them tell me what they think?

I have already received some very meaningful responses, and just what I would like to hear at this point in the process. The basics. Does it satisfy these two fundamental criteria:

  1. Is this a suitable and appropriate introduction to the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and the character of Sherlock Holmes?
  2. Does this piece convey a strong message anti-bullying that encourages self-esteem, confidence, and empathy?

Yesterday, I looked over the text for what I assumed would be copious errors and inconsistencies. And for the most part found only the occasional spelling or grammatical error. The detail with which I had storyboarded the plot seems to have paid off very well. I knew what I wanted to have written before I wrote it.

So now, how about you? If you are interested in reading this play, and providing feedback, I would be glad for you to be in touch!

To be continued.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Blackout of 2019

Blackout sunset down West 47th Street
Just returned from “vacation” which I state in ironic quotes because it was all too brief, arriving and departing on subsequent Sundays, a good thirty-six hours spent fretting about whether and in what shape my wife, daughter and mother-in-law would arrive in the cove. Their Monday night flight our of LaGuardia had been cancelled and they spent the evening in a hotel room in Queens.

I drove to Maine with my son (my daughter had obligations at home until Monday, hence the flight) and then drove her home by way of Providence, Rhode Island. My wife is currently still on vacation with our son. I do not mind having driven both ways, as plane travel is something I have (like my father, like my father-in-law) grown to absolutely despise.

We were visiting colleges; Brown, then RISD. I have now visited five schools with the girl, feeling more like a responsible, attentive parent than I have in years. Last month we toured schools in New York City.

For her sixteenth birthday I promised her a father/daughter visit to Manhattan. Originally I was thinking maybe we would camp out all night to get tickets to SNL, which she is devoted to, but summer, the off-season, seemed much more practical. And, anyway. Schools.

Times Square
Friday, July 11

We arrived at LGA early on a week day, the flight delayed just enough that we would be unable to stop at the Airbnb to drop off our bags first. Fortunately, and by design, we each had only one bag, backpacks, which we carried for most of the day.

NYU was the first stop, which impressed her especially with each of its satellite campuses. We had not signed up to tour the studio art school, unfortunately. We did, however, have a moment to slip into Caffè Reggio on MacDougal Street for coffee and salads. I asked if it were possible to charge my phone and was politely informed that the place was so old there were no outlets except behind the bar.

I have fond memories of relaxing here during the NY Fringe in 2004, where I would run lines for I Hate This. My performance venue at that time was a walk-down, way over by 11th Avenue. There was no modern development there at the time, the forty-seat site is gone, now part of the mammoth Hudson Yards development.

We then visited Parsons School of Design. I’m such a dork my only knowledge of the place is Project Runway. At the conclusion of our tours we jumped the C train to Morningside Heights. Our host was a lovely, accommodating woman named Ruth, whose apartment was decked with independent movie posters from the 70s, and for Broadway shows starring the young Al Pacino and signed by the entire company. She is a classic New York gal.

My wife and I would no doubt have headed out for some night life, but my date was a teenager and it had been a long day, so the plan was dinner and an early start on Saturday. The sun was not yet about to set and it was hot, but hit the patio at Harlem Tavern and it was refreshing and delightful.

Mount Rushmore of Art, Eduardo Kobra
Saturday, July 12

I rose early that morning, around six, and set out to get coffee, which was surprisingly difficult. All the cafes were closed and the bodegas I checked out were not accommodating. I had to settle for Dunkin’, a street person reclining out front asked for a Boston Cream, so I got him that and also a banana for which he was much appreciative.

The girl and I then set out on a three-mile run. We were just a few blocks from Central Park, and I’d never been to the Northwest quadrant. Even when I ran the marathon in 2006 we passed the statue of Duke Ellington on the east side. Here we entered the park by the statue of Frederick Douglass and did a couple laps before heading back, freshening up and stopping by Caféine for caffeine and sandwiches.

We headed downtown to attend the Whitney Biennial. I let my daughter set the pace, and we took our time on every floor. Three hours in one art museum, viewing, taking time for coffee and water, all dictated by her interest. It was amazing. We had some fascinating conversations about the work, and about art in general. She is such an insightful young woman.

The High Line, 2012
By the time we exited it was very hot, as we mounted the steps to the High Line. The family had last visited this place in 2012, when we were attending a cousin’s Central Park wedding, so the children were much younger but she had happy memories of the place. It was much more crowded on this day, and sunny and warm.

She and I are alike in our physiology, our endurance, but I still needed to check in, make sure it wasn’t all too exhausting. We came down off the trestle to find some lunch and the folks at Don Giovanni were a joy. We had a relaxing meal, checked out a gallery, and then walked to Times Square to attend a reading at the New York Musical Festival.

Not just any reading, mind you. We were there to catch a 6 PM performance of Everything is Okay (And Other Helpful Lies) written by Melissa T. Crum and Caitlin Lewins. The first thing the girl noticed was that she recognized one of the actors from The Bold Type.

“How can she be doing that, and also doing this?” she wanted to know. I told her that’s what New York actors do.

This was the final of three shows for Everything is Okay, and it was as though the entire administrative staff from Cleveland Public Theatre was there, which was pretty cool.

"I have no mind, I'm the village idiot."
During the performance the lights dimmed dramatically, but just as swiftly came back up. Following the performance we learned the power was out on the west side. The elevators were no working and the lights were out in the stairwell. It wasn’t until we made our way to the street and we passed the enormous crowd out in front of Aladdin that I realized what this all meant -- Broadway shows were being cancelled for the evening.

The girl had wanted to do some shopping around the square, but the stores were now closed and the sidewalks were crammed with tourists and New Yorkers going, where exactly?

The trains on the west side were down, so we walked across town. I tried hailing a cab, but they were all full. We finally made it to the 6 express train, which was packed, and took us past our stop all the way to 125th Street. So, more walking, just my daughter and I strolling through Harlem on a hot Saturday night.

We weren’t sure if restaurants in the neighborhood would be open by the time we got there, and besides, she was exhausted (her FitBit reported we walked twelve miles that day) and just wanted to collapse in our room, so she picked up carry-out at the Whole Foods at West 125th and Malcolm X Boulevard.

My wife took classes at CCNY in the early 1990s and just the phrase “the Whole Foods at 125th and Malcolm X Boulevard” made her laugh. It is a different city.

It took over two hours to get to where we were staying. A real New York experience. The kitchen was in fact closed at Silvana, a Middle Eastern place I was really hoping to try -- but the folks there did serve me dolmathes to go, for which I was especially grateful. I really love New Yorkers.

Central Park Carousel, 2004
Sunday, July 13

I’m training for a marathon, and my schedule dictated a ten mile run, which I took. All through Central Park, as far south as Bethesda Terrace and including several laps around the reservoir.

The girl slept until eight, which was only proper. We had a leisurely breakfast as Les Ambassades before heading back up the the train at 125th. On our way we noticed a film shoot between Manhattan and St. Nicholas Avenues. It appeared to be a period shoot, and by the cars and costumes, I guessed it took place in the late 50s.

Later we learned it was for the new West Side Story.

Anyway, the plan was to see a Broadway show, whatever was available at TKTS. I described each show as fairly as possible, only vetoing one or two I had absolutely no interest in. I assumed she would choose a musical, but once I had described The Play That Goes Wrong as Noises Off on steroids (I had no idea if this was true, but that’s pretty much accurate) that was at the top of her list. She played Poppy in a high school production of Noises Off her freshman year.

While we waited for the matinee, we did some shopping, and took a walk through Central Park. We took a ride on the carousel … which we had last done together in 2004. Can you imagine?

Fort Tryon Park
Also, The Play That Goes Wrong is fucking hilarious.

After the show, we took the train all the way uptown, had noodles at Tampopo, and took a stroll Fort Tryon Park, just before dusk. It’s a very special place for my wife, and now it is for me, as well. Someday I look forward to taking the girl to the Cloisters. Both of the kids, actually.

Monday, July 14

We packed up to go, having one last coffee at Caféine and taking our things into a cab for Brooklyn and a tour of the Pratt Institute before flying home.

It was a delightful journey, I hope to take my son on a similar one in two years. Maybe to NYC, maybe Chicago. He really likes Chicago. I'm not trying to sell the kids on cities other than Cleveland as a place to go to school or to live and work. I just want them to know there are other cities, and that they can go where they choose.

Tomorrow, the first of August, my daughter begins soccer practice for the new school year. While the summer isn’t exactly over, it has begun to end. And we’re ready for that, too.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

On Waiting

"Ten percent is putting paint onto the canvas. The rest is waiting."
- John Logan, Red
Down East Writing Desk
My preliminary draft of The Bully of Baker Street was written over the course of three, eight-hour days ("'Banker's hours,'" also from Red.) If this is an ordinary accomplishment, I do not know. Like sex, I only know how I do it (I do not know who I am quoting there.) But it was the fastest I have ever created a rough first draft.

Except it's not. Not really. Because I have been writing it in my head for months, writing about it, in journals, on notepads, in discussion with others. I made notes, mapped the plot, turned characters this way and that in my mind, created lists.

Then, when the opportunity presented itself to write, write dialogue, I merely had to follow the plot and plan I had set out for myself. Easy-peasy.

But not complete. Because there are plot holes, there are missing scenes. There are songs to be sung, and puzzles to be crafted.

And we require simplicity. We demand clarity. And these will come. There will be an informal reading August 23. The "official" first read, September 23. Plenty of time.

Currently, we are on vacation. But the work continues. I have written no less than four plays in this location, though it's a bit challenging this year, as there are ten people staying in the cabin. In spite of anyone's best intentions, there are meals to be made, cuts to be cleaned and bandaged, errands to run, loved ones to be served sandwiches, drinks and attention.

Yet, provided a window of opportunity to consider, to edit and to revise, I see today the front porch, these children, these elders, all reading. And I am inspired to read myself.

I pick up Mr. Logan's script.

To be continued.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Musical Roadtrip

Buffalo, New York
There’s an Onion article people like to post on my Facebook page with the headline, Cool Dad Raising Daughter On Media That Will Put Her Entirely Out Of Touch With Her Generation. It came out eight years ago, folks think that just because I like to lecture them about how stupid their taste in music is that I am the kind of parent who schools his own children on what’s hip.

This is not true. My children have their own taste and quite often they are educating me. My friends on Facebook, however, have wasted their pathetic lives on garbage music, and I am doing what friends do. I am trying to help them.

As schedules panned out this summer, I would be driving one child up while my wife flies with the other. Then we switch -- children, that is. I will drive the other and she will fly.

Do I mind driving both ways? Heavens, no. I have developed a healthy aversion to air travel and really like to road. And hotels and dining in unique, interesting restaurants.

The boy, age fourteen, likes music. He plays the drums and bass (stand up, and electric) and listens to his phone. When he hears a song that interests him on the radio, he will look it up on Spotify and add it to a massive playlist of all of his favorite songs.

And that’s the thing. Like a lot of kids his age (though certainly not all) he doesn’t own copies of music. He has no CD player, he has a speaker for his phone, though he prefers earbuds. He does not subscribe to a premium channel, so when he does listen to playlists they are broken up with ads, and when he listens to “albums” he’s actually hearing it shuffled up, often with other “related” songs dropped in. And more ads.

So, my plan was to pull together a collection of CDs to listen on the trip -- entire albums, played all the way through. He gave me a list to get from the library, I chose several from my collections, and we would go back and forth, choosing albums.

The trip was much more exciting, if somewhat disturbing in places, and he rarely looked at his phone the entire trip, which I take as a major victory.

In every single case, whether we were listening to his choice or mine, these were albums he had never listened to all the way through before. Here they are, presented in the order we listened to them, accompanied by brief commentary. He’s O, I am D.

Saturday, Cleveland to Syracuse

The Cure: Disintegration
O: Funky, psychedelic jam band. Weird. There were few lyrics, leaving more space for music.

Pup: Morbid Stuff
D: Surprised it was such much about relationships. Triumphal, yet aggressively emotional.

De La Soul: De La Soul Is Dead
O: Inspired, they had so much to say about the people who misunderstood them.

System of a Down (eponymous)
D: Intense, tight, and dramatic. Old school pun and metal.
O: The first five songs are bangers.

Barenaked Ladies: Gordon
O: They seem like funny guys.
D: Some day I need to write a paper about this album. It won’t be pretty.

Soul Coughing: Ruby Vroom
O: It’s weird and funky and the drum beats are cool and it’s very musical and the bass is fantastic.

Sunday, Syracuse to Friendship

Ben Folds Five: Whatever and Ever Amen
O: The guy who wrote Dear Evan Hansen listened to a lot of Ben Folds.

Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP
O: He straight up says what he doesn’t like about things.

Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
D: This is where my education began.
O: My dad grew up in Bay Village.

Rage Against the Machine (eponymous)
D: Still painfully relevant. Paul Ryan is a chump.
O: Really good debut album right up there with Pup’s.

Elvis Costello & the Attractions: Trust
O: This is like all the music I like. I like the band, I like him.

Beastie Boys: Ill Communication
O: Shows their punk background. Really embracing that distorted microphone.

The Police: Zenyatta Mondatta
O: The whole album is a greatest hits collection.

Mike Doughty performs Ruby Vroom at the Beachland Ballroom on Friday, October 25, 2019.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Women of Baker Street

Irene Adler
Five years ago courts concluded (and not for the first time) that the stories and characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle written prior to 1923 are in the public domain, freely available for any artist to write about or interpret without fear of copyright infringement.

(The Doyle estate did go on to press the creators of the 2015 film Mr. Holmes that they had used details about Sherlock’s retirement referred to in stories written after 1923, which illustrates how legal issues continue.)

I could adapt almost any of the classic Sherlock Holmes adventures. I have chosen instead to create an entirely new mystery, one which will, ideally, fit neatly into the established timeline of events as set down by the original author.

Why a new adventure? Simply put -- women. The only recurring female character in Sherlock Holmes is Mrs. Hudson, the landlady at 221B Baker Street.

Contemporary adaptations, like the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and the two Guy Ritchie films, chose to inflate the character of Irene Adler into that of Holmes’ romantic opposite, though she appears in only one Doyle story and the characters have no such relationship.

Today we expect, in fact require, strong female characters. This is not a matter of political correctness, it is merely a fact. My daughter never held any interest in the Star Wars films until Rey was introduced. I never told her which books to enjoy, she always gravitated toward compelling women (Hunger Games) and has entirely avoided weak ones (Twilight).

"Treasure Island"
Great Lakes Theater (2019)
Our last two outreach tours, freely adapted by Eric Schmiedl from the classic novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Treasure Island, illustrate the challenge in finding compelling female models in 19th century adventure tales. You can cast women to play Huck and Jim Hawkins to great effect (and we did), but the actual women characters in these stories are only docile mothers and silly girls.

Having decided to create compelling women for this Holmes play, the question was how to do this and still maintain the authentic structure and feel of a Sherlock Holmes narrative. Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, Moriarty, Mycroft -- principals characters all. In order to introduce new characters, most would need to be absent, to make way. How to do that without losing what is intrinsic to the legend?

Of course, what is most iconic is the man himself. But could we create a female narrator -- not a women playing Watson (as Lucy Liu does in the successful, modern American TV adaptation) but a new character entirely? How will that work?

And who is the bully of Baker Street?

To be continued.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Cat and the Canary (film)

I have adapted Agatha Christie mysteries for the stage, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Secret Adversary. However, it was my older brother Henrik who was mystery-obsessive. It was he who introduced me to Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, and he was quite an expert on Sherlock Holmes.

I say he “introduced” me because though throughout my childhood these tales were in the atmosphere, I didn’t take an interest. I wasn’t into puzzles and plotting, and to be honest, mysteries scared me. Someone’s dead -- and we don’t know why or how it happened? The unknown is horrifying to me.

I understand that it is the solution to mysteries than many find so reassuring, they bring order to chaos, and suggest that every problem has an answer, that all loose ends will eventually be tied. These people are also probably have religion for the same reason.

I always flash back to that moment when the victim is dying, perhaps violently, shocked, and afraid and alone. The tragedy itself is not made softer by there existing an explanation. Perhaps I am an atheist for the same reason.

My brother took me to this film once -- twice, actually. He would have been fourteen, I was only ten. We went twice on two different days, probably over a weekend. Maybe we took the bus, maybe my parents dropped us at the mall, can’t remember, I was ten. The film was Cat and the Canary, a stylish, period remake of a film made famous as a Bob Hope picture in the 30s. This 1978 version was considerably more bloody. Grisly. It was the seventies.

Cat and the Canary is one of those "bumped-off-one-at-a-time" mysteries in which the house itself is the murder weapon. I was fascinated by the twists and turns, the disappearances, the horrible, clever ways people were separated from each other, and then craftily dispatched. I was also horrified. I was unable to sleep. I was terrified someone would come through my window or stab me through the bed.

My brother was scolded for taking me to see it, to see it twice. I protested that I had asked him to take me to see it again, and so attention was turned to me. I was made to feel foolish. “If it scared you so, why would you want to see it again?”

I carried this with me as I became an adolescent and we moved into the era of the slasher film -- and cable TV. From Michael Myers to Jason Voorhees to Freddy Kruger, I abstained. I just didn’t watch them.

Now, slasher movies aren’t necessarily mysteries, but mysteries can be slasher films (see: Psycho) and I have watched each, but it is the moments of isolation and despair which frighten me the most. The Vanishing comes to mind. Never seen it, know how it ends, that’s enough to keep me awake at night.

So when it came time to adapt a Sherlock Holmes mystery into a play for children, there was more than one reason to avoid plots featuring violent crimes -- or any violence at all. When we produced Jabberwocky three years ago, there is a scene where a child confronts a bully the wrong way, but hitting back. With a stick.

It was meant to be an example of making a bad choice. And yet, talkback after talkback, this was the kids’ favorite part. It was what they best remembered, it elicited the most joyful reaction. They loved seeing that one kids hit the other kids with a stick -- and they hadn’t even seen it! The beating took place off stage, with one child character chasing the other behind a curtain and then hearing the bully cry out in pain.

Now, many of Doyle’s mysteries are murder mysteries, so it couldn’t be any of those. There are a few thefts in his tales, but none presented situations that interested me -- or more importantly, supporting characters that would interest children.

The education department brainstorm non-violent crimes, which included theft, extortion, vandalism, fraud, embezzlement, forgery, pickpocketing, arson, the receipt of stolen goods, and counterfeiting.

For the past several months, these ideas have been simmering, and I have been making notes, and reading story after story, and stringing together original ideas for a brand new mystery of my own.

Because there was one very important element lacking in all of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures, and it was that which would not only set this story apart, but satisfying a great many details of the upcoming outreach tour.

Strong female characters.

To be continued.