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This post is part of today's One Shot Recs Over the Fence, organized by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Some of you may recall that I reviewed this book before. The point of today's One Shot Recs is to draw attention to excellent books that, for one reason or another, seem not to have garnered quite the level of discussion or success that they are due (in the subjective opinion of the involved bloggers, naturally). And this book seems not to have gotten quite the amount of play that I would have hoped for it.

What if six award-winning authors were each asked to write a one-act play for a collection of plays? And what if each of them were required to contribute one word to be used by all of them in their stories? Were that the case, you'd probably end up with something very much like today's book, Acting Out, Six One-Act Plays, featuring plays by Avi, Susan Cooper, Sharon Creech, Patricia MachLachlan, Katherine Paterson, and Richard Peck.

The plays are all quite different, with varying numbers of cast members. Richard Peck's offering, Effigy in the Outhouse, can have dozens of kids if need be; Katherine Paterson's The Billionaire and the Bird has four roles, but really only three, since one of them is a stuffed or puppet bird.

Permission Rights
Table of Contents

Introduction by Justin Chanda, the editor who set this up. He notes the word selection issue: the six words which must be used at least once in each play are dollop, hoodwink, Justin, knuckleball, panhandle and raven. Skipping all the way to the author bios at the very back of the book, you learned who picked what: Avi selected hoodwink, Susan Cooper chose dollop, Sharon Creech opted for raven, Patricia MacLachlan went with the quirky knuckleball, Katherine Paterson played a dictionary game and came up with panhandle, and Richard Peck chose justice. Only his editor, Justin Chanda, misheard him, and so his word became, well, Justin instead.

The Bad Room by Patricia MacLachlan features 8 characters plus a dog. Two of the characters are meant to be adults, but there's no reason an appropriately dressed kid couldn't play the roles. ;) What I loved about this one? It's set in "the bad room," in which kids are stuck for in-school suspensions for various reasons. The new teacher teaches them ballroom dancing. In a Breakfast Club sort of way, they all come to a better understanding of one another. Unlike The Breakfast Club, however, the principal isn't a jerk. Were I to do a Hollywood "pitch", I'd say it's The Breakfast Club meets Take the Lead, but with elementary or middle school kids.

The Raven by Sharon Creech has five characters; four adults plus one teen. One of the characters is Edgar Allen Poe, who is trying to sell his manuscript for The Raven to a publishing house. The Creech play is the shortest of the lot, and is extremely witty. I think kids will find it funny, and I know that folks involved in any way in publishing will do so.

The Billionaire and the Bird by Katherine Paterson has the smallest cast, but is not the shortest play. It is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale, set in the home of a reclusive billionaire named Mr. Pombar, "third richest man in the world and number-one hypochondriac."

The Dollop by Susan Cooper is an environmental work in which local kids are unhappy that a developer is knocking down trees in order to develop the land. It has 11 roles listed, but one of them is "the Dollop", which is actually composed of an entire chorus of people (number unspecified, but I'd guess you'd need a minimum of 5 kids to make the composite character, all of whom must speak and move in chorus. As a result, I'd tag this one as the toughest production in the book, although Ms. Cooper's production note gives good suggestions for how to create and choreograph the Dollop (as well as what sorts of kids might make the best Dollop members).

Effigy in the Outhouse by Richard Peck continues where The Teacher's Funeral and Here Lies the Librarian left off. (In fact, it reads like it could be a scene from one of those books, or a short story of the same style, only it's a play, of course.) Actual named speaking roles are listed for 11 people (8 kids plus 3 adult roles, which can be played by kids or adults), but additional roles designated "pupil's voice" or "pupil at window" or "another pupil at window" exist, which could be doubled by the 11 people already in the play, or provided by additional cast members.

Not Seeing is Believing by Avi has five speaking roles, but only four stage roles. (One of the speakers is never seen on stage, but is merely heard, either by moving about backstage or through the cunning use of sound system equipment.) It involves some of the trickiest staging, because there must be a set sufficient to hide what's behind it, and two of the characters must be able to duck backstage quickly, then back on-stage later. It's very funny, and for reasons I can't explain reminded me of Dr. Seuss. Maybe because it evoked Horton Hears A Who for me, at least a little bit.

The Creech play, The Raven is very funny, and will appeal to writers and folks in publishing as much as it does to kids. Poor Edgar Allen Poe is trying to sell "The Raven", but is instructed to make it less dreary, replace the raven with a brighter, more cheerful bird, take it out of poetry and expand it to 250,000 words, only to hear them take on a collection of poems from the delivery boy. Plus, it reminds me of this excellent Mitchell & Webb sketch, which cracks me up every time I see it:

Avi's play, Not Seeing is Believing, is also rather funny, and will appeal in particular to younger audiences. Not that it's characters need be particularly young, but it involves kids getting in trouble with their parents for making noise at bedtime, and I predict raves from the preschool and K-3 set. Effigy in the Outhouse by Richard Peck is funny as well, with a little bit of ghoulishness to it that should appeal to elementary and even middle school kids. The Bad Room by Patricia MacLachlan contains some humor, but it's movie pitch set up (The Breakfast Club meets Take the Lead, but in elementary school) should tip you that there's also some actual learning going on here, if only of the "don't judge a book by its cover" or "other people have problems too" variety. It's never preachy, however - in fact, it's quite winning.

The Billionaire and the Bird by Katherine Paterson includes some humor, of course, because the hypochondriacal billionaire is a funny sort of character. But it is engaged in teaching a lesson, as was the original Hans Christian Andersen story, The Nightingale. It doesn't become preachy either, and depending on the actors involved, could result in a quite moving production (particularly for any parents in the audience). And finally, Susan Cooper's The Dollop is possibly the weightiest of them all, if only because the character of the Dollop requires multiple actors. But it has a timely environmental/open lands bent to it and an earnestness completely missing from, say, The Raven. (That, by the way, is a good thing. Having an earnest environmental play in which kids triumph over encroaching development is good, but so is having something that's just plain funny.)

Each play is followed by a production note from its playwright/author. And at the front of the book, before you even get to the Table of Contents, is the Performance Rights page, which explains that the rights are reserved, but that any not-for-profit productions performed ina school will be granted free of charge, provided an official request is made prior to the performance to the appropriate agent, with a list of contact information for all six of the plays (two are the publisher, the other four are agents, so if you want to know who reps whom, here's your chance).

Final Word: A must-buy for libraries and school libraries and any elementary or middle-school drama teachers out there, and an excellent addition to the libraries of anyone interested in becoming a playwright for kids, or fans of any of the authors-turned-playwright in the book (and I'm guessing that's, um, most of my readership).

Other stops in this One-Shot Wednesday event are:

Chasing Ray recommends Bellwether by Connie Willis, a social satire dealing with fads and corporate culture
Tanita at Finding Wonderland outs herself as a geek and hands over an entire stack of sexist old-school sci-fi: The Sector General books by James White
Over at Bildungsroman, Little Willow recommends A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb.
Mother Reader recommends Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson, which sounds right up my alley.
Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 recommends Ultra-Violet Catastrophe!: Or The Unexpected Walk with Great-Uncle Magnus Pringle by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Brian Froud.
A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy's Liz B. recommends The Real Benedict Arnold by Jim Murphy
Kimberley at Lectitans

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 25th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
What a great idea. I'm going to check out this book. Thank you!
Mar. 25th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
You are most welcome. It's really entertaining just as reading, but would be great fun with kids, I think.
Mar. 25th, 2009 09:49 am (UTC)
Tanita Says :)
This sounds like a total hoot!
Mar. 25th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :)
It's quite good - some of the plays are funny, and some are not, but they are all well-crafted and interesting. I highly recommend it.
Mar. 25th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
I'm convinced to look for it. I'm thinking a Girl Scout drama badge...
Mar. 25th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
It would be great for that. Even apart from that, it's great for the writing/plays. And the tie-ins with some of them as a potential literacy unit are pretty great, too, if I'm being honest.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 26th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
Mar. 26th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)
You know I was waiting to see what you would come up with but I'm still on the fence...plays? Hmmm. Plays aren't usually at the top of my list. But I'll keep an eye out at the library.
Mar. 26th, 2009 01:58 am (UTC)
It is really, truly excellent. And will have you wanting to write a play.
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:11 am (UTC)
I don't know that having me want to write a play is really a very good thing. LOL
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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