There is a balance in writing shows for a young audience. Local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher knows it well.
"It's always daunting when you are dealing with the kid audience. You don't want to get to the point where so many jokes or words or phrases are over the kids' heads. There is a certain part where they start detaching from the show," Hatcher says.
The playwright has adapted Philip Pullman's The Scarecrow and His Servant, which opens this week at the Children's Theatre Company.
"I was familiar with Philip Pullman, but not the book," Hatcher says.
The Scarecrow and His Servant offered plenty of challenges that Hatcher and the team at CTC needed to solve. "The obvious tricky point is how to deal with a character that is supposed to be assembled onstage, come to life, and then be disassembled," he says. "In the course of the play, he loses arms and legs and his torso and his head. It's wise to have some idea how this is going to happen in the back of your head."
Beyond that, the book offered some structural challenges. The picaresque style of the original may work between the pages, but becomes more difficult onstage. "For a play, you have to build a connective tissue arc to it. We didn't want it to seem like the characters were just wandering around having adventures," Hatcher says. "In a book, you can go a long time without feeling tension. In a play, you can't even do that for a couple of minutes."
To build this up, Hatcher made the folks chasing our heroes more present throughout the story. He also nicked an old structure that has served many creators through the years, such as Hitchcock in North by Northwest.
"They are running away from people and running toward people. There is a great tension on both ends," Hatcher says.
Helping to bring the Scarecrow to life is popular CTC performer Dean Holt. "He is terrific in this stuff. He is hard to beat in the physical and verbal parts of theater, and he is adorable. The audiences love him," Hatcher says.
Holt will perform the show on stilts. "It's amazing. I couldn't do that with boots that have lifts. It's amazing that in everything we are asking him to do, he doesn't fall on those things," Hatcher says.
A prolific playwright, Hatcher has been through the process of creation numerous times in the past. In this case, he has continued to tweak the script. Late last week, he went through and trimmed the piece as it went into the technical rehearsals and then previews this week.
"This is one of the things I like best. Most people don't like tech so much, but there is something about coming into the show now. The tech table is set up and the house is dark. I just love it," Hatcher says.
IF YOU GO:
The Scarecrow and His Servant
Previews Tuesdays-Thursday; opens Friday-April 6
Children's Theatre Company
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.874.0400 or visit online.