This Saturday I’m taking Adam to see his first play at New York City’s FringeJR Festival. FringeJR is part of the New York International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America, showcasing new plays for kids ages 5-12 years old. Swashbuckling Sam and the Tale of Blackbeard's Revenge, presented by Wide Eyed Productions, is an original story that promises to please young audiences with a brave, young heroine(seven-year old Sam), shadow puppets, and sword wielding pirates of course. During the last week of rehearsals, playwright, Leonora Bernstein, found a few moments to answer Junior Baby Hatter’s questions about inspiration, favorite childhood books, and discovering her love for a good adventure story through her earliest memories of theatre.
What inspired you to write Swashbuckling Sam?
I’ve always loved adventure stories especially ones with pirates. As a child I would read Treasure Island and watch The Goonies. Recently a good friend of mine was going through a divorce and her daughter was having a rough time at school – she was being bullied, she lives in a small town and I wished there was something I could do to show her daughter, that she wasn’t so alone.
Have you always written for young audiences?
Swashbuckling Sam and the Tale of Blackbeard’s Revenge is the first play that I have completed. I’ve taken a few playwriting classes. So I guess to answer your question, so far my focus has been on theatre for young audiences. I have an M.A. in Educational Theatre from NYU and I’m Wide Eyed Productions Education Coordinator. Most of my focus is on young people and creating work that stimulates critical thinking but also entertains. Wide Eyed Productions feels that it is important to create theatre for young people because we believe they need and deserve theatre that matters to them. Theatre which pertains to their lives, and which they can relate to; I think the stories we encounter at an early age like anything else, help influence who we become.
How did you become a writer?
When I look at this question I think -It’s funny you ask this, because I don’t really feel like a writer, and Swashbuckling Sam and the Tale of Blackbeard’s Revenge is my first produced play. I write for fun, and I enjoy taking classes but I don’t consider myself a writer, more of a theatre educator.
What was your favorite children's book to read growing up?
I loved Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson- like my main character Sam, but I also recall constantly reading Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.
Did you attend plays or musicals as a kid?
I attended lots of theatre as a child. I started seeing theatre at the age of 6, my mother had just given birth to my brother and so to get me out of her hair, she had my dad take me to children’s theatre. As for musicals, my parents enjoy musical theatre – so we had a lot of musicals on records (remember records) and I would listen to all of them; But Oklahoma! was my favorite. When I was around ten years old, I attended a community theatre production of it, and I was in awe – I loved it.
What's your most memorable theatre experience as a child?
When I was in primary school, I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and there was this really wonderful theatre for a youth company called The Seem-to-Be Players. And I was really lucky, because my first theatre experiences was going to see them. My dad would take me there once a month(they had new plays every month); they would perform two shows. First a fairy tale then they would teach us a song, and the second half of the show which was my absolute favorite was an original series called Nyfrm the Sprite. It was all about a sprite who went on an adventure. So I guess with these questions it’s come full circle - I always love a good adventure.
Swashbuckling Sam is performing in Venue #6 of the 14th Street Y community center this Wednesday 8/24 at 5:30pm, Friday 8/26 at 4:15pm, and Saturday 8/27 at 4pm. Purchase tickets online at Eventbrite!