An interview with author Shannon Hale on community princess play adaption
Shannon Hale with Production Team (Toni Butler/Kensington Theatre)
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By Mylinda LeGrande | email@example.com
This December, Kensington Theater will be performing an adaption of Shannon Hale’s book “Princess Academy.” The theater has a partnership with Early Light Academy in Daybreak.
The community theater began back in 2007 when Toni Butler, president of Kensington Theatre Company and director for the “Princess Academy,” approached the Daybreak Community Council to put on the play “The Wizard of Oz.” They agreed, and due to successfully involving more than 200 community members and selling out all its performances that they formed Daybreak Community Theatre, according to the Kensington Theatre website.
South Jordan City encouraged a name change to reflect the entire community the company served. South Jordan Community Theatre was born and opened its first season with “Peter Pan.”
“We are very young but very ambitious and driven by our talented community,” Butler said. “Be sure to keep your eye on our theater company; a company that continues to exceed everyone’s expectations of community theater.”
After seven seasons, the theater also took on the name of Kensington Theatre Company, as they opened a new theater house at Early Light Academy, but Daybreak Community Theatre is still maintained as their parent company name.
“While we are called Kensington Theatre Company, my favorite part of directing a play is the curtain call,” Butler said. “Our casts go away with a new family that they will always be tied to. It truly builds character and community in a way that is seldom matched.”
Six years ago, author Shannon Hale and Butler reunited as friends when both moved to the same neighborhood in South Jordan.
“Shannon and I were both on the board for the theater,” Butler said. “I asked her permission to adapt ‘Princess Academy’ for the theater. She agreed, and we drew up a contract. I started writing the play, but one of my students from East High School, Kathryn P. Brown, heard about the project and asked if she could give it a try. She read the books and finished writing the script. Once she started, she just ran with it.”
Hale was available for an interview about her book “Princess Academy,” her involvement in the play and success as an author.
Q: Is this your first book adapted to play? Why did you do the adaption? Are there anymore plans to adapt more books to plays?
Hale: “In 2005, I published a book called ‘Princess Academy.’ It was my third novel. It went on to become a New York Times bestseller and win a Newbery Honor. [It] has been adapted into a play a few times. The first time was with a Minneapolis children’s theater company. This production is with the Kensington Theatre Company in South Jordan, which is my hometown. The director, Toni Butler, is an old theater friend of mine, so this production is particularly wonderful for me because it’s being made by friends in my own city. Kensington optioned the rights to produce the musical. I was not a part of the process. I haven’t read the script or listened to the music. I felt like it was important that I give them space to create their own take on the story without me looking over their shoulders.”
Q: Now a little bit about you. How did you begin writing? Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for writing each book?
Hale: “I always made up stories but decided to become a writer at age 10. I was first published after 19 years at it and haven’t stopped, publishing at least one book each year since. I have published over 20 books. It is my dream job, and hope to keep doing it for as long as I’m able.”
Q: What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Hale: “I try to read a little bit of everything. I’ve written chapter books, middle grade, young adult, adult; screenplays, graphic novels and prose novels; fantasy, comedy, contemporary, science fiction, mystery, romance, memoir. I try to read as broadly as I write. It’s part of my job, and it’s also a joy.
Q: Could you describe the mundane details of writing: How many hours a day to you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard?
Hale: “My schedule changes year to year. I’m a mom of four kids and so when I write depends on when I have free time. With kids now in school, I write during school hours. My goals vary from 1,000–2,000 words a day for a first draft, or for revisions editing 10–20 pages a day. I work on a laptop. I can’t imagine any author using a typewriter anymore! There’s so much revision it just isn’t practical. Recently, my husband and I often collaborate so a writing day could include long ‘plot walks’ where we talk through ideas before starting our writing.”
Q: Do you write every single day?
Hale: “Writing is my job. I stop working when the kids get home from school and take weekends off.”
Q: Any writing rituals?
Hale: “I’m not a superstitious person. I just sit down and get to work!”
Q: Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions, or similar events?
Hale: “Yes I’ve done hundreds of book events, speeches, signings, assemblies, festivals, etc. It’s a huge part of this profession.”
Q: Tell us some about your upcoming books, events or projects?
Hale: “My husband and I write ‘The Princess in Black,’ early chapter book series, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, for kindergarten–third-grade readers. It’s a fun, highly illustrated series about Princess Magnolia who is secretly a monster-fighting superhero.”
Q: Are you planning to adapt any of your stories to the screen?
Hale: “With director Jerusha Hess, I adapted my novel comedic ‘Austenland’ for the screen. It was a 2013 Sundance film and is now on DVD/Blu-Ray. ‘The Princess in Black’ has been optioned by Universal Pictures for film.
Q: What’s more important: characters or plot?
Hale: “There’s no way to separate the two. It’s like asking what makes us who we are—environment or genetics? There is no story without characters, and characters are what they do and say, which creates plot.
Q: How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?
Hale: “Very hard. Much, much harder than I understood when I was starting out. It’s an unstable and constantly shifting business. I’ve had a dozen or so New York Times bestsellers, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel certain. Authors are always treading water, trying to stay afloat. We don’t get into this because it’s easy money. We write because we have to write and nothing else gives us the same joy.”
The “Princess Academy” play music was written by Kathryn Brown’s husband Jefferson Brown. Butler said that the play includes crossover music. The play is based on the seasons which starts and ends with fall. The music pieces come from old Scandinavian Folk tunes.
“The music is just beautiful,” Butler said. “The cast is so dedicated, and the excitement is almost intangible.”
Cast Member Rachel Pugmire, plays Kari, a supporting character in the play.
“I love the book, and the play is very true to it,” she said. “Katie and Jeff Brown wrote some awesome and catchy music along with the script. Toni Butler is our arts director and is very talented and is amazing at bringing the show to life. The rehearsals are long but very organized [and] never waste our time. The cast is full of very kind and outgoing people. They are very funny and fun to talk to but also responsible in getting the work we need to do done. The rehearsals fly by, because time flies when you’re having fun!”
The cast consists of 120 people ages 8–60. Many of the cast members include entire families. The main character Miri, is played by Maggie Scott. Trenton Conover will play Miri’s love interest, Peder. Other main characters are Prince Stephan played by Jeoff Beckstrand, and Britta will be played by Lydia Butler. The play will be held at the Kensington Theatre at Early Light Academy in Daybreak, Dec. 9–21. Tickets are $8–12 in advanced and $12–15 at the door. They can be purchased online at www.kensingtontheatre.org.