When I was seven I was taken to see “Pippi Longstocking” at the local children’s theatre. It was my first experience with live theatre and I was immediately hooked. The color, the music, the immediacy of a story brought to life right before your eyes! I was fascinated by the mixing of fantasy and reality, and how the phony could look utterly real. I knew Pippi’s bright red braids was a wig, yet when she danced and skipped across the stage and pulled one, I winced with everybody else at the imagined hurt.
But unlike many other children, I didn’t want to be on the stage myself. I didn’t want to play Pippi and be the star. I wanted to write the stories and then bring them to life – my own stories, people saying my words – creation at its fullest.
I began to write plays for myself. My actors were my friends, cousins, and especially my little brother. He was my favorite actor because he usually would do whatever I told him to do. But then he got a little older, and a lot bolder. By the time I was 10 and he was 6, he had become a writer/director’s nightmare.
I remember one play I wrote for some family occasion, the audience made up of aunts, uncles, grandparents and teenage cousins. I wrote and directed four younger cousins and my brother in a murder mystery that I was quite proud of for its plethora of red herrings, plot twists, and multiple suspects. My brother played the detective. Since he couldn’t read his lines, his part was small — all he had to do was come in at the end, wearing my father’s suit coat and hat, and carrying a toy gun. He was supposed to walk up to the murderer and arrest him. But as soon as he got on “stage” (the living room) ham entered his soul. He stalked up to each aunt and uncle in turn (they weren’t even part of the play!) and grilled them like suspects, making up accusations and threatening to give them the third degree. His impromptu antics heightened both the suspense and the hilarity, and even I admitted he was brilliantly funny. But my laughter was sort of sour. He literally stole my show by totally ignoring my beautifully crafted words.
After that, I much preferred writing books, where your characters don’t think for themselves.