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(From Publishers Weekly)
AUTHORS TAKE THE STAGE
Broadway may be dark (due to a stagehands’ strike), but that didn’t stop four award-winning authors from lighting up the stage with a standing-room-only performance last week. As part of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference held at New York City’s Javits Center, children’s book authors Avi, Sarah Weeks, Katherine Paterson and Brian Selznick demonstrated the power of dramatizing literature with their Authors Readers Theatre.
ART is the brainchild of Avi Wortis, who opened and closed the presentation with a quotation from Robert Frost, “The ear is the best reader.” For the intervening hour, the quartet of authors proved that they were gifted dramatists as well as writers, reading a scene from each of their works, which they have adapted for performance. Their goal: to model the form, so that teachers and librarians will take it back to students in their schools and encourage them to create their own theatrical adaptations. The authors read from Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia; Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle; Weeks’s Oggie Cooder (forthcoming in February 2008) and Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, among others.
The four actor/authors dressed in black and assumed the roles of different characters, but they also took turns narrating–often within a single work. Several memorable moments emphasized the impact made possible by this unusual form of creative collaboration. For instance, at the point in Paterson’s story when Jess and Leslie are about to name their magical world, all four authors whisper in unison, “Terabithia.” In another example, and perhaps the most challenging adaptation, audience members watched a screen as images of a full moon melted into an evening cityscape of Paris, then scenes of the Gare Saint-Lazare in the highly visual presentation of Hugo Cabret. All the while, the authors’ voices provided a soundtrack: Weeks hummed “(If It Takes Forever) I Will Wait for You,” while Paterson simulated the tick-tock of a clock, Avi made the sound of young Hugo panting as he runs through the train station and Selznick created the soft chug-chug of the train’s arrival.
Launched in September 2006, the original Authors Readers Theatre consisted of Avi, Sarah Weeks, Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Creech. Since then, other writers have joined the traveling troupe (which has aimed the presentation at teachers and librarians primarily, though readers age 9-up have also been in attendance). Their Web site, www.authorsreaderstheatre.com, provides plentiful resources and guidelines for creating such a theatre in the classroom, library or bookstore, including a list of the authors’ paperback editions that include scripts in the back. The ART Web site offers a complete list of performances scheduled at conferences and literary festivals through spring 2008, as well as information on how to go about hosting one. – Jennifer M. Brown, PW Shelf Awareness