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Barry Kornhauser & Corduroy
Playwright Barry Kornhauser has long been a part of the CTC family. The first play Barry wrote for CTC was Reeling, the “silent movie for the stage,” which premiered in 2006. Since then, Barry has adapted Madeleine and the Gypsies, and created Bert and Ernie, Goodnight, Balloonacy (which was awarded the AATE Distinguished Play Award) and now, Corduroy. An educator as well as a playwright, Barry also launched one of the first national sites of CTC’s Neighborhood Bridges program in his home state of Pennsylvania.What’s your favorite thing about the story of Corduroy?
Don Freeman’s book, Corduroy really speaks to kids. In Leonard S. Marcus’ introduction to The Book of Children’s Classics (a compendium of beloved stories that actually opens with Corduroy), he notes that “Children are eager for stories whose characters hold up…reflections of themselves. …Corduroy lost and found in a vast and puzzling store takes its cue from the wish that favorite toys might one day become full-fledged companions.” Who doesn’t remember a special childhood toy that we would bring to life in our imagination to become a real friend?
But perhaps my very favorite thing about this story is that for Lisa, the toy she falls in love with is a plush bear that happens to be a bit broken. At the end of the book she sews a new button on Corduroy’s shoulder strap so he’ll feel more comfortable, but first she assures him: “I like you the way you are.” That’s a lovely lesson about true friendship.
What is the biggest challenge or most interesting aspect of adapting Corduroy to the stage?
Corduroy is a 28-page picture book, so the first challenge was to see if we could grow the story to fill a full hour on the stage, and to do so while honoring the voice and the intent of its author. To do this, I took a cue from Marcus Leonard who noted that “Corduroy began with Don Freeman’s idea to do a story about a department store in which a character wanders around at night after the doors close.” That being the case, it seemed to make some sense to have our little bear wander through a bit more of that big store in search of his missing button. Creating his misadventures throughout the rest of the night became the first order of business.
I was also excited to expand what we see and know about other characters in the book, like Lisa, her mother and the Night Watchman. From the very first moment Lisa spots Corduroy in the Toy Department, she wants to befriend the bear and bring him home. I wanted our audiences to learn a bit more about Lisa’s life; about the intensity of her feelings for Corduroy, and how she might have spent her evening after her mother gave her those two good reasons for not buying the toy – the bear was “broken” and Mom “broke,” having “spent too much already” at the store. I was interested in fleshing out that mother/daughter relationship, too, from the brief glimpses the author provides.
And then there is the Night Watchman who guards the closed store. We pictured him as a man who’s been at the job for some time, and who takes great pride in his work, in keeping the place safe and secure each night. By expanding Corduroy’s journey through the Department Store on his continued button hunt, we complicate the Night Watchman’s task and construct an increasingly desperate need for him to capture an intruder who doesn’t happen to exist.
One further challenge rested in preserving the author’s conceit that Corduroy only comes to life when no human is around. So when he is cavorting about the store unobserved, whenever the Night Watchman arrives on the scene, he only sees a toy plush bear. What this means is that for these department store scenes I have tasked myself with crafting two separate one-person shows of sorts, yet each having to connect with the other – Corduroy creating unintended fiascos and the Night Watchman facing their consequences. That has been interesting, to say the least.
You have been a part of CTC’s artistic life for many years. Do you have a favorite, or very distinct, memory (or two or three) of working here?
I have so many! I have great memories of the wonderful play development opportunities made available for every one of my CTC projects. These experiences are invariably insightful, inspiring, fruitful and curiously fun! I include here workshops and rehearsals, brainstorming sessions and discussions, those Early Learning Convening undertakings, and such quirky activities as watching Buster Keaton movies with Peter Brosius and Elissa Adams; even the gift of a trip to a conference/festival in Bologna, Italy to explore international approaches to theater for early learners.
I also have an admiration and fascination for the work of the artists behind the scenes, and have enjoyed snooping around the various CTC shops and backstage spaces to learn how those exceedingly talented people help make the magic happen. Similarly, as I am also a theater educator, I’ve been deeply interested in CTC’s Neighborhood Bridges critical literacy program, and have great memories of learning from the Bridges team (who even allowed me to bring their work back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to share with my community).
But along with the work came the play. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those just plain goofy moments I’ve enjoyed at CTC, like getting to stand on the Reeling stage and have a two-story house facade fall down on top of me (a spike mark on the floor indicating where the open window would land, thus sparing my life), or riding the German Wheel from Madeline and the Gypsies, though not being brave enough to try the fire-eating. But my fondest memories revolve around having gotten to meet the CTC family and spending time with the lovely families of CTC folks, especially the Brosius, Adams and Holt households. All have welcomed me to their tables and made me feel very much at home. Being able to bring my own family members to enjoy the stellar work of CTC is also a memory I cherish, and expect that they do too.