Today, I have the great honor of hosting a really delightful guest post from Captain Superlative author J.S. Puller, as part of the official blog tour. In today’s post, we learn about how she discovered the power in writing for kids, and the teacher that helped her along the way. Be sure to keep reading to learn more about Captain Superlative and enter to win a copy!
I started my undergraduate career with certain pretentions. I was going to become an actor. And not just any actor, but a deeply serious classically-trained actor who conquered the giants of the theatre world. I took analysis courses on Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Euripides. I studied vocal performance and the art of the one-man show. Received training in mime. And let’s not forget the critical analysis of character I did! Hours would be dedicated to sitting in the dining hall with a notebook, making notes about how this person talked like Hedda Gabbler and that person dressed like Masha. It was critical, valuable, important work.
And I felt absolutely nothing doing it.
Over the next few years, as I began to develop an interest in writing, I had the good fortune to get to know Rives Collins who, at the time, was the chair of the Northwestern University theatre department. I liked Rives a lot—he always had a way of making you feel like what you were saying really mattered—and I wanted to take some of his classes. Sophomore year, I joined his storytelling class and had the time of my life. Eager for more, my junior year, I enrolled in his children’s theatre course. I’d never put much thought into children’s theatre before. I had memories of seeing didactic retellings of fairy tales in my childhood. To me, it was just throw-away theatre. An addendum to the “grown-up” season of a theatre company. A fundraiser.
Obviously, I was SUPER wrong.
Those of us who spell the word “theatre” correctly have a tendency to quote Stanislavski liberally. His name is sacred, said in a hushed whisper that others would reserve for prayer. While my feelings on method acting border on blasphemy, I have to give credit where it’s due; Stanislavski got one thing right when, in a possibly apocryphal anecdote, he commented, “We act for children the same way we act for adults—only better.” The same goes for writing. And Rives showed me that over and over again, most memorably in a single lesson, on a play called The Yellow Boat.
Written by David Saar, The Yellow Boat tells the story of Benjamin Saar, one of the first pediatric cases of AIDS in the United States. The play takes audiences on the all-too-short journey of Benjamin’s life. The play took its actors on the same journey, the day that Rives introduced it to his children’s theatre class. Throughout the course of two hours, we walked through scenes and exercises, talking about the themes of the play—hope, loss, and love. By the end of the class, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room. All of us were falling over each other in tears, hugging one another, reassuring one another.
Three years of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Euripides had given me plenty to think about. But I’d never felt anything like this before. That day, I read writing for children, written as one might write for adults. Only better. It was raw and beautiful and emotional. Everything I’d been looking for in the theatre. That day is the day I like to credit with my abrupt change in course, transitioning from “adult” acting to writing children’s theatre. With Rives at the helm of that yellow boat that changed my life.
Rives was my mentor after that, serving as my guide in my senior year, as I wrote my first-ever play for young audiences, Women Who Weave. His fingerprints are all over CAPTAIN SUPERLATIVE, which is why I had to name Janey’s language arts teacher after him: Mr. Collins.
“Have no fear, citizens! Captain Superlative is here to make all troubles disappear!”
Red mask, blue wig, silver swimsuit, rubber gloves, torn tights, high top sneakers and . . . a cape? Who would run through the halls of Deerwood Park Middle School dressed like this? And why?
Janey-quick to stay in the shadows-can’t resist the urge to uncover the truth behind the mask. The answer pulls invisible Janey into the spotlight and leads her to an unexpected friendship with a superhero like no other. Fearless even in the face of school bully extraordinaire, Dagmar Hagen, no good deed is too small for the incomparable Captain Superlative and her new sidekick, Janey.
But superheroes hold secrets and Captain Superlative is no exception. When Janey unearths what’s truly at stake, she’s forced to face her own dark secrets and discover what it truly means to be a hero . . . and a friend.
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J. S. Puller a playwright and debut author from the Windy City, Chicago. She has a master’s degree in elementary education and a bachelor’s degree in theatre from Northwestern University. She is an award-winning member of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and is actively involved in researching the social-emotional benefits of arts education with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. When not writing, she can usually be found in the theatre. Her play, WOMEN WHO WEAVE, was published by Playscripts, Inc.
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Captain Superlative is a book I’ll be on the lookout for. Love the story of the author became a children’s writer.