Barry Kornhauser loves writing children’s plays, but there was one character he never thought he’d have the opportunity to adapt: Corduroy, the teddy bear in the book created by Don Freeman 55 years ago. But in 2018, Kornhauser was commissioned to write the show by Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company, and it will be back on the stage there from Feb. 14-April 2. Before arriving in Minneapolis to help open the show again, Kornhauser talked with TC Jewfolk about how he landed the adaptation, what it means to work with such a well-known production company and the process of taking the famous bear from picture book to the stage.
TC Jewfolk: How did you come to get to adapt Courduroy?
Barry Kornhauser: I can’t say that I was looking forward to it because I didn’t think it was even a possibility until the book’s 50th anniversary came around, which was in 2018. Up until that point, (the estate of the author) Don Freeman had not allowed for any adaptations. So, as an individual playwright, I thought don’t even bother trying. However, the Children’s Theatre Company did reach out to the estate, which is really basically run by Don Freeman’s son. And I think because of the theater’s reputation, he was willing to give it a go. And then the Children’s Theatre Company asked me if I’d be interested in doing the adaptation. And of course, I was. It was a book that, as a dad, I read to all three of my kids in turn, and its popularity has endured for more than 50 years now. It’s a lovely property and has a wonderful story.
TCJ: When you’re looking at adapting this legendary children’s book, what goes into that for you as a playwright? It’s a 33-page book, so you’ve, you’ve got to adapt it into something that’s obviously much longer for the stage.
BK: That’s the first thing to consider. How do you do that while at the same time, making sure that any of your extensions or embellishments convey the sweet spirit of the book and still honor author Don Freeman’s intent. So I began with a lot of research. And one thing I found out as he was working on the story, he was kind of interested in what goes on in the department store after it closes. So that seemed to be a logical place to start. Also, if you think of the character Corduroy’s objective, it’s to find this button, which he feels is so important getting taken off the shelf and finding the home and a friend. In the book, he has that one venture into the furnishing department, and then he’s put back on the shelf by the nightwatchman. It seemed to me that it would make a lot of sense that he wouldn’t want to give up at one try, so it allowed me to explore that department store, department by department, looking for the mischief the corduroy gets into inadvertently as he’s continuing his button search.
TCJ: What’s the playwriting process? Does the show get tweaked at this point or is this sort of like once the show is written that’s how it’s performed?
BK: it was just the opposite in the case of this playwright and this theater, and that’s a wonderful thing. We learned so much from productions (in 2018) and also in rehearsal and with a certain group of people you’re working with to take on the roles. The nightwatchman role is being played by a woman (Autumn Ness), which necessitated some changes in that to begin with. We also built a little bit on the family dynamic with Lisa (Ayla Porter) and her mom (Alexcia Thompson). And then there were other things where we just tried to make them richer and more fun.
TCJ: Is it fun to see it come back to where it first started five years ago?
BK: Oh, sure. I like writing for the theater because it’s such a collaborative art. And when you have partners like the team at Children’s Theatre Company, director Peter Brosius, brilliant actors, wonderfully smart designers, and crew. It’s just a total gift to the playwright to have that opportunity to see the work grow in such good hands.