Photo Credit: Michael Horan
She’s mad. She’s moody. She’s Judy. The famous, fictitious third-grader who has lived on children’s bookshelves since 2000 comes to life through June 3 at Glen Echo’s Adventure Theatre MTC (ATMTC) in “Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt.”
The story, by author Megan McDonald, is about the adventure of Judy (played by Kelsey Painter) and Stink (played by Philip da Costa), who race to find treasure on a family island vacation. It’s one of many stories that make Judy Moody among the most popular series of all time.
Directed by Mitchell Herbert, the show is a national debut and is on stage at six other theaters around the country. “It’s called a co-commission,” explained ATMTC Director of Communications Amanda Bradley. That means “multiple theaters get together to bring a piece to their stages, usually during a certain timeframe. It’s particularly beneficial to the playwright because she/he…can see it staged multiple ways based upon the size of the theater…and see what resonates with the audiences, then make revisions from there.” “Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt” is the largest co-commission on record and was initiated by Michael Bobbitt, ATMTC’s artistic director.
Not an elementary schooler? “Judy Moody & Stink” has been adapted to entertain parents as much as children. That’s a particular challenge for the Judy Moody creative team. Allison Gregory, who adapted the book for the ATMTC stage, explained: “I find writing TYA (theater for young audiences) more demanding than writing for adults. You’re trying to appeal to a wider demographic: kids, their older/younger siblings, parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers. It’s a challenge. But whether I am writing an original script or adapting existing material, I try to start with a simple question: What do I want to see up on that stage? What will make this a compelling piece of theater?”
“We are just always aware … that the show has to work for both levels,” Bobbitt added. “Truly, the playwright has to write with integrity and understand that language has to appeal to both. We also have to be fully aware of moments that isolate the parents or the kids. If this happens either age might disengage. Lastly, kids are very, very smart and their developmental level for theater can elevate.”
Both Gregory and Bobbitt are Moody fans. “I knew the series from when my now 18-year-old daughter read the books years ago,” Gregory said. Bobbitt “had heard of the books but wasn’t really familiar with them until the opportunity came to adapt them. Candlewick Publishing sent me the whole collection and I cloistered myself on my couch and read feverishly. Now, I’m obsessed and kind of want to be her.”
Does creating a co-commission with six other theaters add additional complexities? “Yes and no,” said Gregory. “With so many artists dealing with a wide variety of needs and timelines, there’s bound to be bumps,” she said. “But it’s actually been surprisingly smooth. This is a particularly fantastic group of theater-makers. Everyone has kept their ego in check and their eye on the goal — that is to create a terrific new play for young audiences and families.” Bobbitt sees working closely with other theaters as a huge asset. “There are more brains and personalities and ideas,” he said. “It requires very good understanding of the end product and a strong mutual respect.”
Both Gregory and Bobbitt plan to see the other performances around the country by video or in person. “I was at rehearsals in Orlando early on and met all the actors, saw the fantastic sets and costumes, and got to see some of director Jeff Revel’s inventive staging,” said Gregory. “I was very involved in the rehearsal process for the first two productions (Oregon Children’s Theatre and Bay Area Children’s Theatre), which allowed me to work extensively on the script and trouble-shoot. I’m super pleased about how far this script has come. I can turn the play over to directors, designers, and actors to run with, knowing they’ll make something special with it.”
Working collaboratively with other theaters was a first for Gregory. Bobbitt, however, who initiated this nationwide co-commission, has done several. Still, “Judy Moody & Stink” stands apart. “It is a level of partnership, quite frankly, I’ve never seen [before]. [It will] contribute significantly to the development and polish of the story during its run — here in Glen Echo and nationwide.”
“Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt,” recommended for ages 4 plus, is on stage at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, through June 3. For tickets, $19.50, visit www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org or call 301-634-2270.