What started as a mock holiday in 1995 has become kind of, almost, sort of a real thing. International Talk Like a Pirate Day, while not a Hallmark holiday (yet), is widely recognized by kids, as well as history and maritime geeks as a day to talk like a pirate for no good reason.
This year, Adventure Theatre MTC (ATMTC) takes the day to a whole new, quirky level. The fall production, “How I Became a Pirate,” directed by Jenny Male, will extend the celebration through Oct. 22.
The show is based on Irma Black’s book of the same name. Although the story has garnered awards for excellence in children’s literature, that doesn’t mean the show is strictly for kids. Nor is this swashbuckling production just for dudes; both cast and crew are replete with females. “In this show, half the pirates are played by women,” said Male, “so I’m hoping that all the people in the audience will be able to see themselves as a pirate.”
Male herself has a bit of a pirate story. “I began sword fighting when I was a teenager and always played sports,” she said. “It would have been wonderful to have more role models in plays for the kind of woman I wanted to grow into. Hopefully, we are inspiring all the boys and girls that they can become anyone they want and that all paths are open to them.”
Today, Male is an accomplished stage combat artist, whose skills make her a perfect fit to lead this production. “Lots of women in this production,” she said, most notably, the main character.
Without spoiling the story, the lead character, Jeremy Jacobs, is building a sand castle when pirates come ashore to bury a treasure. The pirates invite Jeremy aboard as an honorary pirate and teach him how to “swashbuckler” with the best of them.
ATMTC Artistic Director Michael J. Bobbitt has high praise for the show, ranking it right up there with past fall musicals like “Knuffle Bunny” and “Goodnight Moon.” Practicing his pirate-ese, he said, “This arrrrrrrrestingly silly tale … [offers] action, adventure and a ton of imagination…[It] has lots of high seas jokes and music references that are going to delight audiences of all ages.”
This is the first in a series of three pirate-themed shows offered by ATMTC in this year, their 66th. Why pirates? “Pirates never go out of style,” Bobbitt said. “Each pirate tale this year is going to be unique.”
“Later this year,” he added, “we’re producing world-premiere plays, ‘Tinkerbell,’ based on the story by J.M. Barrie, and a national seven-theater commissioning of ‘Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt,’ a completely original production based on two popular books by Megan McDonald.
Given that pirates are technically bad guys, the scary factor came up. “I would say it’s about a 10 on ‘thrills’ and one on ‘chills.’ There is a storm in the show, but the storm is not set out to be scary or frightening,” said ATMTC Director of Communications Amanda Bradley. That said, “children with sensory sensitivities—like flashing lights—should consider attending our sensory-friendly performance instead.”
Like any treasure chest worth its weight, a surprise was in store for those who bought tickets on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Sept. 19. People who called the box office and talked like a pirate saved 10 percent on tickets. If they physically came to the box office, they automatically saved 10 percent on ticketing fees, so, Bradley said, “We threw in a free copy of the ‘How I Became a Pirate’ book with their purchase of four or more tickets.”
Another surprise may be brewing for patrons of the show’s final performance on Oct. 22 (though there may be an extension). This writer has been sworn to secrecy.
“How I Became a Pirate” runs through Oct. 22 at Adventure Theatre-MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo Park. Tickets are $19.50. Call 301-634-2270 or visit www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.
Why Do Pirates Talk Like That?
Talk Like a Pirate Day celebrants may have the wind taken out of their sails by the fact that the authenticity of “avast,” “argh” and other pirate-isms are up in the air. National Geographic reports that it’s “tough to say exactly how most so-called Golden Age pirates really talked.”
“There isn’t much in the way of scientific evidence in regard to pirate speech,” historian Colin Woodard said.
Without audio recordings or written proof, it’s hard to say that pirates talked any differently than English-speaking merchant sailors of the age “since large numbers in both groups tended to be from riverfront neighborhoods around London,” he said.
The truth is, most pirate talk points to the 1950 Disney movie “Treasure Island.” Robert Newton starred as the fictional pirate Long John Silver and likely added the dialect of his native West Country in southwestern England to the role.
“In the English West Country during early 20th century, ‘arr’ was an affirmation, not unlike the Canadian ‘eh,’” said Woodard.
This doesn’t make pirate talk any less fun, however. Made-up words can endure for generations. Pig Latin has been around since Shakespeare.