Today we’re bringing you a guest post from authors Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson, authors of Armando and the Blue Tarp School. Their book tells the story of a young boy who spends his days picking through a trash heap in search of anything useable or sellable, until he is given a chance to learn when Señor David—a real-life volunteer—spreads a blue tarp on the ground and calls it a school. Now Armando and the Blue Tarp School is also a musical! The authors are here to tell us how their book was transformed into a play, and to share their experiences watching the production. Take it away, Edith and Judith!
Watching our book Armando and the Blue Tarp School transformed into a children’s musical has been magical for us. The sneak preview took place on November 14, 2009, at David Lynch’s Responsibility fundraising gala. With fresh, earnest faces and clear, bright voices, four eighth graders and one tenth grader presented the show to a large crowd of Responsibility supporters. It was a smash hit!
The songs drew directly from our book, with clever additions: Flaco the rat wove the narrative between the songs, with comic interruptions by his flamboyant sidekick, Gordo the rat, who elicited laughs from the opening moment when she threw a tortilla scavenged from the dump into the air. In “We Are Pepenadores,” the actors sang about the flies, heat, and stench, and of working the dump all day as pepenadores, trash pickers. The poignant “Someday, Maybe,” a duet between Isabella and Armando, conveyed his deep longing to learn at Señor David’s school. In “We’re Going to Build a School,” staccato music and lyrics pulsated as the whole colonia, the neighborhood by the garbage dump, worked together to construct the school. The actors mimed hammering and sawing as they sang, “Bam, bam, bam, hit that nail, bam, bam, bam . . . saw, saw, suh-saw, saw.” In “Fuego!” their worried faces portrayed the urgency of the fire with their waving arms representing flames. In the jazzy, upbeat “Blue Tarp School,” the audience clapped along, and in the finale, everyone joined in singing the chorus with the actors.
Click below to listen to a clip from the duet “Someday, Maybe”
The versatile cast sang, acted, and moved on stage with palpable energy and enthusiasm. Two played guitar, including Gordo, who quipped, “How many rats do you know who can play the guitar?” Through many weeks of rehearsals, all the actors nailed their performances with extraordinary stage presence. They were, in a word, stupendous. They earned a spontaneous standing ovation at the end of the performance.
Here’s the story. Our Armando book grew into a musical by mistake! It all began with a wrong phone number.
A local reporter needed input on a piece about theater in North San Diego County where we both live. When she called playwright Pat Lydersen by accident, the reporter told her, “Hey, you should write a play about Edith and Judith’s book about David Lynch!” The plays of Pat Lydersen and composer Wendy Woolf, talented theater pros, are designed to provide young audiences with their first taste of live theatre. For twenty plus years, their Park Dale Players have been a fixture in North County.
In the spring of 2009, we met with Pat, Wendy, and David to hear the words and songs that Pat and Wendy had been living with for months. They read us the script, and Wendy sang the songs with guitar accompaniment. We were astounded. Then David Lynch told us all stories about his work, inspiring Pat to add details to her script. On the spot, David invited them to perform excerpts from the play at Responsibility’s fall fundraiser.
Previously Pat had written comedy. Her one-liners make audiences laugh out loud. With the more serious tone of Armando, Pat turned to Shakespeare’s trick of injecting comic relief by creating the characters of Gordo, Flaco, and Gull, who don’t appear in our book. As Pat says, “Gordo is a fat little rat with a very high opinion of himself. Flaco is his long suffering friend, and Gull is not the brightest of seagulls cruising the skies.”
Like our book, the play includes Spanish words. In writing the song lyrics, Pat notes, “Spanish is a much more musical language than English, so I sprinkled in words such as pepenadores (trash pickers), la vaca (cow), fuego and incendio (fire), escuela (school), and niños y niñas (boys and girls). It’s a lot easier to find rhymes in a language that ends in so many o’s and a’s! In my forty years of doing theater, I’ve never been as excited as I am about this production,” say Pat.
Soon Pat’s lyrics were dancing in composer and musical director Wendy Woolf’s brain. She says, “I was mesmerized by the story and project. I wanted a Mexican flavor for some of the songs, so I wrote several on the guitar, using Latin rhythms as much as possible.” Soon Wendy was creating the tunes 24/7. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night hearing melodies, hop out of bed, and run to the piano or my guitar to play the tunes as I heard them in my head.”
In January 2010, Pat and Wendy will start production of the full-length play. With a cast of twenty young actors, the world premiere will take place over four days at a local elementary school in March 2010. This will be a fitting celebration of David Lynch’s thirty years working with the eager youngsters of the Tijuana dump. All proceeds will go to Responsibility, David’s nonprofit organization.
We’re so proud of Pat and Wendy’s ingenious creation. We appreciate how they built on our book and rounded out the story with heart-warming, humorous touches. These two have donated all their time to this effort, along with absorbing production costs, such as building a large stage for the show.
David Lynch’s life-changing work has been an inspiration, demonstrating that one person truly can make a difference! All of us—authors, playwright, composer, actors, and their gracious parents—have been captivated by his inspiring story. One actor said, “It’s a fascinating story with an important message. I feel lucky to be a storyteller.” Another said, “Being in this play makes me feel fortunate for what I have.” And a third said, “It’s been an honor to take part in this event. The music is beautifully written and so [much] fun to sing.”
What a collaboration! As Gordo would say, the whole experience has been “muy delicioso.”
Vengan, mis niños, come to the Blue Tarp School!
Thanks to an actor’s dad, you can view the preview of the full musical Armando and the Blue Tarp School in three parts on YouTube. How cool is that? Watch the three parts here, here, and here. We’d love your reaction, so watch the play, then add comments.
Directors of youth theatre groups around the country will be excited to know the script, rehearsal CD, and a copy of our Armando book will be available later. Spread the word!
Thanks, Edith and Judith!
Listen to a radio interview with Edith Hope Fine and Pat Lydersen, the playwright.
Learn more about
Armando and the Blue Tarp School.
Read a BookTalk with Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson.
Learn more about David Lynch’s work: responsibilityonline.org
3 thoughts on “Armando and the Blue Tarp School Hits the Stage!”
Congratulations Edith and Judith! Having been there, done that, I know how exhilarating it is!
Turning my Baseball Saved Us into a stage musical also began with a phone call, except it wasn’t a wrong number in my case. During fall of 2001, Lee & Low President Tom Low called to inform me that the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle’s most prestigious live theater company, bought the rights to produce Baseball Saved Us. Would I be interested in being involved? he asked. I replied in the affirmative. I then received a call from Bill Berry, director of the 5th Avenue Theatre’s educational arm, Adventure Musical Theatre, which produces shows to take to schools. I was hired to write the “book” — everything except the music and lyrics.
Bill hooked me up with Bruce Monroe, a composer who had worked previously on some of the theater’s shows. We hit it off immediately, although, when learning he would also be writing the show’s lyrics, I harbored a secret desire to write them myself. Would he know enough about the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, anyway?
Throughout 2002, Bruce and I met monthly, hammering out the script, me writing and he composing music. Bruce asked me for books to read about the incarceration. After endless drafts to satisfy Bill the director, a cast of five was hired and daily rehearsals began toward the end of that year. Rewrites continued constantly. I had the advantage of being a former actor, knowing the juggling act of getting actors on and off the stage. And the music — when I heard the finished songs, it was not only great music, but Bruce had nailed the lyrics exactly!
The characters for this musical version were greatly expanded from the book, with the father, mother and brother Teddy playing larger roles in the story. The actors were accompanied only by a piano. As shows go — first performances, more rewrites and adjustments — then requests for about four months-worth of shows at schools throughout western Washington poured in immediately. Then-Lew & Low Publisher Philip Lee attended one performance, and as he saw the actors milling about in costume before the show, he said, “I like it already.” He noticed how the show’s costume designer had attired the actors almost exactly as they were in the book, as if they leaped right off the page.
As Edith and Judith have said, what an experience to see your book come alive, to see how others interpret it, and then to witness audience reaction. Baseball Saved Us brought down the house wherever it went, in schools and public performances. It went on another booked-up tour with a different cast in 2005. Even though I’ve seen the show who-knows-how-many times, I still get emotional (like the audience), especially hearing those great songs. There had been discussion of turning Baseall Saved Us into a full-length, mainstage version. I could think of nothing better than to hear those great songs backed by a full orchestra.
Every author should have this experience. Having been there, done that, there nothing like it!
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