When people file into the Lexington Children’s Theatre’s performance space for its latest production, “Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook,” they will see a bright, giant hair bow as part of the set.
Like the Junie B. Jones book series, LCT’s play takes place inside Junie’s head, with the hair bow reminding audiences that the story is from the perspective of a precocious 5-year-old.
The creative minds at the Lexington Children’s Theatre are no strangers to bringing beloved books to life, but the process differs each time, depending on the parameters of the book. For heavily illustrated books like Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat,” every visual element must look exactly like the book.
For Junie B. Jones, there is a little more room to play.
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We built our world out of pool noodles, because there’s not a much better game than pool noodles.
Vivian Snipes, Lexington Children’s Theatre artistic director
“Fortunately, the only color images of Junie B. are usually on the covers of the books,” says Vivian Snipes, the play’s director. “The interiors are black-and-white line drawings, so you don’t have to feel tied to a specific visual image that the illustrator is using in order to bring that to life.
“The world in which she lives we had full rein to play with,” Snipes says. “The play has a lot of very playful moments in it, and so talking with the scenic designer, we wanted to expand on the idea of how life is a big game for a 5-year-old, and then all of a sudden, halfway through, the stakes of the game turn high, so we built our world out of pool noodles because there’s not a much better game than pool noodles.”
Snipes says the theater used more a quarter-mile of pool noodles to create the set.
“We bought almost a third of a mile and thought we were going to have to buy a full half-mile, but we changed a few things and were able to scale back,” Snipes says. Games and playing, including hopscotch and monkey bars, are a key part of the play’s visual and thematic aesthetic.
“It’s light, it’s colorful, it’s joyful, and yet the lighting can enhance the darker moments,” she says. “It’s a 5-year-old, and sometimes things don’t always go their way, and for them that makes a very dark world.”
Snipes says that Junie’s world was open for exploration, but Junie herself needed to match the cover images and the description of Junie in the book.
“We have to be mindful that students who read Junie B. know exactly what she looks like — scraggly hair, big bow on her head, big iconic glasses,” she says. “Our story takes places on kindergarten so that was a big decision to us: Should she wear them? In the canon of the book, she didn’t get them in kindergarten, so we opted for a Junie B. that loves polka dots. She has her iconic big bow and her scraggly hair, but she does not wear the glasses associated with the older Junie B.”
I embody a lot of Junie naturally, so I just thought about myself as a kindergartner and and just kind of let my inner child jump to life.
Courtney Wood, actor playing Junie B. Jones
Bringing Junie and her world to life takes more than sets and costumes. It takes a performer who can embody the innocence and curiosity of a five year old, which Snipes found in Courtney Wood, a Maine-based actress who is performing with LCT for the first time.
Wood is delighted to play Junie B, who she says reminds her of her younger self.
“I myself am a child at heart, so I really tapped into my childhood and really just reflected back on my experience in kindergarten and what that was like,” says Wood. “Sometimes character and actor just naturally fit and this one is definitely no stretch. I embody a lot of Junie naturally, so I just thought about myself as a kindergartner and and just kind of let my inner child jump to life.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
If you go
‘Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook’
What: Lexington Children’s Theatre’s production of Allison Gregory’s play based on the book by Barbara Park. Recommended for ages 4 and older.
Public performances: 2 and 7 p.m. Sept. 23, 2 and 4:30 p.m. Sept. 24
School performances: 10 and 11:45 a.m. Sept. 26-29, Oct. 2-4, 9 and 10
Where: Lexington Children’s Theatre, 418 West Short St.
Tickets: $19 adults, $16 children for public performances; call for availability and pricing from school shows