Chopper Sweeney is spooked. Around a camp fire last night, he heard a story about a ghost girl who preys upon boys.
Then, as he and his friend Hank get ready for their paper route at 0-dark-hundred, the ghost appears in Chopper’s bedroom window with dead eyes and bathed in a soft light, and the Lexington Children’s Theatre audience of mostly grade school kids erupts into screams..
“It was amazing!” says Sara Turner, co-playwright of the show at hand, “The Ghosts of Pineville.” “I loved it.
“It was amazing to see what made them laugh, what made them gasp, what made them go, ‘ewwww,’ which was the kiss.”
There’s nothing scarier to an elementary school kid than kissing.
It was one of many collaborative experiences Turner has had taking the characters of her three “Ghosts of Pineville” graphic novels from the page to the Children’s Theatre stage.
Turner, co-owner of the popular Lexington design and illustration studio Cricket Press, with her husband Brian Turner, had the characters of “Pineville” in mind long before the company launched. Chopper was based on her father, who came from the Pineville area and lost his father when he was young. That got Turner thinking about children who lose their parents and how they might want to try to reconnect with them in another realm.
“It felt natural that a kid who lost his father at that age would be interested in the afterlife,” Turner says.
So she started writing short stories about the characters and their adventures. It wasn’t until around 2010 that she set them in a series of graphic novels in the distinctive Cricket Press style.
That’s when they came to the attention of Lexington Children’s Theatre artistic director Vivian Snipes, who showed the novels to the theater staff.
They knew they wanted to do something with the stories.
“It has that real ‘Riverdale,’ ‘Scooby-Doo’ sort of fun in it,” says Jeremy Kisling, the theater’s education director. “It also has real serious side to it in these children trying to connect with their late parents and build community with their friends.”
The theater was also preparing to celebrate an 80th anniversary season, and Kisling said they wanted to do something special, like a collaboration with a local artist.
So they sent Turner an email. She was reluctant, at first. Did she want to let someone else mess with her creation?
“When I met with them, it was clear that they had all read the comics and that they loved everything about the story that I loved,” Turner says. “Suddenly making a page-to-stage production seemed real, because I knew you guys would take care of it.”
So Kisling and Turner got to work, melding the three novels into one story for the stage, introducing Turner to a new way of creating.
“I’m used to being a a very solitary artist,” Turner says. “I don’t collaborate.”
Kisling injects, “That’s all we do.”
The collaborations included several table reads of the script, even one that left the pair shaking their heads and agreeing there was a lot of work to be be done.
The play was programmed for the theater’s Learning Stage, meaning the entire cast would be drawn from the theater’s student companies. Kisling also strategically enlisted another director, Esther Neel, to helm the production, specifically to see how well the script worked out of the hands of its creators.
“Part of writing a new play is, ‘Does it have legs?’” Kisling says. “We’ve had a few inquires already from people that might want to do this show. As a playwright, you want to make sure that the story is clear, that a director can work the story, all those kinds of things. We wanted out staff to run with it and see what happens.”
In addition to the characters, the Children’s Theatre show also brings the look of the novels to the stage.
Turner tries to shift credit to scenic designer Maggie Foley, saying, “I do think they ...” and Kisling chimes in, “What do you mean, ‘think’? We used your art as a basis of the set.”
Clearly, in a 30-minute interview, the pair have developed a rapport during the creation of their play. Kisling mentions looking for other opportunities to collaborate with Turner and her stories.
“That would be awesome,” Turner says. “I thought I was one and done.”
Kisling replies, “You’re a great storyteller. And that’s what we do: We tell stories.”
In this case, they’re ghost stories, with a few things that go “Boo!” but nothing broadly terrifying or gross. The thrill for Turner is seeing how her creation has evolved.
“To see kids delivering lines that you wrote and talk about characters that you’ve lived with so long — They are now part of this story’s story, how this comic came to life on the stage,” Turner says, “it’s all encompassed, it’s ... surreal.”
IF YOU GO
‘The Ghosts of Pineville’
What: World premiere play by Jeremy Kisling, based on the graphic novel by Sara Turner.
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Oct. 20; 2, 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 21
Where: Lexington Children’s Theatre, 418 W. Short St.