Stage & Dance

Couple have mastered the art of bringing children's books to Lexington stage

Lexington Children's Theatre's Larry and Vivian Snipes have a long-established creative process for adapting children's books for the stage.

"I hack it out and Vivian fixes it," Larry says of the multiple adaptations and original plays on which the two have collaborated over the years as producing and artistic director, respectively.

They are reviving one of their more recent adaptations: Cows Don't Fly and other known facts, based on three books by local writer and illustrator Paul Brett Johnson.

The show debuted in 2005, with Vivian directing, making tweaks and overhauls to the writing during rehearsal, part of the "fixing it" process.

"Larry goes through several drafts," Vivian says, "and when we get it to a point where we like it, then I go into rehearsal and make adjustments."

Vivian has found that experimenting with a script using live actors is the best way to revise and edit a work in progress, which undergoes an average of 10 drafts before opening night.

The duo have had years to iron out a system that works for them, but involving the original author in the creative process is a rare but welcome opportunity, particularly with a local author.

"It's really nice to have the source nearby," Larry says. "It's so much more of a complete experience."

But it can also be a bit more unnerving than adapting work from a dead author or someone they will never meet.

"It can really be scary, the first time the author comes to a rehearsal," Vivian says. "You wonder: Have I done service to his ideas, his thoughts on the page?"

Some authors get more involved than others, and Johnson played the role of supporter from afar.

"I pretty much just turned it over to them and said go with it," Johnson says. "I saw it a few times in progress and gave a few little notes here and there."

Johnson's "little notes" were not so little to Vivian when she was struggling to find the right ending for a play just weeks before its debut.

"We got to talking about Mrs. Rosemary," Vivian says of the play's protagonist, who appears in all three books.

"Paul said he thought there might be a fourth book in the making, one about her running away to the circus," says Vivian, who has turned the directing duties over to Bradford Forehand for the revival, "and right then I knew I had my ending."

When the play debuted, Johnson was thrilled to see his words come alive.

"I couldn't have been more pleased," Johnson says, "especially with the way they took all three stories — which were stand-alone pieces — and wove them together. They gave it more texture, more a sense of community."

Exposing children to Kentucky authors is becoming a tradition for the Snipeses, who see it as in line with their mission of serving Kentucky's youth.

"We want to introduce them to the person next door who is a writer," Larry says, "to help them find the riches in our own state."

Speaking of revivals, the Snipeses say that remounting shows allows them to introduce the material to new audiences.

After all, Vivian says, "We have the luxury of growing a new audience every five years."