Novel to Reader’s Theater: A New Voice for Tree Soldier

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

4037. Reading aloud, speaking, and particularly singing, affords a healthful exercise; while wind-instruments are injurious.

I Had a Dream

Tree Soldier can be found at  Amazon

Tree Soldier can be found at

Every author imagines his novel published and on the NY Times Best Seller list, the favorite of book clubs and oh, a major motion picture, please. I certainly had such secret hopes when I published Tree Soldier almost three years ago. I’m proud of the awards it has won — 2012 EPIC ebook award, Chanticleer Book Reviews Grand Prize and the 2013 selection for Everybody Reads. When I give talks on Civilian Conservation Corps for Humanities Washington, the novel goes along with me. It’s thrilling to have audiences interested in the CCCs and then purchase the novel afterwards.

Two weeks ago, I spoke in Redmond, WA at their historical society. There was some worry with the terrible rain coming in sideways and a major Seahawks game on the line that the audience would be small. One hundred showed up. And many had stories to tell about their fathers, grandfathers and uncles and their projects in the area. Truly humbling.

Making a Play Out of a Novel

Some time ago, I began to explore the idea of having Tree Soldier read or performed as a play. Its story of boys from back east thrown out into the forests and mountains of the North Cascades and coming together under the leadership of another Easterner trying to find forgiveness for a past mistake has always seemed like a good fit for local audiences. Tree Soldier not only illustrates the time –the Great Depression– but highlights the great work the CCCs did in our parks across the state of Washington; our entire country for that CCC boysmatter. I longed to hear the voices in my novel: New Jersey accents and local talk of logging, fisheries and forestry woodcraft.

A scant three weeks ago I met with local director and playwright Marla Joy Simon Bronstein to see if I was up for writing a play. First pass was OK, but she gave me some excellent tips and I was off and writing. Second pass was really good. Squee.** Thanks so much for mentoring me, Marla.

It Ain’t Easy

It would seem that taking your dialogue out of your novel and putting it into a script format would be easy, but it’s not. For one, the clues for who is talking has to be somewhere in the dialogue preceding. I use the narration of Old Spinelli and Old Hardesty to tie in scenes from the story.

OLD SPINELLI: Ha! Funny, I didn’t know you from nothing. But I trusted you right off the bat. Maybe because we were both from back East. Or maybe because you were older, had been in a camp before. I remember the first time me and Costello lined up on the Camp Kulshan parade ground. You were right there too.

COSTELLO: Holy cow. Do you see them trees?

YOUNG SPINELLI: I see them, Costello. Wonder which one of those barracks is ours?

The dialogue is almost verbatim from the novel. Just a little tweaking going on.

The other thing you have to do is to let go of the novel’s story to create a whole new story arch for the play. The love story and past tension in Tree Soldier is gone, all of the characters in Joisey Squad are gone, leaving only Costello to represent the squad-mates of Park Hardesty, the hero, and Mario Spinelli. The arch is the friendship of Hardesty and Spinelli, with enrolle McGill and the camp educator Callister pushing against them. Does this make sense?

Finally, the READING

Tree Soldier Poster bestLast night, we gathered in a meeting room over a moviehouse and for the first time I heard the voices of my characters. I can’t tell you how that felt, just that it was almost overwhelming. The all male cast was wonderful and on first read, they got it. Said the audience would find some of it funny (and some of it is, even if it’s CCC regulation rules). The crowning moment for me was when one of the actors said that his father was in the Three Cs. I told him how to find his records.

Next up, another reading and trying on some minimal clothing like hats and a tie. Feb 12th is tech night. We’ll pull it all together.

BOAT 5 FEST (Bellingham One Act Theater)

Tree Soldier: A Reader’s Theater will run Monday, February 17th at 9:00 PM. Then on Friday February 21 and Monday the 24th at 9:00. Pass tickets are $10:00. You can come see mine and a couple of others to boot. 1600 H Street, Bellingham WA

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