Hansel and Gretel are to be taken into the forest… and left there.

Mackenzie and Aiden read from a six-line script they wrote together.

Everyone knows the story.  But how is that going to happen in our version?  We don’t know yet, so we’re coming up with as many possibilities as we can.

Each of our playmaking meetings is equal parts writing and moving around.  Sometimes the moving around is to warm up, sometimes it’s composing a short dance routine, sometimes it’s acting out a six-line scene our actors have crafted.

Writing is a warm-up, too, and a very important part of the process.  It begins with writing prompts.

“I love going on trips, but I don’t really like getting there.”

This is only one actor’s response to this past Tuesday’s prompt: four sentences about a trip you didn’t want to take.  After a brief greeting and check-in, the actors dive into the prompt, which fires up brains and gets everyone on the same page for one day’s chapter of our playmaking journey.

These prompts draw from real life events—actors shared stories of not wanting to drive all the way to Florida, of being afraid of plane rides, even of not wanting to audition for a play—that could potentially help us create the fantasy world of Hansel and Gretel.

After all, those two are about to embark on a trip they really don’t want to take.

Thursday’s writing prompt: write five sentences about a time when it was you against the world.  Doesn’t that sound like two children against all odds, left alone in a forest?

It did to our playmakers!  All of our playmakers’ experiences could easily be

the same kinds of hardships that Hansel and Gretel have to face.  So, time to get writing! Here’s a peek into the process….

Actors pair up and create stories armed with wit, multicolored markers, and knowledge of the part of the story Reba has just read to them. They get down to work, furiously writing through different scenarios: all the ways Hansel and Gretel’s parents could rudely awaken them for their trip to the forest; eight lines to that justify the parents’ decision to leave the kids alone in the forest; things Hansel could do or say to comfort his sister while they are on their own against the world. Ultimately, we’ll sort through all the resulting script pages, group brainstorm sheets, tiny scrap papers of dialogue to mine for playmaking gold.

At the end of each rehearsal, we get to see the finished products the actors worked on throughout the meeting.  We see short scenes, dances and tableaux (or frozen images, like statues telling a story); we hear scared Gretels and brave Gretels, wicked stepmothers and worried stepmothers… so many different directions our story could go!

We’re tackling the play one small segment at a time, and haven’t even seen that delightful house made of candy yet!  But we still have a month to go in our playmaking process, and plenty of writing and acting ahead.

I wonder how our Hansel and Gretel will brave their journey and face the world.  Only time will tell, so let’s keep writing!

Brittany Cook has been working with the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine since 2011. She has served as Musical Director, scoring and playing the original music for our mainstage productions, and she has worn many other hats as well! Brittany will direct our fall production of Hansel & Gretel.