Adam Ratner and Beth Duda’s workspace is brimming with Koosh balls, Slinkys, magic rocks, imagination jars, wind-up teeth and stuffed rabbits.
What else would you expect from writers of children’s plays?
“I used to have all kinds of toys at my desk,” says Ratner, a Sarasota native, who began his career at Florida Studio Theatre in the 1980s as a performer and a writer with the children’s sketch comedy troup,
The Kids Komedy Club. “We were asked to clean up our desks recently, so things are more organized now.”
His writing partner, Beth Duda, FST’s associate director of youth education for 18 years, turns her gaze to Ratner’s computer and smirks. Her side of the desk is a little less chaotic, although it’s hard to decipher where Ratner’s desk ends and Duda’s begins.
Ratner, 32, and Duda, 49, have scripted plays together for more than 10 years. The duo’s latest project, “Rumplestiltskin,” is their first fairytale adaptation. They started the script in June, but have yet to settle on a final draft.
“Some birth processes are more difficult than others,” Duda sighs.
“You write a script once and rewrite it a thousand times,” Ratner says.
The pair’s first draft clocked in at 50 pages halfway through, putting the show at 1 hour and 15 minutes — 30 minutes longer than FST’s typical children’s play.
Albeit a painstaking process, after 15 drafts, Duda and Ratner’s final version included a second miller’s daughter, a king’s adviser and a back story meant to humanize the fable’s wicked protagonist.
“We wanted to make Rumplestiltskin less despicable,” says Duda.
Rather than tell the tale of a conniving creature with evil motives, Duda and Ratner turned Rumplestiltskin into what they call an ELF, an “enchanted, lonely figure” raised in a loveless environment.
Ratner and Duda hope that by including Rumplestiltskin’s upbringing, children will understand why some people have hard hearts and others have soft hearts.
“We had to consider what we wanted to communicate to kids in 2009,” Duda says. “We knew we wanted to use the basics, but we also knew we’d take some creative license.”
Some writers prefer to work alone, while others thrive in pairs. Ratner and Duda are the latter. There’s an ego-less, yin-yang quality to their relationship.
Duda tends to write from the left side of her brain, Ratner from his right. Duda moves the plot forward. Ratner invents eccentric characters.
“It’s an easy collaboration,” Duda says. “My favorite thing about writing with Adam is that he’s prolific, quick and not precious about what he’s written.”
“It’s nice to have someone who can wrangle me in,” he says. “Beth takes the story from point A to point B to point C, when all I can think about is point X.”
RATNER AND DUDA’S
TOP 5 CHILDREN’S PLAYS
“It’s one of the most beautiful stories of friendship and family I’ve ever read,” says Beth Duda.
‘James and the Giant Peach’
“I love that each of these quirky, imperfect characters ends up inside the peach, and that, through them, James finds love and acceptance,” says Duda.
‘The Velveteen Rabbit’
“There’s something about a story about an inanimate object wanting so much to love and be loved that he undergoes a transmogrification,” says Adam Ratner.
‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’
“It doesn’t talk down to children. It doesn’t hide that there’s good and evil in the world,” says Duda.
‘The Phantom Tollbooth’
“The story is more intellectual and less emotional, but it teaches us how important the spectrum of education is,” says Ratner.
IF YOU GO
“Rumplestiltskin” runs Oct. 13 through Nov. 19, at Florida Studio Theatre. Performances are at 9:45 and 11 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. For tickets, call 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudio theatre.org.
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