Morris Mickelwhite Comes To Life at The Children’s Theatre
There is an immense transformative power that stems from imagination, capable of soaring you away to mystical worlds where anything is possible. Everyone has the capacity for imagination, but there are some who would trade away possibility of imagination out of fear of being called childish, or worse, abnormal. Morris Micklewhite is not one such person. Written by Christine Baldacchino and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress is a children’s book about a little boy with a vibrant imagination. Morris loves wearing the tangerine dress that reminds him of tigers, the sun, and his mother’s hair. People tell Morris that “boys don’t wear dresses”, but that doesn’t stop him. Naturally, a story about imaginatively ignoring gender norms to live one’s fullest, most whimsical life would appeal to LGBTQ+ audiences.
Morris Micklewhite certainly caught the attention of Peter Brosius, the artistic director of the Children’s Theatre Company. First encountering the story in a bookstore, Brosius was completely enamored. “It was so joyful, so imaginative and so filled with theatrical possibilities that I knew immediately we had to adapt it to the stage”. After securing the rights to adapt Morris Micklewhite and reaching out collaborators at the Chicago Children’s Theatre and the Omaha Rose Theatre, work could begin to bring Morris to the stage.
juliany taveras was brought on to write the play’s script, transforming a short book into a full theatre experience. “Adapting a children’s book for the stage has been incredibly fun,” taveras explains, “there’s simultaneously all this gorgeous source material from which to work, and a ton of space to explore and expand the narrative into a full-blown sensory experience for families to enjoy”. taveras describes the process of adaptation like that of translation, stating “I often think of adaptation as translation, so for the first draft of the script, that’s exactly what I set out to do: translate Morris’s inner world (and ever-expansive imagination) into an embodied theatrical language that could somehow capture and share the story’s big heart”. The process of translating a work to suit a new medium can take a lot of work and also present new opportunities. When speaking about the writing process for this play, taveras said:
“Writing for Morris has meant crafting a world that is both deeply emotional and difficult as well as imaginative and inspirational. It feels important to all of us working on it to really capture the full range and depth of Morris’s journey—even if it only spans a few days! After all, a few days can feel like a lifetime, especially as children. In that vein, I’m also grateful for the ways in which writing this play has deepened my own connection to my younger self, and to what it’s like to be a kid today.”
Heidi Stillman has a history adapting children’s literature. In 2017 she directed The Year I Didn’t Go To School, a play based on the children’s book by Giselle Potter. Now she is working with the Children’s Theatre Company to direct Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. Her past experiences have helped prepare her to direct this play, as she herself explains “I have a lot of experience with new work and adaptations, and my work leans heavily on an imaginative and visual aesthetic, so it seemed like a good fit”. It isn’t just her work on other plays that has inspired her approach to directing Morris Micklewhite. Her time spent as a preschool teacher has given her valuable insight into the nature of imagination in children:
“I used to be an assistant preschool teacher when I was first out of college, it was my day job as we were starting our theatre company. I loved watching the kids playing in the block corner; what to my eyes were stacks of plain brown blocks, to them were these amazing creations that were the setting for their elaborate games. I love the power of imagination to transform and make magic out of simple things, and how easily that comes to children. The creative team and I are trying to capture that magic in our design and staging choices.”
With the whimsical writing of taveras’ script and Stillman’s imaginative stage direction of Stillman, and the efforts of the entire cast and backstage crew, the team hopes to create a magical event for families.
taveras hopes that audiences will learn lessons from the play, saying:
“My hope is that folks who come to see Morris Micklewhite leave with all sorts of discoveries, questions, and perspectives, ones that are unique to their own lives and communities. In a more general sense, however, I hope the show can inspire audiences to be brave—both when it comes to embracing and expressing one’s whole self, and when we are tasked with the equally important responsibility to support that in others with empathy and compassion.”
In a world where LGBTQ+ people often face pushback for living as their authentic selves, Morris Micklewhite serves as a reminder to be uncompromising in expressing as we choose.
The Children’s Theatre Company’s production of Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress will premiere on October 10th and will run through November 19th, and can be best enjoyed by audiences 4 years and older.