If you’ve been poking around my website recently, you may have noticed a page for “Plays.” There’s a good reason for that: my children’s play Suiko and the Puzzle Box is now available for sale on Amazon and Createspace.
Suiko and the Puzzle Box (pronounced SWEE-koh) is a fairy tale set in Japan, many years ago. Suiko’s father has gone missing. She sets out to search for him, but ends up trapped by the same spirits that stole him away. The spirits set a challenge: she must open her seemingly-impossible puzzle box or find her way out of the labyrinthine palace, otherwise she and her father will remain trapped forever. Think Alice in Wonderland meets Spirited Away.
It was a show with practical, rather than purely imaginative origins. For years, my mother had directed the annual dinner theater at a local elementary school. Not having a background in theater, her goal every year was to find a play that was inexpensive, had simple costumes and sets, and wasn’t something everyone had seen a hundred times before. But most importantly it needed enough roles.
See, kids adored the shows my mother directed, so of the 120 or so kids eligible to audition for a speaking role each year, the number who actually did so had steadily grown. By the winter of 2010, my mother was expecting around thirty kids, and all of them would need roles, preferably with at least one spoken line. Hey, it’s elementary school.
Do you know how many children’s plays out there are sixty minutes long, have over thirty speaking roles, and include roles for younger children? And which are not musicals?
That year, no matter how long my mother searched, nothing turned up. Zip. Nada.
This was back in 2009. I had just returned from a year of study abroad in Japan, and was living with my parents while attending a local university. I said, hey, why don’t I write something? Maybe something based in Japan, rather than a Western fairy tale. Something fresh. New. My mother knew I could write, and said why not give it a try. So we started brainstorming.
First, there were the practical matters. Most children auditioning were girls, so we decided this play needed a heroine. Scene changes at the elementary school level are a pain at the best of times, downright impossible at worst, so a blackbox show would be best. Props get lost and broken, so fewer props were better. Fewer sound effects, too.
But what we mostly discussed, of course, was what the play would be about. What was the point of the show?
I was very into Studio Ghibli films at the time, and one of my favorite things about them is how they make the ordinary seem wonderful. Not by telling us that the strange and different are bad, no, but by showing audiences how lovely the simple things are.
Another priority for me was not to write a play that served as a dire warning–don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t be mean–but instead acted as a how-to. Something in which the main character sets aside overarching worries and fears and says, “This is what I need to do, so I shall do it,” and then shows us how.
And thus, we meet Suiko. She’s clever, she’s brave, she’s resourceful and determined. But she’s lured away from the human path by a mischievous fox, and taken to the Demon Palace, where no one is sympathetic to pleas like “this isn’t fair.”
She meets characters from Japanese mythology, such as Momonji, who gives people bad directions, and the Nekomata, a two-tailed cat. There’s Warashi and Zashiki, twin guardians of the palace, who look and act like the world’s most annoying four-year-olds, and the Forgotten Things, everyday items that are so old, they’ve come to life, and demand to be repaired.
These characters help and hinder by turn, according to their own whims, and so the only person Suiko may depend upon is herself. And she does. And it’s difficult and frustrating and scary, but it works, and she is better for it. And that, I thought, was something worth writing.
After a week of typing, Suiko and the Puzzle Box was a thing. It was performed winter 2010 with a cast of over thirty older kids and eighty younger ones. Between the actors, the crew, and the servers for the “dinner” part of the dinner theater, over half the school participated in some way. Over four hundred parents, relatives, students, and community members came to see it. The local newspaper ran a small feature.
And then it was over. Spring quarter began, my free time reasserted itself, and I largely forgot that Suiko had ever happened at all.
Five years later, I remembered.
Suiko and the Puzzle Box is a play. You can read it, enjoy it. Discuss it with a child you’re teaching, have a reading in a library. You can also perform it, provided your organization purchases twenty scripts (or more, of course)–that’s the only licensing fee for amateur groups. You can put it on with a large cast or an enormous one, children or adults or a mixture. Post photos, take videos, put them on Youtube and Facebook.
But mostly, I hope you will share it. Elementary school theater is not about making amazing actors or brilliant singers, it’s about working together and learning your place in a group. Actors spend weeks building the confidence to say their lines on stage, however big, however small. Theater is for memorization training and being aware of how you look in the eyes of others. It’s about imagination and excitement.
Even as an adult, theater’s still about that. And so is reading Suiko and the Puzzle Box. It’s a little tale of adventure, and I hope you will enjoy it.
Suiko and the Puzzle Box is for sale on Amazon. $7.99 for a softcover, $2.99 for Kindle edition. If you have a Prime account, shipping is free. Click the button to find out more.
It’s also on Createspace, if you’d prefer to order it there.