Playwright Geoffrey Gonsher found early inspiration in Howdy Doody, pictured here with Buffalo Bob
I’ve accompanied my three children to well over a hundred birthday parties through the years, but the memory of one party in particular still makes me smile.
It was for a young boy named Aaron who, along with his older brother Charles and the rest of the family, loved spending time at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater in Phoenix.
“For years it was our Saturday morning home,” recalls their father Geoffrey Gonsher.
I learned from Gonsher just yesterday that Aaron is now in New York studying and practicing the craft of theater criticism, while Charles works in the financial sector in Boulder, Colorado.
Their dad is a playwright who’ll present his latest work tonight (Sat, Nov 6) at Playhouse on the Park in Phoenix.
I met Gonsher when our children attended Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley — where children love reading in the desert, performing for peers and parents each Friday, and taking all sorts of arts-related field trips.
They even study art with Sonja Saar, Valley fiber artist and wife of Childsplay founder David Saar.
I reconnected with Gonsher after seeing his name on the list of playwrights participating in tonight’s “An Evening of New Works” (hosted by Phoenix Theatre in association with the Dramatists Guild of America) and called him Friday morning to ask about his work.
He’s presenting “Dinner at Six” — a short comedic piece that grew out of a larger dramatic play.
“Above all,” shares Gonsher, “it is a play about relationships.” Gonsher urges playwrights young and old to write what they know, and he’s followed his own advice here by writing about middle-aged men and their mothers.
His own favorite playwrights include Rod Serling, best known for the original “Twilight Zone” television series.
If you’re even a fraction as intrigued as I am, head to the Playhouse on the Park tonight to enjoy this — and several other short works — for yourself.
An audience discussion and Q & A session will follow the performance of each work, so patrons can offer input and playwrights can benefit from audience feedback.
The esteemed list of playwrights participating this evening also includes Theatre Artists Studio member and Raising Arizona Kids magazine contributor Debra Gettleman, who’ll present a work titled “I Just Killed Mickey Rooney.”
Gettleman honed her writing craft during a “Mothers Who Write” class with Amy Silverman (Phoenix New Times) and Deborah Sussmann Susser (Jewish News of Greater Phoenix), and she’s especially skilled in dry wit and “unmotherly insights.”
I asked Gonsher about other works he’s written — which include “The Twelve Nights of Political Christmas” and “Border Patrol.” His first work, it seems, was a puppet show written on the occasion of his own 60th birthday.
The piece, titled “Dilly Dally,” was a gift to his two sons — and it was coupled with a monetary gift that became the “Dilly Dally Fund” managed by Arizona Community Foundation.
Gonsher admits there weren’t many folks in attendance for the puppet show, held at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater (which Gonsher describes as “one of the treasures of Arizona”).
But he filled the empty seats with stuffed animals and puppets his sons enjoyed during their youth. The stars were his own original Howdy Doody puppets.
I shared with Gonsher my most recent trip to the Great Arizona Puppet Theater — during which I enjoyed 14 short puppet shows written by students in grades 2 through 8 at Kenilworth Elementary School in Phoenix.
The show, titled “Imagine This!,” took place Thursday evening and it was a true delight. You can enjoy it yourself through Sun, Nov 7.
A giraffe teased by others for his unusually long neck. A worm named “Lulu” that cut back to just one cupcake a day in order to make it through a tunnel in the ground. A mischievious bear who came alive at night only to leave his young owner’s toys in complete disarray. A competition of sorts between a real chicken and a robotic one.
Bigotry and bullying. Nature versus machine. Healthy habits and wellbeing. These students tackled some pretty big topics with a playful innocence that trumps the preachiness of some adult works.
I felt honored to be among some of the Valley youngest, and greatest, playwrights.
I’ll share a bit more about my “Imagine This!” experience in a future post. For now, I leave you with Gonsher’s advice for playwrights young and old.
“Write,” says Gonsher. “Write no matter what it is or how good it is, and do it as often as possible.”
“Write what you know,” adds Gonsher. Don’t struggle to research something far from your own life. “Write about your own life, your own struggles, your own relationships,” he says.
“There are stories there,” muses Gonsher, “and this is what people can relate to.”
Note: Valley resources for aspiring playwrights include a playwriting contest presented by East Valley Children’s Theatre, one of several resident performing arts companies of the Mesa Arts Center. A new Valley resource for puppet performance art is Puppet Works at Theater Works in Peoria, which mounts its first show in December.
Coming up: Playwriting opportunities for children and teens