A Q&A with the team behind BTG Plays! school production of 'Showtime with Shakespeare: A Magic Tree House Adventure'

WILLIAMSTOWN — Berkshire Theatre Group is now touring its BTG Plays! school production of "Showtime with Shakespeare: A Magic Tree House Adventure," based on book 25 of the bestselling "Magic Tree House" series titled, "Stage Fright on a Summer Night" by Mary Pope Osborne.

She and her husband, actor, author and lyricist Will Osborne, live in Great Barrington along with their friends and artistic collaborators, playwright and lyricist Jenny Laird and her husband, composer and lyricist Randy Courts.

Rounding out this team is Pope Osborne's sister, Natalie Pope Boyce, who authors the "Magic Tree House Fact Tracker" series of nonfiction companion guides to the subjects of Pope Osborne's adventures, which have spanned subjects from U.S. presidents to dinosaurs to social justice movements.

"The five of us are part of a big team and every part of our team is irreplaceable," Mary Pope Osborne said.

She, Will Osborne, Jenny Laird and Randy Courts attended Friday's performance of BTG's "Showtime with Shakespeare," and sat down with The Eagle afterward to talk about their first encounters with theater and working on Magic Tree House musicals. They also offered some advice to the next generation of artists and writers.

Editor's note: The following Q&A has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: Do you remember your first introduction to theater? What was it?

Randy Courts: You don't forget. The first musical I was in was "Li'l Abner." I had one line.

Jenny Laird: I was in third grade, and it was some version of "Country Mouse, City Mouse." I was the narrator, and I guess that's what led me to becoming a playwright because I thought, yes, I could tell the entire story.

Will Osborne: I was a sophomore in college when I changed my major from psychology to theater. We did "Taming of the Shrew" at UNC Chapel Hill in this outdoor theater. It was beautiful.

Mary Pope Osborne: It was the fourth grade and I played Goldilocks in a Spanish production for a Florida Rotary Club.

Q: Typically adults are cast in the "Magic Tree House" musicals. What's it like watching children play the children characters of Jack and Annie and other roles?

Mary: It makes it more of an adventure. It's a big deal for them ... and is something they'll remember.

Will: It's fun to see them really express themselves.

Randy: You can learn about life in the theater and I hope that's what they're experiencing. It's real fun to watch.

Jenny: It's great for us to see and I think it's great for kids in the audience to see. Their questions were all about what school do you go to, and how old are you. They perhaps can see themselves doing that someday.

Mary: All of the songs we do are recorded in the studio and [Will and Randy] employ local kids from the area.

Randy: Some have never done a studio recording before. ... But they give us as much as we give them.

Q: What advice do you have for young people aspiring to be artists, musicians, writers?

Will: Try everything. I didn't know what I was going to do until I was in college.

Jenny: Do it all. There's no failing. It's impossible to fail, so just do it.

Randy: Like the song in the last scene goes, "When you sing, dance ... a miracle is happening and not by chance. ... Thy life is a miracle."

Mary: Words are amazingly beautiful, especially when you tell stories. And sometimes it just starts at home at the kitchen table.


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