For Lois Lowry, even at age 81, embarking on a new project is “exhilarating.” The Newbery Medal-winning author of 45 books for young readers, including The Giver, is doing just that. Last fall, Lowry was commissioned to write an original stage production for NYU’s Steinhardt’s New Plays for Young Audiences 2018 play development series. As Lowry told PW, she was visiting northern Spain when she was contacted by Stan Foote, artistic director of the Oregon Children’s Theatre. Foote asked if Lowry might be able to write an original play to be workshopped, which Foote would direct. The only caveat: she’d need to get it to him in just a few days.
While Lowry has adapted her novels to the stage, she had never written a play from scratch; she welcomed the challenge of creating an original piece. As Lowry—in the picturesque Pyranees Mountains—ruminated on what she would write about, “what came into my mind was not lighthearted,” she said. Like many, Lowry has long been troubled by ongoing school violence in America. “Every time I opened the newspaper, there was a new shooting or other horrific situation.” Over the next few days, Lowry wrote the play that would become How?, which was later changed to Fun and Games. The play explores school violence by focusing on seven high school students—one of whom will end up committing a violent act.
For Lowry, it was difficult to write about a topic “that is so intrinsically grim.” She worked to leaven the darkness of the subject matter through moments of funny dialogue, though she observes that these lighthearted moments in the play also serve to “make the darkness even more startling.”
Even for an author as seasoned as Lowry, working in an unfamiliar format presented a learning curve. “Writing a novel is a very solitary act [while] a play is very collaborative,” she said. She also learned first-hand how, while a novel is able to reveal characters via their interiority, in a play, “you must show the audience [character development] through dialogue.” Another realization: her rather “elaborate” stage directions were not necessary.
When the play was performed at NYU in June, Lowry was able to observe what elements of the work were successful on stage, and what needed to be rewritten; she has since returned to the manuscript to tweak and fine-tune the play for future stagings. Fun and Games will next be workshopped by the Oregon Children’s Theatre, to premiere in June 2019.
With her latest creative venture, the beloved author proves a truism: that writing is revision. Also: it’s never too late to try something new.