A musical adaptation of Sheree Fitch’s award-winning children’s book, If You Could Wear My Sneakers, is returning to the stage with Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre.
Andrea Boyd, now the festival’s artistic director, adapted the show for the stage, first presenting it in Antigonish in 2003.
“It is a delightful show, funny with a serious, meaningful message and kids loved it in 2003 so we thought it was time to bring it back,” said Boyd, who directly engages young audiences.
Fitch could not be happier to see the musical revived.
“I loved what Andrea did with it. The book is a collection of poems, not a narrative story yet she was able to link them together to provide a really beautiful and musical stage presentation," she said.
If You Could Wear My Sneakers is a book the popular River John writer almost did not write.
“I was asked by UNICEF to write a children’s book about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I told them they had the wrong person, but they persisted,” Fitch said.
Fitch embraced the topic but did not see how she could create a book around it.
“I told them again my nonsense poems wouldn’t work, but they told me that was exactly what they wanted. I had a hard time seeing it.”
Fitch was pondering the project in her writing room when she was visited by one of the book’s characters, The Eloquent Young Elephant who opposes war.
“When he arrived in my writing room, I began to see a way of having animals talk about children’s rights.”
Boyd faced a similar challenge in her adaptation.
“I’d been working on a play about child soldiers and, during my research, I came across Sheree’s book. I wanted to do something with it but wasn’t sure what because it is not actually a story with a beginning, a middle and an end," Boyd said. "Then I got the idea of creating a zookeeper named Ed who is kind of a cranky, mean fellow, who does not treat the animals well. From there, I knew the animals could educate him about their rights.”
The book - which presents rights such as adequate food, shelter, education, safety, protection from war and freedom of speech in a playful yet poignant way - was first published in 1998, but Fitch was delighted when Nimbus Publishing began to reissue some of her backlisted books a few years ago.
“It means a whole new crop of children can share the stories. They may even be stories their parents enjoyed before them," she said. "As a writer, it is very gratifying to have your work have a long life.”
On the stage
Fitch has had other books adapted for the stage but says Boyd’s creativity synched perfectly with her own.
“When I saw it, I was just thinking, 'yes, yes, yes.' I was blown away by how she enhanced my poems to create another art form.”
For Boyd, there is added cache in being able to feature the work of such an acclaimed author.
Fitch, who opened her popular Mabel Murple Bookstore in River John July 3, expects to be in Antigonish when If You Could Wear My Sneakers opens its July 23 to Aug. 7 run.
The original show’s catchy music by Adam Theriault lived on in Boyd’s head for years.
“Bits of it have been hanging around ever since, so I’m excited to see it again myself,” Boyd said.
This year’s show will be directed by Laura Teasdale, with musical direction by Emery Van de Weil. The young cast of four features Ryan Gallant, Briony Merritt, Emma Vickers, and Abby Weisbrot.
For more on Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre, including a complete schedule and ticket purchase information, visit the website festivalantigonish.com.