by Larry Brenner
Spalding MFA faculty, Screenwriting & Playwriting
(originally published 2012)
I’ve heard that one of the great parts of being a dad is that you can recapture what it’s like to be a kid again. Relive your childhood.
But I don’t think my childhood ever ended. Not really. Not where it counts. I think it’s more like watching how my childhood got started. Because the processes I developed back then are still the processes I use right now.
I’ve been reading Baum’s Oz books to Graydon lately. We’re on Marvelous Land of Oz right now, and he’s loving it. And when his older brother Xander was his age, he loved the Oz books too.
In one chapter of The Road to Oz, Dorothy has just met Polychrome, Rainbow’s Daughter. I half-remember having a crush on Polychrome when I was nine. I think it was because she was always dancing and laughing. Anyway, when we meet Polychrome, she’s fallen off the Rainbow and can’t get back to her father.
Xander thought this was a serious problem. It prompted the following exchange:
X: Polychrome wants to go into space to be with her Dad?
Me: Yeah, I wonder if she can.
X: She needs a rocket ship.
Me: Do you think there are rocket ships in Oz?
Xander stares at me, as if I’m stupid.
X: It. Is. A. FAIRYLAND! Of COURSE it has rocket-ships. They’d just be magical rocket-ships which run on fairy magic, you sillyhead.
I’m going somewhere with all this, I swear.
I used to play Oz with my action figures. Of course, I didn’t have the actual Oz figures, so I used my He-Man guys instead. My paperback copies of the book had these elaborate maps of every single location in Oz, and I would spread the figures out all over my floor in the hopes of recreating every single person.
The usual scenario involved the Gnome King (as played by Hordak) teaming up with Mombi (as played by Evil Lyn) gathering the forces of evil to destroy the Emerald City once and for all. It never really worked out for them.
I also dimly recall sighing with relief when my sister got her She-Ra figures. At long last, Orko could retire from being Dorothy, which had always made me a little uncomfortable.
So it makes me happy when my boys embraces their fictional worlds. But it makes me even happier to see them using the figures in nontraditional ways.
Xander didn’t play “Star Wars”…he plays R2 and the R2 squad, the adventures of a half-dozen astromech droids off to save the Jedis from the depredations of the one evil R2.
Sometimes I’ll walk by his room and hear him loudly yelling, “Why? Why did you turn evil? WHY?” And then he’ll answer in a wicked voice, “Because… I’m going to conquer the world. Hahaha.”
I still collect action figures. Now, I’m not one of those guys who keeps his figures mint in box, or anything like that. I’m not expecting some massive E-bay related payoff.
I have toys so I can play with them. I need to touch them, move their arms and legs, and pose them. I love when action figures still have that new plastic smell when you remove them from the box. The only part of this that fills me with shame is that sometimes the desire to chew on their skinny plastic hands is a difficult temptation to resist.
Now, when I write, I usually grab a half-dozen action figures and put them up on my writing desk. I look through my box for the figure that most closely resembles the character I’m working on, and have them act out my dialogue.
Because I think that is really what writing is for me. My characters are my toys, and I just want to play with them.
One day, Xander asked me to play action figures with him.
Me: But didn’t you just play with your figures with your friends?
X: Yeah, but they don’t play with them right. They just make them fight. They don’t have any conversations.
He better not throw his action figures out when he’s thirteen. It’s important to take good care of your toys.
(Also, I want them for myself.)
Brenner’s screenplay Bethlehem was a winner of Final Draft’s Big Break Contest. He has also written Labyrinth for Walt Disney Pictures and Angelology for SONY/Columbia Pictures. His play Saving Throw Versus Love was produced as part of the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival and was selected for the Fringe Encore Series. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and WGA East. Brenner earned his MFA at Spalding University and is a doctoral candidate in educational theatre at NYU.