|Eric Coble with First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank|
In between readings of the script and discussion among edits and stage direction, Mr. Coble took a few moments to chat with us about his playwriting process for SHERLOCK HOLMES:
FIRST STAGE: How do you tackle writing a new play like SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS, in weaving four graphic novels into one script for family audiences?
ERIC COBLE: I read the graphic novels over and over, taking more notes each time, looking for the elements that I thought would work best on stage (which pieces of plot would weave together best? What character traits do I want to make sure to highlight? What dialogue is essential? What will be most fun for actors to play and for audiences to watch?). Then I wove all that into one story, paying close attention to make it feel and sound like Tony Lee’s work in the graphic novels — trying to stay true to his voice and stories. It came together remarkably well — the characters are such a hoot to write for and play with, and the mysteries are rich and fun.
FS: How is SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS similar or different from other stage adaptations you have written?
EC: The fact that this is one play based on four stories was different — how do you pick and choose which pieces of what stories to weave into this new play? And this is only the second graphic novel I’ve adapted, which brings in another element: the pictures. What moments can be shown without words and only through action, as they are in the comics? Plus this story features many more main characters than any other adaptation I’ve done. Making sure each of the Baker Street Irregulars was distinct and fun and brought something special to the party was a fun challenge.
FS: What are you looking forward to most about working with First Stage again?
EC: I LOVE the imagination that I always experience here. I know I can throw crazy moments into the script (a battle in an underground waterfall! Mad inventions used to escape from prison!) and that the First Stage crew will figure out ways to make it work theatrically. Ever since I saw how they created the black and white world of THE GIVER, I knew they would rise to any challenge. There’s such freedom and a sense of play here. And I LOVE that First Stage insists on age-appropriate casting: The kids will be played by kids, the adults by adults. Love that.
FS: What do you enjoy most about writing plays for young audiences and families?
EC: The ability to play. Young audiences will happily, even eagerly, jump into any world you present, as long as it makes some sense and tells a great story. Some adult audiences seem to think this isn’t a worthy way to spend their time, that wild imagination doesn’t belong in serious plays. I beg to differ. And writing plays for families and young audiences lets me play in that world and share it.
FS: What are you looking forward to the most about the development and world premiere of SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS?
EC: I’m super eager to hear how the live music will fit into the play — Jeff Frank always envisioned this play as using live musicians with 19th century instruments creating the soundscape of Victorian London, and I can’t wait to see the action scenes and flashbacks and suspenseful/scary moments enhanced by adult and student musicians working live on stage at the same time as the actors, creating the world. That and the chance to work with Jeff as a director. I love his bravery and smarts in tackling the challenges of any script.
FS: Your play, THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, was recently on Broadway. How does it feel to have one of your plays on Broadway?
EC: It was a great roller coaster. I’d never played on that field before, and it was a true education. Being part to the gigantic machine that is a Broadway play was an odd feeling. Getting calls and emails from so many different facets of production and media, the over-the-top publicity, all that was new. One of the best parts was still getting to work on the play, to rehearse with these great actors to tell the best story we could in the best way possible. Which is what I’m doing on SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS and every show I’ve ever created. It was comforting to realize that no matter how big the stakes were, my job as writer was the same on Broadway as it is in Milwaukee or Cleveland — how do we tell our story in the best way possible?
FS: What advice would you give to an aspiring playwright?
EC: Write. Write some more. See a LOT of plays. And write some more. Tell a bunch of different stories with different characters just to try them out. They may not be good plays, but you’re strengthening your playwriting muscles and figuring out what kind of stories YOU want to tell and how YOU are going to tell them. Read plays, see plays, make that your mental diet as you figure out what you will bring to the ongoing theatrical conversation. And don’t ever forget it’s called a “play” for a reason.
Don't miss Eric Coble's world premiere of SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS at First Stage, playing October 17 through November 15 at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater, for everyone ages 7 and up. Make this play a part of your First Stage Family Package and save up to 50% off regular ticket prices. Visit our website for more information and to order online.