Tag Archives: Wind in the Willows


I didn’t blog yesterday because I was polishing Wind in the Willows like mad. It’s to be given to the cast on Saturday, ready to go. I should have been looking for typos, misspellings, and incorrect indentations, but couldn’t stop myself from tweaking. I tightened a line, took out a word, added a word, then took out the line, etc. At one point, cross-eyed, I thought, “I’m changing the ending. Why am I changing the ending!?” A small voice said, “Because this ending is better.”


I could find out. One of the amazing and wonderful things about living in L.A. is that actors are everywhere. They fall out of trees and into the arms of aspiring playwrights and if lured with wine and cheese and crackers, they will read their plays for them. They will read in Starbucks, in living rooms, in church basements, in recreation centers, and they help the play to change and grow.

I am grateful to all those kind people who have read first, second, and third drafts of my plays. Actors always bring something to the table and just to hear the words is so instructive. You can hear where the holes and missteps are, can hear what is overwritten, can smell the filler and the false sentiment.

The theatres that offer staged readings are invaluable. The Blank Theatre’s Living Room Series, Seedlings at Theatricum Botanicum, New Works labs, ALAP’s In Our Own Voices, Live@the Libe, to mention only a few, are worth submitting to and offer great staged readings for works in progress.

The Q. and A.s are always bracing. My play, The Last Of The Daytons, was read several times. At one reading, an audience member, another playwright, said after a long silence, “I think you’re missing a scene.” The light went on. That one comment transformed the writing for me. I added the scene and learned a lot that was new about the characters and the play took a different turn. Beautiful.

Not everybody is helpful, of course. I can always spot The Spoiler, the man or woman who comes to all the readings for the joy of cutting the playwright down.

I enjoy going to readings by other playwrights, too. It’s like going to a club to hear a fellow musician play. Here’s two coming up: The Happy Wanderer by Nancy Beverly at the Celebration Theatre, June 1 at 7:30 pm, and Sara Israel’s Bad Art at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica, June 6th at 7 pm.

Next week, the kids will start studying their parts in Wind in the Willows. Rehearsals begin after school ends and I hope to be back to share what comes next.


Working on Wind in the Willows made me think about collaborative writing. During what is called (by whom we don’t know) the Second Wave of the Women’s Movement, I worked with a cast to write a play about the Canadian suffragists, during what is called the First Wave of the Women’s Movement.

I researched, decided on the characters, wrote an outline, and sketched out the scenes. Then, I joined a cast of five actors and we improvised. The dialogue and eventually Nellie! How The Women Won The Vote, grew out of that work.

It was often exciting, sometimes very frustrating, and in the end, truly rewarding. We learned a lot about Canadian history of that period, beginning with this: No woman, idiot, lunatic, or criminal shall vote.

We also learned something about our own assumptions and prejudices about gender roles. In 1915, the suffragists held a burlesque of Parliament in which the roles of men and women were reversed. We wanted to recreate that but I couldn’t find a copy of the piece. Nobody seemed to have written it down. (Nothing changes in experimental theatre.)

So, we tried to improvise one in which giving men the right to vote was debated. We assumed that when they were in power, the female members of Parliament would smoke cigars, shout “Har, har,” clap each other on the back and talk about backroom deals and money. In short, they would act like men. It didn’t work.

Then, the penny dropped. If women were in charge, their values and attributes would be respected and they would treat men the way they were treated. Men, those second class citizens, would have to be taken care of, treated with chivalry, and ultimately dismissed. It worked like a charm and the Mock Parliament debated questions in 1915 that were still being debated in the 1980’s.

Here’s a bit of it:

LILLIAN (Government)
“Madame, Speaker, it’s a well known fact, and I speak as a mother, that the male child is more difficult to toilet train than the female child, and the same would undoubtedly hold true when training men in parliamentary procedures.

CORA (Opposition)
Speaking as one who is rather keen on men, I submit it is poppycock to shut out half of the world’s population simply because of a minor biological difference.

LILLIAN (Government)
This difference. A minor one, you say? Let me appeal to your finer sensibilities, woman to woman. Would you want this room, this very room, filled with the reek of cigar smoke? Would you want to hear the clink of brandy glasses in caucus? Would you want the halls festooned with spittoons, echoing with ribald laughter? Think. Can you, in all honesty, still say a minor difference?

And have you considered the suggestive nature of male attire – the colored waistcoats, the embroidered suspenders, the bay rum behind the ears, the waxed ends of moustaches and the tight trousers?

FRANCES (Opposition)
My husband doesn’t want the vote. He’s the power behind the throne. That’s good enough for him.”

I think we’re in what’s called the Fourth Wave of the Women’s Movement now and the debate about gender roles and women in power isn’t over yet. Hillary Clinton might have a lot to say on the subject.

There’s a one woman play if I’ve ever heard of one.


I’ve never written for kids before, so the audition process was a revelation. Dorothy, Michael and I had three days to accommodate everybody.

Kids smiled for photos, holding nametags under their chins. They sang a cappela, just stood on the edge of the stage and sang. The songs linger. I can see the happy little bluebirds fly and I know that the sun’ll come out, tomorrow. I might not want to run into raindrops and kittens for a while.

Some came in soft jazz shoes and gave us a little shuffle. One girl had tapped since birth. Some were gymnasts, performing bendovers and cartwheels.

They took direction well. Dorothy would say, “These are her favorite things, not her almost favorite or her maybe favorite but her favorite! The change in delivery was immediate.

The greatest thrill for me was hearing them tear into the dialogue. It’s easier to sing, I think, than read. Often voices that belt out a song disappear when faced with words, but all of the kids read with intelligence.

Then we counted. Nineteen girls and three boys (count them, three!) had signed up.

Why more boys don’t show up is a mystery. There’s the summer lure of soccer, boy scout camp, and swim teams, but hey, girls like soccer, girl scout camp, and swimming, too. Perhaps, kids segregate themselves into gender groups when they are eight to twelve years old. I don’t know. I do know that making the male characters female was a pretty good move.

Nineteen girls meant more changes. Wiley is now Wilhemina (call me Willy) Weasel. The weasels pride themselves as being the “mean girls.”

However, thanks to the three extraordinarily talented boys, Toad is still a boastful and none too bright gentleman, and his lawyer, who gave us a spirited rendition of Return to Sender, is male, too. Wilmer is still Wilmer, played by a young man who let us know that the finish to his song was going “to be amazing,” which it was.

By the fourth day, one girl’s vacation plans took her out of the show, which means more rewrites to do. I suspect there will be more throughout the summer.

So much of writing is sitting in front of the computer, all alone, without hearing the words aloud, making changes and hoping that they’re the right ones, hoping that a reader or producer will like the finished project Somehow, Someday, Somewhere!

This is more fun.

Gender Neutral

I’m Diane Grant, a playwright who is happy to be with the LAFPI.

A few years ago, a composer named Bill Elliott, asked me to adapt the classic 1908 children’s book, Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. The book tells the stories of several creatures, Mole, Ratty, Badger, Otter, Toad, and friends, who live by a riverbank in the English countryside. Bill had written some beautiful music for it.

The book is full of rich, gorgeous prose but without a clear dramatic structure. I struggled with the loosely connected stories and found a strong through line by making Mole the protagonist. An underground creature, she leaves her home to visit the world above. Impetuous but shy, she learns about the four seasons, makes friends, and proves an intrepid and imaginative adventurer. I added characters, Wiley the Weasel and his punk cohorts, the Hedgehog family and Wilmer Otter, the not too swift guard in the dungeon, but concentrated on Mole’s story.

Then, Bill decided that he wanted a play about Alastair Grahame, Kenneth Grahame’s son, instead.

So, there I was with a play in the drawer, one of dozens of other Wind in the Willows plays, until I teamed up with director Dorothy Dillingham Blue and composer Michael Reilly to produce it this summer at Theatre Palisades.

What is most exciting about the project is that Dorothy loved my idea of changing the main characters from male to female. So often in youth plays, when characters are called “gender neutral,” girls lower their voices and stomp around. We wanted characters that all the jillions of girls who turn up to audition would want to play and could make their own.

I was encouraged by the recent sale of a first edition of the book, dedicated to the daughter of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who was thought to have been the model for the character of Ratty.

Now our version features Miss Mole, her mentor and soon to be best friend, Miss Ratty, the rather severe widow Badger, and the garrulous gossip, Miss Otter. Isn’t public domain fabulous?

Should Wiley the Weasel be a girl as well? Or even Toad, renowned as the feckless gentleman of Toad Hall?

The audition process would let us know.