Stage dad turns playwright

Cast members of The Adventures of Emily Brown at Creative Stages Youth Theatre

“As a parent I’ve been through kids only being on stage for ten minutes,” says Peoria father Terry Grossenbacher. “I don’t want my kids to be just filler,” he adds. Grossenbacher likens being a child with a small role to being a child who plays right field for three years. “Kids get discouraged,” he says.

So the stage dad of two daughters, 11-year-old Hanna and 13-year-old Amber, decided to give playwriting a try. He’s done some writing for adults, but never written for children’s theater. Looking for material, Grossenbacher headed to a website listing the 100 best children’s books.

The Adventure of Emily Brown opens this Friday

He found “That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown,” written by Cressida Cowell and illustrated by Neal Layton. Grossenbacher wrote a 45-page adaptation, tripling the number of characters so more kids could be cast. He also expanded the book’s premise. “It’s harder to write for kids,” he says. “You have to put yourself in children’s shoes.”

Grossenbacher recalls approaching Jim Gradillas, artistic director for Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria, about 18 months ago — asking him whether “The Adventures of Emily Brown” might work for the 2012/13 CSYT season. Grossenbacher had just an outline and 10 pages of dialogue at that point, but it was enough to get the board’s approval.

Creative Stages Youth Theatre performs “The Adventures of Emily Brown,” written by Grossenbacher and directed by Eric and Susan Gibson, Sept. 7-15. Grossenbacher says it runs about 75 minutes and recommends it for ages six to 16. Daughter Hanna is in the show and daughter Amber is doing make-up.

Grossenbacher recalls his daughters being “frustrated with the roles they were getting” during local grade school productions. He took them to audition at Theater Works, where Gradillas once worked, and both were cast in “Beauty and the Beast.” Grossenbacher was surprised because they’d had no formal training and didn’t know anyone there.

Before tackling playwriting, Grossenbacher did the backstage dad thing for several shows. He also served as stage manager for CSYT’s production of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Grossenbacher moved from Avondale to Peoria so he’d be “between Theater Works and Creative Stages” and says his daughters’ grades have improved since they started doing community theater.

Grossenbacher says theater is teaching his daughters dedication, adding that their self confidence “has gone through the roof.” He also credits theater with helping them learn to “overcome and adapt on a moment’s notice.” Also how to deal with people, both the positive and the negative ones, and how to compromise.

“I wish I’d have done theater as a kid,” says Grossenbacher. “I grew up doings sports.” Grossenbacher likens theater to auto racing, a sport in which everyone works towards a common goal. “You’re building and testing consistently all week until you pull the car out for crunch time.” Seems it’s similar to tech week, when “a lot of little things can trip you up.”

But in the end, the show goes up and the crowd roars.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for details on other 2012/13 offerings from CSYT — including original and adapted works, a musical inspired by Dr. Seuss, a Christmas show, a 10-minute playfest, shows inspired by decades past and more.

Coming up: Celebrating Grandparent’s Day

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