Nine Dancing Princesses In Rodeo Land

Pendleton, Oregon is best known as the home of the Round-Up (an epic annual rodeo extravaganza) and the Pendleton Woolen Mills, who make all kinds of things that look like this:

beautyIt has also, for about twenty years, been the home to a theatre camp where my friend Adrienne Flagg and a rotating posse of performing artists spend a week at Blue Mountain Community College with anywhere from 40 to 60 kids age 7-16, teaching acting, movement, stage combat, musical theatre, playwriting, and a host of other special skills, culminating in a final performance for their friends and family.  The theme of the show is different each year; this time it was adaptations of French folk tales.

I was brought on as a last-minute sub when one of the scheduled teachers had to drop out, and for those of you who missed the running commentary of updates on Facebook, there is a much more thoughtful and in-depth post still to come about what I learned and experienced, especially about my first experience working with autistic kids (we had four in this camp session, and one was in my cast) and what an incredible journey that was.  But I’m still processing all of that and trying to turn it into words, so for now, here’s the play I wrote.  I had to write it not knowing how many kids, or of what gender, I would have, and with no idea of their age/experience/reading level, and then I had two princesses drop out and one get sick and almost miss the show (plus my aforementioned girl with special needs who had some social anxiety and struggled to work with the group and changed her mind about wanting to participate at least half a dozen times per day) so every night there were edits and changes and reassigning lines to someone else.  But when the lights came up on Saturday night, this was the show we ended up with.  And I have to say, I’m pretty damn proud of my kiddos.  The youngest was seven, the oldest was twelve, most of them had never taken the camp before, and my principal actor, the nine-year-old girl who played Stargazer, went from so shy and quiet that I could hardly hear her even in the rehearsal room to a back-of-the-house-projecting, bubbly, comedic force of nature.  I came home at 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning and slept for twelve straight hours, because HEY GUYS DID YOU KNOW THAT CHILDREN ARE EXHAUSTING?, but it was an amazing experience I’d do again in a heartbeat.

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Stargazer and the Puzzle Masters

By Claire Willett
Adapted from “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” by Charles Deulin (1874)

Cast of Characters
ARCHIMEDES: Queen of Mathematica
THE NINE PRINCESSES: Archimedes’ brilliant genius daughters
STARGAZER: A curious young girl

 


 

 (Lights up on the princesses in their classroom, working busily)

ASHLYNN
There once was a kingdom called Mathematica, where everyone loved riddles and mysteries more than anything in the world.

MEGAN
The wisest men and women in all the land were called the Puzzle Masters.

JOSIE
The kingdom was ruled by a wise queen named Archimedes, who had been chief among the Puzzle Masters until the old king died and Archimedes was chosen to take the throne. (Trumpet fanfare. ARCHIMEDES enters and sits in her throne)

LAUREN
She was a good and wise ruler, and the kingdom was very happy.

ABIGAIL
Archimedes had nine daughters, who were all remarkably clever – the cleverest princesses the kingdom of Mathematica had ever seen.

ELSIE
They could solve quadratic equations –

BRIELLE
And knew the Riddles of the Sphinx –

MEGAN
And why a raven is like a writing desk.

SANIKA
Even the littlest princess could outsmart any of the Puzzle Masters. (ARCHIMEDES walks up and down the line, quizzing the girls)

ARCHIMEDES
What goes around the house, and in the house, but never touches the house?

PRINCESSES
The sun!

ARCHIMEDES
What has been around for millions of years but is never more than a month old?

PRINCESSES
The moon!

ALEXIS
Every day the princesses sat from dawn til dusk in their classroom while Archimedes tested them with her most challenging riddles, and they grew up to be very clever indeed.

BRIELLE
Perhaps they were too clever.

ABIGAIL
For one day they created a mystery that stumped even the brilliant Archimedes.

ASHLYNN
Every night the princesses took off their shoes before going to bed and lined them all up in a row inside their bedroom door. (Princesses neatly step out of shoes, leave them in a row)

JOSIE
And every morning, when the sun rose, the shoes would be thrown in a heap in the middle of the room, completely worn out, with holes in the bottom as though somebody had walked a thousand miles in them all. (Oldest and youngest princesses kick all the shoes into a messy pile in the middle)

ALEXIS
Yet no one could tell how the princesses were getting out of their room.

ARCHIMEDES
What on earth has happened to your shoes?

ABIGAIL
We don’t know!

ELSIE
We haven’t left our beds!

BRIELLE
Promise!

MEGAN
Cross our hearts!

ARCHIMEDES
Somehow, some way, my daughters are sneaking out of the house at night and wearing their shoes down to scraps.  I must put an end to this.

ELSIE
Archimedes locked the door and barred the windows.

MEGAN
Still they wore out their shoes.

LAUREN
Archimedes posted guards at every entrance and exit of the castle.

ALEXIS
Still they wore out their shoes.

JOSIE
Archimedes installed a state-of-the-art alarm system to ring so loudly it would wake up everyone in the kingdom if the girls even set one foot outside.

BRIELLE
Still they wore out their shoes.

SANIKA
It was a mystery no one could solve.  Not even the wisest of the Puzzle Masters.

ARCHIMEDES
Children!  The Royal Shoemakers have not slept in their own beds in weeks and I am running out of money in the Royal Shoe Budget.  This is the forty-seventh night in a row that you have ruined nine perfectly good pairs of brand-new shoes.  I insist that you explain this minute. (Princesses all shrug innocently)

ASHLYNN
Every night before bed, Archimedes would open the door to her children’s bedroom and count nine pairs of shiny new shoes.

ELSIE
The next morning, she would return with the key, open the door, and –

ARCHIMEDES
Not again!

JOSIE
By the ninety-ninth morning, after replacing nine times ninety-nine pairs of shoes –

SANIKA
Which is eight hundred and ninety-one –

JOSIE
Archimedes had given up hope.  Until a visitor appeared. (STARGAZER enters)

ALEXIS
Stargazer was a young girl who was not very exceptional.

ABIGAIL
She wasn’t the tallest and she wasn’t the fastest.

MEGAN
She wasn’t the smartest and she wasn’t the funniest.

LAUREN
She was very ordinary, except for one thing –

SANIKA
She was very, very, very curious.

BRIELLE
When she had a wondering about something, she would not rest until she had found the answer.

JOSIE
She wondered about the stars and she wondered about the oceans.

ELSIE
She wondered about cats and she wondered about bats.

ASHLYNN
And she had traveled many days and nights to the kingdom of Mathematica because she wondered about the nine princesses and their worn-out shoes. (STARGAZER enters the throne room)

STARGAZER
Are you the great and wise Archimedes, queen of the kingdom of Mathematica?

ARCHIMEDES
Who are you?

STARGAZER
My name is Stargazer.  I was traveling through your village when I heard about the strange mystery that even your wisest Puzzle Masters cannot solve, and I would like to give it a try.

ARCHIMEDES
You?  Ha!  (ARCHIMEDES gets up and paces back and forth to examine STARGAZER) Little girl, I have spent ninety-nine days consulting the Royal Librarian and the Royal Astronomer and the Royal Historian and the Royal Architect and the Royal Locksmith and every one of my Puzzle Masters, and none of us have been able to discover how my children are sneaking out of their rooms and wearing out their shoes every night.  And yet you believe you can discover the answer yourself?  Again, I say, ha!  Can you decipher?

STARGAZER
Not exactly.

ARCHIMEDES
Decrypt?

STARGAZER
I suppose not.

ARCHIMEDES
Decode?  Detangle?  Descramble?  Demystify?

STARGAZER
Not that I know of.

ARCHIMEDES
Then what on earth are your qualifications?

STARGAZER
I suppose I don’t have any.  Except that I am known to be very curious.  And when I wonder about something, I do not rest until I find out the answer.

ARCHIMEDES
That is hardly a qualification at all.

STARGAZER
Give me one night, Your Majesty.  If by tomorrow morning I have not discovered a solution, I will be on my way.  But if I have, I ask that you make me one of your Puzzle Masters.

ARCHIMEDES
Little girl, if you can find out how my children are wearing out their shoes, I will make you Chief Puzzle Master and you shall inherit the throne after I retire. (They shake hands)  Well, good luck to you. (STARGAZER exits and goes into the bedroom to look around)

JOSIE
That evening, while Archimedes and the princesses ate their dinner, Stargazer snuck into the bedroom to look for clues.

ARCHIMEDES
Tonight’s challenge is the Fibonacci sequence. Begin.

ASHLYNN
One.

ARCHIMEDES
Correct. (As each girl answers correctly, ARCHIMEDES allows her to take her dinner from the tray)

LAUREN
One.

MEGAN
Two.

ALEXIS
Three.

ABIGAIL
Five.

ELSIE
Eight.

BRIELLE
Thirteen.

JOSIE
Twenty-one.

SANIKA
One hundred!

ARCHIMEDES
Wrong!  No supper for you. (SANIKA hangs her head in shame, but sneaks some food off the tray as ARCHIMEDES turns to leave)

STARGAZER
As the children ate their supper, Stargazer peeked under beds and floorboards, inside closets and cabinets, searching for clues.  But she could find nothing, so she decided to hide, and wait, and see for herself. (STARGAZER hides and waits. The children neatly step out of their shoes. ARCHIMEDES goes down the line, patting each princess on the head, after which they each lay down and fall asleep, with lots of noisy fake snoring and sleepy noises. After one last stern bed-check, ARCHIMEDES exits. The moment she’s gone, SANIKA sits up)

SANIKA
Is she gone?

ASHLYNN
She’s gone.  Let’s go! (The princesses jump up, put their shoes back on, and line up. ABIGAIL enters a secret code to open a hidden door in the wall. They all scamper through it and walk into a forest full of tall trees)

STARGAZER
Stargazer watched in amazement as a secret doorway opened up in the wall.  It looked very dark and very strange, but she determined to follow the princesses through the secret door wherever it would lead. (STARGAZER follows behind Sanika as soon as the coast is clear)

ABIGAIL
On the other side of the secret door was a path that led far off into the distance.

ALEXIS
First, the road led them through a forest, with silver trees on each side of them, hundreds of feet high.

MEGAN
(The princesses climb up a huge mountain) Then the road led them over a mountain, where huge rocks and boulders blocked their way.

STARGAZER
Stargazer was getting tired and beginning to regret her curiosity.

LAUREN
(The princesses tiptoe across a narrow tightrope bridge) Then the road led them to a tiny narrow bridge made of rope, high in the air above a valley so deep that nothing but darkness could be seen below it. (After princesses have crossed the bridge they strike a classical dance pose and freeze. STARGAZER collapses against the wall, totally exhausted)

JOSIE
When they got to the other side, they were in a huge ballroom.

ELSIE
There were tables full of everything delicious to eat and drink.

BRIELLE
The ballroom was full of hundreds of other princes and princesses.

ASHLYNN
It was a marvelous sight indeed. (Disco ball lights! “Everybody Dance Now!” Crazy dance party!)

MEGAN
They danced for hours and hours.

JOSIE
They danced and danced, until the faint light of dawn began to show on the horizon.

SANIKA
Time to go!  Time to go! (Super-fast reverse version of journey – bridge, then mountain, then forest)

ASHLYNN
The oldest princess shooed everyone off the dance floor and led them back across the bridge, over the mountain and through the forest to the secret door. (The princesses throw their shoes in a pile and leap into bed. STARGAZER remains hidden in the secret passage. ARCHIMEDES enters and sees the shoes)

ARCHIMEDES
More worn-out shoes!  How can this be?  Where is that good-for-nothing Stargazer?  She promised she would put a stop to this!

STARGAZER
Here is a riddle for you all!  What is the thing you only keep after you give it to someone else? (Everyone looks around, wondering where the voice is coming from, until she steps out of the secret passage) The answer is – your word.  I have kept mine if you will keep yours.

ARCHIMEDES
I will keep my word.  Tell me what your famous curiosity has discovered.

STARGAZER
Your intelligence is legendary, Archimedes, and the wisdom of your Puzzle Masters is known throughout the kingdom.  Yet none of you could solve this mystery because you did not understand what the mystery was.  You consulted the Royal Locksmith and the Royal Librarian and you built walls and hired guards to solve the puzzle of how your children were wearing out their shoes.  I solved that puzzle very easily. (STARGAZER shows ARCHIMEDES the secret door)

ARCHIMEDES
A secret passage!  Well, you have held up your end of the bargain, young Stargazer.

STARGAZER
Aren’t you curious about the real mystery?

ARCHIMEDES
The real mystery?

STARGAZER
How they wore out their shoes was easy.  The real question is why.  (To the princesses) Tell her.

ABIGAIL
And so they did.

JOSIE
They told Archimedes all about the forest and the mountain and the high bridge and the ballroom full of princes and princesses.

BRIELLE
They told her about how very tired they were of spending all day solving puzzles and riddles, and how much they longed for fun and adventure and friends and dancing.

LAUREN
Archimedes was full of wonder at this tale, but full of sadness too, for she had not realized that the princesses longed for the chance to dance and play and be silly with other children.

ARCHIMEDES
Show me this mysterious place, I must see it for myself!

ALEXIS
So the princesses took Archimedes back through the secret door.

MEGAN
And Archimedes had such fun that she declared that the magical dance party should continue every night.

ELSIE
But she issued a royal decree that it should always take place in the ballroom of her castle, so the children could get to bed on time and not be quite so hard on their shoes.

ASHLYNN
Archimedes kept her promise to Stargazer, who became Chief Puzzle Master in all Mathematica, and became Queen after Archimedes retired.

STARGAZER
And they all lived happily ever after.  (Cue disco ball lights & “Everybody Dance Now.”  Crazy dance party!  Blackout)
End of Play

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