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From the Archives – “Rootabaga Stories”

July 9, 2020

Just sent off copies of Carl Sandberg’s Rootabaga Stories to my children, Sam and Anisa, for their children, Emma, Rowan, and Ruya.

In 1991, Bridget had the idea of casting our entire family in a street theatre adaptation of Sandberg’s classic children’s book—a classic I admit that is not that widely read (compared to say, Winnie the Pooh or Wind in the Willows) because the language is particularly entangled and pointedly playful to a ponderous degree.  Poetry! Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Madeleine Ramsey of the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre directed, and Rosemary Geseck designed.

As young theatre artists, Bridget and I didn’t have much wealth, fancy things, or even secure futures for our children. We didn’t have much to give them in the usual ways of thinking about these things, but as they faced the beginning of adolescence, we wanted to hold onto being a family and to pass on what we cared about – creativity, beauty, hard work, being a reliable partner for each other, service to our community. Performing Rootabaga Stories (and I believe we did as many as forty-five performances that summer, traveling as far as Washington, DC to perform) was a way of palpably passing on to our children what we considered important.

It was hard work. Street theatre is not for the faint of heart. In Washington we performed to audiences of several hundreds at nine o’clock in the morning (two or three performances in a row) in blistering humidity and heat. It required an almost brutal discipline.

I’m sure Sam and Anisa will have mixed feelings when they receive their gifts, but I think I can fairly say, the memory is something that goes deep, unites us in a powerful way, and will forever be a treasured accomplishment.

— Bill George

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