Renowned Children’s Authors Katherine Paterson and Stephanie Tolan Premiere Original Work with King

Nov 11, 2022 | King University

Tickets on sale now for “Good King Wenceslas” at the Paramount

BRISTOL, Tenn., Nov. 10, 2022 — It’s not often that someone with the title Library of Congress Living Legend asks if you will help premiere an original work.

That’s the opportunity that was presented to King earlier this year when King alumna Katherine Paterson reached out to the University’s Theatre Department with an idea. Paterson, along with nationally recognized author Stephanie Tolan, had put the final touches on “Good King Wenceslas,” a Christmas comedy years in the making, and wanted to see the work come alive onstage.

“Of course we jumped at the chance and said yes!” said Alaska Vance, chair of the Department of Theatre at King. “What an honor for our students and community to collaborate with these amazing authors and help translate this work from the page to the theatre.”

It’s a project the regional community can take part in experiencing, as “Good King Wenceslas” premieres at the start of December at The Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tennessee.

Shows take place Friday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 3, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults and $12 for students and seniors, and groups of 10 or more can receive a 10% discount by using the code King10 at checkout. Seating is limited, and patrons are encouraged to purchase tickets ahead of time. Tickets are available here.

The new comedy focuses on a struggling theater that finds that their one money-making play of the year, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” is being produced by a rival theater. That competition has not only pre-empted their opening show, but also stolen most of their cast and backstage staff.

The play is a work filled with family conflict, romance, and a genuine Christmas miracle — and provides an opportunity for regional actors to participate alongside students and professors from King’s Department of Theatre.

According to Paterson and Tolan, “Good King Wenceslas” spent several on-again, off-again years in development before finally being deemed ready to present to the public.

“We finally decided about a year or so ago that we were ready to take it to the people,” Paterson said. “The mainstay Christmas play of every amateur and semi-amateur company in the country is Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’ We wrote this play for the theater that isn’t doing ‘Christmas Carol,’ so we began looking for a company that could do the premiere.

“One day, I just happened to be on King University’s website, which I do from time to time, and realized they have a full-blown drama department,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, how wonderful it would be if our play debuted at King!’ So I wrote to Alaska Vance and asked if she would be interested in seeing our Christmas play. And she kindly answered me and said yes, she loved it, and we were thrilled.”

About the Authors

Paterson, who graduated from King in 1954, has garnered a lifetime’s worth of national and international accolades for her books. She has twice won the Newbery Medal, for “Bridge to Terabithia” in 1978 and “Jacob Have I Loved” in 1981, and was awarded the National Book Award in 1977 for “The Master Puppeteer” and again in 1979 for “The Great Gilly Hopkins.” For the body of her work, she received the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1998, and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2006. She was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000.

Tolan has written more than 25 books for young readers, including “Listen!”, which won the Christopher Award and the Henry Bergh ASPCA Award. Her bestselling novel, “Surviving the Applewhites,” received a Newbery Honor in 2003 and was named a Smithsonian Notable Children’s Book, a School Library Journal Best Book for Children, an ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book and Best Book for Young Adults. In addition, she is a senior fellow at the Institute for Educational Advancement, where she helps serve the needs of highly gifted young people, and co-authored the award-winning non-fiction book, “Guiding the Gifted Child.”

The Advent of a New Comedy

Although Paterson and Tolan are best known for their books, plays and musicals are nothing new to either. Together, they adapted Paterson’s novel, “Bridge to Terabithia,” into a play which debuted at Stage One in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1990, and toured nationally in 1991 and 1992.

“Good King Wenceslas is our fifth play,” Paterson noted. “It all started many years ago when I was asked by a theater company in Seattle to do a stage version of ‘Bridge to Terabithia.’ I didn’t grow up in the theater the way Stephanie has. She wrote plays before I knew her. So I asked Stephanie, who has a background in theater, if she would help me with it. I thought we could do a decent play.”

“When Katherine Paterson calls you and says, would you write ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ with me, you do not say no, even if you’re terrified with the idea,” said Tolan.

Following “Bridge to Terabithia,” the threesome collaborated to create two additional musicals: “The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks,” adapted from Paterson’s book, and “A Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck,” based on the Beatrix Potter story. Paterson and Tolan additionally developed a play, “Surviving the Applewhites,” based on Tolan’s book. Tolan also has two earlier plays.

The historical story of Saint Wenceslaus 1, a tenth-century Duke of Bohemia, on whom the legend of “Good King Wenceslas” is based, is actually considered a tragedy, but Paterson and Tolan purposely decided to present their play as a comedy.

“We want people to enjoy the experience because it’s Christmas,” Paterson noted. “It’s not the season for sorrow and tragedy. And Stephanie has always said, ‘Make them laugh and weep, but above all, change their lives.’ Our job was to write the best play we knew how to write, and it is our hope that every individual who sees it takes from it what matters most to them.”

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