Sunday, October 2, 2022

Gettin' my kicks on Route 66

So I wrote a play about that most famous of America's highways, Route 66. And for a short time, I even thought about calling it Route 66. But I didn't. And that happens to be another whole story.

But first the good news.

Twenty-Three and Counting

Pioneer Drama Service has just accepted the play for publication. It's my twenty-third play to be published, and only my second romantic comedy (after Babka Without Borders).

I first came up with the idea when I was brainstorming ideas for a play set in a diner. In my research, I found out that Pioneer has only five plays set in one of those classic roadside restaurants (one is my own Trouble in Paradise Junction). And that surprised me.

After all, everyone loves diners. They're as American as apple pie (many serve up some excellent apple pie!). One of our best-loved paintings features a diner. A ton of popular movies have been set in a diner. And diners, as a meeting place for rich and poor alike, offer a wealth of opportunities for conflict and humor. 

But if I wrote a diner play, what would be story be about? Well, diners make me think of the 1950's. And if the play's set in that carefree, innocent decade, then it would be only natural for it to revolve around an up-and-coming rock 'n roll star.

Maybe this Elvis wannabe is supposed to perform, only he doesn't show up, and the owner forces somebody to pose as him. That would be funny, and it would provide enough conflict to carry the play for an hour or more.

I had my plot. Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, when I checked Pioneer's web site, I discovered that years before, Tim Kelly and Bill Francoeur had written a similar musical titled Nifty Fifties. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd read the synopsis for that play and that it had burrowed itself into the deepest recesses of my brain, only to pop back up when I started brainstorming.

So it was as great plot. But I wasn't about to rehash it.

Back to square one

So I started brainstorming again. And I thought to myself, what if I flip it? What if, instead of a regular person posing as a celebrity, I had a celebrity pose as a regular person, maybe even one of the servers?

I liked that idea, a real fish-out-of-water story. Forcing a celebrity to learn all that crazy diner lingo, and how to take orders, and how to deal with difficult customers offered a lot of possibilities for humor.

I also changed the him to a her and made the celebrity a movie star to differentiate my play even more.

But why would a movie star want to hide her identity? Well, maybe she's fleeing her own wedding and the press is hot on her trail. And, oh yeah, her brand-new Ferrari breaks down, so now she's forced to pose as a a waitress until the car can get fixed.

Bingo! That story had everything I was looking for. Now all I needed to do was figure out the location. Of course, it had to be set in a small-ish town and it helped that the famous song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66, listed several of them.

Joplin, Missouri.

Amarillo, Texas.

Gallup, New Mexico.

Flagstaff, Arizona.

Don't forget Winona.

Hold on. That was the perfect setting. Winona was the smallest of the towns mentioned in the song. In fact, it's barely more than a gas station, cafe and garage (much like my play).

Also it's located in Arizona, and I was excited about the opportunity to finally set a play in my own state.

Not only that, but it gave me my title as well. Don't Forget Winona. It sounded sweet, wistful even. And Route 66 fanatics would immediately recognize it as a lyric from the song.

C-C-Changes

I wrote the play in about three months and sent it off to Pioneer, who quickly accepted it for publication. Yay!

There was only one problem. They weren't crazy about the title.

Oh, they thought it was clever enough. But they felt it didn't do the play justice. Don't Forget Winona sounded like a sappy drama about a girl named Winona, instead of the fast-paced, action-packed comedy that it is.

Also, they weren't convinced that people only mildly familiar with the song would make the connection between the title of the play and the highway where the play is set.

The title Don't Forget Winona would miss the very customers it was meant to attract.

I couldn't argue with them. Googling "Don't Forget Winona" revealed that there's a picture book with that title. And yep, it's a sappy drama about a family making the trek west during the Dust Bowl. In fact, it isn't even set in Winona, Arizona. Winona is the name of the little girl at the heart of the story.

Ouch.

So I brainstormed other titles. Get Your Kicks. Cookie's Diner. Down and Out on Route 66. Please Forget Winona.

Nothing clicked.

The answer

Then one night, at dinner, I mentioned my struggle to my wife Tammy. And she immediately came up with the best title yet.

It Happened on Route 66.

In fact, it was just about perfect (don't tell her that)! It sounds like a comedy, with its echoes of the 1934 film It Happened One Night. The "It" will definitely pique some interest (what exactly is the "it" that happened?). And there's no mistaking the setting. "Route 66" is right there in the title.

So that's what we're going with. I haven't been given a date yet, but I expect Pioneer will want to bring it out by the end of the year so that schools can perform it for their spring semester.

But I can say I learned a few things from my experience.

Be open to collaborating.

A clever title doesn't help if people don't know what the play is about.

And always, always listen to your wife.

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