The Show Must Go On

And thanks to these Pioneers, it will.

Kelly can trace these feelings back at least forty years. Growing up outside Boston, he remembers being interested in "movies, adventure and escapism. We all have our trials and tribulations," he muses. "The thing is to escape them somehow. The town where I was raised was a very dull factory town. For me, going to the theater was very much like going to church is for other people. I took it very seriously. I'd get there half an hour early to watch the musicians tune up."

At twelve, Kelly earned his first check for a writing job--an adventure story about a military dog, written for a boys' magazine. After that he entered every newspaper essay contest he could find, and won several. All through high school, college and a stint as an actor at a repertory theater in Arizona, Kelly kept writing plays. After a fellowship at Yale in TV and broadcast writing, he moved to Southern California to write for the screen.

"And I did my time," he says. "But ultimately, it became too boring to write in the same genre all the time. I was all over the place. I could not be pinned down."

Which is what drew Pioneer Drama Service to Tim Kelly, and Tim Kelly to Pioneer. Though he writes for several other catalogues, including more "serious" purveyors of drama, Kelly says he likes the variety and the steady money Pioneer provides. "I might do a murder mystery, followed by a children's play, followed by a melodrama, followed by a musical," he explains. "I've aged with Pioneer. The camaraderie they give me is such a wonderful boost to creativity. It's never just my play, it's our play."

Right now, 130 such Tim Kelly plays can be ordered through Pioneer. His name has become so ubiquitous in school theatrics that Kelly's taken on two pseudonyms: Robert Swift and Vera Morris. (Both he and Steve Fendrich are amused when a high-school drama director calls to say that she doesn't like Tim Kelly plays, but please, send more Vera Morris!) Kelly talks to Steve constantly, rejecting or accepting ideas, then plows through the writing of them fourteen hours a day. He also keeps an idea box in which he throws any stray thoughts that come his way--particularly those that shed some light on teenage life. The phrase "ditch day," for instance. No sooner did he learn what it meant than he'd written a play in which thirty or so high-school students skip school.

"Another time, I was watching TV, and I heard a character explain that the dog had eaten his homework," Kelly recalls. "Suddenly, I thought: What if a monster ate his homework?"

A Monster Ate My Homework was summarily written and published, and it continues to be a top-seller to high schools. The reason for this success, Kelly insists, is that he tries to stay abreast of "what kids are thinking and hoping and dreaming. It's wonderful," he confesses. "Everyone's younger than I am, and I never have to grow up."

Indeed, students at schools where Kelly holds readings of new plays often seem more mature than the playwright himself. "Their language presents a bit of a problem," Kelly admits. "I won't write profanity into a play. Perhaps that's unrealistic, but I find it repulsive. On the other hand, you can't write down to young people in any sense. No cute bunnies on the stump saying, 'It's a lovely day!' What I try to write," he decides, "is gentle escapism."

But creating escapism is not always easy. While writing an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for Pioneer, Kelly discovered that "nobody in Alice is pleasant. They're all eccentrics or insane. Not one person is normal in any sense." That some of Lewis Carroll's characters are witty was of no help. "You must remember who you're writing for, and what they're listening to in everyday life," Kelly says. "Independence Day is not exactly Noel Coward." Kelly solved his problem by having the White Rabbit ask Alice if she would be his friend. Normalcy established, Kelly went on to his next play.

"I compare my plays to daughters," he says. "I do the best I can, and then they go out and get married. One might marry Prince Charming, another might marry the guy who pumps gas, and another might end up on the street. I do what I can with them, but when I'm done, I move on."

AGNES RASPUTIN (a tough student at Last Chance High): Well, well, well. What have we here? Ha, ha, ha. Hey, Anzac! Come look! Ha, ha, ha.

ANZAC CALGARY (Agnes's male counterpart, a lethal punk): So, I'm looking. AGNES: Anzac, you know what I think we've got here?

ANZAC: Tourists.
AGNES: Yeah, tourists. From the Valley... Three Valley Girls and a friend.
ANZAC: He's a nerd. I can tell. Nerds I step on. Nerds I squash. Ha, ha.
DOUGLAS (shoves ANZAC on the shoulder): Watch it, Gopher Breath.
ANZAC: Why, you--!

--from Help! I'm Trapped in a High School!, by Tim Kelly
"Hey! Guess what I just got in the mail," Steve Fendrich says. "The Nifty Fifties!"

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