by Rita Charleston
Ambler’s Act II Playhouse is presenting the world premiere of “My Very Own Polar Bear,” a new holiday comedy for kids, on stage Dec. 16-31. Written by Bill D’Agostino, Act II’s communications and education director, and directed by Amanda Coffin, the story features Emma, an imaginative girl who likes to make inventions, such as a freeze ray and time machine. For Christmas, Emma receives a stuffed polar bear who becomes real (to her) as well as a trusted friend and fellow inventor.
D’Agostino, 41. lives in Bryn Mawr with his wife Carrie, a biology professor, and his two daughters, Celia, 5, and Anya, 1. “My Very Own Polar Bear” was not only inspired by some of D’Agostino’s favorite stories of kids and their beloved stuff animals, “but also by Celia’s wild imagination and love of stuffies. In fact, both my daughters are a source of inspiration for me. And I hope my writing serves to inspire and empower them and other children as well.”
Growing up mainly in West Chester, New York, D’Agostino always wanted to be a writer, but attending a theater camp the summer after his freshman year in high school actually sealed the deal.
“We took acting classes in the morning, and in the afternoon you got to choose between singing or playwriting. And since I’m a terrible singer, I chose playwriting and absolutely fell in love with it.”
After graduating from Brown University with a degree in theater, an MA in theater from Villanova University and a brief stint as a journalist, D’Agostino eventually settled into writing plays. “My Very Own Polar Bear” is his 10th play. Others include five “Murray the Elf” mysteries for Act II and “Sleeping Handsome,” as well as “Fairy Tale High School,” “Robin Hood” and “Teen Sherlock,” which premiered at Montgomery Theater.
“This show is meant for both children and adults,” he explained. “This is holiday time, a time to celebrate with those we love. This show is a chance for kids and their grownups to laugh together and share the wonder and joy of the season. I’m not trying to teach people anything with this play or leave them with a message. It’s just a show I hope everyone can enjoy.”
And if there is any challenge D’Agostino faces, it’s simply making the dialogue sound as if it’s emanating from different characters. “So Emma must sound different from her mom, and her mom must sound different from the polar bear. I often get sounds and language by listening to others, especially my daughter and her friends, and then making an imaginative leap. I love getting into their heads.”
The really difficult part of the writing process is, for him, the required rewriting. “I find there’s real tension being true to yourself and adapting to what others like in order to make your craft work. And I found my voice is the truest and the strongest when I’m writing for kids. I feel free, and there’s nothing more wonderful for me than to see a roomful of kids laughing and having a great time. That makes me very, very happy.”
For tickets, call the Act II box office at 215-654-0200.