By Chandler David, Production Dramaturg
The life of Don Freeman is one that steadily followed the course of Corduroy’s journey. Freeman is the author of more than 20 children’s books, including the original, classic Corduroy book that inspired this play. Just as our favorite green overall-wearing bear experiences some worries before he finds his forever home, Freeman had very little security growing up in San Diego. He and his brother were raised by a strict guardian after the passing of their mother, and he found solace in drawing comics. Stories began to emerge as Freeman kept track of his life in a graphic diary through comic-character scenes of his experiences. He was even kicked out of his art class for drawing pictures of the class instead of what he was assigned to draw! Much like Freeman, Corduroy starts his story from a place of insecurity. He’s isolated and tattered on the shelves of a fancy department store amongst the shiny, new toys that take up the space around him. It is not until Lisa comes along that Corduroy gets a glimmer of hope and their friendship can blossom.
One of Freeman’s biggest ambitions was to move to New York City. In 1928, he followed that dream by hitchhiking across the country, in the spirit of Corduroy’s plucky quest to find his missing button. Freeman made a life for himself there by working in jazz clubs, but after losing his trumpet on the train, he decided that he would start making his living with his drawings. Freeman’s new-found career in visual art focused heavily on both the Broadway theatre scene and on clowning, which makes the page-to-stage translation and clowning in our show even more in line with his voice and passions.
In addition to his many children’s books, Freeman’s cartoons were drawn in the style of Social Realism, a style of visual art that was meant to depict the sociopolitical conditions of the working class in order to critique the power structures that uphold these conditions. While writing the sequel to our bear’s origin story, A Pocket for Corduroy, Freeman wrote in a letter to his editor that he wanted to “show the vast difference between the luxury of a department store as [compared to] the simple quality of life as lived by so many”. In this way, Freeman’s efforts to centralize the working class in his political cartoons certainly had an influence on his children’s literature. This juxtaposition encourages young readers to question why there is such a stark difference between Lisa’s home and the palatial department store in which Corduroy makes his leaps and bounds. The process of transitioning a play that was written for in-person performance has definitely been a journey for the folks working on this show. Much like Freeman and Corduroy, we’ve discovered new things about ourselves along the way that have inspired growth and joy!