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Seven theater companies, including Oregon Children's Theatre, partner to bring popular kids' story to local stage

COURTESY: OWEN CAREY/OCT - Judy Moody, played by Grace Malloy, and Stink (Ethan Thompson) race against rivals, encountering Scurvy Sam (played by Jared Mack), to find treasure in the Oregon Children's Theatre's 'Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt,' Oct. 21-Nov. 19. It's the first staging of a Judy Moody story.Not one, not two, but seven companies came together to try to get a "Judy Moody" play to a stage near you — or seven stages, as it'll be in the coming months as crowds flock to see the story of young adventurer Judy and her brother, Stink.

Included was Oregon Children's Theatre, which will be the first company to put on "Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt," Oct. 21-Nov. 19, as it kicks off its 30th anniversary season. Although there has been a "Judy Moody" movie made, it'll be the first time one of the Megan McDonald stories plays out on stage. It's been adapted by playwright Allison Gregory.

It took the co-commissioning of seven children's theater companies to be able to afford to purchase the rights for the show; the publisher/author and playwright will receive royalties from seven different companies, but it's just one upfront cost to secure the rights. They are: OCT, Adventure Theatre (Glen Echo, Maryland), Bay Area Children's Theatre, Children's Theatre of Charlotte, First Stage Children's Theatre (Milwaukee), Orlando Repertory Theatre and The Rose Theatre (Omaha, Nebraska).

"It's exciting," says Stan Foote, OCT artistic director and stage director for "Judy Moody & Stink."

"This is huge, this means we can be competitive for bigger titles, and get stuff before movies."

Oregon Children's Theatre has worked with other companies before. But seven?

"It was so fun and smooth," Foote says. "We weren't afraid of each other. When all the artistic directors got into one room for a workshop, you got seven different areas of expertise adding to the common cause: 'Let's write the best play we can.' It turned out to be a really fun process. We agreed to respect ideas and each other and fight for each other ... The playwright writes the play, and she gets to make decisions.

"It's a big step forward for the field. The idea that we're not in competition nationally, that we don't compete for anything and that we're rolling in a world premiere ... there are so many positives rather than all this 'I' stuff. It's 'we.'"

And, Foote adds, "we don't think it's been done to this scale by adult companies. It's a template for others to follow."

The "Judy Moody" book series has sold more than 22 million copies in print and been translated into 26 languages worldwide. The audience is, obviously, mostly a young one. For many, it's their first experience with a chapter book.

In the "Mad Treasure Hunt" story, Judy and Stink set sail on a nautical adventure to find Cap'n Weevil's secret pirate treasure, but they'll have to race swashbuckling rivals Tall Boy and Smart Girl to see who will be the first to find the gold.

"Judy Moody is a compelling character and a great fit for the stage," Gregory says. "She activates the world around her. From her dogged determination (which frequently looks like impulsivity), to her scrappy resourcefulness, she engages other characters, and us, to root for her."

COURTESY: OWEN CAREY/OCT - Grace Malloy and Ethan Thompson, starring in the upcoming 'Judy Moody' play, have been part of Oregon Children's Theatre for many years.All the companies will do their own individual productions.

At Oregon Children's Theatre, the cast features Grace Malloy as Judy Moody and Ethan Thompson as Stink.

"Ethan was on stage when he was 6 years old, as a baby spider in 'Charlotte's Web.' He's 11," Foote says.

"Grace is in our Young Professionals Program. She's 15. She was in 'Billy Elliot' (with Pixie Dust Productions). She was in 'Pinkalicious' with me. She's so sweet. All those things with Judy being moody are just normal things kids this age go through."

Foote really enjoys the "Judy Moody" books, which he admits to doing "a quick read" of.

"I like that these are contemporary kids, feels like not another era. I like parenting styles; they don't buy into the moodiness, they just flow with it," he says. "They're not encouraging this behavior, but finding ways to raise a good child. They are funny. They are a fun family. They have real life adventures."

Meanwhile, McDonald has been working with the artistic directors. She won't be coming to Portland, but she has been in touch with Foote. Any time the script is changed McDonald is informed.

As for Gregory, Foote says: "She's been so good to work with, especially with seven artistic directors and seven points of view, she's taking that all in and filtering it ... She's working on this (Portland) production specifically, then after Portland the final script is approved by Megan McDonald. This one is the test."

"Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt" stages at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 21-Nov. 19, at Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway. Tickets are $18-$32 for adults and $14-$28 for children. For more: www.octc.org.

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