I was ten years old when my childhood dream came true.
Already a three year veteran of the Omaha, Nebraska community theatre scene, I had landed the role of Max in the Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater world premiere musical version of Where the Wild Things Are. It was my absolute, one hundred percent, hands down favorite book of all time. And now I got to play its protagonist.
Aside from the awesomeness that came along with doing a show at “The Gifford” (I got to miss half a day every Wednesday during the run for matinees), I felt like I got closer to my childhood idol, Maurice Sendak, than anyone else. I felt elevated and privileged.
Then, two years later, my second dream came true.
I got cast in the Omaha Jewish Community Center’s production of Really Rosie, a musical based on Maurice Sendak’s book about his childhood in Brooklyn, with music by Carole King. If Wild Things was the Cats of Sendak book-to-stage adaptations, I felt like Really Rosie was the Uncle Vanya. I played Johnny, the introverted and book smart sensitive kid who wore a bow tie and took life so seriously, it almost seemed like he was doing a bit. And here I was, a kid in junior high who wore dress clothes to school and carried a briefcase… needless to say, I thought Sendak had written the character about me.
Maurice Sendak wrote stories about children, but that wasn't what made his work so kid-friendly. He appealed to kids because he didn’t treat any of the children like children. He was just writing about people. People with lots of quirks and issues and problems. It just so happened that those people were young.
In his later years, Mr. Sendak mentioned in interviews that he didn’t like to go to book signings. Some people interpreted this to mean that he didn't particularly like children. That wasn’t true, though. He said in an interview toward the end of his life that he didn’t like doing book signings because he felt he scared the children. That the kids only knew him through his work, and that some big, scary, old man had nothing to do with the wonderous creatures and incredible characters that he created. He wanted his writing and illustrations to live in the imaginations of his readers.
But I think that, just like the big and scary monsters in Where the Wild Things Are, Mr. Sendak was a softy on the inside. In the end, it turns out, the monsters are just like Max. They’ve got quirks and issues and problems too. Just like all of us.
I’m going to miss you, Mr. Sendak. Thanks for all of your amazing work.