Pirates swashbuckle the Queen City

by Alison Woo

For both children and adults, the life of a pirate is seemingly an enviable one. Ideally there are no bills, no bosses and no teeth to brush. It’s easy to see how that charming notion became the best-selling children’s picture book series, “How I Became a Pirate” by South Carolina author Melinda Long.

Jeremy Shane, left, and Sam Faulkner star in Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s “How I Became a Pirate.” The play begins Friday, Jan. 21, and continues through Feb. 6 at the McColl Family Theatre in Charlotte.

This week, the pirates come off the page and take to the stage at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

Sixth-grader Sam Faulkner plays the role of Jeremy Jacob, a young boy who joins a pirate crew. They teach him how to swab the deck while he tries to teach them how to play soccer and say “please” and “thank you.” The books have charmed and delighted children worldwide.

“When I was a kid, I was fascinated with pirates,” said Long, the author, from her home in Greenville, S.C. She is scheduled to appear in Charlotte on the opening night of the play – Friday, Jan. 21. “I used to go back in the backyard and bury my mother’s earrings and I would draw treasure maps. Everything about pirates is fun!”

Long says a conversation with a local bookseller, who told her there was only one book on pirates for kids, inspired her to pen her own story. She wrote “How I Became a Pirate” in 1997 and was blessed as her book came out just a few months after the first installment of the blockbuster movie series “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The books took off and shortly thereafter Long left her job as a full-time elementary school teacher to devote her time to writing and outreach in schools.

The most popular questions kids have for her at her numerous readings in elementary schools still surprise her.

“The kids always want to know why my pirates don’t carry guns but I never thought of the violence as part of it,” she said. “They want to know what it is about pirates that make them so alien to normal life. And most of all they want to know if pirates are real.”

Long likes to stress to youngsters that she’s been writing since she was 6. “I always start my presentations by asking kids how old they think I was when I started just so they can understand that writing is something they can do right now,” Long said.

Playrights Alyn Cardarelli and Steve Goers adapted the book to the stage and created the musical aimed at children ages 5 and up. Long is excited to see how it translates to the stage.

“It’s really cool because they’re staying true to the story line and they’re adding things within the story line to fill out the characters more than I imagined,” she said. “On the stage, each one of those pirates comes to life, and they have so many characteristics. I can’t wait to see if I can recognize them all.”

The author believes that the audience will learn that while being a pirate seems like a life of freedom, it’s the ties that bind that’s the real treasure in life.

“Jeremy learns that a pirate’s life is like a perpetual snow day. It can be fun at first, but can get boring. The things he missed the most were just regular every day stuff like being tucked into bed, a goodnight kiss and being with friends.”

Want to go?
Author Melinda Long will be at opening night on Friday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. “How I Became a Pirate” will run until Feb. 6.  For tickets to the productions, call the Children’s Theatre Box Office at 704-973-2828 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday) or visit www.ctcharlotte.org.

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