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Marston’s book to be adapted into play for Sackets Harbor

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SACKETS HARBOR — Playwright is not part of Hope I. Marston’s repertoire but she has agreed to allow one of her historical novels for young readers to be adapted into a play.

The Black River author declined transforming her book “Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey – The War of 1812” for stage performance when Terrie Nelson, a member of the Sackets Harbor Historical Society, made the request. But Mrs. Marston agreed to allow the adaptation.

Craig S. Thornton of Watertown, will do the actual rewrite. In 2011, Mr. Thornton helped to script the play “In My Shoes,” which told stories of students at Indian River Central School and how they were affected by having parents as deployed soldiers.

“The Powder Monkey,” the first self-published book by Mrs. Marston, concerns Rankin McMullin, 11, who joins the warship Oneida to fight the British and end laws that force New York farmers to smuggle their potash across Lake Ontario. His job is to carry gunpowder.

“For 35 years, the Sackets Harbor Historical Society has celebrated and preserved our area’s heritage through education in advocacy,” Ms. Nelson said. “We hope to bring to stage the story of a boy who lived in our village 200 years ago and have the audience experience firsthand how a boy and his community prepare for war.”

Once the play is scripted, tentatively there are plans to have it performed in the spring at Sackets Harbor Central School and then have another production at Lake Ontario Playhouse in Sackets Harbor in the fall, Mrs. Marston said.

Funding for the project will come in part from a Public Art Fellowship grant through the St. Lawrence County Arts Council.

Mrs. Marston and Mr. Thornton plan to create an educational package to include the book, the play script and a study manual.

The author, who has written 34 books including the “My Little Book of ... ” picture book series, is excited about the project.

“It is something different,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed of winning the Newbery and I’ve been in the running for the Charlotte but I never would have thought my 34th book would become a play — this is my Pulitzer Prize.”

Mr. Thornton has been writing plays for more than 20 years with ones produced in New York City, Los Angeles, Kenosha, Wis., and throughout New York state.

The award-winning playwright studied at the American Film Institute, Los Angeles, and received a bachelor of fine arts degree at New York University and a master of fine arts degree at Goddard College in Vermont.

His first professional play was produced in New York City at the Village Theater in 1990.

Mrs. Marston is pleased local people have embraced her story.

“I wanted the Sackets Harbor people to like my book. It will be a real affirmation to see it on stage,” Mrs. Marston said. The Pennsylvania native noted although she is not from New York state, it seems she has captured a piece of state history.

She said she will be interested to see how the book is staged and how her ideas come across to the playwright.

“I can’t wait to see the book come to life,” she said. “Writing is very lonely but watching the play, I will be able to experience the book with the audience.”

Mr. Thornton said he wants to inform children “that kids have always had an active part of making history.”

“The play will start with a classroom of students who are reluctant to study history, because they think it is boring and it only involved adults,” he said. “But when they begin to read ‘Powder Monkey’ they realize differently, and then by some theatrical magic trick the students in the classroom become characters in the story as the play unfolds back in the War of 1812.”

The playwright said he is excited about the collaboration with Mrs. Marston and the Sackets Harbor Historical Society.

“I also think an artist should always be contributing to the community they live in, and I feel this is a great example of a community project that will not only be enjoyed here, but possibly have a life outside of Jefferson County, illuminating the War of 1812 experience for children in other parts of the country,” Mr. Thornton said.

Mrs. Marston is working on another middle school-level historical novel that sprang from her writing a history of Pulaski. The book deals with the journey of a family from western Vermont across the frozen Hudson River and eventually to Fishville (Pulaski) and the adventures of a young girl along the way.

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