Jennifer Kirkeby — Wednesday Worthy

It is an absolute joy to me to have a guest post today from Jennifer Kirkeby. Jennifer is a fellow member of the 12 x 12 picture book challenge, and the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group, and I am so grateful that because of these groups I have come to know Jennifer, at least a bit. She’s a multi-faceted person, an actress, playwright, dancer, choreographer, director… the list goes on.

Most recently, she brought the wonderful picture book Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney to the stage. It had a successful run at Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, Minnesota, and has been on the road, as well. In their four-week run they played to about 22,000 people!


Yesterday, you had a sneak preview of the production through photographs. Today you get to read the story of how the book went from page to stage, straight from the llama’s mouth. Click for more…

Adapting LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA for the Stage

by Jennifer Kirkeby

First of all, thank you Beth for inviting me to be a part of “Behind the Scenes” month!

I’ve always thought that in order to discover our true passion, we need only look back and see what we loved to do as a child. I’m not talking about digging up worms, giving your dog a Mohawk, or putting soap on your little brother’s toothbrush, but rather, what did you LOVE to do?

I loved dance, music and theater. I was adapting stories into plays, performing and directing them on our front porch when I was five years old. My poor younger brother Tom was always cast as Toto to my Dorothy, a step brother to my Cinderella, or a dying pirate whom I would wave to as I flew over him as Peter Pan. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t return my emails …

Flash forward. As an adult, I’m still doing the same things. My brother is probably glad I moved across the country so there is no chance of him being dragged onto the stage at this point.

My most recent endeavor was adapting and performing in Anna Dewdney’s LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA for Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins , MN .

Anna Dewdney & Jennifer Kirkeby

The first step in adapting a play, or in this case, a musical, is getting the rights to do so through the Permissions Manager of the book’s publisher. That can take several months to a year. Next, we have an initial meeting which occurs almost a year prior to the show’s debut. At that time, Sandy Boren-Barrett, the Artistic Director, Bruce Rowan, Director of New Play Development, Shirley Mier, Composer, and I (Playwright, Lyricist), discuss dates, general concept, how large the cast will be, how many adults will be in the cast, overall feel of the show, costumes, etc.

Sandy had the idea to have six Baby Llamas and six Mama Llamas in the show. Each family would have their own bedtime rituals and distinct interests. Stages Theatre Company holds about 740 people, and we knew much of the audience would be very young children. We wanted them to be well represented onstage so they could be sure to relate to one or more of the characters.

Next, I outlined the story from Anna’s book. The easy part of doing an adaptation is that I already know the beginning, middle and end of the story. Once those anchors are in place, I unleash my imagination and think about what those Baby Llamas are thinking while they are waiting for their Mamas.

Composer Shirley Mier and I have adapted six musicals together, so we are able to do much of our work online. The songs we decided to write were the opening number: I DON’T WANT TO GO TO BED, the bedtime song: LLAMA LULLABY, ALL ALONE (when the baby llamas are sad their mamas are gone), THE HUMMING SONG (Did you know llamas really do hum to communicate?), WHAT IS MAMA LLAMA DOING?, STOMP AND POUT, JUMP AND SHOUT, and the finale, LLAMA LULLABY.

All the Baby Llamas. Set design by Joe Stanley
Children have a much different perception of time than adults do. This play is told from the child’s perspective and probably spans about ten minutes real time. But we all know that to a child who is waiting for their mom or dad to check on them, it feels like a lifetime.

So during this time of waiting, the Baby Llamas imagine what their Mamas are doing.

One of the Mamas loves to clean, and to be efficient, she uses a scooter to travel. In the imagination scene, her daughter sees her Mama having joined the Cirque de Llama as a clown. Another Baby Llama imagines that her pregnant Mama who loves watching “Are You Smarter Than A Llama?” gets on the show and shares how she will soon be having ten more baby llamas.

Eventually the Baby Llamas “start boo hoo-ing”. And then the cast sang and danced to the fantastic rock and roll number: STOMP AND POUT, JUMP AND SHOUT.

Stomp and pout! Jump and Shout!


This was a crowd favorite. Afterward, the Mamas run up to their Baby Llamas’ rooms, calm them down and say goodnight for the final time.

I also played one of the Mama Llamas. This was ideal because there are always discoveries made during the run of a show, especially with a brand new one. I was right there to update and make changes as needed. Plus it was a fantastic time!

Some backstage fun. As adults, the Mama Llamas are expected to be role models to the younger people in the show. But mishaps occur. During one show, the “pregnant” Mama Llama was trying to change out of her huge pregnancy suit in the dark, fell over and was run into by a Mama on a scooter. (Nobody was hurt.) I almost tripped over both of them on my way to get ready for the finale. We all laughed as quietly as possible. I wish I had a picture of that to share!

Here is a photo that shows why I do what I do. Come to think of it, adorable William reminds me of my brother Tom all those years ago. Ah, the circle of life!

Jennifer as Mama Llama with young fan, William
 This is from a recent blog by Norma M. Davis for

William’s First Trip to Stages Theatre

By Nora M. Davis

It was William’s first trip to Stages Theatre.  Just four years old my little neighbor has a great imagination, an inquisitive nature, and boundless energy  Mom & Dad have read to him since he was born – but this time the characters would come alive.  How would William react to Stages Theatre production of Llama Llama Red Pajama?


… … For the complete blog post, come back to this blog tomorrow!

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Beth here. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for sharing so delightfully the process of bringing alive the much loved characters of Baby Llama and Mama Llama — if you listen closely, I’m sure you can hear all my readers rising in a rousing ovation.
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Jennifer Kirkeby is a published playwright, actress and teaching artist. Her adaptation of Ludwig Bemelmans’ MADELINE’S CHRISTMAS (Dramatic Publishing Company) has been performed in over fifty theatres nationwide. Her adaptation of ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS and THE FROG PRINCE is currently being published by Dramatic Publishing Company.
Visit Jennifer’s blog:
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All photos are by Bruce Challgren of Used by permission. Please do not copy.

19 thoughts on “Jennifer Kirkeby — Wednesday Worthy”

  1. What a great story! Thank you so much, Beth and Jennifer. It was so interesting to hear about the process of turning a book into a stage production. I can’t believe you had to do the songs too – you must be very musical, Jennifer – not everyone can write music and lyrics! I wish I’d gotten to see it!

    1. Thanks, Susanna! About the songs, Jennifer wrote the lyrics, but I believe someone else wrote the music. Jennifer is, indeed, very talented!

    2. Thank you, Susanna and Beth. I have a great composer by the name of Shirley Mier. We have several meetings as we write a show, but the bulk of our collaboration is by computer which is great!

  2. Wow, I so enjoyed this. Thank you Jennifer and Beth, for sharing your shared passion. So much talent AND energy! Loved the photos!

  3. What great interview and story! I had fun with it. It reminded me ot the many child productions I saw with my daughter, put on by companies like this at the theater. Such a bright and beautiful production. I enjoyed hearing about the process from book to screenplay and stage. Thank you Beth and Jennifer. Such a great interview! Very different for us!

      1. Thank you for your feedback, Patricia! Beth is so wonderful to bring us all the different elements of the arts. I really believe that they all strengthen us as people and as writers.

      1. Thanks Jennifer! Yes, the set was so much fun. I was a little nervous when we first opened as far as keeping the young ones in the audience engaged, but between the music, dancing, costumes, etc. we were able to! It was fun to see the children’s reactions to us afterwards in the receiving line.

  4. Interesting post. Loved the pictures and your bringing story from page to stage. I love anything todo with behind the scenes. I am not a stage person,(ie being on stage), but do love the organisation/directing perspective.

  5. Pingback: Waiting in the Wings — From Children’s Books to Musicals

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