Acting Production

Theatrefolk Featured Play – A Box of Puppies by Billy Houck

A Box of Puppies
Written by Lindsay Price

Welcome to our Featured Play Spotlight. A Box of Puppies by Bill Houck is a collection of four short plays that all take a look the fragility and resilience of being a teenager. It reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles.

We can all relate to feeling small in a big world. The characters in A Box of Puppies share their insecurities, their frailties and their coping mechanisms with that big bad world.

This collection holds four short plays. Each are fresh, honest, and true. You know each of these characters. Perhaps they mirror your own insecurities and frailties.

Each play can be performed independently, or perform all four together for an outstanding competition piece.

Why did we publish this play?
The characters in these plays and monologues speak so clearly in the teen voice. That’s what we want for our plays. We also want characters who ask the same questions of themselves as any teen in the audience would – In every one of these plays characters ask “What’s wrong with me?” When we see our own questions verbalized by someone else, it lets us know we’re not alone in our struggles. Another important reason why we needed to publish this collection.

Let’s hear from the author!

1. Why did you write this play?

My sister is a physician. She told me school age kids were developing serious back problems because their backpacks were so heavy. I surveyed a few of my students – What did they have in their backpacks? Why did they feel a need to carry all those things around? Is it really that hard to haul all that stuff around (it is!) So I created a play that put all these different things into one backpack, carried by one overloaded kid.

Another play inspired by real life. There’s a lot of tedium in waiting for the bus. It’s amazing what young people will do to fill the void. The bit with the kid wrapped in foil who runs down the street in front of one of those traffic-calmer radar signs to figure out how fast he can go? It’s true. I had a couple of kids who did this. I have also always liked that word “diatom.”

This was inspired by a prop. When one of the first Hulk films came out (I think it was the one Ang Lee directed) there were these fun “Hulk Hands” that were sold everywhere. You slip your hands into them, then hit things. The hands roared, made smashing sounds, and said “Hulk smash!” I recommend them to anybody who is feeling stressed. They’re very therapeutic. About the same time, there was a wide ranging discussion in educational circles, especially educational theatre circles, about bullying. I thought the hands would be a great symbol for the helplessness that bullied people feel. Instead of trying to get permission from Marvel to use the name “Hulk Hands,” I changed the title to “Huge Hands.” Since then, Disney purchased Marvel, and thanks to the success of all the Avengers movies, you can still find big green hands online and at stores everywhere.

Many years ago I found myself with some free time between events at the California Thespian Festival. I pulled out a notebook and started with what had been drilled into me: Write what you know. This is probably my most personal play. I relate to the Skip. I relate to the Skip’s father and mother. I relate to Skip’s English teacher, and even that self-righteous Drama teacher. Who are all these people? They’re all me.

2. Describe the theme in one or two sentences.

Beware the burdens you place on people who only weigh 112 pounds.

Even tiny creatures are important.

There’s a ferocious courage that hides inside.

It’s a play about alcoholism, but not completely. It’s also about what we do to the creative spirit of young people.

3. What’s the most important visual for you in this play?

Little kid. Big bag.

Two kids in a big empty space.

The important thing about the hands is that Sparky really believes in them. Sparky and his Huge Hands.

This can be done entirely in a sad pool of light, but I always imagine it with flashbacks. Projections would work.

4. If you could give one piece of advice for those producing the play, what would it be?

Get the biggest, most cumbersome backpack you can find. Use real props.

Allow Robin and Dale to create their universe.

You can do this show with a huge cast. Create a world for Sparky with as much detail as possible.

This one too, is a one character play, but you can add a large chorus to fill out the other characters. It also works well as a solo piece

5. Why are these plays great for student performers?
These plays have all been written with the student performer in mind. Whenever possible, I use gender-neutral names. With very few exceptions, all the characters in all these plays could be played by anyone. That, and the flexible cast size, makes them useful for classroom use and character work. You know what I’d really like to see? It would be great if somebody put together all four of these plays and performed them under the title “A Box of Puppies“. What if all these kids went to the same school? What if all their stories intersected on one crazy day? Stranger things have happened.

Get your copy of A Box of Puppies – right here, right now!
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About the author

Lindsay Price