Title: The Forest
I was first told this story by Alberto José Zerpa-Pita, a close friend and actor/playwright, who is writing a play based on this plotline.
E. is a transgender boy who leaves home, escaping a vague but unaccepting situation. He enters the woods behind his house where he meets a woodland spirit, a type of trickster god who helps the boy build a small habitat. The woodland spirit teaches E. lessons about self-discovery and self-acceptance. This occurs through conversations and tasks that the spirit asks E. to follow. After accomplishing these tasks, E. is led by the woodland spirit out of the forest to a different town, one full of other queer people. The boy thanks the spirit as they return back to the forest, bound to lead other lost trans people to this town but never leave the forest entirely.
Alberto told me this story in the last days of 2018, when he last came to visit in Champaign, IL. He was working on this play at the time for a playwriting class yet has not finished it. The play is inspired by “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett, with some absurdist dialogue between the spirit and the boy. Alberto was in a production of Beckett’s play which I saw sometime in 2015-2016. My adaptation of the story is heavily influenced by Guillermo Del Toro’s film “Pan’s Labyrinth” in which a girl living through the Spanish Civil War is led by the Greek god Pan through a maze and different tasks in hopes of reaching a magical world beyond this one. I find that movie to be a great distillation of stories like “Alice in Wonderland” and trickster mythologies, adding another layer of archetypal story elements from different cultures. I’ve been given permission by Alberto to adapt his original synopsis, especially because I am the inspiration for the forest spirit who was there to help during his own self-discovery period.
There is a version of this story that could be told to children (5-12 years old) during a library’s story time due to the folktale structure it utilizes. The character could be around their age and the tasks would be adapted to activities such as trying on clothes and other forms of self-expression. I also can see this story being adapted in a way that is more geared towards teenagers and adults at a library for a Pride month even (LGBTQIA+ programming in general) or a professional storytelling event. Changing the age of the protagonist to match the general audience age can explore different queer issues such as coming out, houselessness, the importance of queer community, and the influence queer elders have on younger generations.
I want to explore what the story could look like if I follow the different ideas proposed above. For children I might try to have a spooky voice for the forest spirit that becomes more tender as they get to know E. Voices are not a strong skill of mine but I’m willing to experiment for this story. Props for each one of the tasks could help children better visualize what E. is going through. This story has a special place in my heart because of what it represents for me and Alberto, which I think will come across in the last scene where E. enters the new town and says goodbye to the forest spirit. I want the tone to be somewhat mysterious but reassuring that the forest spirit is more helpful than trouble. For teenagers and adults, I would not include voices or props, focusing more on the conversations between E. and the spirit than the other elements of the story.