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The Writing of Totally Teagan

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Every writer is trying to chase magic; whether the complex magical systems present in fantasy novels, or the simple magic of a window-lit room where the dust sits suspended in air. Writing is hunting for magic, and watching it grow. My short screenplay, Totally Teagan, won best short screenplay in the Los Angeles Film Awards’ December 2020 Competition. The magic which I found myself mesmerized by while writing Totally Teagan came in an unexpected form. It showed up in the skateboarding skills of an 11 year-old girl.

Sky Brown is an Olympic-level skateboarder, and yes, a kid. She’s a joy to watch. You can see the video of her attempting Tony Hawk’s Mega-Ramp on Instagram. The video shows a girl experiencing a plethora of emotions; fear, exhilaration, deep happiness, and a calm understanding of her own skill level. In the summer of 2019, when Sky’s particular brand of magic jumped into my life, I had never heard of her.

That summer I decided to spend two weeks with my parents. I live in Los Angeles, and although I love my life in L.A. I often miss the vistas and the seasons that growing up in New York’s Adirondack mountains afforded me. I flew the 3,000 miles to my hometown, and found myself looking at it with new eyes. I felt the changes as new businesses opened up, and old favorites closed. I stood in the park, breathing deeply, listening to the soft slap of the lake against the shore. I sat in the coffee shop and took in the soon-to-be high-school graduates as they gossiped and promised to stay friends when they went off to college. I felt distant; ingrained and forgotten all at once.

Two Adirondack chairs sit atop a hill, overlooking a green park, with the lake visible in the background
View of Lake Champlain from Ballard Park

I visited my alma mater. It’s a school on a hill which hosts children from kindergarten through 12th grade, and it’s where I spent 13 years of my life. As I stepped into the front lobby the smell of chalk, sneakers, and books instantly transported me back to childhood. I said hello to the administrative staff, the same people who had been there for me years before, and I walked down the hallway. I found, in an empty classroom, one of my favorite teachers prepping for his next science class. He greeted me with a huge smile, and asked if I’d like to take a walk.

We wandered down to the grassy expanse behind the school where the softball field is placed. He showed me a project that he had been working on with his science classes. Nestled into the tall grasses behind the scoreboard was a lean-to. It was built with local logs which were brought in by horses. I smiled in unabashed joy. I had always loved his classes for this reason. He constantly discovered kinetic ways to teach concepts. In Richard Louv’s beautiful book, Last Child in the Woods, Louv states:

In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy; a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.

This lean-to reminded me how this science teacher had allowed us that freedom. Soon we were talking away about his teaching philosophy, and the importance of outdoor spaces.

It was with that conversation fresh in my mind that I arrived home to find the 5 o’clock news on my mother’s TV. There, in all of her incredible skill and 11 year-old glory, was Sky Brown. I was in awe. Her grace was palpable as she skated half-pipes and bowls, her small body flipping through the California air. As I stood, staring in wonder at this incredibly talented athlete all I could think was, “I need to write a musical about her.”

So it began. In a matter of days I had a 16 page script exploring the life of a tween-age skateboarder, Teagan, as she tried to get a scholarship to private school. Teagan achieves her goal by showing how skateboarding connects to kinetic learning, all while singing about her experiences. I sent the script to my friend and musical collaborator, Zoë Lustri, and she took my rough verses and turned them into musical demos. However, my time in the woods was coming to a close.

I packed myself up and flew back to Los Angeles. I tucked the script away for a later date, or, if I’m being honest, to be forgotten and unfinished like so many of my scripts. Then, the big C-word hit. COVID-19 swept through the world, and I found myself, like so many others, locked in a small apartment, fearing the outside world.

I bought myself an AeroGarden in an attempt to bring nature to me. I sobbed when my fiancé and I found an empty park and were able to have a picnic. I found myself realizing on a deep and profound level my own association with the outdoors. Then, Sky Brown released the video of her on Tony Hawk’s Mega ramp, and I was back in Teagan’s world.

I pulled out the script which I had placed in a forgotten folder. The year had been hard, to say the least, and I needed a win. I decided to create that win for myself by finishing this script. It needed to be shorter, more concise, and I wanted more of the story to happen outdoors. I wanted Teagan, even in her city life, to find ways to exist outside. I wanted a short film which, in a subtle way, gave a nod to Louv’s fight against what he describes as Nature Deficit Disorder. I cut the 16 pages down to seven, and took a look at the adventurous, bold, and intelligent young girl I had written. I loved her, and with that love, I knew the script was done.

Alyssa Carroll is a comedic director with a deep passion for highlighting life’s inherent joy. Informed by her tiny-town upbringing, Alyssa’s style of storytelling is intimate and unafraid of being a bit wacky. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Emerson College, and from there moved out to Los Angeles, CA where she now lives and works.

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