Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Literary Adaptations On and Off-Broadway

This season there seems to be an influx of literary adaptations – not just at The New Victory, but all across town. Elevator Repair Service is just winding up a run of The Select at NYTW. War Horse is on an unlimited gallop over at Lincoln Center Theater. Rebecca (based on the Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier) heads to Broadway in the spring and will join its fellow literary adaptations, Phantom of the Opera and Wicked. (Easy to forget they are based on books, right?) Despite its popularity, adapting books for the stage – and especially classic and beloved literature – is extremely difficult and takes a great deal of time. Read about the best and the more challenging parts on tackling classics for the stage from the men and women with experience.

Rick Cummins, The Little Prince
Photo: Alexsey Photography
The guiding line into creating this work was to find ways to make the narrative and very episodic format of the original book come alive on stage. The original book could not exist on stage because it lacked dramatic tension and a writing style to give actors the...dialogue of live drama.
We [John Scoullar and I] decided that we would create the task of the Aviator actually simulating the drawings as part of the action, as they coordinated exactly with an off-stage sketch artist rendering the drawings on a projector. This concept became central to the play as it represented his learning to draw again, just as he did when the grownups squelched his imaginative drawings at age six. The effect of his self-censoring from that age was to keep his emotions suppressed, which in turn made him less able to socialize and develop relationships with other people. By having the Little Prince spur him on to have confidence in his drawing, we were able to make this adaptation clearly about the Aviator.
Michael KunzeRebecca
What makes me nervous is not the fact that the show is being produced in another country, but to meet the expectations of the people who treasure Rebecca, the novel, have when they come to the show. If we get the feeling that we kept the atmosphere of the book and that we stayed true to the characters, then I am already very happy. They must not expect that they'll see the book on stage, that's not possible.
… to win over the British audience will be very difficult - especially if you come from continental Europe and tell them to watch the dramatization of one of their literary treasures. On the other hand, I believe a book like that belongs to the whole world, and if it's done respectfully, it can also be done by people who are not English (Michael Kunze is German). -Broadway World West End, October 2009
Laura EasonThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Photo: Charles Erickson
When making original work, it’s very much about your own voice as a writer. As an adapter, you’re trying to match the voice of the source text. In adaptation there is always a certain level of invention in the transition from page to stage. You always have to make some stuff up. The parts that you make up have to fit side by side with the source material in a way that’s seamless. So trying to make up dialogue written by one of the most lauded and loved writers in the history of the English language is a daunting challenge.
On matching the voices of different writers:
It’s really trying to get a sense of the way the characters speak — the rhythm, the pace, the word choices. With adaptations, I really dig into the way the authors construct characters. I think a real key into writers is their sense of humor, and I think that Dickens and Twain are hysterically funny. -Louisville Courier-Journal, October 2011
 Nick Stafford, War Horse
Photo: Paul Kolnik
Adapting always feels easier than making a story up – at the outset, anyway. But then I've never found a story that I could just plonk down in another medium and tweak a bit. Adaptations end up being as difficult as original work. To start with, I fillet the spine of the story out and try to see what turns there are in it. -IdeasMag, December 2011
On changing the point of view from Joey to Albert: 
When I told people that I was writing a play about World War I, a boy and a horse, which would be played by a puppet, they looked at me like I was mad," Stafford recalled. As he wrote, he left a stripe down the middle of each page that would be filled in with the puppet's actions — "Joey is scared, Joey is hungry, Joey wants to run away." -LA Times, April 2011
Winnie Holzman, Wicked
The 1939 movie [The Wizard of Oz] is a great American movie. Maybe our greatest America movie . Or at least in our Top 5. For people in my generation, there is so much love for it. We watched it growing up, every year. Stephen [Schwartz] and I had to pay it homage. It's just too important a cultural artifact to make light of. We couldn't act as if the movie couldn't matter. We treated the movie as if it were absolutely real. We asked: What happened when the camera just stopped rolling; what was the back story? As for the original Baum story, the children's story, it's similar, although not as indelibly printed in our minds as the brilliant movie. The other element, Gregory's book, was what we had the rights to. There were certain things that were just so delightful, like Galinda and Elphaba meeting in college. That's an amazing, funny idea. What happened to them? How did they end up on opposite sides? Did they they end up on opposite sides? Is that really the truth? How do you know what the truth is? Do you accept it from a power source, or do you find your own answers?
… You don't know everything ahead of time. Then it's not fun, not a creative process. You discover it along the way. I mean, we wrote countless drafts. What started to happen: The show was telling us what it wanted to be, not be too precious. -Austin 360, August 2009

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