This year I spent a good deal of time working on an adaptation of a play originally written in 1878. It was a challenging and rewarding experience. The show is now up and running, and audiences seem to be enjoying the heck out of it. At least, they tell me they enjoy it. Who knows?
Anyway, here are a few scattered thoughts on the writing process:
- One of the hardest things I find with doing these adaptations is finding the author’s voice. It’s one thing to write a work of your own, but it’s an entirely different situation having to assume the voice of someone else. I’d say 50% of the dialogue in the show is original to the script, and the other 50% has been altered to some degree, or in many instances written entirely from scratch. The trick is making these different sections blend seamlessly into each other. Word choice, tempo, the style of imagery, the flow of the dialogue – it’s imperative that they match up. And if they don’t, it sticks out like a sore thumb. When I’m working on original pieces, I have free reign over my words. I want to put my stamp on the work. I can build worlds and create my own characters and move them in whatever ways I like. But with this, I have to leave myself at the door.
- The nice thing about an adaptation is that you can sometimes get away with shoving a square peg into a round hole. For example: We are running two shows together in rotating repertory. For the first show, we required actors of certain types and vocal parts. For the second show (the adaptation) the actors did not match up exactly with the roles we needed to fill. So, I changed a character here, deleted others, telescoped two roles into one, and viola! The same cast now works for both shows. Which brings me to another point:
- Producability. Spellcheck is telling me that’s not a word, but believe me, IT IS. Plays have to actually be PERFORMED. It’s one thing to write a play, another thing entirely to get it up on its feet and make it work. A play with shipwrecks and earthquakes and dwarves and horses and epic scope may read well, but will be impossible to produce. Well, not impossible, but difficult. My ideal criteria for production is this: 12 or less actors, 3 or less sets, runs under 2 hours, and family friendly. Of course, this is just an ideal. It’s not uncommon for us to do longer shows with a ton of sets, but the practical and economic realities of running a theater make it difficult. Which brings me back to the adaptation – If something doesn’t work, I can just write it out. If we don’t have room for a whole new setting, I can just re-write a scene into a different location. It’s wonderful.
Anyway, those are just a few thoughts. I’m sure there’s plenty of room to expand on any of those points, but maybe I’ll save that for another post.
Below, a few shots from the show. I snuck a monkey into one of them for my dad. He misses the monkey pictures.