We’ll Be With Adaptation All Year Long

I’m really glad for Shirley’s last posting — Don’t you wish you could see that adaptation of ANTIGONE too? I know I do — It’s one of those holes in my theater education, so let me play catch up and read the bugger. And in the process, discover the myriad ways of setting and resetting the Antigone tale (let’s not forget A.R. Gurney’s Another Antigone with, if I’m not mistaken, a theme that’d be rather resonant for Theater J, as well — so here’s a call-out to anyone who wants to sell us on a production concept).

What isn’t an adaptation? We overhear a conversation and it triggers an idea for a scene; we’ve adapted reality and created a new dramatic fiction. We read a book of testimonies of people in war; about Good People in an Evil Time; it inspires a fictional play about the Balkans that we’ll be producing this fall; a play with the exacting feel of reality based on beautiful research; an original play that might as well be an adaptation, but is it technically?  In conjunction with that play, HONEY BROWN EYES will inspire a reading and discussion series called “Ethics and War.” It’ll feature two works adapted from real life events. One a House Committee hearing on Water-boarding; that testimony will be re-enacted on stage. The other play, a dramatic adaptation of the action in Catonsville, MD on May 17, 1968, when nine men and women entered the Selective Service Offices and removed several hundred draft records, burning them with homemade napalm in protest against the war in Vietnam. The nine were arrested and, in a highly publicized trial, sentenced to jail. Then a play was written by one of the members of the group; a priest, Father Daniel Berrigan. And then his play was further adapted by the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles to become a leaner, meaner text and then a celebrated cultural event.

Adapting war stories. We’ll be hovering around that enterprise all fall.

And it will continue in the winter. We grow up reading stories by the greatest Yiddish author of all time; then one of our greatest stage actors and troubadours decides to become that author and put his stories on stage in living out the last years of Sholom Aleichem’s life in America. That’s what we’ll be rehearsing in two weeks when Theodore Bikel comes into town for a week of workshopping SHOLOM ALEICHEM: LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS. We’ll return to unveil the world premiere of the work in December.

ALI SALEM. THE SEAGULL. BORN GUILTY. The tale of Peter Sichrovsky, Joerg Haider and the Adapter who got sucked into their bizarre relationship in the play PETER AND THE WOLF (which we’re now calling THE WOLF IN PETER…) I’ve been around adaptation a lot in my writing life. And yet I know of precious few guiding principles or rules to help make the adapter’s charge a clear one. Breathe life. Don’t be slavish. Honor the source material but don’t ossify it. Have a healthy disrespect. But let that inform an abiding and deeper fundamental respect for the source. Understand the need to have material renegotiated for the stage; compressed; essentialized; telescoped. At the same time, strive for an authenticity in recapturing detail, voice, integrity of character. I’ll be writing adaptations. Producing adaptations. Teaching adaptations. And seeing them this year — because there’s a lot to see in DC this fall. Including…Maria/Stuart by Jason Grote (based on Friedrich Schiller’s tale of warring queens); How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Karen Zacarías (based on the novel by Julia Alvarez); 1984 based on the book by George Orwell
adapted by Christopher Gallu; Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan (writer of the award-winning films The Queen and The Last King of Scotland; adaptations all); and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest adapted by Dale Wasserman based on the novel by Ken Kesey.

Between Blake Robison at Round House, and Karen Zacarias, and Derek Goldman at Georgetown we’ve got an amazing concentration of practitioners of adaptation in this community — people who do them, and who think about them too. Let’s learn from them this year.  And from many others too.  We’ll share a ton of tales–ideas, breakthroughs, stumbles, and bumbles–along the way.

Thanks for getting the subject started here, Shirley.


One thought on “We’ll Be With Adaptation All Year Long

  1. “Breathe life. Don’t be slavish. Honor the source material but don’t ossify it. Have a healthy disrespect. But let that inform an abiding and deeper fundamental respect for the source.”

    Ari, I think this is the best set of guidelines for adaptation that I have come across. Perhaps we can engage you are a copy writer for our newsletters up here in Bethesda. We opened GARCIA GIRLS last night with Julia Alvarez (the novelist) in attendance, and she was very pleased with the new form as well as Karen’s forays into new scenes and storytelling. I look forward to DC’s adaptation-polooza this year!

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