Anytime someone says the phrase “The book was better,” they’re probably referring to a related movie adaptation. It’s the debate of the ages: Book nerds and moviegoers constantly clash over the two. Yet there’s a whole body of adaptations that no one seems to be talking about.–literature to play the adaptation. Despite the fact that some of the most famous theater productions of all time are based on books – “WretchedOr ‘Wicked’, anyone? – the partnership between literature and theater has gone a little unnoticed.
BareStage, the drama organization of UC Berkeley’s campus, offers two book-to-play adaptations during its current season. He set up the adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984” in October and will end his season with “Carrie,” based on the Stephen King novel, next semester.
Off-campus, Aurora Theater is in the middle of its series of “Everything is illuminated”- a play based on the eponymous novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. And Central Works recently closed its series of “Chekhov district 6”Based on a short story by Anton Chekhov.
In the case of “Everything is Illuminated,” a complex novel animated by a surreal tone, the scene may provide a more suitable atmosphere. The story follows Jonathan, a young Jewish man, as he travels to Ukraine to explore the past of his grandfather, who spent time there during World War II, with the help of two tour guides. The tour guides have a mad dog who runs into Jonathan.
The film adaptation of this book, of course, uses a real dog. Aurora’s stage production does not; instead, they opted for sound effects and compelling acting. Director Tom Ross, who is also the artistic director of Aurora, found this choice in keeping with the tone of the book.
“It’s part of the fun of dramatization to try to figure out how these realistic things happen on stage in a more abstract way,” Ross said in an interview with The Daily Californian.
The stage, like literature, favors themes and characters over movement and aesthetics. This allows the playing pieces to really bring the heart of a book to its center. A significant part of “Everything is Illumined” consists of the author’s distinct themes and styles, which connect with larger elements of the novel. Ross discovered that the scene allowed him to visually convey the author’s style.
“I tried to use expressionism to translate the magical realism of the writer,” Ross said. “It’s his aesthetic transformed into a stage form.”
Besides the thematic and stylistic advantages of the stage, there is a logistical reason for theater companies to invest in adaptations of the book to the stage.
Central Works, which only produces world premieres, has made dozens of adaptations, the most recent being “Chekhov’s Ward 6”. Gary Graves, who directed the play and also wrote the adaptation of the short story, spoke about the practical reasons for turning to literature.
“Part of it is about finding a point of connection with a new audience,” Graves said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “If a piece is new, people have no understanding or connection to it. So, with “Chekhov’s 6 district”, for example, Chekhov is the connecting people. Maybe people have heard the name or read the story.
This connection point also works with the film. But the theater has a certain element that is inherently unique–it is not intended to completely absorb the audience member into a flawless fallacy. It is intended to present a live production with the idea that it is staged and invented in the minds of audience members.
“I’m going to borrow a little something from Tony Kushner – one of the wonderful things about theater is its inability to create a totally compelling reality,” Graves said. “The theater is a means of reflection. It helps to provoke the audience to wonder what it really is, what is really going on.
Once a company has made the decision to stage a literary work, the process is to determine which parts of the work need to be transferred to the play’s script. Like the cinema, many cuts are necessary and the theater presents even more limits, because it is necessary to take into account the space and the number of actors. In addition, the question arises of knowing what to do with all the prose that is not dialogue. What makes the theatrical scene so applicable to adaptations, regardless of these limitations, is the close relationship between the audience and what happens on stage. In the case of a small theater, the audience can sometimes be in the middle of the action. Attention is fervently kept, as the actors strive to tell these stories live, in front of the crowd.
“How do you decide what to put in the play, it goes back to, as a playwright, as an adapter, what do you mean with this story?” said Graves. “And, there are so many things that are not a dialogue – with that, the question is, what are they doing?” You can create meaning by manipulating the image of the scene. Relationships are established and actively communicated to the public.
There is a reason why plays are often read in English classes, studied alongside novels and short stories. Literature and theater have always had a close relationship and are today more and more intertwined.
As two mediums in which words precede visualization, it makes sense that this overlap creates successful stage performances. Literature and theater come together in a way that creates successful themes and character-driven stories. Even with the character scenes cut out, readers will recognize the heart of the story they love taking place on stage. They experience connecting to history in an intimate and vibrant setting – it comes to life right in front of them.
This partnership will likely stick around for many more adaptations of the literature to the game to come.
Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].