Saturday, August 5, 2017

1 Year as a Playwright: How I Adapted a Novel for the School Stage

No comments :
 
By: Sabrina Y.  


HOW IT ALL BEGAN 

I can’t recall when exactly I had made the conscious decision that I wanted to become a playwright. I think it came more out of a want, in tenth grade, to somehow combine my two passions; writing and theatre. I went around telling people this, even though I had no real experience. I decided to create an independent study at my school in playwriting, so that I would be able to practice this new form of creative writing. As a part if the independent study, I was required to present what I learned in some way, so naturally I decided to finish a script. Going into this project, I knew I wanted my final project for the class to be an adaption of the novel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  
Initially the idea to turn her novel into a play was a joke between my friend, my English teacher-theatre director, and me. However, this idea, this opportunity, was always at the back of my mind. Finally, I allowed it to fully grasp my attention once last summer began, and within the first few days I had found a copy of The House on Mango Street, read it, fell in love with it, and analyzed it as if I were in an English class. Soon I realized that they were right: this really could be a play. On an impulse, I had contacted my English teacher-theatre director to see if she would mentor me in this independent study, because if I had waited one more second, I knew doubt would cross my mind and I would talk myself out of not taking this chance. However, any fears that began creeping in soon retreated when my teacher responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Not long after, I began writing a proposal for my independent study to get approved by our Academic Dean of students. 


THE CLASS 

In my proposal, I wrote out the purpose and goals of the class, followed by a detailed schedule of what assignments I would be doing every week, and ended it with a description of what I had planned to do for my final class project. My final project was initially a 45-minute adaptation of the novella to be performed by the Spring Theatre Collaborative during a shared “Arts night” at the school.  
I spent half of the first semester reading, discussing, and putting into practice the book Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays by David Ball. I discovered the book on multiple college websites about playwriting courses. Although the title says a technical manual for reading plays, it is also a useful tool that discusses the ins-and-outs of a good scriptwriting. 
 I will admit that going into this independent study, I was skeptical and in a way, afraid. I was legitimately considering playwriting as a career, and the thought of “What if I actually didn’t like this writing style?” It frightened me. However, when I read the first few chapters of Ball’s book, I almost started crying out of relief, out of excitement, and out of pure passion that I felt as I read the concise, simple, yet brilliant tips on how to craft a proper play. I highly recommend it to those of you who are playwrights or for those of you have a desire to try the style. 
After the book was finished, my teacher and I began going through each chapter of my source material. She gave me the freedom to share all of the ideas I had for certain scenes, and to question if certain vignettes were necessary for a staged version. We then talked about how staging could work, and I expressed my want for the audience to be actively involved, or at least feel like they were a part of this piece in some way. had the opportunity to consider the space and the audience throughout this entire process, to create an intimate and realistic telling of the story. 
After the few weeks of brainstorming sessions I was free to write. Many people ask what was the hardest thing about writing the script and I respond with two answers: 
  1. Timing- It was December and I had to essentially have a finished, not polished, but finished script by March because that was when the Spring Theatre Collaborative would begin.  
  1. Creating scenes that had action but still stayed true to the original piece and its messageThe House on Mango Street is written in first person narrative vignettes, which mostly read as monologues through the main character’s point of view. The wonder of bringing to life certain characters, giving them voices, and imagining how they would interact with other characters, was a wonderful challenge, but frustrating too 
One of the most important lessons I learned from the playwriting book and actively used throughout the entire writing process was that the story needs to always be progressing and every action or scene needs to be connected in some way. There cannot be any holes to the story, even if they are minor and initially unnoticeable. The piece needed to be alive and it needs to flow in a way that makes sense and has purpose 

REVISING, BLOCKING, REHEARSING 
My teacher was out the first official day of the Spring Theatre Collaborative, so perhaps one of the most daunting things of this entire process was sharing my work with the 13 others by myself. However, this was a necessary step of the process because up until that point, I only had myself in terms of reading the lines and making sure they sounded right. I needed to hear other voices. 
At this read through, for each scene, I picked actors at random to read the lines. It took about three days to finish the entire script, because for most scenes, I had them read it at least three or four times.  Because sometimes, actors would interrupt line differently and it was good to hear this contrast. By the end, I knew what revisions I had to make and the actors, because this was a collaborative theatre season, assigned roles to each other.  
An important thing to note is that The House on Mango Street focuses on a primarily Hispanic neighborhood. There were three actors, including myself, in the cast who were Hispanic. Instead of focusing on a completely Hispanic neighborhood, I focused on writing about a diverse one; still a more impoverished one, but a neighborhood nonetheless. There was still a focus on the Hispanic neighborhood, but actors were able to find voices in characters that were inspired by their own backgrounds, bringing some nice reality and truth behind the show. This created an optimal and powerful effect throughout the entire performance 
Before we jumped ahead into the blocking, we decided first to create “Hair Monologues” so that I could incorporate them into the script. Essentially, the actors each wrote a four to five line monologues describing their hair as the actor. Weeks later, my teacher and I found that something was off about these monologues, even though on their own they sounded great. My teacher questioned if we really needed them, but in the show, they represented identity, which was a pivotal theme that needed to be carried throughout the show because the main character, Esperanza is trying to discover who she is. So, I thought maybe the monologues would sound better if they were still written about the actor’s actual hair, but in one of their character’s voices. In the end the monologues sounded powerful, and in terms of staging and the flow of certain themes, they fit perfectly with the script. Also, it was special knowing that the actors contributed to the written piece. 
With “Hair Monologues finished it was time for staging! It was decided that the seating would be almost like theatre in the round, so that the audience members could serve as the neighborhood. As the playwright, I had certain stage directions in mind, or at least an idea of what I envisioned. Frequently, I waited to see what other’s initially thought about how to stage a scene, I would then suggest my own ideas, and we would collectively build off each other’s ideas to create the most impactful and effective way to bring to each scene to life. This was the Spring Theatre Collaborative, after all. 
I had revised my script after the initial staged reading but every day after rehearsal during the blocking process, I would return to my dorm room after dinner and fix something that didn’t sound quite right or that didn’t work with the blocking. Normally, as a writer, I despised being critiqued, mostly because I equated someone’s dislike of my writing as a failure on my part. However, for this project, I would look forward to the critiques and suggestions. The script was now this living, breathing, shape-shifting creature that just kept growing and becoming more and more beautiful and meaningful 
Once blocking was finished, we had a few practices before “off-book” day, when all our lines needed to be memorized. It was agreed that I would be performing as Esperanza, the main character, but up until the point “off-book” day I had been more focused on being the playwright more than playing Esperanza. But now, with all of the kinks worked out of the script, I gave myself permission to view the script from the perspective of an actor. 

THE PERFORMANCE 
One night. One chance. One group of 14 girls who didn’t believe any of this could happen at a small, all-girls boarding school.  
As a team, we had come so far. About six of the 12 actors were new to acting so this was a big moment for them. They were very nervous back stage, but I knew they would shine the moment they began their scenes, and I can assure all of you that I was not wrong. This Friday night show, the premiere, was really the best performance we had ever done.   
In the end due to scheduling we were the only performance on this “Arts Night” so my 45-minute piece turned out to be an hour-and- 20- minute production – a 58-page script! It hadn’t hit me that I had actually completed this project that started off as a joke. There were moments, like when the actors were painting the set, when I thought that this couldn’t be happening. But it was. And I felt it the moment the final black out occurred and we all ran back stage to get ready for bows. I was crying as the cast celebrated their achievement of an incredible performance.  
FINAL THOUGHT 
Bravo to everyone involved! If you are a girl who wishes to try a new form of writing, heres my advice: go for it. You can achieve whatever you desire if you set your mind to it and if you put your heart and soul into it. It was a long, tiresome process at times, but I wouldn’t give up this experience for anything. Now go make your own writing experiences, I dare you. 
If you have any questions about anything regarding the playwriting process or the overall creation of my show, please be sure to say something in the comment section below and I will be happy to answer! 

No comments :

Post a Comment