After Tuesday’s post, the topic of adaptations has been running through my head. I began to wonder, what adaptations are out there written by women? I was happy to see that some play and musical adaptations written by women include classics also penned by women including stage adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights by Christina Calvit or Daphne DuMaurier’s own adaptation of her book, Rebecca (before it was re-adapted by Frank McGuinness).
Among these women is a playwright who has not only written the books for two musicals based on famous novels also written by women — Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden — she has won the Pulitzer for one of her own playwriting ventures, ‘night, Mother. That playwright is Marsha Norman.
Adapting a novel into a stage play is no easy feat; working with a composer to adapt a novel into a stage musical is even harder! Fortunately, this dramachick — who also happens to be co-chair of the Juilliard School’s Playwriting Department and vice president of the Dramatists Guild of America — had the help of a few more extraordinary women for both her musical adaptations; composer Lucy Simon (nominated for a Tony for her work on The Secret Garden) and composers/lyricists Brenda Russell and Allee Willis (in a combined effort with composer/lyricist Stephen Bray) on The Color Purple. That is a LOT of women working together to make wonderful books into extraordinary theatre!
I love reading about people like Marsha Norman because her story puts to rest the misconception that adapting at novel into a stage play is somehow “easy” compared to writing an original work. EASY?! Ha! Not only is it a long, arduous process of truly understanding the essence of the book — what the author most wants to communicate — but it’s visualizing how it will — or even CAN — look on stage, how to maintain the complexity of the story while simplifying details for the audience. It’s an exercise in what to cut and what to keep (something all writer’s struggle with, yes?), and hardest of all, how to meet the expectations of fans — sometimes several generations of fans — who are all waiting for your adaptation to come out so they can laud or lament it. Talk about pressure!
So here’s to Marsha Norman; may she continue to shine a hopeful light on women adapting the works of other women (or men!) for live performance. May we rally around her and other women like her, who are striving to take the world of literature to the stage, so that we might better share it with the world at large.