It is becoming increasingly popular these days for literature such as novels and comic books to be adapted to the stage. Having a strong starting point in a popular property or bestselling novel is sometimes viewed as a head start in a blockbuster production. This isn’t always true, obviously, and has in some cases (such as the Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark musical) led to bloated production costs and disastrous previews. Every adaptation has its risks, and the process is as unique as it is popular.

Adapting Dialogue

Since stage plays are often completely reliant upon dialogue, the source material adapts much easier when dialogue-heavy. If there are long gaps of exposition, description or vast sets, it can create a great deal of difficulty in adaptation. Other times, dialogue that reads great on the page does not deliver well when spoken.

There is an art to writing dialogue in fiction. Ultimately, the writer wants dialogue that reads like people speak without being authentic. For example, in actual speech people tend to pepper their words with interjections such as “um,” “like” and similar. In writing, this looks terrible.

On the other hand, the words that read well on the page are often very formal when spoken. There is a famous quote from Harrison Ford about the filming of Star Wars wherein he told writer/director George Lucas that “you can write this stuff, but you can’t say it!” The playwright has a delicate balancing act in this area.

Sets and Visuals

You can do things in a comic book or on a novel that you simply cannot pull off on the stage. Vast vistas with broad, open skies, complicated and crowded sets and spectacular special effects may work great on the page and may even play well on the screen, but on stage trying to pull these things off tends to damage the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

A playwright has to work with economy of scenes in their adaptations. A scene in the book which may have a complicated, cluttered background must be “cleaned up” and simplified to work on stage.

Bang for the Buck

This is not to say that grand effects and a lot of impressive sets cannot be part of a stage adaptation. Adaptations of works such as “A Christmas Carol,” Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables may be the most well-known page-to-stage adaptations there are, and these are known for their set presentations.

Consider, however, the way even these have simplified the presentations in the book. In Les Miserables, the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris is pared down to a single barricade and brief, dimly-lit suggestions of catacombs. Phantom of the Opera, one of the most opulent productions ever put on stage, even still pales in comparison to the grandeur depicted in the novel.

While adaptations of literature on stage are wildly popular and will continue to be so, an appreciation of the playwright’s work in producing these pieces has to be appreciated. If you will be in Norcross and would like to see the craftsmanship a high quality theatre company can deliver, check out our 2016 season schedule and plan a visit today!