KENNESAW STATE UNIVERSITY: Department of Theatre and Performance Studies
presents a regional premiere of two Flannery O'Connor stories:

“What is Adaptation?”

Adaptations of narrative works can encompass a range of approaches to source materials that might include editing, rewriting, interpolation, and/or expansion; this adaptation, however, includes every single word of Everything That Rises Must Converge and A View of the Woods. In so doing it retains the narration, characteristic rhythm and power of Flannery O’Connor’s voice. Karin Coonrod’s script features an approach wherein the narrator and characters’ words are to be shared amongst an ensemble of eight performers. In making such choices Coonrod highlights the multiple points of view suggested by the narration and explores how they work in concert and/or counterpoint with character discourse and action.

This approach—coined as “Chamber Theatre” by the director, scholar, and educator Robert Breen—offers invigorating challenges for the director, dramaturg, actors, and designers who will bring the work from page to stage. In staging the stories, Karen Robinson will explore movement choices with the actors that not only bring the narration and characters to life, but offer visual reinforcements of O’Connor’s religious and social themes. Likewise, she looks forward to working with the design team to find compelling visual imagery that interweaves theatricality with O’Connor’s strong sense of place.

Our DRAMATURG answers the question

In theatre and performance studies, adaptation usually implies revising, devising, or interpreting a previously written text for the stage. Implicit to the act of adaptation is the question of authenticity: how faithful (or authentic) is the adaptation to the original piece? Does the adapter (or deviser) capture the intention, or the “essence” of the source text? This question is fraught with philosophical issues, given the suspicion with which many contemporary scholars view intentionality. Yet it remains a central question to the art of adaptation, since fidelity to the source material (to varying degrees) distinguishes adapting from writing that is inspired by or informed by (but not based on) an extant text.

SCHOLARS answer the question

“Chamber Theatre is not interested in the problems of transforming fiction into drama; it resists the temptation to delete narrative descriptions and rewrite summaries as dialogue. No effort is made in Chamber Theatre to eliminate the narrative point of view which characterizes fiction; indeed, the storyteller’s angle of vision is emphasized through physical representation onstage” (Breen 4).

“In chamber theatre, a character (usually defined as ‘The Narrator’) observes, describes, and analyzes the activities of the other characters (usually identified with proper names) who appear onstage, whereas this critical/voyeuristic role is normally performed by the audience in conventional theatre” (Bowman 3).

“Borrowing Breen’s model of adaptation techniques as the foundational structure for a feminist chamber theatre method requires a systematic, critical inventory of its basic conventions. I have organized this inventory around [five] constitutive elements of Breen’s Chamber Theatre: 1) the use of the narrator and 2) the concept of alienation, 3) the focus on split subjectivity and 4) the use of the mirror to represent this convention, and, finally 5) the relationship between the adapter and the adaptation” (Diekmann 42).

“As I listen to this [interview with founding members of the Lookinglass Theatre], I recall what I first discovered when studying with Robert Breen: that adaptation is not a timeless theory or set of techniques, but a succession of diverse embodied practices, driven by desire and even desperate neediness. The book I have just read—this book whose scenes have banged off the walls of my ribcage—must be told again to my world, my age. I would tell the story myself, but my lone body is not adequate to supply the visions that the book has projected on my mindscreen. I must extend myself through ten, twelve, fifteen bodies” (Edwards 233).

“The function of Chamber Theatre is to use the art of the theatre and all its theatrical devices which encourage the illusion of direct apprehension in order to reflect ‘the sort of world which mirrors itself,’ the world which has already been distorted by the narrative point of view. In short, Chamber Theatre holds an undistorted mirror up to an image of the world which the point of view of the narrator has already distorted in his or her individual glass” (Breen 13).

“In short, adaptation can be described as the following:

• An acknowledged transposition of a recognizable other work or works

• A creative and an interpretive act of appropriation/salvaging

• An extended intertextual engagement with the adapted work Therefore, an adaptation is a derivation that is not derivative—a work that is second without being secondary. It is its own palimpsetic thing” (Hutcheon 8-9).


There have been very few adaptations of O’Connor’s work to date. Films include: A Circle in the Fire, directed by Victor Nunez in 1974, The Displaced Person, adapted by Horton Foote and directed by Glenn Jordan, and Wise Blood, adapted by Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald, directed by John Huston. For an analysis of the film of Wise Blood please click here to read KSU professor Dr. David King’s chapter “The Film Without Christ: John Huston’s Adaptation of Wise Blood.”


Works Cited

Bowman, Michael. “’Novelizing’ the Stage: Chamber Theatre After Breen and Bakhtin.” Text and Performance Quarterly 15 (1995): 1-23.

Breen, Robert. Chamber Theatre. Evanston, IL: Caxton, 1978, 1986.

Dieckmann, Laura. “Towards a Feminist Chamber Theatre Method.” Text and Performance Quarterly 19 (1999): 38-56.

Edwards, Paul. “Staging Paradox: The Local Art of Adaptation.” SAGE Handbook of Performance Studies. Eds. D. Soyini Madison and Judith Hamera. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2006. 227-253.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Zimmerman, Mary. “The Archeology of Performance.” Theatre Topics 15:1 (March 2005): 25-35.