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What is Adaptation?

Students answer the question   

Scholars answer the question

Our dramaturg answers the question

STUDENTS IN TPS 3500 (Dramaturgy) answer the question

Adaptation for the stage involves taking an original work and recreating it to fit new needs.  Whether it is a strict preservation or just an inspiration is up to the adapter. –Melissa Oulton

daptation for the stage goes beyond staging a play.  It is what you want to accomplish in telling/showing/portraying to your target audience.  It includes everything from the scripts, the work involved in performing/producing the play, and possibly how you market an event and whether your goals were met.   – Michael Clark

An adaptation should give the points worth noting.  Important plot points as well [as] the important characters that drive the story.  The filler can be done away [with] as this only takes away from and lengthens the adaptation.  –Jonathan Minich

Adaptation is a process.  It involves an idea coupled with the firm belief that this work is relevant and then putting it onstage.  –Jennifer Chapman

[Adaptation is] taking another work and remaking it for the stage or whatever genre you will be performing.  –Veronica Hitch

Adaptation for the stage encompasses looking at an original work, finding the essence, the meaning he author is portraying, and working it into a new text in which the words on the page paint the story, movement, and spectacle onstage. –RoseAnne Simpson

Adaptation for the stage means a lot of things to different people, so one must be specific.  It is also ultimately important to remain faithful to the work, and remember that it was originally written by someone else.  –Matt Lewis

Adaptation for the stage includes putting some piece of literary work that has never been performed onto the stage.  The piece can take any number of forms (readers theatre, chamber theatre, etc.), but the adapter must always ask the questions “how?” and “why?” –Joseph Wirt

After the discussion . . . I’d have to say that I still feel pretty much the same.  I think definition of any kind of performance only creates confusion and tension within the practice as a whole.  It’s all about saying something—making a connection.  The rest is just window dressing.  –Kathleen Saracen

Adaptation for the stage implies taking a source material, combing it for what [affects] you . . . personally and presenting it for an audience, your reactions included.  –Brad Mills

Adaptation for the stage is the manner in which text is adhered to and or interpreted to be performed before an audience. –Miranda Davis

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SCHOLARS answer the question

“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 direction 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). 

“The real reason I devise theatre, instead of working from a completed script, is because I believe in the unconscious, and I believe in the will of certain texts to reach the air; and because the intensity of working this way forces me to live under the occupation of the will of these great texts and to submit to them in a way that I find ravishing” (Zimmerman 34). 

“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). 


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,


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,


Zimmerman, Mary.  “The Archeology of Performance.”  Theatre

    Topics 15:1 (March 2005): 25-35. 

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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.  These provocative questions are addressed at length by the scholars I quote elsewhere on this site, and for more on this subject I encourage you to explore their extensive bibliographies. 

Although virtually all of the language in John Gentile’s adaptation of Moby-Dick comes directly from Herman Melville himself, it would obviously be foolish to stage the entire tome.  Thus, Gentile must be prudent, choosing only the elements of the text that are most worthy of performance.  In other words, he must selectively tell the story, without including every detail.  Because this performance (unlike the 2004 staged reading) is fully produced, other elements must also be interwoven to tell this story: the acting ensemble, the choreography, the design, and the originally composed music.  The layers of adaptation in a full production, then, are multiple and complex. 

As a quick glance at the production history of Moby-Dick will verify, this is a story that continues to be told on the stage. What is it about Ishmael’s pilgrimage, or Ahab’s quest to kill the great white whale, that compels artists and audiences to re-visit this tale?  From my perspective, as an historian of theatre and performance, that is the most interesting question of all.


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