In May I walked into an old bookstore in Dubbo, NSW. I’d been collecting children’s books for a theatrical adaptation we’d been asked to do at Waterloo Library later in the year. Stuck in the back corner of the children’s section I found a book, newly released, by US author Lane Smith. It gripped me and as I continued looking for books to adapt I kept coming back to it.
We are now just a day out from our first performance of this adaptation so I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I’ve learned this year about book adaptations. Here are some tips I can give (I’m sure I’ll have more after our season!):
Our live storytelling event, Flights of Fancy, adapting Lane Smith's new book, There is a Tribe of Kids is happening Saturday 2nd of December, 12:30pm at Waterloo Library. Register for the free performance here.
1) Collect Children’s Books
I should be honest here, I had a gut reaction to Lane Smith’s work when I saw it. I was in this book shop in Dubbo and saw it, I thought the images were beautiful and Smith’s aesthetic grabbed me. I bought the book on instinct. However, I had been collecting books so I knew what I wanted and when I saw the book, I jumped.
On reflection, I think that there are some good starting points for finding a book that will work in adaptation (aside from the practicalities of budget constraints and time).
In his book, Feeling Like a Kid: childhood and children's literature, Jerry Griswold identifies the qualities of most iconic children’s work in his book. These are:
This book has informed a great deal of my perception of what children’s theatre should try to be. You can check out a synopsis of the work here.
2) Stay true to the spirit of the book.
Try to capture the feeling you had when you first encountered the book, or better yet, run the book past a group of young people and ask their feelings. Keep this feeling front and centre of the work – I’ve stuck it up on my office wall to remind me the standard by which we’re measuring. I’ll get back to you on whether I think we succeed.
3) Don’t be afraid of the text.
Sometimes the text in children’s books can feel un-theatrical – after all it was written to be read. The text, like any theatrical work, is a key to communicating the story (obvious I know). Some gifts that the text gives:
- Who is delivering the text? Is it the protagonist? A narrator? A narrator who turns out to be the protagonist? An observer? A combination?
- What is the rhythm of the text? Where are the pauses, the fast, slow, long, and short moments? How do they work with one another?
- Does the text contradict or support the pictures in the book? I remember hearing Monkey Baa talk about this out of the wealth of their own experience and this has changed my appreciation for picture books. What is the story? The text often turns a simple story into something more poignant (see Lane Smith’s other beautiful work, Grandpa Green).
It’s tempting to leave it to the side (especially if the images in the book are beautiful) but find inspiration in the text and not just the pictures.
We'd love to see you at our first performance of our adaptation of There is a Tribe of Kids at Waterloo Library, Saturday 2nd December @ 12:30pm – FREE!