Performance Practical Tips & How-Tos

Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 2)

The first stages of bringing my book, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, to the stage involved discussing the themes, simplifying the complexity of the book, writing, and re-writing. In this blog, I’ll talk about raising funds, planning, finding the team and starting rehearsals. In case you missed the first part of this post, you can read it here.

Bringing the Team Together

A play can’t be performed without people to create it, so we needed to bring together a dedicated team. I took on the role of director, with theatre company co-director Lynsey Jones being one of the actors. The play is a three hander, so we needed to recruit two more actors. We were really pleased when Tom Jackson and John Holden-White joined the team. We also took on a producer to help with funding and admin. During this time, we spoke to a number of other artists, asking them to become part of the team once the full amount of funding had been secured. You can begin to form relationships and build the team even while in the process of fundraising is in progress, in fact funders will be more likely to take the project seriously if they can see there is a good team willing to be involved. We needed a stage manager, a designer for set and costumes, someone to help us with puppetry, and an potentially an animator. Once we had our team in place, it was time to begin the planning process and production meetings.

Around this stage, we also began fundraising too. Nothing can go ahead without the funding, so it’s important to gather enough money to make the project possible (an ongoing challenge!). We’re so grateful to Greenbelt and Seedbed Trust for funding the first phase of the project. In a project like this, applying for funds has its ups and downs. Don’t let failed applications get you down, you have to adjust and troubleshoot. If things don’t go to plan straight away, don’t get disheartened – try again!

Planning and Rehearsals

In these meetings we plotted out the rehearsal process. We planned for the initial stage of rehearsals (the ‘research and development’ phase) to start this autumn. The aim of the first phase is to get the actors in a room and begin to build a ‘shared language’ of movement, an understanding of the themes, and to start to build a performance style together. Most importantly, it’s time to play and get to know each other. Our aim was to produce a fifteen-minute segment of the play to show at the Leeds Big Bookend Festival’s Children’s Day, in November. This will be followed by a workshop where we can get some feedback from the children. This stage of ‘market research’, finding out what the audience really think of the play, is so vital – it tells you what you’re done right and what you may need to improve on.

We’ve just completed this initial period of rehearsals, and our fifteen minutes of performance is ready to be shown! We had six days of rehearsal, three at Harrogate Theatre and three at The Carriageworks in Leeds. It’s great having the support of established venues (again, it helps with funding) and asking for rehearsal space is a good way for venues to support the project in-kind.

We started the first rehearsal by having food on a picnic blanket, while discussing the story and its themes. In the book, Fletcher and Scoop travel to a banquet, so I wanted our first meeting to reflect that. Food is always a good accompaniment to conversation and it was a relaxed way to begin the process and get to know one another. We then picked up on the theme of story threads, playing with various workshop exercises centred around this image. We developed the idea that the Storyteller could pull imaginary threads attached to the characters and make things happen, as if they were human puppets. We worked on some performance skills, including mime, before moving onto blocking and rehearsing the fifteen minute piece of the script to be shown, using the techniques we’d just practiced. At the end of the rehearsal process we headed out to Leeds Central Library to take some photos of the characters (not in their final costumes, but something we can use for publicity along the way.) The pictures are by Tom Jackson – it’s great when one of your actors is also a professional photographer!

After we’ve performed our fifteen minutes and led our workshop in November, we’re going to have a break from rehearsals and pick up again in spring. During this time our plan is to raise more funds, complete all of the essential admin and focus on the design elements of the production. In spring, we’ll have two weeks of rehearsal to bring the whole thing together, which is going to be intense and fun! Following that the real excitement begins…we’re going on a mini tour with the show, taking it to a variety of venues, including schools, theatres, libraries and community events. With the theme of stories being lost and knotted, before being rediscovered and untangled at the heart of the production, we’d like to make a link to issues around adoption and fostering, so we’ll consider working with adoption agencies too as part of the mini-tour. Once we officially know what works in terms of audience and performance space, we’ll aim to take the show on the road for a full tour in autumn 2017!

Why not consider it yourself?

Overall, the process from discussing our ideas to performing the finished production will be about two years. It’s so worth it! I’m loving every moment of the planning and the rehearsals.

The purpose of these posts is for authors who may be interested in developing their books into a stage productions. Don’t be scared to just give it a go and experiment! It’s definitely doable for anyone to put on their own small scale production. Find out about local production companies and approach them with your ideas, and I bet there will be someone who will be keen to work with you.

If you want to know anything else about the process, don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll be happy to help.

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