Myra Platt on Performing Literature
Co-artistic director of Book-It Repertory Theatre, Myra Platt has spent the past quarter working with undergraduate students on the action drama Rough Magic. She tells us “It’s been a challenge, and a lot of fun too finding an approach to telling this fantastical story in which literally anything goes!”
In Platt’s story, almost anything goes too! As a student in the Performing Literature program at Northwestern University in Chicago, Platt created works for the stage interweaving text, visual and musical performance. “I love to read, I love to do theatre, I’m a visual artist and I love music, and I compose . . . so performing literature for me was a great opportunity to explore different forms.” Today she continues to wear all of those hats and more.
Platt’s long association with Book-It got its start with her move to Seattle in 1988. Platt joined The Collective, a free-form group of artists that eventually evolved into Book-It. Her co-artistic director to-be, Jane Jones was pursuing work she’d initiated with the 29th Street Project in New York City, developing short stories for the stage. Serendipitously, Platt was in the right place at the right time to follow her own passion bringing literature on stage.
At first, Platt and her fellow artists sat around a table reading selected short stories verbatim. Actors performed their roles and vied with each other for storytelling lines as the ensemble shaped the piece. As you can imagine, this process becomes more complicated adapting a novel. Book-It’s first nationally recognized work, “The Cider House Rules,” spent seven years in script development, and was a major influence on the 1999 movie screenplay. Thus a new form emerged taking literature directly into theatre without editing or playwriting and Book-It Style™ was born.
A novel does require editing for length, character selection and dramatic impact. It takes a single adapter, someone “who’s savvy enough to know where the dramatic thrust is, because a novel’s not going to necessarily flow” in the way a play does. Occasionally a playwright and more often an author is involved. Because it’s their original work on the block—so to speak—they face a “learning curve” working with the adapter in process. What’s finally revealed when characters’ dialogue, inflections, actions and surroundings are taken literally from the page and spoken by the actors is uniquely Book-It.
The Book-It Style™ is hugely based on point of view because actors perform more than straight dialogue. Much depends on which character describes an emotion or action, as much as how—perspective is constantly shifting. That’s why Platt believes a director’s “vision” is crucial. A good director also relies heavily on adapter, actors, designers and stage manager to spark their creativity and help solve problems during production.
Another element of the style is a minimalist use of props and sets. This not only saves costs, there’s a hidden benefit: “[Working with] few resources forces you to be super creative and collaborative, and ultimately allows you to be a better artist,” Platt explains.
When asked what novel makes a good play, Platt said they don’t look at it that way. The question is, what novel has “really good writing, really good characters, and a really good story—we will figure out how to turn it into a play.”
Book-It and the UW School of Drama look forward to continuing their collaboration this winter. Theatregoers will have the opportunity to see a novel being adapted in Script to Stage, a workshop presentation of four new works in the Book-It Style™ this coming January at the School. To date, selections are: Wuthering Heights, A Little Princess and The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Want to see your favorite novel on stage? To make a suggestion, contact Book-It. In the meantime, we anticipate two exciting new Book-It works this spring featuring Myra Platt: Myra is acting in Prairie Nocturne by Ivan Doig (Northwest novelist/former history professor at UW) February/March; and her adaptation of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein plays April/May!
Purchase tickets to Script to Stage running January 12 - 15, 2012.
Return to January 2012 Newsletter