From Page to Stage

Guest blogger Stephen L. Fredericks, Founder & Executive Director of The Growing Stage – The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey, shares his thoughts on adapting children's books for live theatre.

Over the 33 year history of The Growing Stage – The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey’s history we have had the opportunity to bring both original stories and popular adaptations to life on our stage. And both bring a unique challenge when taking them from the page to the stage.

Many of the titles that would be considered classics are familiar to all ages and are multi-generational like PETER PAN, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, TREASURE ISLAND and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Others are less so either because they are age-specific and fairly recent works such as HARRIET THE SPY, HOLES, KNUFFLE BUNNY or PINKALICIOUS. Both types of material present very similar and unique challenges.

The Growing Stage's set for the stage adaptation of KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Musical, script and lyrics by Mo Willems and music by Michael Silversher. Set design by Perry Kroeger.

The Growing Stage's set for the stage adaptation of KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Musicalscript and lyrics by Mo Willems and music by Michael Silversher. Set design by Perry Kroeger.

When a book is solely written as readers we all take the authors words and create a world in our own minds that is unique to each of us as we follow the adventures or journeys of the characters. We see young Jack who is in search of a better life for his Mother as he climbs the magical beanstalk or a family shipwrecked hiding from pirates in SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. So in this instance we have a bit more freedom as artists as we take the authors words and apply them to the script, set, costumes and lighting designs. We follow the author’s original intent and honor their words, but share them in manner that translates to the stage performance, more like one would as if following a map.

The unique challenge in this instance is taking what may appear wildly fantastic from a world created by ink to life on the stage so that it meets the expectations of the audience and is physically possible for the production.

For those works that also feature incredible illustrations, like the Shankman and O'Neill series, we are presented with additional information that we can then apply to the stage adaptation. Color schemes and styles can be translated directly to the stage in all design elements such as set, costumes and even lighting. The unique challenge in this instance is taking what may appear wildly fantastic from a world created by ink to life on the stage so that it meets the expectations of the audience and is physically possible for the production.

As in any artistic work, regardless if it inspired from an original thought or an adaptation from an existing book, collaboration and trust are the keys to success. Working directly with the author, illustrator or playwright provides the theatre’s artistic team with the opportunity to not only honor the intent of the original work, but also breathe new life into an existing piece by expanding its audience and the method in which it can be appreciated.

Thanks!

Stephen L. Fredericks
Founder & Executive Director
The Growing Stage – The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey

The Growing Stage-The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey is a non-profit professional performing arts center dedicated to theatre for young audiences. A member theatre of the Association of Actor’s Equity, they provide opportunity for all to learn and grow through participation in the arts.

Their mission? To nurture the development of the performing arts through education and to create, produce and perform works that engage the entire family. Learn more about The Growing Stage - The Children's Theatre of New Jersey at www.growingstage.com

David O'Neill

Dave has worked as a graphic designer and illustrator since graduating from art school. When he's not illustrating children's books, he is an Art Director specializing in advertising and marketing, a toy designer and an improvisational comedian. Dave would like you to believe that he traveled the world documenting the habits and hobbies of lobsters, but he probably did not. Or did he? Hard to say. Dave spends his days as a husband and father to the 2 prettiest girls he knows.