Thursday, July 19, 2018

Why Adapt Pygmalion?

As I've indicated before, while I started this blog for many reasons, a primary driver was to get in hours of practice just writing.  Jamie is looking to do Pygmalion for one act play, but wanted to have an adaptation to address some of its shortcomings.  I have wanted to try play-writing before, and saw this opportunity as a challenge.

In doing so, the issue becomes why adapt Pygmalion at all?  What needs to be adjusted or updated for the play to freshen it for modern actors and audiences?   In my attempts, I've come to these few reasons:

  1. Agency - The story of Pygmalion is firmly Henry Higgins' story, not Eliza's.  While most people would largely view My Fair Lady, the musical adaption, the other way around, the play Pygmalion hews firmly to the Pygmalion of myth, focusing on a "creator" who falls in love with his "creation."  Eliza, as a character in Pygmalion, is in many ways a prop.  For most of the play, she has things happen to her, not things that she causes or initiates.  This is partly due to point number two below relating to scenes that are missing, but also due to the era and social structures of the time when George Bernard Shaw was writing.  Much time in Pygmalion is spent discussing who is responsible or who will be responsible for Eliza.  Professor Higgins?  The Colonel?  Her father, Alfred Doolittle? Or Freddie, a suitor?  And while we do finally get to peer in to her psyche in Act Five with many great lines that she has, even her discussion of her future is couched in these terms.  Further, her thoughts are largely only revealed to show the impact they have on Henry.  Thus, a goal of this adaptation is to make this much more Eliza's story.  To put her in control of her fate and to show her contribution to her change.  The text is there in Shaw's original script.  It just needs to be embellished.
  2. Show, Don't Tell - one of the greatest sins in visual storytelling is to tell the viewer something instead of showing them something.  To provide an information dump to bring the viewer up to speed on what happened, instead of letting them see it unfold.  This arises in largely missing necessary and desired scenes in Shaw's Pygmalion.  For instance, Shaw has no scene in which Eliza learns elocution.  There are no "Rain in Spain" type scenes in Pygmalion, though these are well remembered in My Fair Lady.  We see the effects and are told that the lessons happened, but we do not see it occur.  Likewise, the original version of the play did not have the ball.  Again, we saw the after effects and were told that it happened, but we did not see the ball itself.  This was added after a 1938 film, but can be omitted in different versions of the print run.  And while these scenes might not be absolutely necessary in the strictest sense, they are desirable for story flow.  So, we are looking to add this type of connective tissue back into the story.
  3. Greater Roles for Women in General - one of the hardest things that Jamie and other school theater teachers often have to deal with is plays with sufficient strong female roles.  Most often in school theater, you have a greater number of female students that participate than male.  Yet, most of the great plays have a higher number of strong male roles compared to female.  Even in plays like Pygmalion which are often considered "female" plays, since the title character (and lead ostensibly) is female.  In Pygmalion, though, only Eliza and Mrs. Higgins could be considered great roles.  Mrs. Pearce, Mrs. Enysford-Hill, and Clara are present, but are small roles.  Our goal is to slightly enlarge these roles to make them greater reflections of parts of Eliza herself and to make them more integral to her development.
Hopefully, we can achieve these goals in a way that integrates into Shaw's text in a way that is not too obvious.  It's something I need to finish by the beginning of August, as we'll have to submit the play for approval by mid-August.  We'll let you know how it goes.

It's also a very interesting process, as I'm adapting the full play and keeping at the five acts. Jamie is going to have to take the end adaptation and cut it down into a one-act version.  It does not fully enter into the process as I'm changing and adding, but it is a consideration in the back of my mind.  A unique challenge.

From there, I'm itching to try my hand at adapting the Buckley-Vidal debates into a Frost/Nixon style play.  And who knows, after that, maybe something wholly original.

One line at a time.

No comments:

Post a Comment