World Book Day

World Book Day: Turning Page into Stage

| Wed 2 Mar 2016

In celebration of World Book Day, Thursday 3 March, we thought we’d take a look at the process of turning children’s books into stage productions. This season we have several shows that have been adapted from beloved books including Here Be Monsters, Orion and the Dark, The Bear, Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales and The Boy and a Bear in a Boat.

Here Be Monsters: Director, Robin Belfield

Do you find there’s a lot of pressure when adapting much loved books for the stage?
Yes there is a certain amount of pressure, but that's part of the joy in doing it. My writing partner, Musical Director, Simon Slater, and I have adapted several 'much loved' books into musicals and the pressure always comes from a desire to do the book justice. I love Here Be Monsters, I loved reading it to my children and that's why I wanted to adapt it because I wanted to share the story and bring those characters to life on stage. So we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we know what we love about the story and we want to ensure that we protect that. It helps when the author is supportive - and fortunately Jonathan Emmett has been hugely supportive of our work both on Here Be Monsters and The Santa Trap (another of his books we have adapted for the stage). We all accepted the play is different. It has to be, it's a play not a book. But it was very important to have his opinions and thoughts which were extremely insightful, in order to preserve the spirit of the story.

How do you turn the images into a reality?
Having images is great. If you're adapting an adult book, you have no pictures and all the information has to come from the words. But with a picture book, where there aren't many words - the illustrations are so detailed there's a huge amount of information offered in them. When we were developing the play, the pictures were very useful for the actors in terms of characterisation and physicality. But also they were a key into some of the non-verbal sequences in the play. For example in Here Be Monsters there's a double page illustration of the pirates on board the ship and it gives you an insight into what they might be getting up to - so taking that as a starting point we developed a sequence (using minimal language) to explore that part of the story in more detail.

How do you turn a 5-minute read into an hour long show?
I had originally intended to only use the words in the book. But that soon went by the wayside as the play would be far too short. So Simon and I choose key moments in the story - like the journey to the island and how the Captain came across the map in the first place - that seemed natural place to expand the story. A lot of time is spent introducing the characters, for such young audiences it's important that they know who all of the characters are. Jonathan and Poly Bernatene (the illustrator) did this very effectively and in the book each character is seen on a WANTED - Dead or Alive poster, so we found a way of bringing those to life. There are four songs which help tell parts of the story or set the atmosphere. Jonathan's rhyming pattern meant his words transformed very easily into lyrics and as I had done with the speaking text, Simon emulated that style in expanding those lyrics.

See Here Be Monsters at artsdepot Sunday 6 March.

Orion and the Dark: Founder & Director of Peaceful Lion Productions, Ollie Fielding

Do you find there’s a lot of pressure when adapting much loved books for the stage?
There is a lot of pressure when creating any work as you want to make sure it is something the audience is going to enjoy. With an adaptation there is a sense of relief that someone has come up with a really great narrative for the story but the pressure comes in wanting to honour the quality of the book and make both the audience and the original author happy with your adaptation. Obviously choosing the right book to adapt is the most important part of the process. I always want to choose a work where I feel there are strong characters that the audience will identify with. A lot of my adaptations have been about friendship in one form or another and that is something that everyone can identify with no matter how old they are. I have been very lucky that all the authors I have worked with have been incredibly supportive in the adaptation process.

How do you turn the images into a reality?
When adapting a picture book the illustrations are so much a part of the experience of reading the book that the design of the show is as important as the script. You want to transport the audience into the world of the story visually as well as textually. This can be a key challenge when you are a touring show as you just do not have the budget of a big West End production, you have to think outside the box. I really want to put something on stage that has the same feel as the book but reflects the theatrical medium. I think the important thing is to try and capture the style of the illustrations. Emma Yarlett's illustrations for Orion and the Dark uses a lot of gorgeous shades of blue and I wanted to make sure they made it through to the design in the set and lighting. One of the biggest challenges with Orion and the Dark though was how to create the character of Dark. In the book he is a giant blue shape, which is not easy to costume! I think we have come up with a great solution though that allows Robert Hazle, the actor playing Dark, the opportunity to change his shape a bit but does not limit his ability to act a range of emotions, it also gives him a nice sense of status and a mystical quality.

How do you turn a 5-minute read into an hour long show?
Well I suppose that depends on how long you spend looking at the pictures! My method is to use what you can see. I like to really dig into the book and spot the ideas that will help extend the narrative. Orion and the Dark is such a beautiful, witty book and there is so much more going on than in just the words, you have to look at all the extra bits and pieces that Emma has so wonderfully weaved into the illustrations. If you get the hardback edition of the story, under the cover there is a lot more text and I was able to use some of that as dialogue in the show. You also have to be a bit inventive and not be afraid to add new bits to the events. As long as you are honouring the book and keeping true to the characters then I do not think there is anything wrong with that.

See Orion and the Dark at artsdepot Sunday 13 March.

The Bear: Co-Artistic Director of Pins and Needles Productions, Zoe Squire

Do you find there’s a lot of pressure when adapting much loved books for the stage?
It is really important to us that we retain the essence of what made the book special in the first place but at the same time find ways to make it work theatrically. Not everything on paper works well on the stage. Often you can find there is either too much or not enough contents to work with. The biggest pressure with The Bear, was how can you make the bear itself believable yet lovable? Can you see Tilly and the bear's relationship develop over the piece? How can you create the feeling of a large animal trapped in a small environment without building a load of walls and restricting sight-lines?

How do you turn the images into a reality?
When adapting a book we like to storyboard the contents, like a film, to draw out the most important visual and story moments. We then use a mixture of techniques to work out how to turn ideas into reality. With The Bear we spent a lot of time in creating prototypes of the puppets and sets ideas to test with actors. 

How do you turn a 5-minute read into an hour long show?
This is one of the first things we look at when choosing a story to adapt. Is there enough contents already or potential to go somewhere else to create an exciting enough story? With any adaptation there is the need to edit, rearrange and add new contents. It is also important for the characters to go on an emotional journey, even with an hour-long piece. In Raymond's book the bear spends a lot of time making a mess, eating and sleeping. This all needed to be in the show, as it represents the natural behaviour of a bear trapped in a house but was not interesting enough on it's own. We also wanted to portray what Tilly (and six and three quarter year old) would imagine she could do with a bear; dance with her, get into water fights, the list is endless etc. This gave us the license to allow the bear to have fun in a slightly less naturalistic way.

See The Bear at artsdepot Wednesday 6 - Sunday 10 April.

Tiddler & Other Terrific Tales: The Scamp Theatre Team

Do you find there’s a lot of pressure when adapting much loved books for the stage?
When we’re adapting a book for the stage, we definitely feel there’s a responsibility to ensure that the production remains true to the books. There’s a reason why these books are so popular, so it’s important to ensure that no matter how imaginative the adaptation, it doesn’t stray from the heart of the books. It was actually Julia Donaldson (the author) herself who asked us whether we’d like to adapt several of her books into a theatrical medley, which became Tiddler and other Terrific Tales.  We obviously jumped at the chance! It was wonderful to be approached by Julia directly and certainly illustrated the faith she has in our work.

How do you turn the images into a reality?
We start the process with a period of research and development, which is a time for our creative team to have the freedom to explore ideas, play around with different titles and images and use this process to discover the play from inside the books. For Tiddler and other Terrific Tales we originally experimented with 6 books before whittling it down to 4. It’s important that the book’s images are re-imagined so that our audiences do not see a literal representation of the book on stage, but that it sticks closely enough to it that they recognise all their favourite parts. We believe in creating non-patronising, playfully inventive pieces which encourage children to use their imaginations.

How do you turn a 5-minute read into an hour long show?  
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s books are so rich in material that there’s always plenty to playfully explore. Reading a book is obviously a very different experience to watching a stage show.  The reader can sit and gaze at a page - awash with colour and imagery for as long as they want, in the theatre we have steer that gaze and invite audiences into this 'new world' on stage - where these much-loved characters come to life. Our productions are always jam-packed with puppetry, beautiful visual storytelling and funky live music - so an hour seems to fly by!

See Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales at artsdepot Saturday 30 April.

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat: Director, Adel Al-Salloum

Do you find there’s a lot of pressure when adapting much loved books for the stage?
When adapting a book it's important that you stick to the facts. The reader knows these things and what they expect the story to be. It is also important to try and keep the order of what happened when - and how the characters felt when things were said or situations occurred. So the book is a real guide and helps create structure to a play. What's fantastic about turning a book into theatre is that you get to physicalise the story. Dave Shelton's book is full of dynamic illustrations which gave us lots of clues about the physical scale of things. And the physical size of the boy and bear. We felt some pressure to get the story right but we also felt really excited by playing out the moments such as the storm. It was also delightful to see the bear eat sandwiches or hear the bear sing and play a ukulele, you have to imagine these elements in the book but in our play you get to enjoy the live music.

How do you turn the images into a reality?
Illustrations are great. They give the actors big moments of inspiration to create movement around. They help us to create the moment of drama and are wonderful to play. Imagine yourself at sea in a storm - it makes you feel giddy, it's fun. Sometimes the images can create challenges. How do you create a ghost ship or battle a sea monster in a library? Through clever storytelling, movement, props, animation - we had to solve these problems.

How do you turn a 5-minute read into an hour long show?
The characters have lots of 'business' they make tea, eat sandwiches, play eye spy - these actions all add drama and seeing the drama eats up time.   

See A Boy and a Bear in a Boat at artsdepot Sunday 5 June.

We will also be sharing book recommendations contributed by our visitors in cafédepot and on Twitter via #Writesofpassage @artsdepot.

More infomation about World Book Day.

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