Category Archives: Posts by Rob

Inside HER MAJESTY’S WILL Part One: Adapting the Novel

Note: This is a cross-posting from PerformInk’s 3-part INSIDE series, where they’re taking readers behind the scenes of Lifeline’s production of Her Majesty’s Will through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes.

By Robert Kauzlaric

In brief, David Blixt’s novel, HER MAJESTY’S WILL, tells a story of William Shakespeare’s “Dark Years” – the period of time between his early days in Stratford and his later successes in London – when the legendary writer fell out of the history books and next to nothing is known of his goings-on. David takes some historical hints that one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries – playwright Christopher Marlowe – had been involved with espionage for the English government, mixes in details of a famous plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth that occurred during the period, grabs a whole host of tidbits about historical figures from the time, mixes them together and imagines young William Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe coming of age as wannabe spies in a comedic action-adventure romp, fighting against impossible odds to save the Queen’s life. And all along the way, David has Will encountering characters and situations that will later inspire details in his plays.

I fell in love with the characters in his novel the moment I started reading it. I adored the crazy plot and all the ridiculous shenanigans. I enjoyed engaging with all of the ideas he touches on throughout. And I knew at once that I wanted to take a stab at turning it into a piece of theater.

As I approached the possibility of adapting it for the stage, I had one main area (aside from all the usual who-to-cut/who-to-keep/what-plot-to-trim/what-ideas-to-pursue stuff) that I knew I would have to make a significant decision on: how to give the audience access to Will’s inner journey.

In his novel, David creates a Will that keeps a LOT of secrets. There’s all sorts of backstory about the circumstances that resulted in Will landing where he is at the start of his adventure that David doles out at neatly-spaced intervals, giving the reader just enough information to provide context for the larger story. But even though we (as readers) don’t know the whole story until the end, since the book is told from Will’s perspective and we have access to his inner thoughts, we’re kept keenly aware that there are more secrets to be revealed when the time is right. And there are also several key moments of decision that Will experiences purely internally.

Without access to Will’s thought process in these moments, the story of the play would not be as clear or rich as it could be.

But how to share that inner life with the audience?

Changing forms from a novel to a play almost always results in facing a structural decision like this. It’s frequently the adaptor’s job to figure out how to turn unspoken thoughts into dialogue (or action).

One possible family of structural choices is the creation of a style of direct address. This might involve a narrator, it might simply be about the characters being able to talk directly to the audience as though they were in the room, or it might be a convention that allows characters to speak their thoughts aloud under certain conditions.

This direction is not my preference unless there’s something inherent in the original novel that seems specifically (to me) to ask for that treatment. For example, when I adapted the Victorian epistolary novel THE MOONSTONE, it felt appropriate to mirror the structure of the novel – nearly a dozen separate people chronicling their piece of a mystery directly to the reader (often with conflicting reports) – in the structure of the play. The mystery itself is nearly unsolvable given the clues presented by the story, but the fun of the novel isn’t really the solving of the mystery, it’s the unfolding of tensions between conflicting accounts of the same story as told directly to the reader.

In the case of HER MAJESTY’S WILL, as I was contemplating the information that needed to be conveyed to the audience I knew I needed to do something to give voice to the unspoken. This got my brain turning on all the various conventions used by Shakespeare himself in his own writing and I thought it might be interesting to play around with my own version of some Shakespearean conventions – specifically, the Chorus and the soliloquy.

So I built for myself a Chorus character in the vein of what Shakespeare does in HENRY V or what he does with Time in THE WINTER’S TALE. This character speaks directly to the audience, establishes locations, moves some plot points ahead, and shares some ideas that Will doesn’t speak aloud.

And then, as the story progresses and the Will of the play starts to discover his own voice and unleash his own passions, he eventually supplants the Chorus as audience interlocutor and begins delivering soliloquies in the vein of so many characters from the plays he will eventually write – like, say, RICHARD III or HAMLET – walking the audience through a decision moment here, grappling with an idea there. It’s not something he can do continuously, but something that gets doled out in intervals.

It ended up being a convention that felt right for the play I was building, one very much nodding in a meta-theatrical way at what Will himself will eventually come to do in his own work, and one that I hope supports some of the larger thematic ideas we’re playing with: finding your voice, claiming your past, and staking out your own future.

Hunger “In The Works”

Thanks to those who joined us for the first evening of our HUNGER “In The Works” presentation at the Pritzker Pavilion last night! We enjoyed a successful first reading, and great conversation with author Elise Blackwell (Hunger, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, Grub, and An Unfinished Score) and playwright/Lifeline ensemble member Chris Hainsworth (adaptor of Hunger).

There’s still two more nights to catch this exciting presentation — purchase your tickets here!

Hunger “In The Works” at the Pritzker Pavilion.

Hunger “In The Works” at the Pritzker Pavilion.

The Hunger team with author Elise Blackwell. (From left, Robert Kauzlaric, Chris Hainsworth, Elise Blackwell, John Henry Roberts, Simone Roos, Peter Greenberg, Jenifer Tyler, Matt Engle, and Katie McLean Hainsworth)

A decade-long journey nears an end (and a beginning)

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere. This post is by Robert Kauzlaric, adaptor of the piece.

A decade-long journey nears an end (and a beginning)

There’s so much to discuss about this project, and Paul and Maren have already done an amazing job of that here. As the adaptor of the show, there are load of things on my mind I’m hoping to blather about on this blog, in particular: the rewards and challenges of working with such well-known and well-loved material – what do you cut? what do you keep? how do you stay true to the story while transposing it to a new medium with an entirely different set of restrictions/challenges/etc. But before I attempt to open that can of discussion-worms, I thought it might be appropriate to share a little background on how I arrived at this point.

It was over 10 years ago that a friend first handed me a copy of Neverwhere with an off-hand, “This seems like it’d be right up your alley.” Indeed it was. I devoured it in a couple of days. Then I read it again. I had to put it away for a while out of necessity, but it kept churning in the back of my mind for months. I couldn’t get the insane notion out of my head that it would make for an amazing piece of theater… I just couldn’t figure out what company would be willing to tackle it, much less let me adapt it for them.

Then, in early 2000, I saw Lifeline’s production of The Two Towers (the first MainStage show I ever saw here) and knew I’d found a place that would be insane enough to do it. And that they’d do it right: with love and respect for the source; with love and respect of the audience; with heart, humor, danger, and passion. Later that year, I was cast in The Silver Chair, and I got my first exposure to the Lifeline process, from an early reading of the script, through auditions, rehearsals, tech, and production… and I knew it was exactly the kind of process in which I would like to see it develop.

So, without any reason to suspect that my secret plan (known only to me) to have my hypothetical adaptation of Neverwhere get produced at Lifeline would, in a million years, actually, possibly, maybe, ever happen… I got right to work on my script. I had no idea if rights were available. I had no serious hope that anyone would actually produce it. But that didn’t really matter to me. I was feeling wildly optimistic. Not even a beating from Mr. Vandemar could have stopped me.

I finished my first draft and sent it off to some close friends who were willing to give me feedback and help me wrap my head around what I’d gotten myself into. Several months later, draft two was read aloud by a circle of friends, and I got more valuable feedback. Rinse and repeat with draft three. I’m so indebted to those friends of nearly a decade ago (circa 2001) who helped to nurture this project even when it didn’t have a hope of ever getting produced (except in my mind). Some of those friends have since moved away from Chicago, but their influence is still felt by me every time I pore through the script. (Thanks to Chris, John, Dan, Gail, Cath, Tom, Matt, Mark, Mark, Elise, and everyone I’m forgetting.)

Then I sent the script around to some director friends, and some companies I had closer relationships with at the time. The feedback was positive, but I heard a lot of, “This is cool, but seems a bit impossible. Good luck getting it produced!” Heartache ensued. The script idled on my computer as I turned my attention to other projects for a while.

In 2002, I attended one of Mr. Gaiman’s readings on the American Gods tour and was blown away by the sheer awesomeness of the experience (if you haven’t seen him read his own work yet, DO SO). I got my book signed, shook his hand, chatted with him ever-so-briefly, and wondered if my dream of adapting Neverwhere would ever happen.

In 2003, nursing a broken leg, I finally found DVD copies of the original BBC miniseries and devoured all six hours and all of the commentary. Trapped on my sofa with a full leg cast and my cats for company, I lost myself in London Below once more and began, admittedly, to mourn my dream of adapting the piece for the stage. The possibility seemed such an unattainable long-shot at that point. Perhaps the painkillers were making me excessively maudlin, but I started to fear my secret little dream would never be realized.

But by early 2005, I had appeared in six productions at Lifeline, and had finally established an actual ongoing relationship with the ensemble. The time was right to formally submit the script to the theatre. My hopes were high. I got feedback from more friends about the script. I re-edited the script. I sent off the script. And waited.

And waited.

Finally, as it turns out, the rights weren’t available. And, in any event, the timing wasn’t right for the ensemble to get behind it. The company only knew me as an actor. I hadn’t made a strong enough push to establish myself as a writer in their eyes. Nor (in retrospect), had I truly attempted to convey the full extend of my excitement about the project to them. I was hugely disappointed at the time, but I get it now.

Later that year, I was honored to be asked to join the company and got my first direct exposure to the script-selection process from the “inside.” About a year later, I got my first writing opportunity with the company: a KidSeries musical adaptation of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! Time passed. Paul and I tackled The Island of Dr. Moreau. I dove into the world of Oscar Wilde with The Picture of Dorian Gray. And by mid-2008 or so (if I have my timing correct), I re-introduced the company to my Neverwhere idea and by this time there was interest, trust and solid support. And in Paul, I had the perfect director-partner committed to seeing the project through with me. All we needed was to get the rights.

And then last year, they came through.

And there was celebration.

So, in January of 2009, nearly 10 years after I first started working on my script, I dove back in. We held a reading with the ensemble and with their invaluable feedback, a brand new draft emerged. This past summer, we cast the show. In early December, we held another reading with the cast and ensemble, and brought the production team in on the discussions. Again, everyone’s insights were invaluable. And Paul and I met repeatedly for a month to discuss character, direction, tone, theme, style and all that other great theatre-type stuff.

Now, here I sit in February of 2010, a mere two weeks away from the beginning of the rehearsal process. We’ve got an amazing cast and design team, all geeked to the gills about working on such wonderful source material. The long, SOLITARY portion of my journey is over as the project now gets placed in the capable hands of a massive TEAM of people, all working to tell the story, hone the production, and realize the theatrical vision of the piece.

And I, for one, couldn’t be more excited to see how it all turns out.

Dooby Dooby Moo opening

What a great weekend! Author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin joined us between the sold-out 11am and 1pm shows on Sunday, Dooby Dooby Moo‘s opening day. Fans had their books signed by Cronin & Lewin, got autographs from the actors, checked out the cast recording, and debated the merits of their favorite barnyard animals.

The Lifeline lobby between shows on Sunday.

Fans line up to meet Cronin & Lewin.

Doreen Cronin (left) and Betsy Lewin (right) sign books.

From left: Amanda Link (Ewe), Nathaniel Niemi (Duck), Elizabeth Dowling (Pig), Betwsy Lewin (illustrator), Shole Milos (director), James E. Grote (adaptor), Heather Currie (Cow), and Craig C. Thompson (Farmer Brown)

Rob Kauzlaric
Marketing Director

Sneak Peek pics

Today, we post some pics that Katie snapped at the subscriber-only Treasure Island Sneak Peek event on Sunday. We always look forward to these Sneak Peeks as a great opportunity to connect with our subscribers and share a little bit of our artistic process (and all of our excitement) early in the rehearsal period for each new MainStage production.

Branimira Ivanova presents her costume sketches and Blind Pew’s leather cowl.

Chris Hainsworth and John Ferrick grapple at close quarters during an early look at the Isreal Hands/Dirk O’Brien knife fight.

Geoff Coates turns the action around to show the audience all the behind-the-scenes stage combat tricks used in Chris and John’s fight.

Rob Kauzlaric
Marketing Director

Treasure Island, here we come

We’re just hours away from beginning the rehearsal process for Treasure Island and I wanted to take a moment to share my excitement about the all-star team we have in place for this project.

John Hildreth (adaptor of Johnny Tremain, Cat’s Cradle, The Shadow, Around the World in 80 Days, etc) has created our thrilling script; Alan Donahue (designer of Mariette in Ecstasy, The Mark of Zorro, and many, many more) is on scenic/projections/props; Kevin Gawley (designer of Island of Dr. Moreau, Dorian Gray, etc.) is on lights; Branimira Ivanova (designer of Mariette in Ecstasy, Dorian Gray, etc.) is on costumes; and Andy Hansen (Dorian Gray) is on sound. Fights will be by Geoff Coates (The Mark of Zorro, Talisman Ring) and I’ll be wrangling it all together with the aid of the intrepid Erica Foster, who’s back as stage manager (The Mark of Zorro, The Killer Angels, Around the World in 80 Days, etc).

The killer cast features such long-time familiar faces as ensemble member Patrick Blashill (as Dr. Livesey), John Ferrick (as Squire Trelawney), and Robert McLean (as Captain Smollett); some recently-familiar faces like Sean Sinitski (as Long John Silver), Christopher Walsh (as Billy Bones), Chris Hainsworth (as Isreal Hands), and Ezekiel Sulkes (as Ben Gunn); plus some folks brand new to Lifeline: Warren Weber (as Jim Hawkins), Matt Engle (as Black Dog), and C. Sean Piereman (as Job Anderson).

It’s an amazing team and I’m so fortunate to have all of them on board!

Fight and dialect rehearsals start tomorrow. Staging begins next week. I’ll do my best to check back in with some updates from time to time. ‘Til then…

See you on the island~
Robert Kauzlaric

Telling stories

Both Paul & Katie touch on the nature of artistic ensembles in their recent blog posts, something I’ve been pondering myself lately. I consider the Lifeline ensemble truly fortunate, since the primary function of the group is to choose and develop the material we produce, not merely just to direct/design/act in it. We aren’t stuck having a season dictated to us by an outside person – we work together to uncover the passion projects we want to work on. We don’t take a “back seat” role in productions we aren’t directing/designing/acting in – we play a vital part in the development process, from early discussion through draft readings, rehearsal runs, and the preview process.

As an ensemble member at Lifeline, I feel a sense of pride and ownership in every show we produce, since my voice and ideas were heard by the production team at every step along the way. This is equally true for shows like The Picture of Dorian Gray (which I pitched to the group and wrote the adaptation for) as for shows like Mariette in Ecstasy or Duck for President, which I “only” experienced as an audience member. And while some seasons go by when I may not be cast in roles I would have liked to play, or when the other commitments of life preclude me from participating as much as I’d like in the development of a show or two, still those shows are as important to me as the ones I personally submitted for the ensemble’s consideration. As is sharing in the growth and development of each of my fellow ensemble artists – and the theatre as an institution.

Sean Sinitski, Nick Vidal & Paul S. Holmquist in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Photo by Lindsay Schlesser.

The Lifeline ensemble exists to tell stories. Sometimes, as a member of the ensemble, I’ll act in those stories. Sometimes I’ll write them. Once in a while, I may even direct them (as with the upcoming Treasure Island – gulp). But most of the time my job is to encourage, question, challenge, support, and nurture my fellow ensemble members as we work together to creatively share the stories that excite us, with the audience that means so much to us.

Robert Kauzlaric