If we weren’t so busy putting plays together, several of us would be floating on a cloud of happiness because of the jobs we get to do. For guest director Lisa Ellis and myself, our delight is firstly because we are producing a story which has been a favorite of both of us since childhood.
My mother gave me my copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess when I was five. She read it aloud to me at least once (for her own enjoyment as much as mine, since it was also a childhood favorite for her). From the time I first learned how, I know I read it at least once a year right up through college. I’ve read it multiple times as an adult. Lisa recalls discovering it when she was in fifth grade, and read it multiple times that year alone.
Not finding an adaptation which suited our company (nor one truly faithful to the book), I spent last summer joyfully writing my own version. Lisa was my diligent script-reader and critic during the editing process. I know I’ve written here before about the challenges of adaptation. Some stories lend themselves better than others to being transferred into a different medium. A Little Princess is a straight-forward story without much subplot. It has a clear protagonist and antagonist, takes place largely inside one house, and is loaded with terrific dialogue. Those who know the story will recognize that most of the lines in the play are lifted directly from the book.
Where we’ve had to make changes, they were for practical rather than creative reasons. At the start of the book, Sara is 5 or 6. She turns 11 just as her life changes dramatically. We’ve chosen to begin the play just a few months prior to her 11th birthday (for purposes of flow, and of casting). At times we’ve added some dialogue for existing characters, in order to explain action or make a scene more interesting. Some examples: Jessie and Lavinia have some extra lines which help us understand their characters and Sara’s, too. Sara and her father have a scene in which they read letters they’ve written to each other. A few things we’ve cut, of necessity: the French maid did not seem a vital enough role to include, although you will meet M. Dufarge, the French teacher. Most of the children who are part of the “Large Family” have been omitted for simplicity’s sake. And I’m sorry to inform you all that Ram Dass will not be the owner of a monkey.
The script being finished in August, Lisa and I were already in preliminary production meetings in early autumn, and the set design was underway shortly afterward. Now the show is cast, rehearsals are in full swing, sets and costumes are getting done and I’m at work on sound design while also preparing for our season finale, The Beams are Creaking. Our hard-working cast have had coaching in Victorian deportment, along with a variety of dialects: educated British, Cockney British, French and Indian!
Stay tuned for more updates, including an introduction to the composer of the original music for the play!