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Originality on the Stage

Playwrights’ Corner
Matthew Park and Tiffany Villarin rehearsing for Clarence Coo's People Sitting in Darkness.

Another year gone, another new year of plays and musicals ahead of us to look forward to as a new season swiftly approaches. While each show brings it's own excitement and intrigue to the table, it's hard not to notice how many of the shows in this upcoming Broadway season and beyond are based on existing source material. Nine upcoming shows as listed on Playbill are movie remakes, and what Mean Girls could be in the future what Heathers The Musical was for 2014, all this repurposing of popular, established works begs the question, where has original storytelling gone?

In terms of why these adaptations are so popular, playwright and Lark Board Member David Henry Hwang's theory on the success of switching mediums is, "Collaborators on a musical -- the bookwriter, lyricist, composer, sometimes the director -- have to do a sort of mind-meld to create a unified vision. That's why so many successful musicals are based on some other source material. That's something concrete that everyone can agree on to start." Working on a team can be challenging enough, so it makes sense that if collaborators can work on a subject they all have familiarity with and a shared understanding of, it will help contribute to making decisions and figuring out tough choices in a way they can all agree on.

It only takes a look back at The Lark's own season to find adaptation is alive and well. During Playwrights' Week 2015, there was some incredible original work. One piece, written by 2015-16 Rita Goldberg Playwrights' Workshop Fellow Clarence Coo, explored elements of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but had its own original story, character development, and style. I asked Clarence to speak of his writing process when it comes to working with established source material and he responded, "I've written a few plays that are adaptations of other works. The way I find myself into an adaptation is to focus on the structural elements of the original work that preoccupy me but don't, on the surface, make sense to me. Then my process is to investigate the obsession, trusting that those unexplainable elements will lead me to the thing I wanted to say but couldn't originally express. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, there were many such elements: squabbling but amorous rulers, a donkey-headed man, a play within a play. Trying to figure out what they meant in my head (not an easy task) helped me find the story of People Sitting in Darkness." Finding inspiration in another work is a great way to find our voice or put our own personal spin on a familiar concept. Works like these continue to inspire because they combine the known with originality to create an offshoot, a new piece both recognizable and different.

The theater is thriving with new work, full of promise, whether it started off as a Hollywood film or the brain child of a young playwright.  While we can look forward to Broadway tackling the adventures of Spongebob and Magic Mike, I think it's safe to say some amazing new work can also be found a little off Broadway in intimate theaters and play labs, including such Lark plays as Diana Oh's {my lingerie play}: Installation 9/10: THE FINAL INSTALLATION or Chisa Hutchinson's The Wedding Gift

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