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Adapting Plays Into Movies

Adapting Plays Into Movies “In theatre, you can change things ever so slightly; it’s an organic thing.Whereas in film, you only have that chance on the day, and you have no control over it at all,” These insightful words were once spoken by actress (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace) and Oscar winner Judi Dench, and they very clearly illustrate one of the biggest differences between theatre and film.However, a small hint of bias seems to be depicted in this point of view.

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The quote (and many others) seem to suggest that one form of acting is more difficult than the other.

It seems the opposite is true; that when taking one of these art forms (i. e. theatre) and transforming it into the other, one would come across a wide array of differences, as well as similarities. When researching a topic such as this, one must go beyond reading. One must not only dive into a script or a periodical or academic journal, one must immerse themselves into the films that have come about as a result of the transformation of turning a play into a cinematic experience.

When going about researching this topic, I watched the movie Chicago (Dir. Rob Marshall, 2002) as well as looked over the original Broadway script (By Jon Kander, Fredd Ebb, and Bob Fosse 1975). The original Broadway production opened June 3, 1975, at the 46th Street Theatre and ran for 936 performances. Chicago’s 1996 Broadway revival holds the record for the longest-running musical revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, and is the fourth longest-running show in Broadway history.

After all the success, What better way to continue the magic of this thrilling show than create a movie out of it? The story tells of two women (Roxie Hart and Velma Kelley) who live in Chicago and are responsible for murdering their husbands and must fight to get out of prison, in order to pursue their dreams of Broadway stardom. After deciding to delve a bit deeper, I chose to go a bit farther back in history. The story of Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare 1591-1595) has been adapted into film over thirty times in one form or another.

The original storyline is about two star-crossed lovers that end up tragically committing suicide as a result of their undying love for each other and their families’ undying hatred for the opposing kin. The one adaptation that seemed to stick out to me was director Baz Luhrmann’s rendition that he released in 1996 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. The film is an abridged modernization of Shakespeare’s play. While it retains the original Shakespearean dialogue, the Montagues and the Capulets are represented as warring business empires and swords are replaced by guns.

With a bit of help from Wikipedia, and the old Romeo and Juliet script I had lying around from a past high school production (in which I portrayed the vivacious, yet dim-witted Nurse) I was on my way to analyzing the differences and similarities of adapting plays into movies. When finding key differences in movies created from plays, it is important that one realize that differences are very necessary. This comes about when dealing with time constraints. The average Broadway musical is about two hours, whereas the average movie is about an hour and a half.

It is imperative that movie directors be wary about what parts of the storyline they cut, as to not disappoint the audience or remove an important portion of the play that the story relies on. I found this when watching the Movie Chicago, after looking over the script. In the original play, Velma Kelley and Mama Morton engage in a short and comical musical number entitled “Class,” soon after Velma discovers that Roxie is rather talented at keeping the paparazzi on her tail. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Rob Marshall made the decision to cut the number, as it served no real purpose in the plot of the show.

As aforementioned, Baz Luhrmann made some very important and possibly story-altering changes in the presentation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Swords were replaced with guns, in order to bring the story a bit up to date, however he maintained the original Shakespearean language found in the original script. In addition to this change, Luhrmann decided that a more dramatic way to end the tragedy would be to have Juliet awaken, leaving the lovers to see each other one last time before Romeo dies and Juliet commits her infamous suicide.

The differences that one encounters when dealing with these adaptations goes far beyond the decisions of the director. The small concrete details that make up how the story is told are vastly different when dealing with on-stage shows versus movies. For example, things as simple as make up and facial expression are very different between the two. When an actor is on stage performing for a live audience, there are no close-ups. The actor must depend on his/her facial expression and gestures.

On stage, an actor must become comfortable with over exaggerating their gestures and expressions (often highlighted with heavy stage make up) in order to ensure that the emotions of the scene are adequately conveyed to the audience members in all parts of the house. In film, the cameras are able to do a close up on an actor’s face in order to show these emotions. This means that the actor does not need to wear heavy stage make up (in most circumstances) nor must they “over act. ” This also seems to be the case when it comes to projection of an actor’s voice.

On stage, one must be sure to project in order to establish clarity to audience members, whereas in film, it is not necessary due to microphones and audio technology. There are several similarities when converting a play to a film as well. It is obvious that preparation is very similar, in the way that actors must commit to (in my opinion) the most dreaded part of theatre of all types: memorization. In both film and stage shows, actors must memorize things such as lines, blocking, and choreography.

Also, actors must establish clear characterization to create a believable person on stage or in movies. This means one must work very hard to establish their characters’ back ground story and tendencies, in order to become one with their role. Also, in both forms of art, there are the same “roles” backstage as well. There is always need for a director, stage designer, and stagehands, etc. In conclusion, it seems that one art form is no better or worse than the other, as they both have obstacles to overcome when attempting to illustrate a plot for audience members, whether live or recorded.

There is a variety of similarities and differences between the two, but it seems one is not easier than the other, considering the two seem incomparable after close analysis. Chicago on stage may be longer than Chicago on a DVD, however both required work and preparation to create a masterpiece. Shakespeare had his own idea of the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, where Baz Luhrmann chose to take a different approach, while still maintaining the original storyline. These wo art forms are both different and similar, but one does not outshine the other; it is when viewing other art forms that we may find this inequality. The gorgeous George Clooney once stated, “There is a strange pecking order among actors. Theatre actors look down on film actors, who look down on TV actors. Thank God for reality shows, or we wouldn’t have anybody to look down on. ” However, one must leave that discussion for another day and realize film and theatre are both equally entertaining, just not equally done!

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