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Adaptations of Theater to Cinema : Issues & Nuances of Successful Stage-Plays as Films

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This paper examines the adaptation of stage plays to cinema. The creative component of the essay consists of   the description of full-length play scripts, and the script of its feature film adaptation. The component of criticality in this thesis analyses some stages-to-film adaptations for illustrating the distinctions between writing for the two different mediums and to suggest principles to help scriptwriters in adapting material between theatre and film. The thesis concludes with discussion of the decisions made when adapting a script. This thesis debates that to successfully adapt play or film scripts from one medium to the other, the adaptor must be willing to include vital changes in order to effectively ‘adapt’. Adaptations that merely transpose from the stage onto the screen, or screen onto the stage, fail to involve with their new medium. This thesis recommends a set of adaptation ethics as well for script adaptors.


Conversions from drama have been central to the world of cinema since its very beginning, with, works constantly being adapted from other mediums into film. Theatre performance has always been one of the best mediums and in recent years alone film adaptations of Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, and Beau Willimon’s Farragut. Increasingly there is adaptation in the opposite direction as well, with successful film-to-play adaptations such as Terry Johnson’s The Graduate, Owen O'Neil’s and Dave Johns’s The Shawshank Redemption and Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls. There are absolutely many means of cinema and theatre, however, this essay’s interests lie with the type of plays and films mentioned above. Hence, it is necessary to define what this essay means by ‘film’ and ‘theatre’. In this essay, ‘film’ refers to movies that generally employ a straight narrative approach, which are written and acted in English, and which achieved general release. Essentially, the films which are discussed here are the types of movies which come and go from the local multiplex and are likely to be seen in competition in the main categories of the Academy Awards. Likewise, ‘theatre’ within the scope of this essay refers to drama written in English which one could expect to see produced at mainstream professional theatres and in contention for major theatre awards.

Stage to Film:

Cinema was born during the late 19th century whereas theatre origins antedate the 6th century BCE. Over the moderately short lifetime of cinema, conversions from theatre to film have been produced with regularity, some of which have been authorized with cinema’s highest prize, the Academy Award. Already, thirteen films that have won the Best Picture Oscar had their beginnings in theatre2 and sixteen that have won the best Adapted Screenplay Oscar were originally stage plays.3 While the key components of stage dramas and Screenplays are basically the same – a story brought to real by actors -- converting material from the theatre into film have often displayed to be difficult for scriptwriters to successfully manage. Novels debatably comprise a cinematic ‘voice’ ‘what novels and films more usually have in common is the latent and the inclination for narrative. And narrative, at certain levels, is undeniably the chief transferable element’ (McFarlane, 1996, p. 12). Unlike converting a novel, with its capability to immediately change time, environment or have a cast of hundreds, all of which is attainable in film, adapting theatre postures considerable challenges to the adaptor, not the least of which is moving a narrative from a very fixed form and frequently with a heavy dependence upon the spoken word into the very different, visual-based world of film. This segment scrutinizes several play-to-film conversions which showcase the noteworthy problems and resourceful solutions converters have called on when writing for the new medium

Transposition :

The Shape of Things: A Loss of Emotional Impact The Shape of Things began life on stage in 2001 at London’s Almeida Theatre directed and written by the American playwright Neil LaBute. It is a play about two young couples, Adam and Evelyn and Phillip and Jenny. What appears first to be a theatre part centred around contacts, reliability and the characters’ contrary to political views discloses itself to be more profound when Evelyn’s agenda is made clear. The action of the play occurs over some months, during

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