How (Not?) to Adapt Chekhov: Adventures in Dramaturgy

Author: Ridley, Nathaniel

Date: 2014

Publisher: Victoria University of Wellington

Type: Scholarly text, Master's

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Victoria University of Wellington


Despite rapid growth of adaptation theory in the last two decades, there is a gap in the field. Books like Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Adaptation (2006) and Julie Sanders’ Adaptation and Appropriation (2006) approach adaptations from an audience’s perspective, describing the effects of the adaptation process and providing a robust taxonomy, identifying all of different forms that adaptation might take. They do not, however, describe the details of the process of adaptation itself, even though they often refer to the need for a process-oriented account of adaptation. Existing adaptation manuals focus on screen-writing, leaving someone with an interest in the specifics of adapting a play nowhere to turn. This paper begins to address this gap in the available knowledge by documenting the adaptation process involved in the creation of four new adaptations of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, targeted at a New Zealand audience. The experiments presented here confirm what is suggested by a survey of the reception of English-language adaptations of Chekhov: there is no single correct method for adapting a play. An adapter's greatest challenge can be identifying which strategy is appropriate for the conditions they face. This project experiments with different adaptive methods and strategies, developed by looking at other English-language Chekhov adaptations, including techniques of approximating the setting, language and themes to a target audience. I attempt to identify which methodologies will achieve the desired results, revealing a variety of different challenges, advantages and weaknesses inherent to each approach. Moreover, both the research and the experiments suggest how the success or failure of an adaptation depends on a variety of contextual factors, including the target audience's relationship with the adapted work, the dramaturgical characteristics of that work, and the abilities of the adapter.

Subjects: Adaptation, Dramaturgy, Anton Chekhov