Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Disappearance of a Prejudice

I used to have a secret, snotty prejudice against playwrights who adapted old stories--particularly myths and fairy tales--into works of theater, rather than inventing new stories and characters that would, in time, become as famous as these old myths. Why draw water from a 2000-year-old well when you could instead prospect for your own new source of fresh water? I also thought that the theater risked disappearing up its own arsehole of literary pretension if too many playwrights adapted old stories rather than creating new, contemporary, relevant ones.

I didn't tell very many people about this prejudice, because deep down I knew it was unjust and that it would make people angry. In the meantime, I tied myself up in knots with my insistence that I had to create original stories, that my newness had to explode in a burst of glory! And when this all did come out, in the course of a drunken night in Berkeley with two playwriting friends, they almost pitied me for my rigidity. They saw how my prejudice was holding me back. They told me "Shakespeare didn't invent any of his plots!" but I scorned this. I think there was a part of me that wanted to hold myself to an even higher standard than Shakespeare.

In the last year, though, I'd say that my prejudice has gradually, subconsciously slipped away. For one thing, I fully embraced the idea that the way a story is told, how the material is shaped and what stylistic devices are employed, is more important than the actual story. (Previous post on this topic as it relates to some of my favorite movies.) For another, I have seen so much inspiring theater that is based on Greek mythology, there's no way I could retain my bias against it. The Huffington Post has a great rundown of just how much wonderful Greek-inspired theater we have seen in the Bay Area lately. It's been quite a year!

On a personal level, I was so inspired by the 12 plays of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, particularly the way they covered such a wide range of genres, themes and styles. Though each play dealt with a Greek god--and many of them contained delightfully nerdy in-jokes for people who know a lot about Greek mythology--each bore the unmistakable stamp of its writer's voice, and each could still be enjoyed by people who are unfamiliar with the original stories. I have recently been named a co-producer of Olympians: Round 2 (oh yeah, it's happening! October 2011) and I am super excited. And, did I mention I'm also translating Jean Cocteau's Orphée?

So I realized this morning that my prejudice is dead and buried. And damn, that feels good.


Mead said...

Thank you for the Orphee! We've only needed a new since the 1960s. Can I read yours when it's ready??

Marissa said...

Sure thing, Mead! Of course, I've barely started on it, and I still need to write a business letter in French requesting the rights to translate it. But, eventually, I'll be happy to show it to you.

I owe you an email, btw, and will now include some thoughts on "Orphée" in it, as well as other news!