File puptcrit/puptcrit.0811, message 24

Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2008 13:00:55 -0700
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Spoon River Anthology

>For several years I've had a shadow version of "Spoon River" 
>inventing itself in the recesses of my brain. Maybe someday I'll 
>bring it into the physical world! The book's vignette structure 
>would really lend itself to puppetry, I think. It's quite the soap 
>opera, exploring just about every frailty of human nature. 
>Definitely not subject matter for the kiddies, but a fine adult 
>show. BTW, folksinger Michael Smith wrote a lovely little piece 
>about Spoon River: 
>, and 
>Claudia Schmidt recorded it: 
> . 
>Wouldn't that make a great soundtrack?

I think it would make a gorgeous piece.  It's been done quite a lot 
in the theatre with live actors, as it played Off-Broadway many years 
ago.  It's possible that would complicate the rights - you'd probably 
have to do as others do, simply pay for the dramatic rights and then 
use whatever poems you wanted in whatever arrangement.  (Masters died 
in 1950 so I don't think it's public domain.)  The original producers 
added a couple of very goopy (to my taste, anyhow) pseudo-folk songs 
- instrumental music would work much better.  The Michael Smith 
lyrics you quote are much closer to the heart of the book than the 
syrupy nostalgia some producers infuse it with.

Challenge with shadows would be to find what imagery serves as a 
visual field for the poems.  In the theatre it's generally just the 
actor doing a monolog to the audience, and that carries it, whereas 
just a talking shadow would wear thin fast.  But many possibilities 
of interfacing images from the poems with some anchoring figure. 
Might consider using as a light source (or one of several) 
rear-projected images of the speakers (from period photographs). 
Everything depends of course on the vocal line.  Might work to have a 
single reader with just indications of the in-character voices, 
rather than multiple actors - there's something about the strength of 
the highly-concentrated focus of a shadow piece that wants, in the 
vocal line, a very strong sense of its coming from a single 
consciousness.  If you used multiple voices, then something else - 
maybe the music score - might serve that tying-together function.

Anyway, now that you've made this public announcement of your secret 
desires, you're probably going to have to do it.  As to audience, I 
don't know if there's a jr. high or high school audience anywhere for 
puppetry, but it'd definitely work for that age group.  The writing 
is tough, real, and very accessible, and maybe has some marketability 
as an American-historical piece.

Peace & joy-
Conrad B.
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