Monday, February 13, 2012

Mission Accomplished: TEEN MOGUL, the play vs the novel

My primary goal during this residency was to adapt my (unpublished) novel TEEN MOGUL into a play.  I'm happy to report this was one Mission Accomplished.

No, that doesn't mean it's "finished finished."   I will probably go over it several hundred more times, agonizing word by word :-).  I will want to hear it.  See it.   Imagine it.  Oscar Wilde said works are never finished, merely abandoned.  So, so true.  Nothing's ever perfect.  But as another great, Leonard Cohen, says, that's how the light gets in.  Through the cracks.  

So when Naomi asks me what I'm going to read in March, I'm nervous.  Giddy.  Is TEEN MOGUL ready for her closeup :-)?

TEEN MOGUL, the play, takes a few departures from the novel.  Most notably, the ethnicity of the protagonist (Tracy) is not specified to encourage open casting.

In the novel, Tracy is Tracy Chen, Asian American, but she really didn't have to be.  She could have been a Marion Davies.  The story is about how a girl is forced to save her family, her house, and her self once her mother abandons the family.  It's an uplifting story, empowering, and one adapted from true life. My mother did abandon us, and send us in a downward spiral.  I did work for a medium size consulting firm, and I was nominated to the Board of Directors at 16.  All true.  In a novel, you have to be very specific.  And since it was inspired by my real life, agents thought the protagonist should be Asian American like me.  I thought, why not?

As a girl, I remember wanting desperately to see more Asian Americans represented in the media.   My friend Yvette Heylinger told me less than 2% women playwrights of color are produced.  Less than 2%.

The novel and the play cover different territory.  My former "mentor" Romulus Linney said, a play is like a moving train.  A book, you can open, shut, come back to.  In the play, you must keep moving.  Playing.  People in the very last row have to be able to follow along as well as people in the front row.
You cannot have too many characters, too much exposition, too much.  I want the play to be producible on a wide economic scale, from low to high production values.

So there's a lot in the book that unfortunately I just had to leave out, leave out for book lovers to discover and hopefully enjoy in the novel.  I felt terrible, at times, but you write in service of your craft.   The story must work, hold, move.  The same way people always complain about books being better than the movie, I hope they don't complain the book is better than the play.  The truth of the matter is....

They're totally different beasts.   I hope, powerful beasts of delight.

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