How theatre adapts : integrating art, commerce, and the adaptation industry




Malafronte, Ashley

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From the big-budget stages of Broadway to more experimental, independent theatre scenes, cross-medium adaptations dominate the landscape of U.S. theatre. The proliferation of adaptations into theatre— and the extreme concentration of budgetary resources, acclaim, and audience reach that attend them— is the observation that launched this research. This thesis converges scholarship from theatre studies, performance studies, and adaptation studies to position cross-medium adaptation as an effective strategy to maintain the economic viability of theatre without compromising the oft-lauded qualities of liveness and ephemerality. Through two case studies, I map relationships between the theatre, book, and film industries— and their stakeholders— to further an understanding of adaptation within a multi-industrial system of production that impacts both the artistic and business practices of cultural production. Participation in what Simone Murray calls the adaptation industry provides links to other, non-theatrical entertainment industries, and creating work in this system enables some aspects of contemporary theatrical production while constraining others. Adaptation therefore accelerates the commodification of theatre by linking a theatrical performance to the extant product of its non-theatrical source. Disney Theatrical Productions, Ltd. embraces this commodification as a way of enabling theatrical production through a multi-pronged set of business synergy strategies, which the company deploys by activating a network of cross-divisional relationships within the larger Walt Disney Company. This approach facilitates theatrical production, though sometimes at the expense of artistry. Elevator Repair Service, by contrast, utilizes adaptation as a set of formal constraints to be made visible through performance. Despite this oppositional approach, Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz retains the associational benefits of adaptation by trading on the prestige of its canonical source, The Great Gatsby. This thesis articulates the industrial forces at play in both of these cases while centering practitioners in an analysis of theatrical adaptation within a multi-industrial system. Ultimately, this research contributes to a growing body of scholarship on theatrical adaptations and argues for theatre makers’ agency to navigate the potential business benefits to working in adaptation while defraying potential artistic costs.


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