Drama and Cinematic Adaptation

The interaction between American drama and cinema – put more crudely, Broadway and Hollywood – has fluctuated significantly in the last century, but the link between the two was for many years crucial. Where it was once routine, if not expected, for the great actors, writers, and directors of the stage to try their luck in Hollywood, this has been less common in recent years, despite recent successful of Broadway musicals Dear Evan Hansen (2021) and The Prom (2020). Does this mean that American drama is becoming increasingly isolated from anyone beyond its core audience? Are artists by-passing the stage in favour of film and TV? Can cinema faithfully recreate experimental theatre, and if not, must it rely on whatever is the most likely to be commercially successful? We think now, with two Denzel Washington-produced adaptations of August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle”, Fences (2016) and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) down and eight more to come, is the right time to ask these questions.

Susan Sontag wrote that “cinema had an early, but, I would argue, fortuitous connection with the stage”, and this Special Series seeks to investigate any and all aspects of this connection. With The Prom attracting criticism for discarding the Broadway cast that made it successful when adapted for cinema, we have to ask, who does, or can, adaptation serve? What are the ethical or aesthetic issues that arise when adapting a play for cinema? Inviting contributions from as broad a group of scholars as possible, we seek to look at these questions and more in our latest Special Series.

Suggested topics include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Why some plays and playwrights translate to the big screen and why some don’t
  • Studies of directors who worked in both mediums
  • Studies of playwrights and how their work was adapted
  • The techniques required for adaptation from the stage to the screen
  • The politics of who gets to adapt, and who gets to be adapted
  • The changes, necessary and unnecessary, made in adaptation
  • How adaptation changes our attitude towards contemporary and classic drama

Abstracts should be around 250 words. Final articles, if accepted, should be 1000-1500 words and use Chicago Endnote style referencing.

Send all abstracts to Dr. Ciarán Leinster at c_leinster@yahoo.co.uk by Friday 26th November and include ‘Drama and Cinema Special Series’ at the beginning of the subject line.

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