Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The beginning

I first came across Thoreau's book at a second-hand book sale - it was a beautiful Penguin edition with woodblock illustrations. As soon as I started reading the book, I knew that wanted to make a piece of theatre from it. I also knew that I didn't want to make something that was in the traditional mould of one person biographical shows of the type that are frequently seen at the Edinburgh Fringe. These usually involve someone actually pretending to be the character and wearing stuck on facial hair and a period costume. This is what I call the "heritage" approach and it seemed to tie in with the whole Thoreau as tourist trail thing that goes on in New England. Visit Walden pond! See the reproduction hut! It's in the car park so you don't even have to walk very far!

To me, Walden is an amazingly contemporary book. It's also not a book about one thing - I've read a lot of articles and websites where people try to claim him for their cause. The thing that particularly interested me was the choice that Thoreau made to live in the woods - he didn't have to live in this way (unlike some of the other characters in the book, like John Field), and could have stopped at any time. He came from a wealthy background and had been to Harvard. He was not unlike George Orwell in his research for Down and Out...

What he writes about in the book is so far ranging that it is almost impossible to pin down, and this is to be one of the great challenges of the adaptation.

The aspect that particularly interests me is the idea that Thoreau's work is almost like a piece of performance art - he consciously decided to test a hypothesis, and consciously turned it into a piece of art by writing the book. I am also interested in the connections with autobiographical theatre of the type practised by Spalding Gray.

The most important thing, though, is the idea of creating it in a way that is in keeping with the philosophy of the book. To this end, the production will be created entirely from found objects (the first of these, of course, is the text of Walden itself). Nothing will be made new - everything will be adapted from existing objects: the set, the costumes, the props etc.

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