| Mark Alhadeff and Tiffany Scott in McCarter Theatre’s production of The Secret in the Wings. Photographer: T. Charles Erickson
Adapting a text for performance is a unique process. The creators of the new piece may choose to focus on or enhance certain aspects of the original text while de-emphasizing, adjusting or eliminating other aspects. Often times the structure of the story is altered in some way and what was, in the original, narrative description becomes stage action. The impetus to adapt a book, story, legend or myth into a stage event with dramatic action is, in most cases, related to the specific perspective or point of view that the theater artist takes. In essence the audience will “see” the story through the director’s eyes, colored by ideas and emotions that captivated the director when he or she read the source material. In order to better understand the elements that are involved in Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of the fairy tales that were incorporated into The Secret In The Wings, consider how the following literary terms might apply to a live ensemble of actors.
Fairy Tale- A fairy tale is a story of fabled deeds and creatures. It often deals with mischievous spirits and other supernatural occurrences coupled with true human behavior. These stories are commonly used to impart lessons or morals. You can gain a glimpse into a culture’s beliefs by analyzing the lessons imparted by their fairy tales.
Framing Device - A narrative structure that provides a setting and exposition for the main narrative in a work of literature. Often, a narrator will describe where s/he found the manuscript or where s/he heard someone tell the story. The frame helps control the reader’s perception of the work, and has been used in the past to help give credibility to the main section of the text .
Framework Story - A narrative that contains another narrative. Both the framework story and the inner story add meaning to one another, and one is usually important to the outcome of the other. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a famous example of several stories within a story.
Persona - The person created by the author to tell a story. Whether the story is told by an omniscient narrator or by a character in it, the actual author of the work often distances him/herself from what is said or told by adopting a persona—a personality different from his real one. Thus, the attitudes, beliefs and degree of understanding expressed by the narrator may not be the same as those of the actual author. Some authors, for example, use narrators who are not very bright in order to create irony.
Symbol- Something that on the surface is its literal self but which also has another meaning or even several meanings. For example, a sword may be a sword and also symbolize justice. Wings may represent a bird but also symbolize freedom. A symbol may be said to embody an idea. There are two general types of symbols: universal symbols that embody universally recognizable meanings wherever used, such as light to symbolize knowledge, a skull to symbolize death, etc., and constructed symbols that are given symbolic meaning by the way an author uses them in a literary work.
| McCarter Theatre’s production of The Secret in the Wings. Photographer: T. Charles Erickson
Irony- A contrast or an incongruity between what is stated and what is really meant, or between what is expected to happen and what actually does happen. Two kinds of irony are: 1) verbal irony, in which a writer or speaker says one thing and means something entirely different; and 2) dramatic irony in which a reader or audience member perceives something that a character in the story does not.
Fable- A brief tale designed to illustrate a moral lesson. Often the characters are animals as in the fables of Aesop.
Personification- A figure of speech in which an animal, an object, a natural force or an idea is given personality, or described as if it were human.
Macabre- Focusing on or having death as a subject. A style or genre that is comprised of or includes a personalized representation of death. Macabre can also be used to refer to a story that dwells on the gruesome or tends to produce horror in a beholder.
Allegory- Prose or verse in which the objects, events or people are presented symbolically, so that the story conveys a meaning other than and deeper than the actual incident or characters described. Often, the form is used to teach a moral lesson.
Theme- The main idea or the basic meaning of a literary work. The theme of a work is not the same as the work’s subject. Themes often comment on or present some insight about the meaning of life. In some literary works the theme is expressed directly, but more often, the theme is implicit — that is, it must be dug out and thought about. A simple theme can often be stated in a single sentence, but sometimes a literary work is rich and complex, and may have multiple themes that are not easily or quickly characterized.