Posted by on Jan 26, 2016 in Goosed, On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Pentamerone (Tale of Tales), Playwriting, The She Bear | 0 comments

Only the highest quality Photoshopping is good enough for my blog!

Yes, siree, only the highest quality Photoshopping is good enough for my blog…

If you thought The Revenant would have been better if Leonardo DiCaprio & the bear fell in love HAVE I GOT A PLAY FOR YOU!

She-Bear squareThe second of my Tale of Tales plays is now available for perusal and premieres and it’s The She Bear. There are two different versions of the standalone play, beyond the version with the narrator that will ultimately be in the full length. One version can be done with only four performers to open it up to community theatres where smaller cast size is a plus and the other version has more speaking roles for schools who want as many actors as possible to participate. If you’d like a perusal copy, drop me an email.

Goosed was a fairly faithful adaptation. Other than combining things a bit to keep the number of scene changes down and making the three evil cousins an evil mother and her daughters (which I did mostly to make it less confusing), events play out very similar to how they do in the original fairy tale. But The She Bear was a harder play to adapt and I wanted to talk a bit about that process.

The fairy tale begins with a King who promises his dying wife that he will never marry again unless he can find her equal. Then he immediately gets horny and tries to find another wife and fails. He then decides to just marry his daughter because she’s so like her mother. The princess is trapped and facing death if she doesn’t comply with her father’s desire. (All of this is terrible but this is not my first time making an incestuous fairy tale school friendly so I had a plan for getting past it.)

The part that drew me to this fairy tale, though, is what happens next. A fairy takes pity on the princess and gives her a stick which, when she puts it in her mouth, transforms her into a huge freaking bear during the wedding. Guests run screaming and she escapes into the woods. The women in fairy tales usually transform into soft stuff like fruit, flowers, doves, a doe, etc but here is this princess transforming into a huge honking bear. I loved it.

Anyway, she meets a prince and they have a connection and I adapted up to this point in the story and had a terrible realization. Everything that I’d written so far would have to be chucked. I think it was 4 or 5 scenes I had to trash. As much as it pained me because I’d pictured this as a female-led story and the princess’s story was what drew me to this tale, I was going to have to change the play to be from the prince’s POV.

Why? The first and biggest reason is that it’s a better story that way. So much of the second half of the story centers around the prince trying to figure out what the deal is with the bear and, if the story is from the princess’ POV, you already know she’s the bear. It’s more dramatic if you’re figuring it out with the prince and the reveal of her as bear is a surprise. There is also this theme in the fairy tale of the prince being mad and the question of if it’s real or if he’s faking it and I wanted to play into that where the audience wasn’t sure either until the reveal.

The other thing that annoyed me about the fairy tale is that he sees a girl one day in the bear’s garden and immediately assumes the bear is really a girl and starts manipulating her into revealing herself. But who the heck would assume that right off? It comes completely out of the blue. The only reason it “works” (in quotes because I’m not sure it does) in the fairy tale is because they audience already knows she’s the bear and wants to get on with it. But I wanted to make that moment into a turning point and use it let the prince (and the audience) question his sanity.

The second big reason I started the play in what is essentially the midpoint of the fairy tale is it allowed me to downplay the incest. You hear about the father who wants to marry his daughter earlier in the play but it’s a rumor and, as far as the audience knows, has nothing to do with the characters at hand. Once the princess transforms back into herself, she eludes to running from her father and being forced into a bad marriage and it’s up to the audience to connect the two. It’ll probably go over a lot of people’s heads exactly how messed up it is, which is just fine with me, and spared me from having to write those creepy scenes between her and her father. (I have a way for schools to downplay it even more if needed, don’t worry.)

Sometimes these adaptations, even when you’re trying to stay faithful to the original, can surprise you. It’s a good reminder to stay flexible because I’m not sure the play would have turned out as good as it did if I hadn’t been willing to change the POV and consider it from another angle. In the end, everything I loved about the story, except for the literal transformation of princess to bear in the middle of a wedding with guest screaming everywhere which would have been glorious but hard to do anyway, is still in there and I’m excited to see what you do with it on stage!

Here’s the story I ended up with:

The Queen of Running Water wants her son to take a bride but the Prince flees to the woods for sport rather than be snared himself. But, when a pack of hungry wolves nearly tear him apart, he’s saved by the very She-Bear he’d been hunting. There’s something unusual about the bear and the prince insists on treating her injuries back at the palace. As man and bear heal from their wounds, the Queen is horrified as a friendship forms between the two that makes the Prince forget his duties. But when the apparition of a beautiful princess appears in the bear’s enclosure then disappears without a trace, the prince starts to question his sanity as his mind twists around an impossible idea: Has he really fallen in love with a bear? Or are the princess and the bear one and the same? Magic and mayhem, romance and the ridiculous dance hand in paw in this modern adaptation of Giambattista Basile’s fairy tale where love is the best kind of madness.

My version is very much a romantic comedy (my husband says I can’t call the battle with a pack of wolves a “meet cute” even though I maintain that’s what it is). The one thing I’ve noticed with these fairy tale adaptations is that once I get a handle on what my hook is, I can finish the whole thing up no problem in a day or two. In this case it was “love is the best kind of madness” whereas Goosed was “kindness is as good as gold” and those probably seem like really simple cliches but figuring out which one fit the story at hand busts the whole revision open for me and makes it that much easier. The original fairy tales had these weird irrelevant morals that barely made sense so anchoring each story to a little line like this feels like an homage of sorts, even if it’s a completely different theme than the original.

I’m not going to attempt to tell you what adaptation will be next as declaring one only seems to make another one call to me louder but I hope to have another one for you very soon. Two are very near to done and one more is threatening every day to become a full length on its own so we’ll see how it all shakes out!