TCT: Tell us what it’s like to be the playwright-in-residence at The Mark Twain House & Museum. What do your day-to-day duties involve?
Much of my day is spent exploring the novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, reading through Twain’s personal papers, and simply wandering through the house for inspiration. The magic of the Mark Twain House is that it feels as though, at any moment, Twain himself might be right around the corner, smoking a cigar, telling a joke to a guest or friend. I am often so overwhelmed by the power of the place that by the end of a single day I can’t help but run off to write. Twain is alive and well in his old home.
TCT: You are making your London debut with The Sawyer Studies on 1st December at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden. What is the production about”
The Sawyer Studies is a series of scenes, taken from or inspired by The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that explore the themes and iconic moments of Twain’s original novel. As a testbed for the larger Broadway adaptation of the book, these shorter plays explore what it means to modernize, shift, or even merely dramatize Twain’s classic for a modern audience. This production will test how far an audience, or a company, can step from or step towards Twain’s original work while still maintaining, and perhaps enhancing, the timeless truths of the novel.
TCT: For people who haven’t read the story, can you briefly lay out the plot of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?
The quintessential portrait of boyhood and early adolescence, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not only the story of young love, adventure, and mischief, but one of fatherlessness, death, and morality. In equal parts childishness and great suffering, the book captures the lives of children and of all of us not as they may seem, but as they are. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer follows boys Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as they, over the course of both adventures and tragedies, grow into men.
TCT: Is this the first time you’ve been to London” Are you excited or nervous about the production”
I have been to London before, but never with a play, so I am excited to see the city, and to see my work, in a new light. As for being nervous, I believe so much in this production, in Mark Twain’s work, and in that work’s theatrical potential, that I find little to be nervous about. It’s all very exciting.
TCT: How do you think British audiences’ reactions will differ from American audiences’?
Twain himself achieved great success in England during his life, receiving an honorary doctorate from Oxford in 1907 and enjoying popularity throughout his career in the UK, so in a sense I am simply returning the work to British audiences, not introducing it. In my work in America, my chief goal has been to break down the barriers between Twain’s 19th century prose and a modern audience, which is, I believe, the only real roadblock for any Western audience, let alone a British one. In a modern, globalized world, there is little, if anything, aimed at Americans that will slip by non-American audiences.
TCT: What would you like people to take away from this production”
I hope the biggest take-away will be the notion that even after 200 years, we are not so different from Tom, Huck, or Twain himself. At the heart of the human experience, little has changed, and there is still so much to learn from those who came before us. The figures of the past speak as clearly to us as they did to each other. Their stories are ours.
TCT: You are currently working on a full adaption of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for Broadway in 2016. How are you approaching the project” What was your first step?
My first step, and the step I always return to, was and is to immerse myself in the novel and in Twain’s work at large. There is nothing more essential in the process of adaptation than becoming almost too familiar with the work, spending an overwhelming amount of time reading and taking notes, then repeating the process. Everything one keeps (or throws away) from the original piece in an adaptation must be selected with the utmost care and purpose, and I take those choices very seriously. As for the current step, this London production of The Sawyer Studies is crucial in that it will test how far an audience, or a company, is willing to step from and step towards Twain’s original work while maintaining, and perhaps enhancing, the timeless truths of the piece.
TCT: Finally, what’s next for you after the production hits Broadway”
I’m trying to keep my head down, get the work done, and take it one day at a time. Let’s see what today brings.
The Sawyer Studies is running at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden from 1st – 6th December. For more information and to book tickets visit their website.