Adaptation and a Solo Performer's Journey
By Lisa Hayes
Stone steps, worn and narrow, spiral up to the top of the round tower, a distinctive feature of 16th century Castle Fraser. Beyond the castle’s turrets below stretches the late summer landscape of this Grampian highland National Trust property. Soon I will be performing in the museum below. I have walked into a fairy tale, one that will carry me from castles in Scotland to historic manor houses in England, performing in rooms called The Great Hall, the Music Room, and the Marble Hall. My adaptation of Jane Eyre
is beginning to lead me on an extraordinary adventure.
Early in my tenure as a struggling actress In New York City I realized that the only way I would survive as an artist would be to create my own work. While reading a biography of Charlotte Bronte, it suddenly occurred to me that Jane Eyre, one of my favorite novels, was written in the first person. I set about transforming the novel into a one-woman show, a process that seemed like it would never end. Needing the urgency of a performance date, I offered to do a staged reading of the yet-to-be completed play at a historic house museum in Greenwich Village. I pared the 500-page novel down to a 50-page script and three months later I was performing my 80-minute 25-character adaptation for an audience at the Merchant’s House Museum.
My Journey with Jane has brought many remarkable experiences. Though the UK tour remains one of the highlights of my journey, there are others that stand out. After seeing my performance, a celebrated television producer and Bronte-phile invited me to see his Bronte collection. It is impossible to describe the thrill of holding a letter written by
My repertoire now includes two additional adaptation-based solo performances. Nurse!, crafted from oral history interviews, revolves around a nurses strike and debuted off-Broadway with sponsorship from a nurses union. A performance of Nurse! at a conference in Turkey led to an invitation to perform at a conference in The Hague on the theme of America: War, Conflict and Justice. I used that invitation as the inspiration to create a new show. An internet search on the phrase “women and war” led me to the story of Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Marissa Roth and her haunting exhibit One Person Crying: Women and War. Using transcripts from my interviews with Marissa and Marissa’s notes from her interviews with women she had photographed, I created Finding the Light, which tells the story of Marissa’s thirty-year journey documenting women and war, using her photographs as the backdrop.
I have begun working on a new project, adapting archival material on the 19th amendment. I am excited to see what new adventures lay ahead on a journey that began in a castle long ago.
This article can be found in Spring 2019 - "Adaptation! When Things Don't Go As Planned" (Volume 29, Issue 2) of IMTAL Insights.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lisa Hayes is a long-time member of IMTAL. In addition to touring her solo shows, she is a museum consultant in interpretation and museum theatre. She is the former CEO of the Accokeek Foundation, where she led transformational initiatives around museum theatre and interpretation of Piscataway Park’s landscape through a historical, indigenous, and environmental lens.