Adapted Versions Of Canonized Works

Photo Courtesy of Bishop Kelly High School

My main goal in building this selection of adapted plays is to emphasize that canonized works are still alive in the public imagination. Though Antigone or Twelfth Night may seem far removed from the lives of low-income, minority students, these adaptations show that even the greatest works can be related to and reimagined by anyone, even high school students.

By exposing teachers and students to classics with a twist, Act Out hopes to unbound the creative space and encourage students and teachers alike to trust each other on the creative journey. While studying original works can also be educational, the goal of Act Out is to make students of all backgrounds feel free to explore, to abandon the idea that there are right or wrong answers, and to accept that there is no right or wrong gender, class, or race to fill classic roles like Hamlet or the von Trapps. Regardless of the show being put on, the community that surrounds them, or the people that are watching, students can learn to use theater to explore new ways of viewing or identifying themselves.

Bah, Humbug!

Book adapted by Rebecca Ryland
Music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur

Cast: Flexible cast of 27 (about 6M, 18F, plus 3 that
can be either) chorus, optional doubling
Set: Single interior set
Time: About 1 hour
Script: $5.75
Royalty: $75 First performance/$60 Each additional performance

Come share the magic of this wonderful musical adaptation of everyone's favorite Christmas classic! Bill Francoeur's original music beautifully accompanies this uplifting retelling, enriched with ample female roles. "Bah, Humbug!" Ebenezer sings, dooming himself to visits from three Christmas spirits. With the first ghost, he sees his sister Fanny as they sing "One Last Christmas." Next, Scrooge is taken to the home of his employee, Beth Cratchit, where Tiny Tim sings "God Bless Us, Everyone." Finally, Scrooge watches as the entire town celebrates with "He's Dead and Buried!" Ebenezer's revelation that "Life Was Meant to Live" brings a heart-warming conclusion to Dickens' beloved tale. If desired, female roles can easily revert to traditional male roles.

Beowulf: User-Friendly Version

By Burton Bumgarner

Cast: Flexible cast of 19-22, extras, optional doubling
Set: Simple representational set
Time: About 1 hour
Script: $5.75
Royalty: $50 First performance/$40 Each additional performance

Your students will love this entertaining play that sheds comedic light on the dark story from the Middle Ages! After an entire class fails the exam on Beowulf, their stern teacher issues a challenge—tell her the famous story. Include the characters, action, themes and history, and you might just pass. The students concoct a retelling of the tale in a way that is relevant, accurate and absurdly hilarious, producing a special newscast à la CNN, complete with reporters, video images (no technology necessary!) and interviews. When Hrothgar, King of the Danes reads the business card—“Beowulf. Professional hero. Maiden rescue, dragon slaying, revenge and monster removal. Reasonable rates. Bonded.”—it sounds like just what he needs! With Monty Python-esque humor at Hrothgar’s mead-hall to light-hearted teasing of the teacher (who could have been born in the Middle Ages herself!), students explore Beowulf with biting sarcasm and amusing stage action. If you thought Grendel’s mother butchered the Danes, get ready for monstrous laughter with the butchering of the epic poem Beowulf!

Best Beware My Sting

From William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

Book by Paul T. Nolan
Music by Arne Christiansen
Lyrics by Ole H. Kittleson

Cast: 8M, 7F, plus chorus
Set: Several simple sets
Time: About 75 minutes
Script: $6.00
Royalty: $90 First performance/$80 Each additional performance

Our ever-popular Taming of the Shrew from the Globe Theatre Series has now been enriched with the radiant music of Christiansen and Kittleson. All the young gentlemen in Padua are in love with the lovely Bianca, but she cannot marry until her older sister, Katherine, is wed. But Katherine is short-tempered and unmannerly, and no man will have her. Petruchio, a gentleman from Verona, arrives in Padua in search of a well-to-do wife. Katherine is certainly prosperous, but in her typically irritable and curt way, she warns Petruchio to "best beware my sting!" Petruchio, however, biased by her handsome dowry, is willing to tame her shrewish character. The delightful music adds much charm and Italian flavor to this classic story. With room for a large chorus of men or women, songs include "Here In Padua," "What Should a Suitor Do?" and of course, "Best Beware My Sting."

Canterbury Tales: Or… Geoffrey Chaucer's Flying Circus

By Burton Bumgarner

Cast: Flexible cast of 15-60
Set: Representative sets
Time: About 90 minutes
Script: $5.75
Royalty: $50 First performance/$40 Each additional performance

Many believe that Chaucer’s literary masterpiece revolutionized English literature. Now you can revolutionize the study of this challenging literature by tossing in a good helping of Monty Python-styled humor to create this incredibly silly yet educational comedy. You’ll meet many of the pilgrims whose tales are most likely to be studied in high school (along with a few Thanksgiving pilgrims that ended up in the wrong play!), including the knight, the miller, the parson, the pardoner, the nun’s priest and the friar. Even the wife of Bath has cleaned up her act for this adaptation and is now a nagging woman who sells self-help DVDs! The miller, too, makes an appearance, though nobody wants to hear anything he has to say! Game show host Alex of Trebek and talk show host King Larry contribute a huge dose of additional irreverent fun, as do Geoffrey Chaucer himself, Harry Bailey and his wife, the Stage Manager and the Sign Changer. For a shorter performance, one or more of the tales can be omitted. No matter how many tales you choose to include, you’ll be amazed just how much real knowledge both your cast and audience will absorb while enjoying this hysterical, screwball comedy.


Based on Bram Stoker's classic novel

Adapted by Stephen Hotchner

Cast: 6M, 14F
Set: Several simple sets
Time: About 90 minutes
Script: $5.75
Royalty: $50 First performance/$40 Each additional performance

Jonathan Harker has been warned by Dr. Van Helsing, his close friend and world famous scientist, to be wary of his trip to Transylvania to close a real estate transaction with Count Dracula. But Harker is young and ambitious. He stumbles into a web of terror that nearly sends him to his death. When Harker escapes Dracula's clutches, Dracula follows him to England, knowing who his next victim will be: Lucy Wenstrom, best friend to Jonathan's wife, Mina. Harker and Van Helsing are unable to save Lucy from Dracula, who then turns on Mina. To break the spell, Van Helsing and Harker return to Transylvania, trying desperately to discover Dracula's whereabouts. The coach breaks down. The wolves are baying. A night of terror begins and all nearly lose lives and souls.

This adaptation of Bram Stoker's original Dracula is also available as a trilogy of individual one acts; Escape From Dracula’s Castle, Death at the Crossroads and The Possession of Lucy Wenstrom.

Jack and the Magic Beans

Adapted by Vera Morris

Cast: Flexible cast of 19 (5M, 13F, plus one cow character for one or two actors), optional extras
Set: Several simple sets
Time: About 90 minutes
Script: $5.75
Royalty: $50 First performance/$40 Each additional performance

This entertaining version of Jack and the Beanstalk returns to the original English source, The History of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean. All the familiar characters are here: The dancing cow, the magic bean-seller, the hysterical chicken, the singing harp, the mother, the Giant. There are also zany villagers and a silly kitchen staff at the Giant's castle. The Giant's name is Gogmagog and he's a horrible person. He even locks up the kingdom's ruler. When Jack sells the cow for those magic beans the fun really begins. Jack goes up the beanstalk and into the castle where he not only fights Gogmagog but a spiteful Troll as well. By the play's end the cow is returned, the chicken learns how to lay golden eggs and the good life returns to the kingdom—thanks to Jack.

King Midas and the Touch of Gold

By Vera Morris

Cast: Flexible cast of 21 (roughly 6M, 12F, plus 3 roles that can be either), optional extras
Set: One simple set
Time: About 1 hour
Script: $5.25
Royalty: $40 First performance/$40 Each additional performance

Here is a faithful adaptation of the popular myth which teaches us that money and wealth aren't everything. King Midas is a powerful ruler who can think only of gold. His lovely daughter, Princess Penelope, is having a birthday, and noble guests come from far and wide, including the handsome Prince Ajax, who loves Penelope. Three mystical sisters present the princess with the gift of one wish, which Penelope lovingly gives to her father. He uses his wish to receive "The Golden Touch." At first he's ecstatic, but slowly it dawns on him that even a king cannot eat gold food or drink gold water. When he mistakenly touches Penelope, she, too, turns to gold! A rich moral and laughter abound as Midas painfully learns his lesson and is punished for his greed.

Little Red Riding Hood (and The Power Mutants)

By Ed Monk
Full-length, 60-75 minutes
16 either (16 actors possible: 0-16 females, 0-16 males)
$75.00 per performance; $7.95 per book

Little Red, of Little Red's Gourmet Catering and Home Delivery Service, is on a mission to deliver some goodies to Grandma's house. Unfortunately, Oswald The Big Bad Wolf, president and founder of Oswald's School for Wolves, is trying to teach his somewhat dim students how to steal baskets of goodies. Only The Power Mutants, a strange and mysterious group of mutant superheroes with rather silly powers, can help Little Red. Will the goodies get to Grandma's house on time?

Romeo To Go

By Jonathan Rand
Short, 35-45 minutes
18 females, 15 males, 17 either
(15-50 actors possible: 0-50 females, 0-50 males)
$40.00 per performance; $6.95 per book

Due to budget cuts there will only be a single session of Drama One for the entire school year — and the class will only last 20 minutes. To make matters worse, the students are required to perform an entire Shakespeare play for a schoolwide assembly during a time slot of only 10 minutes. Under the direction of the egomaniacal Mrs. Gunnysack, the beginner students must pull together for the fastest, cleanest, lowest-budget rendition of Romeo and Juliet the world has ever seen, complete with a makeshift balcony, interpretive dance fight sequences, and an Elizabethan hip-hop dance party that would even make P. Diddy shake his tailfeather with Shakespearean pride.


From The Arabian Nights stories

Adapted by Susan Pargman

Cast: Flexible cast of 23 (roughly 6M, 17F), plus extras
Set: Two simple sets
Time: About 75 minutes
Script: $5.75
Royalty: $50 First performance/$40 Each additional performance

Magic, mystery, revenge and comedy mix together to produce this colorful legend of the greatest storyteller of the ancient Arabian world. Scheherazade is called upon to use her tale-spinning talents to save her people from certain destruction. Betrayed by his betrothed, the hot-tempered King Raynah decides to punish all the women in his kingdom. Armed only with her wit and just a smattering of magic, Scheherazade recites her stories for the king himself. Her enchanted tale transforms royal counselors into powerful genies and mutates the king into his own worst enemy: a woman. By the final curtain, the king has become a victim of his own revengeful plot! This enchanting adaptation has been written specifically for simple production, with an extremely flexible cast and many wonderful roles.

The Birds: A Modern Adaptation

By Don Zolidis
Based on the original play by Aristophanes
Full-length, 90-100 minutes
3 females, 7 males, 16 either
(16-26 actors possible: 3-19 females, 7-23 males)
$75.00 per performance; $7.95 per book

Fed up with a world of insurance salesmen and petty problems, two miscreants flee to the kingdom of the birds for a simpler life. While living there, the two scheme up a financial jackpot that could turn the birds' land into a powerful utopia. Their only obstacle: the wrath of the gods. A hilarious and satirical look at politics, religion, and the foolishness of mankind that revives and revamps Aristophanes' classic comedy.

Twain's Tales

Adapted by David Taylor London

Cast: Flexible cast of 5-40
Set: Simple set
Time: About 65 minutes
Script: $5.75
Royalty: $50 First performance/$40 Each additional performance

Twain’s Tales includes five short stories by the master American storyteller—“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” “Science vs. Luck,” “The Joke That Made Ed’s Fortune,” “The Belated Russian Passport” and “Is He Living or Is He Dead?”—as well as the fence-painting chapter from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The play takes place on the front porch of a general store in what could be Hannibal, Missouri in the late 1800s. The five locals—the storekeeper and his wife, a printer, a reporter and a riverboat pilot—spend the morning entertaining each other by seeing who can spin the tallest tale. In his own lifetime, Samuel Clemens held all four of these occupations, and his ability as a storyteller may very well have been born while listening to such individuals spinning their yarns at the general store. As the narratives unfold, the storytellers, written in the tradition of story theatre, become the characters in the tales. Or, if you prefer, you may modify the script to have Twain’s story characters played by separate actors to accommodate your larger cast. No matter how you choose to stage it, Twain’s razor-sharp wit and ability to expose our human foibles make this play more than just entertainment.

Usher: A Totally Teen Comedy

By Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus

Cast: Flexible cast of 24
Set: One interior set
Time: About 80 minutes
Script: $5.75
Royalty: $50 First performance/$40 Each additional performance

The works of Edgar Allan Poe are bone-chilling, dark, depressing—nevermore, quoth the raven! This skillful adaptation takes a grand mix of Poe’s writing and characters and weaves them together into a teen-savvy comedy loosely based on “The Fall of the House of Usher” but with more laughs and a much brighter ending. After the bus breaks down on a dark and stormy night, a bunch of high school students on a field trip are forced to spend the night in the spooky house of Usher. But they’re not alone! The spirits of Usher ancestors haunt the halls, cursed to stay trapped in the house forever, unless someone helps the last surviving Usher find the will to truly live life. Along with a healthy dose of entertaining teen drama, Usher touches on some weighty issues that haunt the nightmares of most teens—isolation, loneliness, suicide and peer pressure. But lighten up, it’s a comedy after all! With characters drawn from classics such as “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell Tale Heart,” “Annabel Lee” and some lesser-known works, there are countless winks, nudges and nods to the Master of Horror. The House of Usher doesn’t fall at the end in this show, but Usher will bring down yours!

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