“It must be far and away the best thing I have ever attempted – slow but sure, piling detail on detail until a picture and an experience emerge. Until the whole throbbing thing emerges. And I can do it. I feel very strong to do it….” (6/10/1938)
It’s not easy to imagine John Steinbeck’s 1939 National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning 619 page novel The Grapes of Wrath as a stage play. It comes close this week, March 28-30, thanks to the determined, creative adaptation and production guidance of Fort Worth’s Artes De La Rosa.
Artes’ Artistic Director Adam Adolfo partners with Texas Wesleyan University’s Twyla Miranda, Chair of the Fort Worth Big Read and Wesleyan librarian Sandy Meyer to create an exciting, dynamic, trilingual performance event. Interwoven with film, photographs, excerpts from the novel and music, this environmental staged reading lasts c. 80 minutes. Inspired by Nobel winner Steinbeck’s novel, the performances should entertain and illuminate audiences of all ages.
What’s a Fort Worth Big Read? In 2004 the National Endowment for the Arts issued a report Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, which showed critical decline in literary reading, with the steepest decline in youngest age groups. In 2007, the NEA presented a follow-up report: To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence. It revealed the civic, social, and economic consequences of an American public that was not only reading less, but with decreasing comprehension skills. As a result, the NEA began a major program initiative called The Big Read, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. Communities come together to read, discuss, and celebrate one of 31 selections from U.S. and world literature. This program supports innovative reading programs in selected communities by
- Providing engaging educational resources for discussing outstanding literature and conducting expansive outreach and publicity campaigns,
- Hosting a website that offers comprehensive information about the authors and their works, and
- Awarding grants to a variety of not-for-profit organizations, including libraries, municipalities, colleges, and arts, culture, and science organizations that afford active community engagement.
“I have finished in one month Book One, the background of this novel. One general chapter today and it will be a short one, too. The empty and deserted houses. Yesterday the work was short and I went over the whole of the book in my head – fixed on the last scene, huge and symbolic, toward which the whole story moves.” (6/30/1938)
To date, the NEA has funded more than 949 Big Read programs across the nation. In 2012, Texas Wesleyan University was one of four programs in Texas selected to receive a substantial grant to produce comprehensive reading events designed to inspire reading, using The Grapes of Wrath. With a project this huge and complex, how to make it happen? Wesleyan’s Miranda and Meyer contacted Artes de la Rosa Theatre Company’s Adolfo, knowing his dedication to genre cross-pollination and multi-disciplinary performance. The Grapes of Wrath: A Living Scrapbook, took flight.
Video Slide Show Promo: http://youtube/TMNkmS8uNFY
“I wanted my production to make the audience want to read the book, not summarize it for them,” explains Adolfo. “I read every script I could find and the book, eleven times, itself. I realized I wanted to immerse the audience in the universe of The Grapes of Wrath. I wanted to invoke the magic and grimness of the Dustbowl Era with diverse elements, from the hues of costumes on the actors to the harmonica and guitar music played, to slides and film clips. I saw a production of The Laramie Project and felt I’d found my story-telling model. I cast ten actors, then wrote my adaptation to fit, so my cast could play at least seventy characters. I found a rare treasure: Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, a daily journal Steinbeck kept in 1938 while writing his great novel. So the audience will see glimpses of Steinbeck speaking his own words and also Eleanor Roosevelt commenting on the novel. It’s a unique and comprehensive reading event I’m excited to share with regional audiences.”
The cast of Artes de la Rosa’s production includes student performers from Artes Academy, Artes de la Rosa’s Award Winning After School Arts Education Program. ADLR alum Carlos Iruegas, Laura L. Watson, and Jimmy Moreno take the stage with Artes Academy students Hunter Hurt and Anna Varela. In debut on the stage at Rose Marine Theater are Wes Cantrell, Cassandra Clarke, Jeremy Jackson, Lorens Portalatin and Kristin Spires. The cast of 10 utilizes narratives, Steinbeck journal entries, interviews and storytelling to enliven the epic tale. The production is co-designed by Artes de la Rosa Technical Director Oliver Luke and Artistic Director Adam Adolfo with Lighting by Michael Cole.
FOOD DRIVE: TICKET DISCOUNT
Supporting the Tarrant Area Food Bank, Artes de la Rosa is offering significant ticket discounts of $5 for the donation of canned goods. Please bring a canned food item for donation to the Tarrant Area Food Bank.
“Yesterday was a good scene. Must repair one part of it. I’m getting excited now that the end is coming up. Rather work than not. I’ll be sad when this is done. But I am glad to finish. …The last general must be a summing of the whole thing. Group survival. Yes, I am excited. Almost prayerful that this book is some good. Maybe it is and maybe not.” (10/14/1938)
The Grapes of Wrath; A Living Scrapbook opens Wednesday March 28th and plays Wednesday, Thursday, & Friday at 7:30 pm. $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information, call the Rose Marine Theater Box Office at (817) 624-8333. Special ticket prices are available for groups of 15 or more.
Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts is located at the Rose Marine Theater, 1440 North Main St, Fort Worth, TX 76164
NEA’s Big Read Blog: http://www.arts.gov/bigreadblog/
Fort Worth Big Read site: http://fortworthtexas.gov/library/info/default.aspx?id=93010
1939 First edition cover by Elmer Hader
Italicized quotes from Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath
Texas Wesleyan University’s community partners in The Big Read include the Fort Worth Public Library, City of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Independent School District, Tarrant Area Food Bank, Friends of the Fort Worth Library, Texas Christian University, Tarrant County College and National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.