“Shaw and Adaptation”
A Special Shaw Session at MLA
Chicago, January 9-12, 2014
Deadline: March 15, 2013
Presiding: Lawrence Switzky, University of Toronto
The Modern Language Association Convention scheduled for Chicago in January of 2014 will feature another Special Shaw Session. To participate as a speaker, please send a 300-word abstract and CV to Lawrence Switzky at firstname.lastname@example.org by March 15, 2013. Proposals and queries are welcome before the deadline. You of course have to be a member of MLA to deliver a paper, but you do not have to be a member to attend the session, as follows:
Many audiences first encounter Bernard Shaw’s plays through their transformations into other genres and media. Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady (1956) is perhaps the most famous adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion (1912), though the current standard print edition of the play is also an adaptation, a hybrid of Shaw’s Academy Award-winning screenplay for the 1938 film and his original and revised stage scripts.
This panel invites papers that discuss specific play-scripts by Shaw and their pliability—and resistance—to adaptation across genres and media. Literary theorist Linda Hutcheon has defined the allure of transmedial adaptation as “repetition without replication,” the pleasure of recognition mixed with the pleasure of surprise. What features of Shavian drama remain recognizable in adaptations of Shaw’s plays, and what is changed or rendered unfamiliar through acts of adaptation?
Contributors are also invited to submit papers on Shaw’s own theories and practice of adaptation, particularly as they address his vision of evolutionary biology. Did Shaw endorse or refuse proposals to adapt his work based on his beliefs that some transformations of his plays would enable their migration to a more favorable artistic or cultural environment? Did Shaw believe that his own work required directed mutation to guarantee its survival beyond the period of its historical production (as he often proposed regarding Shakespeare’s plays)? How has Shaw himself become what evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins would call a meme: a unit of cultural transmission that inevitably changes even as it perpetuates himself, as in the flourishing of the discussion play in the drama of Tom Stoppard and the teleplays of Aaron Sorkin?
Papers might consider some of the following specific sites of adaptation in addition to broader models of artistic adaptation in Shaw’s thought:
A) Adaptations of Shaw into musical theatre:
- Oscar Straus’ adaptation of Arms and the Man into The Chocolate Soldier (1908);
- Lerner and Loewe’s adaptation of Pygmalion into My Fair Lady;
- Ervin Drake’s adaptation of Caesar and Cleopatra into Her First Roman (1968);
- Halberstam, Schmidt, and Tranen’s adaptation of Candida into A Minister’s Wife (2009), among many others.
B) Adaptations of Shaw onto film and television:
- Gabriel Pascal’s many adaptations of Shaw’s plays to film between 1938 and 1952;
- Guy Hamilton’s adaptation of The Devil’s Disciple with Burt Lancaster, Laurence Olivier, and Kirk Douglas (1959); Alexander Sokurov’s adaptation of Heartbreak House into Mourning Insensitivity (1986);
- Preston Sturges’ interrupted 1952 adaptation of The Millionairess for film with Katharine Hepburn;
- and the many adaptations by the BBC of Shaw for radio and television.
C) Shaw’s adaptations of his own work:
- for example, Shaw’s adaptation of his novel Cashel Byron’s Profession (1882) into the blank verse play The Admirable Bashville (1901);
- Shaw’s adaptation of Major Barbara for the film version,
- and other film adaptations by the author.
D) Shaw’s plays as adapted by other playwrights into new or updated plays:
- such as Michael Healey’s version of On The Rocks (2011)
- or John Murrell’s adaptation of Geneva into Peace in Our Time (2013),
- or Shaw as “adapted” (cut, reordered, re-contextualized) by directors.
E) Shaw adapted as a character, a philosophical principle, or a repertoire of stylistic tendencies:
- as in Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove’s The Frogs (1974);
- Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros' Omnium Gatherum (2003);
- or Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (2009); also see Richard Dietrich’s bibliography of Shaw’s appearances as a character at www.shawsociety.org/Shaw-as-Character.htm.