It is incredibly powerful to gather a crowd of people in one room and plunge them into an experience together, hoping that, in the end, they'll realize that they have something in common with the material and each other.
—Niki Landau, playwright
Three and a half years ago, if someone would have told me that I'd be writing a stage adaptation of one of the most famous novels ever written and that, in 2013, this adaptation would be produced by The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre
with a dream cast and design team - I would have laughed, or possibly choked.
The idea came about the way most ideas do, by accident, and I suddenly found myself sitting in a lot of coffee shops, asking myself: "Why? Why do a stage adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind?"
As I pondered this question, and the various challenges of adapting this novel, strangers routinely interrupted me. Approaching my table, they would point to the novel perched next to my coffee cup and they would just start...talking. I couldn't explain what I was doing, since the adaptation was strictly under wraps, but that didn't seem to matter. These people didn't want to hear about me. They wanted to talk. They wanted to talk about how they felt about the book; about Scarlett O'Hara and her fascinating mix of loathsomeness, strength, and charm; about the Civil War; about the stormy love affair with Rhett Butler; but mostly, they wanted to talk about the first time they read the book and what reading the story had meant to them at that particular point in their lives.
These conversations made me think about the novel's peculiar magic, its ability to connect and be loved by such a wide range of readers, and to seem specific to those readers. Margaret Mitchell may have written a novel for the 1920s Jazz Age reader, sick of war and bent on rebellion, but the novel came out in the 1930s and took on a life of its own. Men and women starving in the Great Depression, soldiers facing the horrors of WWII, the liberated French, political prisoners in 1970s Ethiopia, not to mention millions of teenage girls - all these people eventually found their way to Gone With the Wind and found it meaningful.
The story of economic and cultural devastation, the doomed love story, the heroine's determination to survive against all odds - these themes meant something new to me as I re-read the novel in 2008, when the world found itself careening on the edge of a terrifying economic crisis, and my husband and I saw our savings suddenly diminished to nothing.
The combination of magic and meaning is why I do theatre. It is incredibly powerful to gather a crowd of people in one room and plunge them into an experience together, hoping that, in the end, they'll realize that they have something in common with the material and each other. To lead them through Margaret Mitchell's iconic story about survival is a fearsome responsibility, and I'm glad I'm not alone. I have the very best team of theatre artists, as well as an audience no doubt familiar with the story. In January 2013, we'll all bring it to life, together.
The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's world premiere of Gone With the Wind runs January 10-February 2, 2013.