Listen to a conversation between a student and his drama professor.
Hi, Robert. So how’s your paper going?
<-MALE STUDENT:-> Pretty well. It’s a lot of work, but I’m getting into it, so I don’t mind.
I’ll probably have some questions for you in the next week or so.
OK, glad to hear you’re progressing so well.
Um, there was something you said at the end of the lecture on Tuesday, something about there not really being any original plays…
“There’s no such thing as an original play.” Yes, that’s the direct quote from Charles Mee.
Mee. That’s with two E’s, right?
Yep, M-E-E. You’ll probably be hearing a lot about him. He’s becoming a pretty famous playwright.
Yeah, well, I’ve been thinking about his quote… I mean, there must be some original plays out there.
I’ll grant that he’s overstating things somewhat. But the theater does have a long tradition of borrowing.
Take Shakespeare; like most writers of his day, he borrowed plots from other sources unabashedly.
And the ancient Greeks, all the plays they wrote were based on earlier plays, poems, and myths.
And “borrowing” applies to plays being written nowadays, too?
To some extent, yes. Mee, for example, he’s made a career out of remaking plays, one of which we’ll be studying soon.
It’s called “Full Circle.” And Mee based it on an earlier play by a German playwright.
Ohhh… “Full Circle.” Wasn’t that based on “The Caucasian Chalk Circle?”
I remember hearing about that play from my acting coach.
Okay. Well, “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” was based on a play by yet another German playwright, someone who was fascinated by the ancient literatures of China, India, and Persia.
And many of his works were adapted from those literatures, including his version of “The Chalk Circle,” which was based on an early Chinese play.
So this “Full Circle” play by Charles Mee, the one we’re gonna study, it’s like the third or fourth remake.
Wow! And we complain that Hollywood keeps making the same movies over and over again!
Well, part of what Mee’s trying to do is drive home the point, that, one, theater’s always a collaborative effort…
Well, yeah, the playwright, the director, the actors, people have to work together to produce a play.
Yes, of course, but Mee means historically; the dramatic literature of early periods is hugely influential in shaping later dramatic works.
So it’s like when a playwright bases a play on a previous playwright’s theme or message. It’s like they’re talking to each other, collaborating, uh, just not at the same time, right?
Exactly. And the second point Mee’s trying to make, I think, is that it’s legitimate to retell an old story in a new way… in a way that’s, uh, more in line with contemporary concerns.
So, when playwrights reinvent or update an earlier play, it shouldn’t be construed as a lack of imagination or an artistic failure.