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December 19, 2023 | Theatre,

Bringing Literature to Life on Stage

The second half of ArtsEmerson’s 2023-2024 Season is kicking off with two incredible performances, each unique in style but both drawing from famous works of literature. In January, ArtsEmerson will welcome Plexus Polaris’s Moby Dick to the stage of the Emerson Paramount Center which will be followed by the exciting return of The 7 Fingers circus troupe who will present their Romeo & Juliet-inspired performance, Duel Reality. They are not the only literary-based performances ArtsEmerson has welcomed to our stages over the years – take a look below to see what other works of fiction have been brought to life over the years: 

1. John Collins’ The Select (The Sun Also Rises) (2011)

Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was adapted for the stage during ArtsEmerson’s inaugural season, complete with a stage littered with liquor bottles and cafe chairs as the story took audiences through France and Spain before landing in the streets of Pamplona where bullfighting and the fiesta are in full swing. New York ensemble Elevator Repair Service’s excellent sound design, choreography, and re-imagined bullfighting fully brought the story to life.

2. Sulayman Al-Bassam’s The Speaker’s Progress (2011)

Al-Bassam brought an inventive, satirical take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to ArtsEmerson. The Speaker’s Progress was the last installment of Al-Bassam’s trilogy, which reinterpreted Shakespearean works through a Middle Eastern lens. Shakespeare’s comedy in Twelfth Night was transformed into a satire exploring the decades of political inertia that brought revolts across the Arab region, all while bringing forth a theatrical metaphor for the mechanisms of dissent. The piece evolved as circumstances in the region evolved, showing the revolution among courageous citizens seeking freedom. 

Parable of the Sower - Toshi Reagon3. Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon’s Parable of the Sower (2017 & 2022)

Based on Afro-futurist author Octavia E. Butler’s classic sci-fi novel, Parable of the Sower was a genre-defying, modern congregational opera that celebrated two centuries of Black music. This musical experience chronicled the spiritual awakening of Lauren Olamina amidst an America plagued by the products of unrelenting greed, systemic injustice and climate change denial. 

4. Erik Jensen’s How To Be A Rock Critic (2017)

Photo from the show, How to Be a Rock Critic. Erik Jensen in a black shirt, sitting on a couch while holding up a map.

Based on the writings of Lester Bangs, How To Be A Rock Critic is a part Gonzo rock performance, part mental breakdown that pulls the greatest hits from Bagn’s legendary words to imagine a single night of his turbulent life. The performance, co-written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, took audiences into Bangs’ wild, all-night typewriter sessions.  

5. Alanna Mitchell’s Sea Sick (2022)This 2022 production followed acclaimed science journalist Alanna Mitchell on an adventure into the ocean to learn its secrets, face its demons, and come to terms with the devastating implications of climate change. Sea Sick was based on Mitchell’s Grantham Prize winning book and refreshingly told in an intimate setting with smart humor and informed by some of today’s most fascinating scientific discoveries.

ArtsEmerson is proud to continue bringing shows like the above to our stages – performances that inspire, challenge, and represent our global audiences. We are excited to see you at the theater in 2024, starting off with Moby Dick running at the Robert J. Orchard Stage from January 23-28 and followed by Duel Reality at the Cutler Majestic Theatre from February 7-18. Be sure to secure your tickets soon!

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