How does a story in a book become a story in a musical? Robert Kauzlaric is an actor in Chicago and a playwright associated with Lifeline Theatre. He adapted Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! and graciously took part in an interview by email, where he tells the story about adapting The Story of the 3 Little Pigs!.
Tom Shafer: I’m really interested in how you decided to create a play from this terrific book. Did other members of Lifeline Theatre come up with the subject, as in, “Hey, I’ve been reading this crazy little book to my kids, and they really love it!”? Or did you discover the book on your own?
Robert Kauzlaric: The title was originally brought in by other members of the Lifeline Theatre ensemble as a favorite read amongst their families, and when I read it I jumped at the opportunity to try to bring it to the stage. I was immediately drawn to the delightful way in which it dared kids to question what they’ve been told, to think for themselves, and to consider opposing viewpoints — such important messages for people of any age — and how it did so within a construct of whimsy and fun. And, on the flip side of that, I loved how it actually wasn’t all whimsy — that there was a hint of ‘edge’ in there that was a nice shift from the saccharine tone of so many children’s picture books. I loved the ‘noir’ quality (as I think of it) of Smith’s artwork and the wit of Scieszka’s writing. I was excited by the challenge of trying to tease out all those qualities so expertly presented in such a concise package in the book into both a different medium and a much lengthier presentation.
Tom: How did you and the composers work on the script? Were you all in the same room, kicking ideas back and forth, or, like some writing teams, were you connected by the ‘Net and only got together once in a while?
Robert: The text (script and lyrics) came first, from me. I wrote a first draft that was nearly twice as long as where we ended up, with nine more characters, and five more songs. We had a reading of that draft with the Lifeline Theatre ensemble, where I received invaluable feedback on what was working, what wasn’t particularly succeeding, and suggestions on which ideas for musical numbers were worth teasing out.
After that, and some extensive conversations with the director of the show (Victoria “Toy” DeIorio) about where we wanted to head, I worked up a second draft, which was much closer to the direction in which we finally ended up. When that was done, I turned over the text to Paul Gilvary, who composed the first versions of all the songs (which were finally set at the 7 songs we ultimately developed), on his own. Then we all came together for another in-house reading a few months before the start of rehearsals and received more great feedback.
After that, as I continued to revise, Paul brought in Bill Rush to help him flesh out the tunes, and Paul brought his ideas for lyric alteration and restructuring to me, and everything we did from that point on was mostly done as a team, in the room together. For example, a week or so into rehearsal we realized that “Al’s Side of the Story,” the wolf’s big showcase number, was not working the way we’d hoped, and the three of us sat down over a weekend, scrapped most of what we’d had and started largely from scratch, coming up with something that served the show we were building in a much better way.
Tom: How did rehearsals and suggestions and comments from the actors help you develop the play?
Robert: The development of the script very much included the creative input of the actors and the director. When I’m working as an adaptor, I generally attend every rehearsal, so that I can take advantage of the creative energies of the director-actor interaction, learn from the questions posed by the team, capitalize on the great ideas, hear firsthand what’s not working, and to help the script be as nimble as possible to the production’s needs. The script was a “living document” during those weeks and we had a wonderful team of folks all willing to experiment, try crazy ideas, add, subtract, develop, and play as much as we could. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to develop scripts in a collaborative environment like Lifeline’s; I know that type of process isn’t for everyone, but I personally find it incredibly inspiring.