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A Special Anniversary for Fridays at Five

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By Stephen J. Kotz

For the past 29 years, you could set your watch to “Fridays at Five, which, as its name implies, began promptly at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoons on the back lawn of the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton.

So why not throw a little curve ball when it comes time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the long-running author lecture series sponsored by the Friends of the Hampton Library by holding the party at 4:30 p.m. this Saturday, May 10?

One thing’s for certain. If the series had been named “Saturdays at 4:30,” it probably wouldn’t still be around today.

This year’s eight-week lineup is made up of familiar faces including E.L. Doctorow, Gail Sheehy, Roger Rosenblatt, and Tom Clavin and Bob Drury, as well as newcomers Allen Salkin, Alexandra Styron, Kim Stolz, and Jon Robin Baitz.

The kickoff party will feature a roundtable discussion led by the author Steven Gaines that will focus on the past, present and future of publishing as well as the impact of “Fridays at Five” on the community. Joining Mr. Gaines in the discussion will be the authors Ms. Sheehy, Linda Bird Franke, Paul Goldberger, and publisher Bill Henderson, the owner of Pushcart Press.

“I’m hoping it will be like people sitting around the dinner table having a discussion,” Mr. Gaines said on Monday. “It’s definitely not going to be a lecture. I’m hoping it will be lots of fun and very loose.”

All the participants, he added, “have our apprehensions about where publishing is going.” That said, Mr. Gaines said he was not expecting doom and gloom.

Of the “Fridays at Five” series, at which he has appeared several times, Mr. Gaines was effusive in his praise.

“I don’t think there is anything else like in the world,” he said. “It’s just a great, great event where writers and readers come together. It’s up close, and very intimate in that beautiful backyard.”

Anne Marshall, the president of the Friends of the Hampton Library, said that “Fridays at Five” got its early start time, in part, because of a compromise reached with Elaine Benson, the owner of the eponymous gallery down the street, who typically held her own openings on Friday evenings. If the Friends held their gatherings at 5 p.m., the groups decided, Ms. Benson would hold hers at 6 p.m., allowing people to glide from one event to the next and have a pleasant way to start their weekends.

“It has developed a pretty solid following, Ms. Marshall said of “Fridays at Five.” “The time has been honored by a lot of other organizations” when they schedule their own summertime activities.

In organizing Saturday’s event, Ms. Marshall said the Friends decided to address a major issue addressing its writers. “Certainly, publishing has changed over the years,” she said. “Why not talk about what publishing has meant to them?”

All the participants, she added, have “presented at ‘Fridays at Five’ in different ways.’ We didn’t want to pick people who had only written a memoir. We wanted to concentrate on professional writers and we know Steven is a really good interviewer.”

This summer’s lineup of authors “looks great,” Ms. Marshall said. “There is a good variety of older and young writers.”

Tickets for Saturday’s anniversary event, which takes place at the library are $20 and can be purchased at the library. For more information call 537-0015.

 

The 2014 “Fridays at Five” Authors

July 11, Tom Clavin and Bob Drury, whose latest collaboration is “The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend.”

July 18,  E.L. Doctorow, the award-winning novelist, whose latest book is “Andrew’s Brain.”

July 25, Allen Salkin, the journalist, whose recent book “From Scratch: Inside the Food Network,” was named by NPR as one of the best books of 2013.

August 1, Alexandra Styron, the author of “Reading My Father: A Memoir,” which explores her life as the youngest daughter of the novelist William Styron.

August 8, Roger Rosenblatt, whose most recent book is “The Boy Detective.”

August 15, Kim Stolz, whose first book, “Unfriending My Ex: And Other Things I’ll Never Do,” was recently published.

August 22, Jon Robin Baitz, the playwright who is the author of “Other Desert Cities.”

August 29, Gail Sheehy, the author of many books, whose most recent is a memoir, “Daring: My Passages.”

“Fridays at Five” Talks take place on the back lawn of the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton at 5 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is $15. For more information, call 537-0015.

Oliver Twist and the Art of Adaptation

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oliver-twist-007

By Claire Walla

Everyone knows the story of Oliver Twist, the little orphan who takes to the streets of London and learns to live as a pick-pocket after being punished for asking, “please sir,” for more food.

But, not everyone knows the same version of the Dickensian tale.

The original novel was penned by Charles Dickens in 1838, and since then several adaptations of the original text have made it onto stage and screen. This notion — adaptation — will be the focal point of an event this weekend, Saturday, February 25, at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

After a 7:30 p.m. screening of the 1948 film version of “Oliver Twist” — it is, after all, the 200-year anniversary of the birth of London’s most feted chronicler of lowly street urchins and portly rich folk — actor Alec Baldwin will lead a Q&A with writer Jon Robin Baitz, during which another veritable Dickensian writer will come to the forefront of their discussion: David Lean, the man who adapted the book for the silver screen.

“[Adaptation] is particularly difficult with Dickens,” Baitz said in an interview this week.

A celebrated writer in his own right, Baitz’s play, “Other Desert Cities,” is currently running at the Lincoln Center Theatre in New York where it has received rave review. Baitz, who lives in Sag Harbor, knows a thing or two about adaptation, having rendered Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” for a theatre production in 1999 (which ran at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor in 2000). Baitz has also adapted novels and plays for the screen, including an as yet unproduced version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “Tender is the Night,” as well as his own play “The Substance of Fire,” which was released theatrically in 1996.

“Oliver Twist,” like much of Dickens’ work, was originally written as a serial and published in monthly installments over time. Like all serials, Baitz explained, it relies on plot, and “Dickens is also great at digression.”

The resulting novel is a long-winded, sometimes meandering storyline, rich with details and diversions and peppered with more plot points than can possibly fit into a single, two-hour film. In that sense, Baitz continued, the art of adaptation comes down to one word: compression.

“You have to impose a sort of censorious logic on [film] adaptations,” he added, because in no other way can you reduce a several-hundred-page text to a tightly bound screenplay that accurately reflects the essence of the original story.

Compression is different from condensation, he cautioned. Rather than completely eliminating story elements, a skilled adaptation will reveal details in shorter, more subtle ways.

“’Oliver Twist’ is interesting because it is beautifully compressed,” Baitz said. Part of the film’s success, he speculated, is probably due to the fact that Lean worked as a film editor before becoming a writer. Even though “Oliver Twist” is a scant 105 minutes (or about 100 pages), compared to the almost-500-page novel, Baitz added, “it doesn’t lose the sense of the book.”

“I think people don’t understand how much craft there is to all this,” Baitz continued. “Movies are magic and alchemy. Knowing what to put where, and when… it’s all very difficult to pull off.”

Baitz added that the adaptation process for him is in fact very tactile.

“I sort of tear the book apart. Literally. I paste it up on a wall and put red pencil through different parts — that’s what I do with my plays,” said Baitz who is currently working on an adaptation of “Other Desert Cities.”

“Then, after the initial act of compression,” Baitz said, “I sort of create a wall with big empty spaces to fill.”

Compression is difficult, he added, because knowing what to put in where is just as important as knowing what to leave out.

“I think it becomes more difficult [to adapt a novel for film] when there’s a degree of psychological complexity that’s entirely internal,” he said..

Baitz pointed to his adaptation of “Tender is the Night,” for example. Not only were two different versions of the book published in England and the United States; but the story is weighted in emotion.

“It’s a book about madness, and dedication, and devotion, and self-sacrifice, and the cost of all those things,” Baitz continued.

To capture this on film, Baitz said he wrote a screenplay that “concentrates on what the engine of the story is.” In other words, he focused on plot and characters’ actions rather than thoughts.

The case was similar with his own play, “The Substance of Fire,” which Baitz also wrote the screenplay for.

“The play had left sort of vast areas of blank space where you [the viewer] were asked to supply your own narrative,” he explained. “I just made it a straight, conventional narrative [for the screenplay] and it worked very well.”

Again, Baitz was careful to make a distinction between compression and condensation, because adaptation — while reducing a narrative — does not necessarily cut the story to make it fit.

“Compression means that you keep the energy, what I call the temperature,” he explained. “It’s like, when you’re cooking a whole meal, knowing what to take out when. It’s all about synchronicity.”

Tickets for “Oliver Twist” and the discussion at Guild Hall (158 Main Street, East Hampton) are $17 ($15 for members) and can be purchased by calling 324-0806.