In Pursuit Of The Singular Art by Valerie Woods

“Adaptation is both a skill and a challenge.” These are the words of legendary author and screenwriter, Syd Field (1935-2013), acclaimed as “the guru of all screenwriters” (CNN). Syd goes on to say, in his seminal book, Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting: “The verb to adapt means ‘to transpose from one medium to another.’ Adaptation is defined as the ability ‘to make fit or suitable by changing, or adjusting’ – modifying something to create a change in structure, function, and form… It is a singular art.”

The pursuit of this “singular art” is the mission of Staged/Lit – to celebrate and examine the creative synthesis of adapting literary works from prose to script to performance in a series of staged readings. Developed through my indie press, BooksEndependent, Staged/Lit was designed to present and promote script adaptations, primarily from our book list.

Once I pitched the idea to Aviva Field, Executive Director of Syd Field – The Art of Visual Storytelling, things rapidly fell into place. I had worked with Syd for many years, both studying with him, and coaching writers using the Syd Field screenwriting method. The first time I attended one of Syd’s weekend seminars, (back in the last century!) I was in the process of adapting a stage play to a screenplay. Syd’s book, Screenplay, was the backbone of my process. The resulting script won me a Disney Screenwriting Fellowship. So, trust me, it works!

For the past two years, I have continued working with Aviva, and it was she who recommended that I contact Natalia Lazarus, fellow screenwriting teacher, talented actress and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Performing Arts Conservatory (LAPAC) in Santa Monica. Natalia also runs The Promenade Playhouse on the famed 3rd Street Promenade. Thanks to these two dynamic women, Staged/Lit had two great sponsors and a stage on which to perform!

Our premiere event was a television pilot co-written by Scottie Jeanette Madden and myself, entitled “The Other Woman” adapted from the memoir “Getting Back to Me” from girl to boy to woman in just fifty years, written by Ms. Madden and published by Zuzubean Press. The script explores the world of Mike and Samantha, a married couple, trying to make room for ‘the other woman’ in their lives when Mike comes out as transgender.

When I first began working with Scottie on the adaptation, it was important to keep in mind what I had learned from Syd’s books – structure, theme, key plot points, what drives character, and to authentically “transpose from one medium to another.” And, what is most important, to remember the art of visual storytelling.

With a book, be it novel or memoir, there is the space to explore the narrator’s mind with lyrical passages, or describe an emotional, sensual or explosive event with expansive, tender or energetic prose. In a script, the goal is to translate a page or a chapter to a scene, or a series of evocative scenes, that may have little or no dialogue, yet conveys the essence of that same page or chapter. It may also require creating a new scene that doesn’t exist in the original text. When this is necessary, it is critical that the new scene, though not in the canon, nevertheless reveals the truth of the original story. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong.

It is all about storytelling. The art and craft required in telling the same story in a different medium is the inspiration for Staged/Lit.

What also proved incredibly revealing was when the actors read the script aloud. Skilled and talented performers definitely support writers in refining, editing and sometimes discovering newfound clarity in a script. Invaluable. Casting was a joy, which included actors from LAPAC. Natalia was one of our talented co-leads, alongside two different leads, Kelly Mantle in the matinee and Jay Disney in the evening performance. We had an amazing cast!

The result? Our Saturday matinee was booked solid within three days. We added an evening performance which was also full. The Q&A’s following the events were lively, enlightening and fun. And three lucky writers won the lottery to receive a copy of one of three Syd Field books: Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting, The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver or Four Screenplays.

Now, we are preparing for the next Staged/Lit performance, based on the novel The Fabliss Life of Bella Mellman written by Shirley Sacks. Stay tuned!  Follow us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/stagedlit/


About Valerie C. Woods

Valerie C. Woods is a screenwriter, author, publisher and producer. Her foray into the literary world begin when, due to a dearth of suitable audition material during her early days as an actor, she started writing her own monologues. She then turned this collection of audition monologues into a book, which was rejected by several NY play publishers. She decided to self-publish and soon sold-out 1,100 copies. This success helped Ms. Woods get a positive response when she, once again, approached theatrical publisher, Samuel French, Inc. Her first literary work was then published as Something for Everyone (50 Original Monologues)

In writing the monologues, Ms. Woods realized her love for writing and talent for storytelling. She attended a 2-day seminar given by Syd Field. Guru of all screenwriters. Using, Mr. Field’s methods, Ms. Woods adapted her average play into a better screenplay, which won her a Walt Disney Screenwriting Fellowship. Thus began her journey into screenwriting as she continued writing and producing on network and cable drama series such as Under One Roof, Touched By An Angel, Promised Land, Any Day Now and Soul Food.

Ms. Wood’s interaction with Syd Field continued as, with Mr. Field’s permission, she taught script writing using Screenplay as the basic text. She also invited Mr. Field as a guest lecturer to the International Screenwriting classes she taught in L.A. for The Australian Film and Television Academy (TAFTA).

Under her indie press, BooksEndependent, Ms. Woods developed Staged/Lit which presents adaptations of literary works from prose to script to performance.