The art of the adaption

Jordan Stewart is a nationally acclaimed writer living in Saint John (Amy Stewart/Submitted)
Jordan Stewart is a nationally acclaimed writer living in Saint John (Amy Stewart/Submitted)

The Next Folding Theatre Company didn’t have to look far for inspiration for their next production.

Saint John writer Jordan Stewart’s Greetings! from Gumdrop Mountain will be adapted on the Black Box stage Feb. 21 to 23. This is the first time the Next Folding Theatre Company has adapted work by a New Brunswick writer.

“Jordan has one of the most original voices I have ever had the pleasure of reading,” said artistic director Ryan Griffith.

“The stories in Greetings! From Gumdrop Mountain are filled with humour and poignant dramatic moments,” said Griffith.

“We knew that trying to bring these types of stories to life on stage would be a challenge, and we knew that the challenge of it would be fun.”

The play features well-known local talents like actor Sam Kamras and Theatre New Brunswick’s Caleb Marshall.

This is Stewart’s first book of short stories. The collection of 22 stories was published in 2009 by Vancouver’s Loose Teeth Press. The independent publishing company took notice of Stewart’s website called The Broken Chair Essays, where he was posting flash fiction.

“I was kind of aiming in some of the stories of fantastical ideas set in realism that translates into a guy talking to a suicide jumper, but it ends up being a grizzly bear but set in planet earth,” said Stewart.

The stories deal with darker subjects but are told with a quirkiness that reminds readers not to take them too seriously.

It’s just my sense of humour more than anything,” said Stewart. “Maybe wanted to have a little edge to keep it PG 13 but you know, I don’t want to take myself too seriously either.

Griffith said he knew the adaptation would be challenging, partly because of the nature of the stories and partly because of the difficulty in finding a cohesive theme.

The play is set in the town of Gumdrop Mountain. A train derails just outside the town and its inhabitants must deal with the aftermath of the accident. Grief manifests itself in strange ways.

Griffith learned about the process of adaptation from American director Nick Carpenter at the National Theatre School of Canada. He told Griffith at some point, you have to see the work as your own.

“I began the process of adapting the script by trying to honour the spirit of his stories, and by focusing on parts of the book that I felt he would like to see emphasized.

“Once I felt my obligation to his voice had been fulfilled, I put his book down and isolated myself with the script and treated the pages as though they were my own.

Griffith heard many of Stewart’s stories before they went to publication. The pair are close friends after taking part in Fredericton’s writing group, the Vagabond Trust. The Trust meets twice a week and acts as a writing workshop where members can gain feedback on their poetry, short stories and scripts.

When Griffith approached Stewart with the idea of adapting his book on stage, Stewart didn’t have many concerns.

“I was curious about how a play would be made out of my book,” said Stewart. “But I trust Ryan so I know it’ll be great and he really got what I was going for.”

Since Stewart gave him his blessing, he’s had very little involvement with the production.

“Jordan knows who he is as a writer. He understands the process of translation, the losses and gains that occur naturally through such an invasive process. He is one of the wisest writers I have ever met, to be quite honest.”

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