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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 8:15 am | Fair 39º

 
 
 
 

Susan Miles Gulbransen: From Woody Allen and Ensemble Theatre to Library’s Indie Authors Day

Why does Woody Allen say "no" to American theaters but "yes" to Santa Barbara’s Ensemble Theatre?

Over the years, Allen’s movies have been made into plays throughout the world but rarely in the United States. This is particularly true of his 21st movie, Husbands and Wives, made in 1992 about divorce. It has been performed in theaters from Amsterdam to Paris to Israel, but not in this country.

In the 1960s, divorce required a fault, usually adultery, abandonment or abuse. When no-fault divorce law was signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1969, marriage moved from being family oriented to a more emotional relationship. In the '70s and '80s, the divorce rate spiked, although by the '90s it evened out.

Allen’s comedy deals with the divorce of one couple and marital problems between another. All four had been good friends during this time of change.

One thing that attracted Ensemble Executive Director Jonathan Fox’s attention was the way Allen made the film as if it were a documentary.

Allen at the time explained why he chose that method: “I said to myself, why not start to make some films where only the content is important? Pick up the camera, forget about the dolly, just hand-hold the thing and get what you can.”

When Fox imagined doing an adaptation of the movie, he asked himself, “Why not do the play the same way?”

Last year, Fox contacted Allen’s offices to ask if he could take the film and make it into a play. The first reaction was, “No, we can’t send it to you.”

Fox added, “I would adapt the play like the movie being made using a hand-held camera on stage in a pseudo documentary style.”

That caught their attention, so they consulted with Allen. They (Allen's lawyers and agents) invited Fox to Los Angeles for a meeting. It resulted in asking Fox to write up the play and send it back.

Allen’s movies have always engaged Fox. “I’ve been a longtime fan, even tried writing like him when I was in school,” Fox said.

When adapting the script, he said several trains of thoughts raced through his mind.

“Throughout I was thinking how I can't keep the play cinematic but must make it theatrical. First I tried putting the story in 2017, but the outcome said it still felt as if it was in a period 25 years ago. References in the script didn’t resonate in the future, so I went back to the 1990s.”

He also talked about what he faced writing the adaptation.

“I think what surprised me the most was how difficult my original idea was. I found myself stymied in several ways. Moving the setting back to the early 1990s freed me tremendously. The culture had changed. I wasn’t really conscious of how profound those changes were until I worked on this adaptation.”

Once Allen’s office gave approval of the new script, Fox and the Ensemble began putting the production together. Allen had to approve every aspect of the script, actors, sets, etc.

Changes did not stop there, according to Fox.

“More ideas and changes came up during our rehearsals. If a line didn’t fit or roll easily, we might change it. The script has links to the film, although I haven’t seen the whole movie recently because I knew it would affect my take on the script while writing it.”

This is only the second movie adaptation Allen has allowed in the United States, so a loud question came to mind: Why did Allen say "yes" to the Ensemble?

Derek Weston, former board president, suggested it was “because Santa Barbara is not L.A. or New York City. If it doesn’t work out here, it wouldn’t get that much attention as if in a larger city.”

If the play is successful, it will be made available to other theaters and venues across the country. Fox and the Ensemble then would get royalties.

A week before the play opened, Fox summed up his take on this experience: “As I wrote the adaptation, the spirit of Woody Allen was steeped all through the production.”

The play runs through Oct. 22. Click here for more information.

                                                                        •        •

Writers alert! Need help getting your book ready for independent publication? Need help with marketing? Need help ... amen? If so, engrave your calendar with the Santa Barbara Public Library’s second annual Indie Author Day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 21 in the Faulkner Gallery at the Central branch, 40 E. Anapamu St.

The event celebrates local independent authors and brings them together to address how the publishing industry is evolving. The morning will begin with featured speaker and independent author Elizabeth Hunter about how she created her writing career around contemporary fantasy and romantic novels. Writers then will go into breakout sessions to discuss a range of topics, from getting independent publication to design to marketing. Writing is at the focus of all conversations.

Local resident Anna Lafferty served on a panel last year for the Indie Author Day and will participate this year. She brings her experience as a graphic artist, adjunct professor at Santa Barbara Community College and creator of book covers, many for local authors such as Erin Graffy, Betsy Green, Friends of the Library’s centennial anthology Library Book: Writers on Libraries, Karen Telleen-Lawton, Neal Graffy, Annie Dahlgren and more.

She describes what this event is all about: “If ever one wants to write a book and have it published, now is the time! There has never been more opportunities, options and support to produce a book economically and sell it in print or in e-pub as there is now — if you do it as an independent author.”

What is an “independent” author’s path?

“Forget finding a publisher,” Lafferty says, “and then waiting one or two years to have them accept and publish your book. Authors themselves are doing it all now with the help of designers, small publishers and vanity presses — and making money while they’re at it!”

Lafferty herself has guided authors beyond graphic designing. Last year, Debora Ellen Brinkman, an English teacher, came to Lafferty for help to print her novel, Birds of the Central Coast: A Novel.

“Debra promised her mom she’d get her novel printed before the woman died. At first she only printed four — one for her, her mom, aunt and me. We worked together. Now she’s amazed to find out how many she is selling on Amazon and how she can offer her book as a fundraising tool for various organizations whose interests are compatible with her story. She’s up to speed in marketing and can say, ‘I wrote and published this book.’”

That is the path that will be discussed at the Indie Author Day and more.

Lafferty sums it up: “Most of the books I’ve worked on are booming because of the author’s efforts and finding targeted audiences. People want to know how to get books published and into the library. They also want to get together and figure ways to get a book out there or ways to market it. The Indie Author Day is a good place to talk about changes in the industry.”

Click here for more information.

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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