David McGuff has adapted it for the stage and is directing too. I took the opportunity to ask David a couple of questions about the upcoming production and the process of gaining approval/securing rights from The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust.
THF: Hi David, congrats on securing the rights and thanks for answering a couple of questions. I've helped plenty of interested people get in touch with The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust about securing rights but I've never asked anyone about the full process. What's involved?
David McGuff: As far as securing the rights, it was a generally painless experience (once I found out who I needed to talk with). I expressed interest, and gave them a run down of my production company and theatrical history. I talked briefly (pun intended) about what the book meant to me, and how I saw it as a theatrical production, and my overall vision and intent. They responded back, and said yes. We went back and forth hammering out details, and they were very hands-off as far my adaptation, I was given no guidelines etc. There were a few times where their responses sort of took a while, but I imagine they're busy and my relatively small rights fee probably isn't top of their list of things to do. When I was concerned I'd send a follow up e-mail. As of now we're settled, I just sent the check in with my countersigned rights permission.
THF: And the adaptation itself?
David McGuff: As far as my actual adapting, it was extremely difficult and challenging. I, like most of the people on this site are likely to be, am a huge fan of DFW. And to cover the breadth and depth of the book (we're adapting all but 2 of the interviews and a couple of the stories) there had to be major cuts on a few of the longer scenes. This is hard, because it is all there to serve a purpose. The repetitiveness sort of lulls you into a sense of comfort or anxiety or boredom (depending) in which he slips the sort of world-shattering truth bombs by you when you're not ready for it. These men reveal themselves in surprising and unexpected ways and times. And if you cut too much (I'm looking at you John Krasinski) it becomes ham-fisted, or loses all profundity without that context or spirit of the piece. My document is currently sitting at over 2700 minutes of editing time. We are still putting on finishing touches as we rehearse and hear it out loud and find the right flow. This is difficult. And humbling because far be it for me to edit someone's writing who is obviously much better at it than I am. I'm trying so hard to make the pieces resonate and make people feel what I felt reading them. Of course the script is only part of that (I'm also directing and acting in it as well) but it is a large part and being based on a text sort of ups that ante for me.
So I guess the technical and business part of it was relatively easy. Be prepared, professional, and persistent. The artistic part of it is going to be extremely difficult. And you've got to know your stuff and be prepared to talk and discuss and dig around in his very layered, nebulous characters who are all full of contradictions and complexity and convey multiple themes and human observation. It's a deft touch that I am hoping that I'm able to reach. I've chosen mostly to try and get out of my own way, and just make the production be a representation of DFW and his writings as best as I can interpret he meant them. Adding some theatrical touches and flair in the staging and acting is meant to punch up the meaning, but we've not decided to put something of our own over the top of it. You could if you wanted to. You'd be a more confident artist than me. Have fun if you do, for me this is a once in a lifetime dream come true, and I intend to have a blast doing it.
Details about the performance right here. I'd love a review or two if anyone goes to see it!