Adapting old works to fit new contemporary discourses around sexuality, gender, and power, has its limitations. European fairytales rely heavily on heteronormative gender assignments for tropes and key story elements to work. So why do people continue to write new versions of the old instead of creating new stories entirely? I'm struggling with that answer as I am currently tasked to adapt a German play by Heinrich von Kleist. The original German play is immersed in old Catholic teachings, compulsive heteronormativity, and other tropes of gender that don't jive with me politically and culturally. So what should I do to make this play resonate with me now? I would rather write a new play entirely, but that's not what I am tasked with. It's a rarely done epic five act play with magic and angels. That alone enticed me and my collaborators Jennifer Onopa and Christina Beam to adapt the play.
Though it's commonly known as Ordeal by Fire in English, the play is commonly known in Germany as Kätchen von Heilbronn, which translates as Young Kate from Heilbronn. Though the title indicates a woman as the supposed lead, Kleist treats her more of a secondary character as all the men in the play seem to have more power than her. It's multiple stories into one, but hers seems so secondary to the rest. So why am I doing this play? There's magic, a castle, an epic fire! It's essentially Lord of the Rings or The Game of Thrones on stage. The journey is so enticing to adapt and enact live with an audience. However, what can I do to make this play resonate for me personally and not perpetuate disagreeable politics that are often portrayed on American stages?
Ah, there's the rub.