It often feels like the life of a Hunger Games fan since the release of the first movie has included an increase in the phrase “Did they even read the books?” With sponsorships from Subway, Doritos and Cover Girl, it seems like the marketing of it skipped from self-aware in the first movie to completely oblivious by movie three. This doesn’t even include Lionsgate’s rumored plans for a Hunger Games theme park. Again, did they even read the part of the book where people from the Capitol would make vacations out of visiting old arenas and re-enacting the deaths of children? BECAUSE THAT WAS A THING.
So when Lionsgate announced on Friday that they would be working with Broadway producer Robin de Levita, Imagine Nation, and Triangular Entertainment to create a stage show version of The Hunger Games to run in London in 2016, I was expecting an announcement of something completely exploitative. Instead, the statement was vague about the kind of show it would be and included this quote from de Levita:
“I’m thrilled to be partnering with an innovative next-generation studio like Lionsgate on a property that resonates so deeply with global audiences. The theater is a fantastic medium to bring the many meaningful layers of Suzanne Collins’ writing to life.”
It was that line there that gave me a glimmer of hope for how this show could turn out. Let’s take this back to Drama 101, shall we?
Back in the days of ancient Greece, performances came about during festivals celebrating the beginning of the harvest seasons and people would do performances in order to win a goat to sacrifice to the gods (well, the goat thing hasn’t been proven or denied). The choral performances that it started off as eventually turned into performances of classic Greek tales with a very specific structure.
Each writer of a tragedy would create plays in a tetraology that often featured linked stories about the suffering of man. Each of the three plays had three acts that the performance would play out in and the shows featured heavy use of masks, a rolling platform called the ekkyklema, a chorus that narrated the actions in the play, and a mechane that was used a crane to bring actors playing gods and goddess out onto the stage, birthing the phrase “deus ex machina.”
Sophocles is the most well known of the Greek tragedians, but there’s only one full tragedy cycle that survived: the Oresteia by Aeschylus, a cycle involving the murder of Agamemnon after his return from the Trojan War and the trial that followed for his son Orestes after he killed his mother in revenge.
If you’ve read The Hunger Games trilogy, you may have noticed a similar structure. The three books all have three parts with nine chapters to each part. The stories build upon each other, starting with the games, the start of the revolution, and the ensuing war sparked by Katniss Everdeen’s actions. Everyone ends up suffering all the time, there’s a lot of violence, and there tends to be a thing from the sky either saving or ruining Katniss’ life towards the climax of each book. That was very purposeful on the part of series writer Suzanne Collins and the entire time I was reading the books, I was imaging them as a stage play in my mind.
What could make this Hunger Games stage show awesome is if they kept to that structure and inspiration when adapting it for stage. Break it into three acts, stylize the hell out of it with a mechanical moving stage, and don’t shy away from the more brutal parts of the book. Obviously, not everything can make it over in an adaptation, but a stage adaptation could give them a chance to put in things that were left out of the films and Collins literally made the story a three act structure. It would not be that hard to follow the guideline.
What could make it awful though is if the people working on the show lose sight of that. It could be so easy to look at the scale of their performance space and turn it into The Hunger Games Stunt Show Spectacular! With explosions and love triangles and even more explosions! The Hunger Games is not Marvel Universe Live, but I worry that Lionsgate might not know that.
Still, time will tell either way. The stage show opens in London in 2016. Mockingjay – Part 1 releases on November 21 later this year.