Kate McDonald

Part of the reason I love making theater is that it is always an adventure. And the journey of transforming Carol Kapaun Ratchenski’s book of poetry into staged drama offered an adventure in which I could not fully imagine the destination.

I was honored when Carol asked if Theatre B might consider adapting A Beautiful Hell for the stage. While Theatre B is committed to fostering new work, this was a new kind of adaptation for us.

I did not know exactly where we would stop on the journey from poems to staged drama, but I knew my traveling companions were skilled and enthusiastic, the poetry was a reliable map, and the journey would have important lessons for us all.

I felt called to do this adaptation because grieving, like reading poetry, is often an isolated experience. If Theatre B could offer a new way to challenge the taboo of talking about death, particularly the death of young children, then we could extend the reach of Carol’s work in a way that would engage audiences for years to come.

Laurie J. Baker (who adapted the poems for the stage), Carol and I trust and respect one another implicitly. We were able to take time to workshop, revise, read aloud, revise, rehearse, revise, present and revise the work.

Laurie was an advocate for the poems, ascribing various experiences and personas of the poet to characters the actors could inhabit. I became an advocate for the audience, offering suggestions to shape short scenes and a long healing journey into one whole narrative.

We decided that a staged reading format would allow us to continue to revise the piece while also offering a degree of separation for a potentially fragile audience.

Humanities North Dakota helped fund the project, and our destination was a performance at the GameChanger Ideas Festival. Following the performance, I was approached by a young woman who told me how important Carol’s poems had been in her healing journey following the death of her daughter. She expressed her gratitude that the theater piece enabled her to share the poems with family and friends. It gave them another reference point to remember their child, honor their loss, recognize their healing and accept resilience.

Her comments affirmed that the work had achieved what we had hoped. And this destination, for us, was beautiful.

Explore MN Theater is a series produced in partnership with Explore Minnesota, Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and The Minnesota Theater Alliance. More from Explore MN Theater here.

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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.