“How are you going to do that?” That was the most common question I encountered when friends or colleagues learned that I had secured the rights to adapt Peter Stark’s epic story for the stage. It’s a completely valid question. “How in the %@&# are you going to put a ship onstage, show people climbing a mountain in the snow and stage people drowning at the Columbia Bar?” It sounds impossible.
Which is precisely what I found so enticing about the entire venture. When two different patrons suggested that I would enjoy reading Astoria, I decided I ought to pick it up and, out of duty, started reading it. I could not put it down. I devoured it. I was astounded. How did they survive? How did they find their way? How did they miscalculate so grandly? And most loudly: How have I never heard of this?
I assumed that my Oregonian friends all knew this story. NOPE. Almost none of them were familiar with this extraordinary chapter in Northwest and American history. And one fact just blew me away: Had the Astor Expedition, as messy as it was, not occurred in 1810, America’s claim on the territory north of California and west of the Rockies would have been far more tenuous. Indeed, it would have been as easy for this part of the continent to have ended up Canadian, British or even Russian territory. HOW HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF THIS?
I became obsessed. I couldn’t stop talking about the story. My friends got sick of hearing me talk about it. I tracked down the author and asked if he would consider letting me adapt it for the stage. His reply was, “I have no idea how you’re going to do that, but why not?”
I had to figure out how to do it. Lots of research, organizing, breaking the story down into chunks (“deciding what you’re going to leave out will be the hardest part” was Stark’s warning; he had another 400 pages of research he could have included in his book), an outline, and then the moment of: What are they actually going to say? After all, it’s not a novel. There isn’t much spoken dialogue suggested in the book, so the conversations, the conversational style, even some of the characters, had to be invented.
And the style of storytelling had to be invented.
And. And. And.
Last year we premiered the first part of this fascinating saga. Here we are for the conclusion.
Thank you for joining us on this epic adventure.
– Chris Coleman
Portland Center Stage’s Astoria Part One and Two ticket and schedule information here.