The poems in Drum Taps represent Walt Whitman’s firsthand account of the Civil War. See the words, the emotion, the blood come to life in this theatrical adaptation. This is not your traditional readers theatre or poetry recital. This is flesh and bone words breathed to their fullest humanity. This is struggle and pain. This is confusion and contradiction. This is war.
The primary danger in theatricalizing a series of poems is that such adaptations tend to be static – they amount to not much more than a poetry recital with lights and costumes. I’m not dissing poetry recitals, I’m just saying that they’re not inherently theatrical. By the way – can you believe “dissing” passed my spell checker but “theatricalizing” didn’t?
I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when Lindsay told me she was working on an adaptation of Leaves of Grass, a collection of US Civil War-era poems written, modified and rearranged over an entire lifetime by Walt Whitman. I wasn’t familiar with the poems at the time nor, being Canadian, did I have that much knowledge about the US Civil War. But my main concern was this: will it be theatrical?
I am proud to report that it is. Even just reading the script I could see the actors, hear the chaos, smell the gunpowder, feel the loss. I can’t wait to see a production of this!
Two versions are included in the same book: A small cast version (5 actors – 2M+3W) and a large cast version (20 actors – 6M+14W) . The casting is very flexible, however, and is limited only by the director’s imagination. Genders can be switched for many characters and the cast size can be expanded or contracted fairly easily. Both versions run about 35 minutes, ideal for most contest requirements.