When To/Not to Change The Time Period of a Show

  • Nikki Scamuffo

Lately, it’s become a theme to change the time-period and/or setting of a popular play/musical. For example, I once saw a post-apocalyptic version of Leonard Bernstein’s Peter Pan, and believe it or not it worked! I personally enjoy seeing popular shows re-imagined, but I believe that there is a time and place to make that dramatic decision.

First of all, the director needs to make sure their unique vision makes sense with the script they’re using. If changing the time, place, and characters in a show calls for a confusing, out-of-place piece that requires them to change the original script, it’s probably best to just leave the show in the time and place it was written in. This would not only be cringe-worthy to see, but illegal! Changing a script that is not public domain can result in copyright issues and can cost your theater company a ton of money. Plus it’s disrespectful to the playwright.

Also, before bringing a show into a different era/setting, the director’s vision must be crystal clear. They must know exactly why the show would work well in a different setting and have a clear purpose. If a director just puts a show in a different era/setting to be edgy, it will seem pointless. A lot of the time, directors will put a show in a different era/setting to make social and/or philosophical critiques. Or, it can just be a new perspective on a classic piece. However, the purpose must always be there before changing a piece completely.

In contrast, if a director has a clear vision for why the show should take place in a different setting, isn’t changing the original script, and not breaking any laws, then I say go for it and give the audience a creative show they’ve never seen before. Theatre calls for originality and bright new ideas; all I ask is that these ideas make sense and have a purpose.