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Arts & Culture

Playwright Bill Rosenfield discusses how 'True Fans' went from film to book to stage

Live Active Cultures

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2013:10:29 10:41:51

Playwright Bill Rosenfield says True Fans is "just like Book of Mormon, with less cursing"

Two weeks ago, Live Active Cultures talked with one of the stars of The Book of Mormon, and last week's column came to you from Orlando Shakes' PlayFest. In this issue, we split the difference with the debut of a brand-new play featuring friendly folks from Utah who cross a continent being really effing nice to everybody. After its recent pre-Manhattan presentation of Disenchanted, downtown's Abbey theater is hosting the world premiere production of True Fans, which runs through Nov. 24. I spoke with London-based playwright Bill Rosenfield a few days before the show's opening on Nov. 15 and learned about the long, strange trips taken by both the author and his true-life characters.

True Fans is inspired by a 1999 documentary of the same name. Filmmaker 

Dan Austin chronicled the 100-day bicycle pilgrimage he took with his brother Jared and their friend Clint Ewell from Venice Beach, Calif., to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. This trio of Utah Jazz superfans survived on $10 a day and carried a basketball signed by American "heroes" (all portrayed in the play by the same three actors) they met along the way, which they hoped to enshrine in the hall. Austin's film, which he later adapted into a book, was a surprise hit at several film festivals and has a small cult following. (More about Austin in this week's Know It All.)

Rosenfield discovered the movie more than five years ago during an outdoor screening at the touring Mountainfilm Festival in Watercolor, Fla., finding it "so quirky, and funny, and life-affirming … my brain opened up to it." Upon returning home to England, he purchased a DVD copy online and contacted Austin via email, eventually securing the stage adaptation rights. He says he and Austin went back and forth in discussions over the script: "Dan is a very trusting guy … I had to be very careful not to invent things that would be unfaithful to his themes. [Some prospective producers] asked for them to swear more or take drugs – I didn't want to sully his reputation. But it isn't a line-by-line approval process; as a filmmaker he knows that [some] liberties have to be taken."

In this loose adaptation, those liberties are extensive in both dialogue ("I think there is one line from the film that is in the play") and in plot points: A passing reference to a schoolteacher on screen turns into a principal incident on stage, while a key sequence involving Calvin Klein is eliminated entirely. "Friends of mine [who have seen both] are amazed that I saw the movie, and that I saw my play in that movie. But it's the same spirit, and that's really what I was going for." In transforming it for the stage, Rosenfield has bulked up the running time from a 41-minute short to a 105-minute two-act. "The film is really a springboard for the play, and that's why I'm careful to have the credit line ‘inspired by the documentary film.'" 

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