MONMOUTH — The Apple Box Children’s Theater’s production of “Beowulf” maintains the integrity of the original piece, while making it accessible to both the young actors who play the part and audience members.
“The story is wicked cool, because it’s got two monsters and a dragon and battles,” said Maren Anderson, who adapted the story for the production. “None of the translations are kid-friendly, not that I could find.”
Director Rob Harriman said he wanted to introduce the actors to “Beowulf” so they would be familiar with it when they are assigned to read it in high school or college.
“They’re not going to remember it very well, but the fear of reading ‘Beowulf’ will be gone,” Harriman said.
The story is more than 1,000 years old, he said, and its original author is unknown.
“It’s considered one of the first great works of English language literature,” Harriman said. “It’s sort of a foundational piece, and now hopefully these kids know that.”
Beowulf, a Viking hero, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, whose mead hall is being terrorized by the monster Grendel. Beowulf must also battle Grendel’s mother and a dragon.
Anderson said a major challenge was extracting the story while being true the language.
She adapted “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Arabian Nights” for previous Apple Box productions.
“The first one I did was Shakespeare, and I wanted it to sound like Shakespeare, but I also wanted the kids to understand what they were saying,” Anderson said. “I tried to do that with this one as well, so the language sounds appropriately old-fashioned, but they can still say the words and they still know what it means.”
It’s in modern English, but Anderson tried to not oversimplify the story.
“It doesn’t sound like they’re doing anything childish up there,” she said. “It sounds like ‘Beowulf,’ it just is not the translation that you’ll find elsewhere.”
Anderson’s two daughters are in the play, and she has been at almost every rehearsal, Harriman said.
“It’s really nice to have the author on site,” he said. “There’s been a couple of times when she’s come up to me and told me that I’m blocking a line entirely wrong. She’s super sweet about it, but … she’ll say the line should be read this way.”
There are some musical elements to this version of “Beowulf,” as well.
One of the most unusual aspects of Anderson’s adaptation is the inclusion of rap battles.
She uses this to show the rivalry between Beowulf and Unferth, another warrior.
“Unferth has been trying for 12 years to save them from Grendel and has not been able to, so he’s got a chip on his shoulder,” Anderson said. “Reading this back-and-forth between the two characters, well these guys are just bumping chests. This is a rap battle.”
She thought there couldn’t be just one rap in the show, so the dragon raps, too.
“That is not something that I’ve tried before,” Anderson said.
The raps were group efforts, she said.
Anderson brought in Stacey Henle, who is a songwriter and adjunct faculty in WOU’s chemistry department.
“I wrote the words and the gist of the songs, and she made them into songs,” Anderson said. “She did the songs for us and then she took a stab at the raps.”
Barbara Harriman, production manager, and the young actors also helped with the raps.
“It’s one of those things, how to take a show like ‘Beowulf,’ that is very serious, and make it light,” said Rob Harriman. “That’s one of the ways Maren came to lighten it a little bit. There’s a lot of humor, there’s a lot of broad characters that are meant to be funny. It’s a much more livelier, friendlier, version of ‘Beowulf’ than if you tried to read the classic.”
See the show
Apple Box Children’s Theater will premier Maren Bradley Anderson’s “Beowulf” on Western Oregon University’s outdoor stage near Rice Auditorium.
Performances are 7 to 8:30 p.m. on July 5 and 6, and at 2 p.m. on July 6.
Dress rehearsal is open to the public at 7 p.m. on July 3.
Bring a folding chair or blanket.
Admission is free.