BWW Blog: From Screen to Stage - How Denison Premiered The Stage Adaptation of BoJack Horseman
There are many challenges when adapting a source material for the stage, even more so when your source material is an animated TV show about anthropomorphic animals. This was the challenge facing my college's Theatre Department this fall after we were commissioned to do the first live stage adaptation of the acclaimed Netflix original series BoJack Horseman. Denison University received a generous donation from alum Michael D. Eisner to build a new performing arts center on the campus in 2017, and this past spring the Michael D. Eisner Center for the Performing Arts opened for faculty and students. In honor of Michael Eisner's generosity to the college, Denison decided to dedicate the first show of our Main Stage season to Eisner, asking him what he would like the show to be. The former CEO of Disney expressed to the chair of our Theatre Department that the thing he was currently most proud of in his career was the animated Netflix original series Bojack Horseman, which his company produces. And so, Denison was giving the licensing rights to create and produce the first ever staged production of BoJack Horseman to inaugurate the brand new Eisner Center.
In trying to find ways to bring the likeness of the animals on stage without putting students into actual animal suits, Mark Evans Bryan, the Chair of Theatre and Director of Bojack Horseman the play, decided to try using puppetry. Student actors portrayed the characters of Princess Carolyn and BoJack Horseman on stage as people, while behind them and behind a screen, other students moved around large, wooden cutouts of the animals each character was meant to be. The shadows allowed for the whimsical nature of the source television show to break through what would have been a rather serious play.
For this project, the BoJack creative team at Denison decided to adapt one single episode of the show for the stage, Season 3, Episode 9, "The Best Thing That Ever Happened" written by Kate Purdy. In adapting just one single episode, the staged performance ended up only being about 45 minutes with no intermission each night, which allowed for a quick and exhilarating night of theatre.
Having this brand new, exciting project coincide with the official opening and dedication of a new, state of the art building on campus has brought a lot of change to my final year. But none of it bad! While I will miss our older, more haunted, original Theatre Arts Building, the opportunities for collaboration provided in the Eisner Center and its performance and rehearsal spaces is unparalleled. Plus this new building now places Denison as one of the top colleges in the US for students who want to study the arts holistically outside of a conservatory. And BoJack Horseman the play was pretty good too. Needless to say, this has been a crazy and exciting time to be a student of Theatre at Denison!