06.07.2019

Kate Hamill on “Little Women”

Actor and playwright Kate Hamill has become well known for her adaptations of classic novels, including Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. Now Hamill is back with “Little Women”, currently running off-Broadway in New York. She speaks with Alicia about why the classics are so important today.

Read Transcript EXPAND

HAD, AND WE REMAIN IN THE ARTISTIC STREAM NOW WITH OUR NEXT GUEST, THE YOUNG PLAYWRIGHT AND ACTOR KATE HAMEL, SHE BECAME KNOWN FOR JANE AUSTIN'S 'PRIDE AND PREJUDICE' AND SHE CAME BACK WITH LITTLE WOMEN AND SHE SAT DOWN WITH OUR ALICIA MENENDEZ AND TO TALK ABOUT WHY THE CLASSICS ARE IMPORTANT TODAY.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR JOINING US.

OF COURSE.

THE PLAY YOU'RE CURRENTLY STAGING IS AN ADAPTATION EVER LUISA ALCOT'S LITTLE WOMEN.

WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS TEXT?

I'M REALLY INTERESTED IN CREATING RADICAL FEMINIST RECLAMATIONS OF THE CLASSICS AND THIS BOOK IS, YOU KNOW, I LIKE TO THINK OF IT AS AN OUR TOWN FOR AMERICAN WOMEN AND IT'S A BOOK THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE EXTREMELY PERSONAL CONNECTION TO.

IT'S ABOUT ALMOST THESE ARCHTYPES OF AMERICAN WOMEN AND I WAS INTERESTED IN CREATING A PIECE THAT -- OKAY, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH BECOMING A WOMAN IN THE LUISA ALCOT'S SOCIETY WHEN THE WORLD WANTS YOU TO FIT IN THIS TEENY, TINY BOX?

SO I WAS VERY INTERESTED IN EXPLORING THESE ARCHETYPES OF THESE FOUR SISTERS AND FOCUSING ON WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF YOU REJECT THE LABEL OF WOMEN ALTOGETHER AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE FORCED INTO THESE GENDER ROLES.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO DO A RADICAL ADAPTATION?

TRADITIONALLY, ADAPTATIONS ARE SORT OF COPY AND PASTE JOBS AND A LOT OF PEOPLE REALLY WANT TO BE VERY FAITHFUL TO THE ORIGINAL.

P [ INDISCERNIBLE ]

I BELIEVE IN CREATING SOMETHING THAT'S MUCH MORE SURPRISING AND THEATRICAL AND EMBRACES THE FACT THAT ESPECIALLY THE THEATER, IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A MUSEUM PIECE AND IT DOESN'T HAVE TO SORT OF LIVE IN THIS COLD, MARBLE ALTAR AND BE A THING.

IT COULD BE LIVING AND WE CAN SORT OF SCRIBBLE ON IT WITH CRAYON AND SEE WHAT IT MEANS NOW AND I THINK OF IT AS A COLLABORATION BETWEEN MYSELF AND AN AUTHOR WHO IS CURRENTLY DEAD.

IN THIS CASE IT'S LUISA MAY ALCOTT.

SOMETIMES THAT'S A BIG DEPARTURE.

IT'S A BIG RESPONSIBILITY.

I FEEL VERY MUCH LIKE WHY DO THIS IF IT'S NOT TRYING TO MAKE SOMETHING SURPRISING AND NEW AND SOMETHING THAT SPEAKS TO WHY WE TELL THESE STORIES TODAY?

THESE STORIES ARE CULTURAL TOUCHTONE FOR US AND I FEEL VERY MUCH IF WE'RE NOT RE-EXAMINING HOW THESE STORIES SHAPE US WHICH MEANS RE-EXAMINING HOW WE SHAPE THESE STORIES, WHY DO IT?

LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT A CLIP FROM THE PLAY.

OKAY.

IT'S NOT WORKING.

OF COURSE, IT'S NOT WORKING YOU WON'T LET ME GET MY LINE DOWN.

IF IT'S NOT REALISTIC, WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

THIS IS A PLAY ABOUT A WIZARD.

[ LAUGHTER ] [ INDISCERNIBLE PREN [ I REGRET TO INFORM YOU, AMY, YOU ARE DISMISSED.

DISMISSED?

YOU CAN'T TELL WHO YOU ARE, DEAR.

YOU DIDN'T DISMISS ME BECAUSE I QUIT!

WHAT MADE THIS ADAPTATION FOR LITTLE WOMEN PARTICULARLY RADICAL?

WELL, I CHANGED THE ENDING.

YOU KNOW, SPOILER ALERT.

JOE DOES NOT GO OFF AND MARRY A MAN.

SHE DOES NOT GIVE UP WRITING.

SHE'S AS ALCOTT AND YOU CAN GO BACK AND FORTH ABOUT WHAT ALCOTT MEANT BY THIS, BUT ALCOTT SAID S SHE WAS A MAN'S SOUL TRAPPED IN A WOMAN'S BODY.

SHE WAS JANE AUSTEN AHEAD OF HER TIME.

SHE WAS -- IT'S VERY INTERESTING BECAUSE SHE WAS EXTREMELY, SHE DIDN'T LIKE LITTLE WOMEN VERY MUCH.

IT BECAME A HUGE HIT FOR HER AND SHE WAS VERY RESISTANT TO IT AND IT WAS VERY MUCH BASED ON HER OWN FAMILY AND HER OWN FAMILY DYNAMIC AND JOE WAS BASED ON HERSELF.

I REMEMBER EVEN AS A TEEN READING IT AND FINDING HER INCREDIBLY GENDER BENDING.

YES, ME, TOO.

YOU KNOW WHAT?

IN A WAY, ALCOTT'S ON SEXUALITY AND ALCOTT'S INTENTIONS AND ALCOTT WAS WRITING FOR HER DAY AND SHE WAS A GENIUS AND SO GOOD AT CREATING THIS SORT OF WITTY WORLD, AT CREATING DEEP-MOVING RELATIONSHIPS AND DEPICTING THE EPIC SCALE OF THESE SEEMINGLY SMALL LIVES AND I THOUGHT IF I'M WRITING A PLAY THAT YOUNG PEOPLE ARE COMING TO TODAY, I WANT THEM TO LOOK ON THE STAGE AND GO, I DON'T HAVE TO BE RETRO SEXUAL.

I DON'T HAVE TO FIT INTO MY GENDER ROLE.

I CAN BE THE HERO OF THAT STORY AND I CAN FIND A WAY THROUGH.

I'M OPEN TO ACTOR INTERPRETATIONS OF WHERE ON THE SPECTRUM JOE FALLS, BUT FOR ME, JOE IS NOT STRAIGHT.

JOE IS SOMEONE WHO IS GROWING UP WITHOUT ROLE MODELS TO WHOM -- WHO WOULD HELP HER DEFINE HERSELF, BUT I BELIEVE NOWADAYS, JOE WOULD BE MAYBE GENDER OR NON-BINARY, OR TRANS AND I FEEL THAT'S THE NATURAL NEXT PROGRESSION OF THIS CHARACTER AND WHAT I WANTED TO SHOW YOUNG PEOPLE.

LGBTQ KIDS ARE FIVE TIMES MORE LEAKLY THAN THE GENERAL POPULATION TO COMMIT SUICIDE, TO SUFFER DEPRESSION AND TO BE KICKED OUT OF THEIR HOME AND I REALLY WANTED TO CREATE A STORY THAT'S ABOUT -- IT IS NOT WRONG TO BE WHO YOU ARE.

YOU CAN BE WHO YOU ARE AND YOU MAY GET PUSHED BACK FOR IT, BUT THINGS WILL TURN OUT FOR YOU AND I DID NOT WANT IT TO END WITH ISN'T IT WONDERFUL, YOU'LL, YOU KNOW, YOU'LL EVENTUALLY REALIZE YOU DON'T WANT TO BE A WRITER AFTER ALL AND YOU'LL GO OFF AND GIVE UP YOUR DREAMS AND MARRY A MAN.

NOTHING WRONG WITH MARRYING A MAN.

I'M MARRYING A MAN, BUT I -- I REALLY HATE WHEN THOSE ARE THE ONLY STORIES OUR YOUNG PEOPLE ARE BEING TOLD AND PARTICULARLY OUR YOUNG GIRLS ARE GIVEN SO MUCH MESSAGING THAT ROMANTIC LOVE IS SORT OF THE POINT OF LIFE AND, YOU KNOW, I CAN REMEMBER BEING A LITTLE CHILD AND SORT OF FEELING LIKE, 4 OR 5 AND AFTER YOU GET MARRIED, LIFE SORT OF ENDS IN A HAPPY WAY AND YOU RIDE OFF INTO THE SUN SET AND THAT DRIVES ME CRAZY BECAUSE I FEEL IT HAS SO MANY LASTING REPERCUSSIONS ON WOMEN'S AMBITIONS AND WHAT WOMEN DO IN THE WORLD.

IT'S NOT THE FIRST CLASSIC THAT YOU HAVE ADAPTED A LOT OF YOUR OTHER AWARD-WINNING WORK ADAPTATIONS OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, VANITY FAIR AND SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.

WHY NOT WRITE AND ADAPT MORE MODERN PLAYS?

WELL, I DO DO MODERN WORK, AS WELL AND I'M DEVELOPING SOMETHING RIGHT NOW CALLED THE PIPER WHICH IS ABOUT ESSENTIALLY A CULT AND HOW CULT THINKING ENABLES TOXIC MASCULINITY AND, IT'S ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT TO ME TO CREATE NEW FEMINIST CLASSICS BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, AGAIN, THESE STORIES ARE THINGS WE TEACH IN OUR SCHOOLS.

THEY ARE STORIES THAT SHAPE US CULTURALLY.

THEY ARE STORIES THAT WE REFER TO AGAIN AND AGAIN.

THEY ARE STORIES THAT WE LOOK TO FOR ARCHETYPES.

SO WHEN THESE STORIES ARE ALWAYS MALE DOMINATED OR TOLD THROUGH THE MALE GAZE WE ARE LOSING THE SENSE OF FEMALE-DRIVEN NARRATIVES.

SO OFTEN WOMEN ARE EXPECTED TO BE TERTIARY AND STORYLINES AND THE WIFE, THE GIRLFRIEND, THE PROSTITUTE AND THERE ARE GREAT ROLES FOR WIVES, GIRLFRIENDS AND PROSTITUTE, BUT WHEN YOU'RE NEVER THE HERO OF YOUR OWN STORY, I THINK THAT HAS RAMIFICATIONS CULTURALLY.

I THINK THAT'S PART OF WHY IT TAKES 20, 30 ACCUSERS TO BRING DOWN ONE MAN WHO IS A SERIAL SEXUAL PREDATOR BECAUSE WE ARE SO USED TO THINKING OF WOMEN AS THE OTHER, AND SO IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME TO MAKE THESE CLASSIC STORIES WHICH WE USE TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN STORIES AND ALSO TO TEACH THESE UNIVERSAL STORIES WHICH ARE SUPPOSED TO SPEAK TO ALL OF US TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY SPEAK TO PEOPLE OF ALL GENDER THAT ARE INCLUSIVES.

THERE IS A NOTE IN THE SCRIPT WHERE I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT THAT LITTLE WOMEN MUST BE IN AN INCLUSIVE FASHION AND TO REFLECT AMERICA TODAY AND PARTICULARLY THE MARCH FAMILY.

YES.

WHY THAT?

DO YOU NEED TO PUT THAT NOTE IN THE TEXT TO HELP PEOPLE GET IT?

I DO NEED TO PUT THAT NOTE IN THE TEXT BECAUSE OTHERWISE THEY WANT TO CAP IT WITH ALL WHITE PEOPLE AND FOR ME, FIRST OF ALL, I AS AN ADAPTER IS SOMEONE WHO BELIEVES VERY MUCH -- THE WONDERFUL THING ABOUT THEATER IS IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE FILM OR THE MOVIES AND IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE DRAMA RICH AND IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE PURELY REALISTIC AND PEOPLE CAN PLAY ANIMALS AND PEOPLE CAN PLAY DIFFERENT CHARACTERS AND ADULTS CAN PLAY CHILDREN, BUT I -- AGAIN, IT IS SO IMPORTANT THAT PEOPLE BE ABLE TO SEE THEMSELVES IN THE CLASSICS AND EVERYONE ACROSS IT MAKES UP AMERICA AND BE ABLE TO SEE THEMSELVES IN THE CLASSICS AND NOT FEEL LIKE THAT'S NOT FOR ME, THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE ME AND I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT FOR US TO EMBRACE HOW AMERICA LOOKS WHEN WE'RE PUTTING AMERICAN WOMEN ON THE STAGE.

TO THAT POIFNT I WANT TO TAK A LOOK AT ANOTHER CLIP.

OF COURSE.

[ INDISCERNIBLE ]

I SHOULD HAVE GONE AND PICKED HIM UP, BUT I COULDN'T AND I STARTED WAILING AND THAT'S HOW JOHN SAW ME CRYING AND COVERED IN JAM WITH THE BABY SCREAMING IN THE NURSERY AND THEN JOHN ASKED ME WHY I HADN'T PICKED UP THE BABY TONIGHT AND I CRIED AND HE ASKED ME WHY I HADN'T MADE DINNER AND I CRIED AND THEN HE CALLED ME HYSTERICAL, AND HYSTERICAL IS JUST WHAT MEN CALL WOMEN WHEN THEY FINALLY SNAP!

THAT MUST BE SO SATISFYING TO DELIVER.

IT REALLY IS!

AND IT DOES GET APPLAUSE MOST NIGHT, AND I THINK IT'S BECAUSE IT'S SO -- IT'S STILL TRUE THAT WOMEN ARE -- ARE -- ARE REALLY EXPECTED TO SIT IN THESE TINY BOXES OF ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR WHICH ARE IMPOSSIBLE.

NO ONE CAN BE THAT PERFECT, AND I WROTE THIS SPEECH BASED ON FRIENDS OF MINE WHO ARE MOTHERS WHO FEEL VERY -- WHO HAVE AT VARIOUS POINTS IN THEIR LIVES FELT VERY MUCH LIKE YOU'RE PUNISHED FOR EVERYTHING.

YOU'RE PUNISHED FOR BEING AT HOME AND FOR NOT BEING AT HOME.

IT'S JUST VERY HARD TO RECONCILE THE DEMANDS SOCIETY PUTS ON WOMEN AND ESPECIALLY MOTHERS AND IT'S STILL VERY, VERY TRUE.

THERE IS A NOTE IN THE SCRIPT THAT STOOD OUT TO ME.

YOU WRITE OF THE CHARACTERS, THEY ARE NOT ALWAYS PERFECTLY LIKABLE AND THAT'S PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT FOR YOUNG WOMEN, THE FREEDOM NOT TO BE LIKABLE AT ALL TIMES AND THEY'RE PERFECTLY HUMAN.

WHY IS THAT GENDER EXPECTATION WHICH IS SO SUBTLE SOMETIMES AND SO PERNICIOUS?

I WOULD ARGUE IT GOES BACK TO THE MALE GAZE, IF THEY ARE TERTIARY AND THEY DON'T FEEL LIKE THEY ARE THE HEROES OF THEIR OWN STORY AND OF COURSE, THEY FEEL LIKE THERE IS SUCH A PREMIUM PUT ON LIKABILITY BECAUSE YOU ARE TRYING TO APPEAL TO THE MALE GAZE, AND WHAT I FOUND WORKING, YOU KNOW, HAVING MY PLAYS PRODUCED AROUND AND WORKING WITH YOUNG ACTRESSES IS WOMEN ARE GIVEN NOTE WHILE I DON'T SORT OF LIKE YOUR CHARACTER, BUT MEN CAN PLAY MASS MURDERERS AND THEY'RE NOT GETTING THOSE NOTES BECAUSE WOMEN ARE EXPECTED TO STAND IN FOR THEIR ENTIRE GENDER AND MEN ARE ALLOWED TO BE HUMAN BEINGS AND SO I FIND SUCH FREEDOM IN ALLOWING CHARACTERS TO BE FALLIBLE.

AND WHAT IS THE RESPONSE FROM MALE AUDIENCE MEMBERS?

YOU KNOW WHAT FASCINATING IS?

I THINK WHEN I STARTED OUT I WAS EXPECTING A MORE DEFENSIVE RESPONSE, BUT IT'S BEEN SO OPEN-MINDED AND LOVELY AND PEOPLE GETTING INVESTED IN STORIES THAT THEY THOUGHT WAS SORT OF CHICK LITERATURE OR CHICK STORIES.

WHAT WAS IMPORTANT TO ME WAS CREATING SOME OF THE STORIES THAT ALSO SHOW HOW, FRANKLY, THE PATRIARCHY ALSO AFFECTS MALE LIVES AND HOW TOXIC MASCULINITY OPPRESSES MEN AND IT'S BEEN FASCINATING TO SEE MEN REALLY RESPOND TO THESE STORIES THAT BEFORE THEY KIND OF FELT LIKE WELL, THAT'S NOT FOR ME AND YOU KNOW, MEN DO COME TO MY SHOW AS A SUPER HEARTENED BY IT.

AND NEXT ADAPTING DRACULA.

AND IT'S VERY INTERESTING.

DRACULA, AND THE CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY AND I'M DOING JACK HILL WITH THEM IN THE WINTER AND IT'S A VERY PROBLEMATIC NOVEL.

IT'S INCREDIBLY SEXIST.

I WRITE LITTLE NOTES IN THE MARGINS AND THE THING I KEPT WRITING WAS YIKES BECAUSE IT IS SEXIST AND YOU CAN'T DENY THE KIND OF STRANGLEHOLD IT HAS IN OUR CULTURE AND WOULDN'T IT BE FASCINATING TO BE A RECLAMATION OF IT AND WHO IS A FOREIGN MINISTER NIFT IN THE CULT ARE RIGHT NOW.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FIGHT VAMPIRISM AND I'M WORKING ON THAT RIGHT NOW AND I LIKE TO FLEX MY MUSCLE WITH THE DARKER STUFF SO IT'S FUN FOR ME.

ARE THERE ANY TEXTS THAT ARE OFF LIMITS?

NO.

MOBY DICK?

THE BIBLE?

YEAH, I WOULD DO EITHER OF THOSE.

I FEEL LIKE IF WE'RE STILL TALKING ABOUT IT, IT'S WORTH RE-EXAMINING.

THERE WAS A REVIEWER WHO DIDN'T LIKE ME VERY MUCH AND SAID IS NO CLASSIC SAFE FROM KATE HAMEL AND I SAID, WELL, NO.

I'M KNOW PROPOSING BURNING THE BOOKS.

THEY'RE STILL OUT THERE, BUT WHY NOT DO SOMETHING SURPRISING OR INTERESTING?

KATE, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with Maya Foa and Ibrahim Halawa about Egypt’s mass trials and death sentences; and John Waters about his new memoir “Mr. Know-It-All.” Alicia Menendez speaks with Kate Hamill about “Little Women.”

LEARN MORE