In 1953, Saul Bellow published The Adventures of Augie March, the story of a young immigrant coming of age in Chicago and discovering his identity as a writer. The novel launched Bellow’s reputation and established the future Nobel Laureate's literary renown.
In 2015, Court Theatre Artistic Director Charles Newell commissioned the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn, AB ‘91, to adapt The Adventures of Augie March for Court’s stage. The same year, the Special Collections Research Center began processing and cataloguing Saul Bellow’s papers for use by scholars, students, and researchers.
The Adaptations of Augie March examines the successive transformations of Bellow's original text in the hands of playwright Auburn and his collaborator Newell as they worked closely with a team of theatre artists—including a set designer, costume designer, choreographer and dialect coach—to bring the May 2019 world premiere of The Adventures of Augie March to life at Court Theatre.
Among the manuscripts and artifacts on display here are early handwritten drafts of Bellow’s novel and his later revisions; original drafts of David Auburn’s play; Charles Newell’s artistic notes and plans for establishing the world of the play; costume designer Sally Dolembo’s drawings and sketches; the mind-bending work of shadow puppetry collective Manual Cinema, commissioned by Court to generate the play’s special effects; and John Culbert’s minimalist, non-literal design for a set capable of evoking places as disparate as Depression-era Chicago, the mountains of Mexico, post-WWII Italy, and a lifeboat on the open ocean.
The exhibit invites visitors to step into the world of Augie March—as Bellow imagined it, as Auburn adapted it, and as Newell envisioned it for the stage. The Adaptations of Augie March illuminates how writers and theatre artists work together to create and build the world of a play, and how they bring that world to full realization using the tools and elements of live performance.