TheaterMania Logo
Theater News

The Bradbury Chronicles

Man-for-all-media RAY BRADBURY is profiled by Georgia Holof (one of his collaborators on a musical version of Bradbury's Farenheit 451). logo
The legendary writer Ray Bradbury, creator of such sci-fi classics as The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, is a man for all media. Everything he writes moves effortlessly--it recycles, evolves, and revives.

His fame was first established with short stories and novels. Then came movies, television, even stints creating the scenario for the U.S. Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair and the concept around which the Spaceship Earth was constructed for Disney World's Epcot Center.

Of all his many projects, which one gives him (or gave him) the greatest joy. His answer--"Live theater"--is swift and unequivocal. "It's a magic act," Bradbury explains. "You are there, every performance. The director is off in the wings, praying. It's you out there with the actors--your words, your ideas, your sleight-of-hand, connecting with the audience. Even if sometimes you fail, it's still wonderful. But when you bring off the trick, it's the greatest feeling in the world."

Drama, musical theater and poetry have been a part of Bradbury's life since he appeared in a Christmas operetta at age 12. He then moved into radio, reading comic strips to kiddies on Saturday nights. He began writing for the stage in high school, and went to work with Laraine Day's little theater group in the Mormon Church when he was 20. Living in Los Angeles, Bradbury naturally attracted the attention of filmmakers. After working on story ideas and treatments for such movies as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and It Came from Outer Space, he was finally tapped by master director John Huston to come to Ireland and write the screenplay for Huston's film of Moby Dick. The whale put Bradbury on the map in Hollywood, and he went on to give us such other delights as Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Illustrated Man. (Farenheit 451 became a film directed by Truffaut).

Back in 1964, Bradbury founded The Pandemonium Theatre. The troupe has produced many of his plays, including Falling Upward, a comedy about the author's often-traumatic time in Ireland with Huston. "Every so often," he reminisces, "I would say to my wife, Maggie, 'we seem to have too much money.' So she would open the window and I would throw some money out and produce a play." Among other works, The Pandemonium produced Bradbury's The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, which was later adapted as a musical with Jose Feliciano and, this year, became a Disney movie.
Bradbury's first musical, Dandelion Wine, based on his very autobiographical novel about childhood, opened at Lincoln Center in 1967. "It did not fail," wrote Bradbury later, "but it did not have an earthshaking survival either." (A newer musical of Dandelion Wine, written in collaboration with Jimmy Webb, has been produced in several venues both academic and commercial.)

Next, Bradbury adapted Farenheit 451 for the stage. The play differed from the famous novel in many respects, primarily in the character of book's villain: Beatty, the Fire Chief. "When I started writing the play," Bradbury said, "Captain Beatty came to me and said, 'Ray! Don't you want to know why I burn those books'?" So, together, the character and his creator answered some questions--and asked a few new ones.

A few years later, Farenheit 451 also became a musical. In the program of the premiere performance (at Michael Mitchell's Civic Theater, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1988), Bradbury wrote, "Georgia Holof and David Mettee showed up on my doorstep as strangers, with half the score of the musical play already finished. I listened, and invited them into my life to stay. For two summers, we wrote and rehearsed and staged and restaged our almost-opera at the O'Neill Theatre Center in Connecticut. Now my love, begun so many decades ago, has joined with theirs, and our strange future child is ready to be born in a public place." (Captain Beatty's back-story became one of the show's songs; nine pages of the novel, in condensed form, became the opening song.

The Firemen of Farenheit 451 are about to morph again, into a Mel Gibson movie. The American Theater in Monterey, CA, adapted Something Wicked This Way Comes into a musical performance art presentation. Bradbury was fascinated by the possibilities and gave the company freedom to experiment, rewriting as requested.

All his life, he has fallen in love with new art forms. Moving on to TV, he created The Ray Bradbury Television Theater, adapting his short stories into hour-long video plays which netted him Cable Ace Awards and a new generation of devoted fans. Much in demand as a guest on TV talk shows, Bradbury is often called in to comment on the latest developments in astronomy, weaponry, censorship, politics, art, science. He also consults on many architectural and municipal projects, and has been asked to help design a 21st-century city to be built near Tokyo.

Opera has also been an important part of Bradbury's life. "You only need to raise the curtain on Tosca and I'm in tears before the music starts," he once wrote. Now he is entering the opera world with his own adaptation of Moby Dick--but this whale is a great white comet loose in the Universe.

How can he move with such ease among these very different media? Because Bradbury's greatest gift is as a storyteller. Many a night at the O'Neill Center, he held us enthralled with his tales: Stories of a star-struck kid hanging around stage doors and Hollywood studios to collect autographs (now that his own autograph is very much in demand, Bradbury gives it graciously--no doubt remembering that kid). Stories of his comic book collection or the Big Little Books he still has stowed away in the cellar. Stories of the Vic-and-Sadists, radio aficionados who regularly assemble to listen to old transcriptions and discuss The Shadow or I Love a Mystery.

Bradbury had a birthday while at the O'Neill, and was asked what gifts he wanted. "Toys!" came the immediate answer. Picasso has said that to mature as an artist is to get back to seeing, through the clear eyes of a child, the world of imagination and play. Ray Bradbury has never left that world. Best of all, he lets us in to glimpse it ourselves whenever we open his books, turn on his videos, or attend his shows.

Tagged in this Story