HomeRipples From Walden Pond: FAQs

Ripples From Walden Pond:
An Evening With Henry David Thoreau

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Ripples from Walden Pond suitable for school presentation?

Yes. It was in fact written with audiences of all ages in mind; thus it contains none of the so-called ‘mature themes’ and ‘adult language’ which are the hallmark of the barren artistry so endemic to modern theater. In its themes of personal responsibility, justice, and what it means to have a sane and healthy hierarchy of values, it embraces a wide range of study: literature, ecology, history, economics, politics. It is perfectly suited to all age groups from Middle School on. Teenage audiences respond to Henry Thoreau particularly well, as he was a man who marched to the beat of a different drum, and struggled for years to define who he was and to find his place in the world.

Ripples from Walden Pond is available for performance in two versions. The original, intended for traditional theatre performance, has a running time of about one-hundred minutes, including the intermission: Act I, about fifty minutes, Act II about forty. There is a shorter, one-act version of about eighty minutes, suitable for presentation during a school day.

What are the biggest challenges in adapting a work of literature to the Stage?

There are two mountains to climb in adapting literature to the stage.

The first is the task of compression. In his forty-four years, Henry Thoreau produced a wide body of work: travel books, poetry, essays, a fourteen-volume journal, a fat volume of correspondence, and of course his masterpieces ‘Resistance to Civil Government’ and Walden. He enjoyed the friendship or acquaintance of some of the most remarkable people of his day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, John Brown, Louisa May Alcott and her father Bronson.

In portraying a life so varied, so fruitful, and so fully lived in a one-hundred-minute presentation, inevitably some things must be left behind. I have made choices less from my own preferences than from what is most suitable and relevant to a modern audience. Nathaniel Hawthorne, an astute observer who was neither easily impressed nor prone to hyperbola, said Thoreau was a healthy and wholesome man to know. It is my hope that when an audience has seen Ripples From Walden Pond they will want to know Henry Thoreau better.

The second task we may sum up in Thoreau’s words: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. Henry Thoreau’s prose is muscular, dense, stylistically complex, littered with classical allusions. When reading Thoreau, we have the luxury of being able to stop, ponder, chew and digest, just as he intended we should. In a theatrical presentation, the audience does not have this luxury. If an audience member has to pause to consider what has just been said, they do not hear what is being said, and the actor and playwright have lost them. Because Thoreau is too fine a craftsman to be reduced to sound bites, this also means the text must be painstakingly punctuated, and that punctuation strictly adhered to in performance, to allow those brief pauses wherein the audience may ponder and absorb what they have heard.

How long did it take to write Ripples From Walden Pond?

The first draft of Ripples From Walden Pond was written in the summer of 2007. The final performance draft, after presentation to test audiences and audience feedback, was completed in 2012. There were about twenty drafts in all. The revisions and original source material fill two three-inch binders. The final draft is thirty-four pages.