An Interview with Adapter Judd Parkin

Part of our ongoing series of Book-It interviews conducted by TeenTix writers.

by Justina Brown , Book-It TeenTix Writing Project Contributor

Nearly everyone has a favorite book or story. It’s that one tale in which you read the book a hundred times, you see all the movies, you see the play or musical multiple times, and you know everything about that world because you long to be there. It’s one thing to be a fanatic but it’s quite another to be able to say that you got to bring your favorite book to the stage in a way unlike any other. That’s precisely what Judd Parkin is going to be able to do in April when Adventures of Huckleberry Finn graces Book-It Repertory Theatre’s stage.

If you’ve seen other versions of Huck Finn then you may be in for a surprise when you discover that this adaptation won’t be the “cheery, nostalgic, sun-lit boy’s-own-adventure tale,” as Parkin told me. Parkin and childhood friend Jane Jones adapted this show together, both feeling the same way. Parkin informed me that Huck Finn is a “famously funny book, and we [Jones and Parkin] don’t want to lose any of the story’s humor, but we also want to highlight the darker aspects of the novel, which are often shunted to the side.” It is especially honorable to stay true to this in a time where people have learned to look past the worst and embrace the funny, light hearted side of things. When it comes down to it, though, it’s often the hard and difficult parts that people grow from.

We can always learn new things from old classic novels but it’s when a book is 128 years old and still relevant that people begin to search deeper in an effort to change the way they live. Quite honestly “Twain doesn’t present a cozy view of humanity,” Parkin says and it’s true. Sugar coating the world and fitting it into a pleasant little packaged box is a pointless task that will never be accomplished. Parkin commented that, “if we’re [Jones and Parkin] doing our jobs right, we’ll make people laugh and cry, and perhaps even reflect a bit as to how little we’ve changed as a people since Twain’s time.” I suppose it started in the beginning of time, people trying to ignore the hard truths that lie beneath the rainbow fields. That’s holding everyone back, though. Sure humanity is advancing in the realm of science and fancy new gadgets, but when people look back at us 128 years from now, do you think they’re going to be just as lost as us concerning the good of all people?

Huck Finn isn’t just a story for people in the U.S. though. Parkin shared a story about a bookseller from Lithuania who thought Huck Finn was the greatest novel ever written, despite the fact he’d never traveled to the United States. In Parkin’s own words, “it’s a universal story that cuts across all boundaries of age, race, class, and nationality.” Few messages are as powerful as this one seems to be, even people from other countries, other continents, are noticing this story as one to remember.

Though Book-It’s audience still has months [at interview time] until the premiere of Huck Finn in April, Parkin is already hoping “that they [the audience] will be entertained on every level—amused, as they undoubtedly will expect to be, but also moved, horrified, and outraged.” It sounds like getting a little emotional is exactly what people need to fully connect to this story and its message.

Parkin commented that nothing would please him more than returning to Book-It in the future. He says he has many stories he would love to bring to the stage because as Parkin said himself, “So many books, so little time”. Even though Parkin has only briefly interacted with the staff at Book-It he does mention that he’s, “enjoyed getting to know everyone’s dogs. I’m a dog guy, and I have never been in an office where there were more friendly canines running around than at Book-It…Dogs are receptive to my jokes, even if they don’t entirely understand them, and this makes me feel at home.”

“My day job is as a producer and screenwriter of films, and though I love most aspects of my work, there are a lot of limitations, material-wise, as to what you can do. Doing “Huck” enables me to work on material I’d never in a million years be able to make into today’s film market—I doubt even Steven Spielberg could get financing for a film version of “Huck”. I also began my career in the theatre—it’s where Jane and I first met—so this is, in a sense, a homecoming for me. I get to use a whole different set of muscles in the theatre than I do in film, and it’s really invigorating,” Parkin confides. To know someone that has such passion for Huck Finn, there’s clearly no better person bring it to the stage “uncensored”. I know everyone can be assured that it will be unlike anything else in the most amazing way possible.

Judd Parkin has previously been an actor and director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival while simultaneously directing stage productions across the country. He grew up in the Midwest and currently resides in Los Angeles where he’s been a movie and miniseries executive at NBC and ABC. For Judd, the last 16 years have been filled with producing and writing television films. In 2010 he published The Carpenter’s Miracle which will take to the screen and be released as a film in Spring 2013.

The curtain will rise on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn starting April 16th and will run through May 12, 2013. Tickets are on sale now for all performances.

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