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Rushdie, RSC to bring 'Midnight's Children' to U-M

The two-decade journey to bring Salman Rushdie's sweeping novel "Midnight's Children" to the screen or stage has included revisions, an offer by one producer to film the story minus the political messages, and the reworking of plot lines.

Now, the story is nearly ready to go before an audience. The stage adaptation will make its U.S. premiere at U-M when the Royal Shakespeare Company returns to campus in March.

 

Making the novel into a play "has been quite a ride. ... It's been a long road," Rushdie said at a packed news briefing at the Michigan League Oct. 15 that launched the 2003 Royal Shakespeare residency. The news conference was followed by a luncheon reception with the author. "We finally seem to have had a very happy result."

The Booker Prize-winning novel tells the story of two switched-at-birth children born at the stroke of midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, the exact moment at which India became an independent nation. Rushdie described it as a family story in which one member of the family is the whole country. The characters' lives are intertwined with the events in Bombay during that time.

"These days, you can't explain individual lives without also explaining the larger historical context in which they are set," Rushdie said.

"Midnight's Children" will be performed at the Power Center March 12­16 by a cast that includes 20 British actors, many of whom are of South Asian descent.
Rushdie has worked with director Tim Supple on the adaptation, and said he willingly made changes to the story in order to make it work better on the stage.

Prior to the six performances at the Power Center, the play will have a five-week run in London. After leaving Ann Arbor, the work will be performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in a production presented by Columbia University.

The Royal Shakespeare Company residency also includes "The Merry Wives of Windsor" March 1­9 and "Coriolanus" March 2­8, both at the Power Center. The residency marks the continuation of a five-year relationship among the Royal Shakespeare Company, U-M and the University Musical Society (UMS).

As part of the residency, cultural and educational events are planned throughout southeastern Michigan. These events include a lecture series on the history of India, a documentary film series, U-M courses on Rushdie, a public reading of "Midnight's Children," and community receptions with the state's Indian, Pakistani and Muslim communities.

"It's an energizing marriage of art and education, up close and personal with authors and actors and directors," President Mary Sue Coleman said.

UMS has asked the Center for South Asian Studies to be the primary organizer of intellectual and outreach activities, said Ashutosh Varshney, director of the center. He praised Rushdie's works for their focus on pluralism in India.

"His voice has become a voice that celebrates pluralism ... often at great personal risk," said Varshney, also an associate professor of political science.

UMS President Ken Fischer described "Midnight's Children" as a "big and bold theater project." Before the March performances, local bookstores will have reading clubs focused on the book, he said.

"It's dense. It's a piece of work," Fischer said, inspiring laughter from the audience and Rushdie. "You'll benefit from reading it with a group."

For ticket information, call (734) 764-2538 or visit http://ums.org.

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