Stagecraft: Matthew Spangler, Playwright of “The Kite Runner”

The Stagecraft podcast is hosted by Jan Simpson. It is a series of interviews with playwrights (and musical book writers) of shows opening on Broadway and off-Broadway.


Guest: Matthew Spangler, Playwright of “The Kite Runner”

Matthew Spangler

Matthew Spangler is a playwright and professor of performance studies at San José State University in the San Francisco Bay Area. He teaches courses in how refugees and asylum-seekers are represented through the performing arts. As a playwright, he specializes in writing plays adapted from novels.

His most widely produced play is an adaptation of The Kite Runner, which he wrote, with generous input from author Khaled Hosseini, in 2006. Since then, it has been produced at theatres around the world, starting with San Jose State University (2007) and the San Jose Repertory Theatre (2009) where it received five San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Original Script, Best Overall Production, as well as awards for Lighting Design, Scenic Design, and Sound Design. More recently, it was produced twice in London’s West End, at Wyndham’s Theatre and the London Playhouse. The British production, which was conceived and produced at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2012, will transfer to Broadway in the summer of 2022 and will feature longtime collaborators Humaira Ghilzai (script and creative consultant) and Salar Nader (tabla and music design).

In addition, Matthew’s plays have appeared off-Broadway at 59E59 Theatres, at the Arizona Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Cleveland Playhouse, San Diego Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse (staged reading), New Repertory Theatre, Poets’ Theatre (Boston), Western Stage (Salinas, CA), Theatre Calgary, Gesher Theatre, Liverpool Playhouse, Oxford Playhouse, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, Belfast Opera House, El-Hakawati Theatre, the National Steinbeck Center, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Brighton Festival, Dublin Theatre Festival, Avignon Theatre Festival, and Carthage Theatre Festival in Tunis, among other theatres in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, Germany, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India, Palestine, Dubai, and Tunisia.

Other plays include Tortilla Curtain, adapted from the novel by T.C. Boyle, which received an Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award and was a finalist for the San Diego Theatre Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Play; Albatross, based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and which received Boston’s Elliot Norton Theatre Awards for Outstanding Production by a Small Theatre and Outstanding Solo Performance; Operation Ajax, which tells the story of the CIA coup in Iran in 1953; Striking Back about the Dunnes Stores employees’ anti-apartheid strike in Ireland; The Story of Zahra from the novel by Hanan al-Shaykh; one-person shows of James Joyce’s Dubliners and Finnegans Wake; A Paradise It Seems, an adaptation of John Cheever’s short stories; Mozart!, a musical theatre adaptation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s letters; as well as stage adaptations of John Steinbeck’s fiction; Ernest Hemingway’s short stories; Thomas Wolfe’s The Lost Boy; and Marjan Kamali’s novel Together Tea.

He has written academic articles on the adaptation of literature for the stage, Irish theatre, immigration, and intercultural theatre that have appeared in numerous journals and books, some of which include: Theatre Journal, Theatre Annual, The James Joyce Quarterly, The New Hibernia Review, SIAR: The Journal of the Western Institute of Irish Studies, Text and Performance Quarterly, The South Atlantic Review, Nineteenth Century Literature, The Biographical Dictionary of Southern Writers, The Art of Elizabeth Bishop, and Performing the Crossroads: Critical Essays in Performance Studies and Irish Culture. His book Staging Intercultural Ireland: New Plays and Practitioner Perspectives (co-edited with Charlotte McIvor) was published by Cork University Press in 2014.

He hosts a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on literary and theatrical representations of immigration to California, featuring faculty presentations by Maxine Hong Kingston, Luis Valdez, Khaled Hosseini, Ping Chong, and Andrew Lam, among other scholars and artists working at the intersection of the arts and migration.

Matthew holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Ph.D. Performance Studies), Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland (M.Phil. Theatre), and Northwestern University (B.S. Performance Studies). He is also Writer in Residence at the Hinterland Festival of Literature & Arts in Ireland.

The production comes to New York from two successful seasons in London’s West End where it was called “a cultural phenomenon” by The Sunday Express and “an enthralling tale beautifully told” by The Daily Telegraph.

Originally published in 2003, The Kite Runner became a bestseller across the globe and has since been published in 70 countries, selling 31.5 million copies in 60 languages. Now this powerful story has been adapted into a stunning stage production.

One of the best-loved and most highly acclaimed novels of our time, The Kite Runner is a haunting tale of friendship spanning cultures and continents, that follows one man’s journey to confront his past and find redemption. Afghanistan is a divided country on the verge of war and two childhood friends are about to be torn apart. It’s a beautiful afternoon in Kabul and the skies are full of the excitement and joy of a kite flying tournament. But neither of the boys can foresee the terrible incident which will shatter their lives forever.  

The creative team is Barney George (Scenic and Costume Design), Charles Balfour (Lighting Design), Drew Baumohl (Sound Design), William Simpson (Projection Design), Jonathan Girling (Composer and Musical Supervisor), Kitty Winter (Movement Director), Laura Stanczyk (Casting Director), Humaira Ghilzai (Cultural Advisor & Script Consultant) and Damian Sandys (Associate Director).

It is produced by Victoria Lang, Ryan Bogner and Tracey McFarland of Broadway & Beyond Theatricals, Jayne Baron Sherman, and in association with UK Productions Ltd. and Flying Entertainment Ltd/Kilimanjaro Group Ltd. Daryl Roth is the Executive Producer.

The Kite Runner was originally produced by Nottingham Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. 

For a transcript of this episode, please email [email protected] and include the episode name.

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Broadway & Me
Jan Simpson is a theater journalist who writes the blog Broadway& Me and hosts the BroadwayRadio podcasts Stagecraft and All The Drama. She has twice served as a Pulitzer Prize juror.

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