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I think I don't think you can generalize again because a lot depends on the material they're playing and the particular actor I think of Ronald Reagan has hit upon a precise and important criticism because it is this lack of discipline which is part of an actor's training which seems very difficult to come by for actors today who get a training if they don't seem to get. That aspect in their craft the discipline of number one simply taking a direction or number two simply listening to a director or even and this but this seems to seep over into the society at large at night and this is a big problem now that I think this is one idea that reflects our times because of our activities. Finally have to think of themselves and their careers and of the directions seems to be hurting their image that they wish to project in order to further their career. They question it and many of them have families and they
have to think about how they're going to support those families and these things start to come into consideration which have nothing to do with the art of the theatre. I agree but it has to do with the mercantile nature I think of our society and the fact that for the most part Every day is a new day in the American theatre and it's a pick up team at least in doing these original plays and it is difficult. Well as you mentioned the directors and I think we sometimes don't talk about directors in the failing way and I think that that is a consideration that has to be brought to you. That's another thing many of them have had experiences with directors who are incompetent and ignorant and knew less than they knew. And I think most directors have had the experience that I've had which is that if you don't really have you haven't worked with the actor or actors before which is very often the case. It takes about a week to prove yourself
as a capable individual. They can respect and take direction from it's a real drag. That's what has that because you speak to the actors and many of them had had terrible experiences and then you have reason to question and resist the director its very unfortunate situation and that I am not that. I don't have such a good outlook there. Well we have to overcome that. Speaking of the ceremony of innocence specifically Donald Madden Donal Madden is an actor that has reached a certain point in his craft and a very excellent point. Let me ask you this question where would an actor like Madden go now to evolve further than he is because at this point he probably does know more about his craft than most directors know he might be confronted with but it
where where does an actor go here and in this country is there any place for him or does he simply have to keep picking it up by the wayside. Hit or Miss kind of evolution or is there some Or should there be or should there not be in your opinion some place where an actor could continue to evolve. Of course there should be and not. There are these kind of I don't know why you wouldn't think that if he acted in Minneapolis or Milwaukee or if he was in the AP A y he wouldn't or any of those that is why he wouldn't grow and develop they're doing excellent plays classics and some contemporary plays in them. Maybe he doesn't want to do that I don't know what his plans are what his personal life is if you say that in New York we do not have sufficient activity where actors are a challenge and they expanded and given
very rigid roles to play. I will agree. I don't know why I'm saying something more than that. I'm saying that it is a question of the lack of activity or a challenge question that the direction is like when you see one of the things I think that is taking place at the American Place Theater one of the things that I admire about what I saw there is a kind of direction with it where it chooses to move into whether it succeeds or not 100 percent. No one cares I mean the idea is there is a sincerity and honesty and there is something worthwhile to view and if it comes off a hundred percent well then you've got some real theatre you've got a real experience you can come away from this feeling that no one no one took advantage of you for two and a half hours in this one I'm talking about. Sure you have a B.A. but a B.A. is at a level where an actor. I think if I can say this and I can say in a minute somebody hit me in the nose later but the point is Madden with a P.A. would I don't know how
much he would be able to get from just working with AP and he would certainly have the benefit of of his colleagues his peers I mean but it takes more than that I mean I think he's at a level where he could be America's a living in other words if he had the the opportunity for someone to to bring him and I think just about anyone seeing this play at American Place Theater certainly would have to come away with with recognizing these positive aspects of what you're doing there. Well that's where we need this kind of national repertory company on the level of the British national repertory company or the Royal Shakespeare Company. Well then that would be a tremendous forward step if we could have such subsidised companies and many excellent actors who were really first rate highly talented could be brought together and led by the best directors in the country. We would
then be able to develop a theatre we'd be proud of but would have to pay them enough to compensate for what they don't make in movies and television which is a big big problem in this country and England as it's been pointed out very often it all happens in London. And the actors can earn rather good livings. But here they're either in New York or on the coast and it's tough as flying back and forth. Many do commute. So I do agree if we had the equivalent of the world Shakespeare Company or the National Theatre it would be a much better situation for someone like Donald Madden. And I think he would be able to flourish and such a set up. And I don't know the equivalent we don't have it yet in this country but we're young a country in a younger theater. And we should be going towards it. The American Place Theater is your home for the moment. Will this be your home and all for your next play. I guess that's kind of
an awkward question to ask but are you working on another plane. No I presume no not right now. I still am not clear of ceremony. I feel that probably within a few weeks if not a few maybe few days I will begin thinking again you really have to have time to pull yourself back from the light and begin thinking in another direction. Still all this time been very much involved in the play I've been. I work on a play while the actors are up on the stage. I generally do about three drafts before I begin with actors and then we get to work on the play and I listen to the play as read and I begin changing the way I have to adding subtracting and so on. I know that. There have been problems and this is a question I just want to throw out to win and yourself. To what extent
does the physical setup of the theater alter or change the direction of your original intent. In other words the play now of the ceremony of innocence in the staging of it and I commented on this before we taped that I felt that the staging of the first act was a disadvantage for the members of the audience sitting on the extreme right because their necks begin to hurt because they have to stare stage right for an awfully long time because all of the action is taking place sharply stage right. Is this if you had a larger theater. Would this conditions somewhat be ameliorated. Well I imagine to some extent if you had an unlimited amount of money to use you could solve all technical problems I think that meant more a matter of money than anything else you could use revolving sads you could do a number of things. But every theater has
certain technical limitations I in the writing of a play. I feel more at home doing a play in a theater than I do in other mediums I feel no sense of restriction. Only the only restriction that would ever bother me would be a restriction on what I might say. Any kind of censorship upon what I would say and writing for the theater I don't feel thus I feel that I can say what I want to say and say how I want to say it. I don't feel that restriction you would think you know well if you're going to work in a more fluid medium such as film where you have a much wider area to work in but. I have never felt the restriction in the theater. I feel very much at home there. I try to make as much as possible of the theatre expand to meet the play rather than look at a play and say Gee I must put this in a theater I've got it work everything down into what the theater
has done in the past. I'd like to as much as possible open up the physical state. Most of my plays have done that. How I knew night of course had three definite locations and three scenes but journey of the fifth through us and this ceremony were all over the place I want to fluid moving stadiums as much as possible and we've got it all the way on this run especially because he wants no restrictions on his writing that is understandable do you feel you're restricted because you're in a church of no subject matter or no. Because if you are attempting to work with the best writers who can only write and truthful talented and truthful talent and way. Their purpose is always the purpose of art and you can't go wrong. And I
feel that the church people feel that way that these writings will be not not be writing pornography or obscenities. They're telling the truth with pornography and obscenity is the very question of you know right now that you know well what do you what would generally be considered that. Well for example we have a play like a beer currently running. Would you ever I mean this is highly controversial no. Would you ever be able to put a plate let's forget about taste. Yes but let's not insult you wanted to put it on right. Would you be able to we would. I haven't seen the beard so I can't comment. I made my lucky I haven't seen the beer but I'd add. I can only say I don't feel. A sense of restriction I feel that. But as the children have to pass on what you put on the page they are cognizant of what we're putting on but there's no there's no tight control or anything like that of the audience I think is much more
concerned about their apparent moralities really than the people in the theater they're willing to go much much much further. It's just I think it's a very strange thing when you go into a movie house and you can sit and you can watch Couples Making Love when they're on the floor or you can even watch almost any sort of activity and it never seems to bother people they will sit there and they are comfortably incased in their the little room of the chair and it's dark I don't know whether maybe because they don't know the people that are next to them they watch almost anything. But when it comes to the theater they suddenly are aware that they are sitting in a seat and that they are dressed. They have their toys on. This has been a formalized occasion for them and they suddenly become very. The often puritanical love to be eternal later good sex but when you get down to real issues they become rather nervous. I will pick your reaction I think with a hairy noon and night.
I would always try to pick out the three or four people who would lift themselves up out of the chair five minutes after the play began and start walking out. I remember I saw one little old lady came in and with a cane and I said she's going to be the first to go. She sat there through the entire movie with a cane and live there for the entire play with the cane in front of her and totally responded to the play I was totally wrong. We had a minister get abs I love the play but midway out the better defend I can sit here as as a Churchman I just can't do that. As always we have a peculiar morality which as I say has a theatre that I think part of his true run but I also think that's one of the glories of the theatre. What it is I mean apart from sell you Boyd or or. Any other medium. Is that it. You have live people and it's always kind of there's some kind of magnetic thing that radiates an image from a live person and it
makes you one easy to more than sell you Loyd right but what can we do. We recently had an article in The Sunday Times a magazine by Senator Fulbright which had a very apt title The Great Society is a sick society. Now if the theater is going to serve society and truth really reflect what's going on. I mean maybe you disagree with Senator Fulbright But let's say one agrees with him. It's going to reflect that sickness back that sickness is going to be found to be offensive. Abrasive perhaps distasteful and very disturbing to many of the audience and many of the audience have not been brought to the point where they go to the theater for that. I go to the theater to be made to feel good to be reassured to go out feeling more secure than ever and more secure about everything that's going on in the contemporary right is not really dealing with that. He is out to give back
what he's getting what he sees what he's feeling. And a lot of it is going to be sex so they may say well that's a sick play but it's a sick society. And. I feel that it's getting around much of what it is that's the trails the theaters and then the theater is going to mean more and more brazen more and more disturbing more more alarming gyrating. And the audience is going to be asked to sit there and take it. Well the ceremony of innocence gives you this but it it sort of elevating you become I think at least personally I don't think personally Yeah it's an elevation. When you witness the weakness presented in a skillful and semi and classic way and I am not saying that every play has to be classic but I think we get more about it than what from some other place when there is real talent there. One of the things about that is the important thing is talent.
I think what I want to ask you when of you question before we close shop here is about the American Place Theater how you operate now. What do you do put in you look for new plays. Oh it's right and new writers writers who have not written for the theater but we don't restrict ourselves to that. We look for writers of consequence whether they are their primary medium has been in the theater or not. I mean a poet like Robert Lowell. Obviously he's primarily Robert Moore the poet. But his plays are of great significance. So there should be a place where they're done and they should then go out into the mainstream of the theater poets other prose writers. And also serious playwrights playwrights who were who are primarily playwrights like Ronald Ronald is a playwright he writes poetry. Yes but he as a playwright and those of the writers were looking for.
And you mount these productions if you live under its good will and how long do you run. Well what we define it as a full production as the ceremony of innocence is runs for four or five weeks for a membership audience membership audience consists of people of paid $20 for the seasons plays which are for folk productions plus students and teachers who have what we call an educational membership at a lower rate. Plus many people from communities who do not usually get to the theater who will perhaps when they come to the American place later it's for the first time. It's a matter of fact we pay a seminarian from the Union Theological Seminary to go out and seek these people and bring them to the theatre. And in any performance at the American place there are there are groups of those people as part of the audience. Groups of people don't usually go to the theater can't afford to go to the theater. And we think it's very important to bring them in.
So we have I hope when I know it is a very heterogeneous audience they do if your vocation that you are in has absorbed that part of the community. Well we make a strong attempt at that because we do have what we call West 46th night and that is for the people who live between 9th and 10th Avenue A West 46th and their dogs and knocked on and they're given Also odds of inducement to come to the theater and they do. We used to have just one night now we kind of divide it we don't like one audience of only one group. So the West voice of St Knight is now split into two times that the people from that in the neighborhood are invited and come in for a different reaction from the West Forty six reunited let's say from the general. Very often very often that Yeah kids can tell you about the kids with the shooters in the front row we've now learned to put the kids in the peach bag rivaled him in
the head as everybody is not very good right but there are many times it depends on the play and some plays you find laughter way you've not heard laughter and you see that there is laughter you know and they're usually very attentive in a very live audience and I look for designs we can control the kids with the please you know membership a membership audience just some of our listeners be confused yes it does not mean that the general public cannot come in. I mean membership body I mean you're open to the general public. I trust we know Dick we are open. You see we have we have part of the church and we do not have a box office. So that membership roles are open to the general public. But as far as buying a ticket for an individual play and they cannot do that. They may come as a guest of a member that happens
occasionally but the people who attend are subscribers to the American place they are or are members of these groups that have been so I suppose when one reads about the marriage or the ceremony of innocence or want to go see it never has never heard of the American ways they want to go see it we're going to just say get out of our way don't say get out we say if you wish to take a subscription prorated for the balance of the season you can come see the ceremony of innocence. And we do not have a box office we do not have a single admissions policy so that you can do it. You just can't see the phone rings in the membership office tells the end of it you are this is not a box office and there's no tech at that if you wish to subscribe. You certainly name. I think that's unfortunate. At least it's unfortunate as far as the ceremony of innocence is concerned I mean the current track you have running there because I think. Maybe you know not everyone would want to become a subscription memoranda Stana But you see we
only have a limited run so there are just so many seats available for the run of any particular play. And those seats are occupied by subscribers and. And these groups proportionately brought in. So it isn't like a commercial venture where you open the play and then you hope people will call up and buy tech get those seats are all subscribed to. Now there are I would not say they are 100 percent of each performance and scribe too. There are some empty seats but we are not geared to receive the general public should they. Ring us up on the phone. Five hundred times a day we can't handle it we don't have the seats and we we do limit the run because we are there to serve the writers now. There are two more writers in three of four others who are going to do studio productions out there for the balance of the season. If we were to say well the ceremony of innocence is ahead and we're going to run it then
we would not be able to serve those writers. We run it for a limited time. My subscribers occupy the seats plus the people we programming as I said 100 percent unionized actors and they are just the actors or just the actors and the actors act. It's much more convenient to have the equity of a Broadway contract but it's really part of the church and it's not kind of. It's not the usual theater that's in an off Broadway plays of Broadway rent etc. it's not that Incidentally this is a terrific one blends and beautifully with the period. One thing is the floor that is that. Real brick or is that part of a person because of the composition which he created it's not really a break it's very convincing I will say the designer Kirtland designed several sets at theatre and I'm very proud of the work he's done and is doing well I'm glad you mentioned that you can't get in because
someone might listen to the broadcast when you're welcome subscribers though and we still have room for some and there for people. They begin to see a very worthwhile place for the rest of the season and I think they will find it a very satisfactory investment. Let me ask you a closing question. When is this where you're going to stay. Or I mean with this kind of faintly constricted activity or are you going to open up and try to try to do more for American theater. You mean the American place the arrow I would say the American West there I mean right now we just see ourselves doing what we're doing in the form we're doing it. We do wish and we are working on the sending out of the place and touring them educational too as we did that with who's got his own under New York state counts of the OD's grant this fall. And we're planning to do it with some of the other players that is a very good form of expansion which is to get the place out of New York City and get them seen by people throughout the country
who are very responsive to them that we can do by remaining at the American place and working very hard in getting up these touring productions. But right now we're very happy they're very fulfilled. Well our time is up and we fulfill that and we want to thank when have you and the artistic director of the American Place Theater currently presenting the ceremony of innocence by our second guest playwright Ronald Richmond. This was seminars in theater. A recorded series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession join us again for our next program when host Richard Pyatt will lead another conversation about life in the theater seminars in theatre is produced by radio station WNYC in New York City and is distributed by the national educational radio network.
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 22 of 31
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Series Description
For series info, see Item 3231. This prog.: Ronald Ridman, author of "Ceremony of Innocence." Also, Win Hanman, director.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-22 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:26:08
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 22 of 31,” 1968-06-04, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2024,
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