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This is seminars in theatre a series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession who comment on the problems and pleasures of life in the theatre. Here now is the host of seminars in theatre. Richard Piet seems the safest place. Well good evening and welcome to another of our discussions on the theater. I was about to say that it seems the safest place with theatre today is to go back to its origin and that is the church. We are to believe what is happening with all Broadway in the way of Commissioner Tyler's licensing department of the city of New York. We will find that a number of all Broadway theaters are about to fold up their tents and steal not so silently away but with great protest. But we do understand that the city has not leveled it boom so to speak at the companies that maintain their. Housing in a church and we have just such a company
today in the way of the Classic Stage Company and we are happy to have. The general manager Bill snow the artistic director Christopher Martin. And system director an actor with a company land really untying and Christopher Martin has directed a number of classic plays off-Broadway. He's had a great collegiate career in the matter of theater and has moved out now to the particular company which He's the artistic director of. And Bill Snow will have to find out a bit about why Bill snow is involving himself in theater. Let's bring in teen was the assistant director has had experience in a number of classic plays ranging from Shakespeare and Shaw and the new play that they're doing for them is the cabin of Dan wheat.
But first of all how long has the Classic Stage Company been in existence Mr. Snow. The company's been an existence for a good while which apply at the. Actual formation of a formal structure the company is fairly recent but the members of the company have the same job. Internal hard core group of people who work together here have been working together for a long time five years. They have an idea of theatre that is exciting to them. They feel they want to work with a particular kind of theatre and this is expressed somewhat in the name that the company has chosen the Classic Stage Company. It was born of a Mr. Mr. Christopher Martin. He is the main spokesman for the company. He is the artistic director of the company. I think since he's here he can now speak. Before we go to really the morning we want to know what you're doing in theater because obviously I
gather the opinion maybe not so obviously that your background is not theater. Or am I wrong. My background is not theater youre right. Why are you all should I say all of a sudden or is this going to lurking desire going on for 20 years as well in your breast and you are now implementing it. It has lurked in and out of my breast so to speak. I was interested in playwriting many years ago. When I was a student how to World War 2 I studied playwriting I was interested in it I never had anything produced at that time the theatre was not quite as lively then me in. Terms of the small groups that were working as it is now it's much more dynamic in terms of small theatre groups now today than it was doing. I had a family I went to work in other areas to make a living from did that for many years I worked for publishing companies was general
sales manager for a small publishing firm for a while. At this point in my life I would make my living from freelance writing and it is possible for me to devote more time than perhaps most people have for. Now we've got to get back to you and all of us in this discussion to find out whether the receipt that is emotionally and esthetically not typically are worth the investment of your title now at this point. But keep Martin. Is this the type of theater that you want to perpetuate and that you hope to see yourself involved in. Through the years but I don't think that I would have would embark on this project to begin with if I hadn't wanted to spend as much time as REST OF MY LIFE ON IT. I spent five years at New York University studying theater getting two degrees and producing a dozen or so plays while I was there. In this vein. And found that
this is what I want to do with my life. I wouldn't be spending 24 hours a day doing this now because now what I want to continue with now to get These are full time activities for everyone here at the at the table. Just about. Well it's called the Classic Stage Company and we have. Familiarity with the term and most die think about listeners might associate classic with what has been associated with this term such as Shakespeare. The movie is in the Swinburne Swinburne Sheraton's etc. What do you mean by Classic Stage Company just what do you intend here. First of all in a climate off off Broadway which has such companies you stay to Genesis and give it to killers and what's going on it Jetson poets theatre we want to be in what we're trying to do to stablish a name which would immediately remove us
from the same kind of stipulation went along with the experimental theater off Broadway in forming what for lack of a better term we would call regional theater and in New York the same kind of theatre that is going on in Seattle and Minneapolis New Haven Hartford so forth. So we decided to choose a name which when people saw the listing for the place or the name of the company would remove it from the other climate classic to us means works of significance lasting significance that have something to do with the audience that the audience will have a great relationship to that have universal qualities much in the same sense that we think of Shakespeare Moliere but just in the same sense in many respects of all the printer on we do who are modern playwrights. Shaw who technically is a modern playwright. He was of the 20th century these playwrights
ed writing and have written plays which I would consider classic in the terms of that in terms of their timeliness timelessness then in other words you're applying the title to any play that seems to have appeal. In other words a play written by all day or a play written by any number of contemporary playwrights I assume then would fall within the purview of the type of plays that would be produced. Yes but we're not what we are not. Concentrating on is the topical play I think that a great deal of the plays we do have topical elements but they are not chosen primarily by their own immediate topicality. Well there's a thought that a number of these plays such as Hamlet Tartu and even a number of Shaw's plays are. To devitalized in terms of our current dynamic society and that they bear no relationship to or there is not enough to identify
with with the current moving element in our society and yet you outline that this is one of the points one of the primary reasons for the existence of the Classic Stage Company in that it attempts to present plays that the audience can identify with. How do you reconcile these different points of view. Well what we want to do is create a theatrical experience for the audience to feel very deeply that. The audience is what really makes to play at the actors only present the experience through the medium of the play itself. And it's a cooperative experience between the audience and the players of the directors the production and what we try to do is to put as many modern elements and theatricality theatrical elements into the productions to try to make a meaningful theatrical experience for the audience to move the audience to them to entertain them for lack of a better word. You don't want do you want to involve them. Yes.
There is a general movement afoot it seems in off of Broadway and maybe Off Broadway as well. And least of all Broadway of involving the audience in in a Brecht and Sam's although much of this seems to be pseudo Breckin but getting the audience to participate actually with what's going on stage and with this you it's very difficult to do this with plays that have been written prior to the past 20 years and certainly modern plays. Is this one of your aims at the Classic Stage. Well to involve them in a participation in the Bracton sense I don't think that anyone is doing that at the present time in New York. Until they get the audience to actually stand up and shout back at the actors this is not what we're looking for but the mere fact that Man and Superman including don want to know how it runs close to four hours and in a theater of 130 seats which is almost full at every
performance of Man and Superman. We never last more than six people in the terms of that four hours that we have an involved audience. The headquarters for the Classic Stage Company is the Rutgers church West seventy third Street. And you're currently running production of the cavern is that correct. That's right. How did you happen to pick that play. Well in looking for material for the company and even more so for an audience what would be interested of interest to the audience in New York that would be looking for classic or theatrical experience rather than topical or political experience in the theater. I came across a cavern or lug rock as it's called in French on Wiese latest full length quote written in 1961 and produced in London in 65. A. Recent translation. And it had not been produced in New York and to my knowledge at this time it's only been produced in Cincinnati Playhouse in
the park last summer although I have heard other womans a few other places that it's been produced but I have not been able to get any concrete evidence on this. Go to Mr On ways agents in London asking provides for the translation and they said fine go ahead. We're not going to hold it back for a Broadway production. It might be interesting to see what happens if it's produced in an off off Broadway theater. What does the cavern addresses of two privately. I don't understand what is the play dealing with. Well it's a rather complex theatrical piece to give it a general classification I would say falls into the same area that Pirandello deals with illusion and reality theatrical experience it's a play that it's a work that can only be produced on the stage you could never never be on television or as a film or a novel. It's why you only do it because of the destruction in the form that it deals with a playwright who has not been able to finish the play and is working with his characters in.
Plot structure that he has in his mind which deals with the murder of a cook in the household of a turn of the century French aristocrat. And all of the side of a man to go along with the murder and the interaction of the characters in the upstairs characters going below stairs and downstairs characters going upstairs. And he can't get the place straight in his mind and a succession of events. And he scrambles them up inside out and backwards for the audience while he himself is tortured being tortured in full view of the audience trying to order his own thoughts until the characters actually take the play away from him and do it themselves. The Bills know what is the general manager do with organization such as the Classic Stage Company. While a general manager's. Functions are many and varied. Far the artistic end of the
theatre. Mr. Martin makes the decisions. Handles the administrative problems for all the other games the company the tasks fall to me. Well this includes managing the theatre includes getting. Publicity handling contact with other organizations and so forth. Well are you writing plays for the Classic Stage Company. I am writing a play. I am not writing it necessarily specifically for the Classic Stage Company with the who is a play that the Classic Stage Company might enjoy attempting. Well that would be for Mr. Martin to decide when he reads it and I see. Lance brilliant in I take it that you are. Your function is more clearly defined as that of an actor with the companies that would be. Accurate to a certain extent I believe that everyone in the company
serves various purposes in that they're all technicians and actors and elevator boys and janitors. Well how large of a company. What is the nucleus of the company. How many people would you say comprise as I would say eight people. That includes the director and the general manager and to direct yes people and what do you do when you have a play that requires 16 in a cast period where we usually rely on the actors to bring in people who they would think suitable for roles and then Mr. might not be with them. Jackie if I am interrupted just the same as playing that would you say the nucleus is eight to eight people that we consider are permanent members of the company we do have a company at the present time of 18 18 Actually I believe there are eight of these eight of the eight that are mentioned as the nucleus of these eight six have been with me for five years. Are you suggesting that you have to be somewhat self and
dogged with the financial. Nest egg and self and with concentric interest to operate a theater because from what you say no one pays admission to a church and that's one of the reasons that church theater can exist without folding itself. And yet how do you work full time in these at these activities and perpetuate the theatrical movement that you're interested in and also get a nucleus of a company when there's no salary and there's no admission How does this function. Several questions sir let me see if I can answer them one by one first of all we support the productions the production costs publicity equipment replacement and what not on the donations which we ask for from the audiences. At the moment we are averaging someone up above a dollar a head
performance which is not too bad although we are discussing at the moment of making a flat donation of something upwards of $2 in order to be able to have a much much larger backlog of money to support. Royalties for the translations of some of the things we are intending to do which is our largest cost right now. I myself have an independent income of working as a musician so I work part time and can make as much as most people can. Working a full schedule the rest of the company except for a few students who are college students who are members of a company have full time day jobs from 9 to 5 or 8 to 4 10 to 6 whatever and come in every evening from 6 to 11 and Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 6 and we perform every weekend. Now by the Saturday and Sunday These are people who have wanted to go into the theater but the commercial theater as it stands in New York does not offer them
what they want from theater and this does. And since we are actually one of the two or three companies in New York that do this kind of theater in the off OC Broadway area it was natural for them to come to us and they feel that they stayed and gave every minute of their free time every evening every weekend as much time as they can given that eventually it will pay off. Well how do you trace the growth of a company such as yours from its original concept. I know that as Bill snow indicated the germ has been. Floating around for five years in terms of an amalgamation of interests but actually been at the Rutgers church now for how long. Since last September and have you. Have you been able to trace the growth in artistic concern and the growth in organizational structure. Yes I would say that it's been a definite growth carryover of actors
from one shoulder in another besides the permanent eight members of the other 18. I would say close to 90 percent of those actors have stayed throughout the season. And very interested in becoming permanent members of the company as in the eight We're along with the aid of the nucleus. The audiences have grown continually. The interest as has been stirred up the critics have been coming to see us. The New York Times even expressed interest in an off off Broadway non-equity a nonprofit nonpaying group which is rather strange for them. Well first of all let me ask all of you this question. How realistic Have you been able to assess the talent and the overall ability of the Classic Stage Company when I ask you about growth what I mean is for example I saw one production Man and Superman and. The stage area is very
small but 16 by C.S. mean which is small. There was a great cramping on the stage. Some of the actors could not carry the rhythm of the show across in the reading. Some of them did very well. Some of them it was a mixture of from let's say a Man and Superman discourses. I have to preface this to our audience this is one man's opinion and we do not hesitate to express our opinion on this program from week to week with anyone who dares to come and sit with us and talk. So in your current production that you have mounted the cavern. Have you been able to overcome some of these. First of all technical obstacles. Well first of all it did let me preface it by saying that there is no real place in this country for actors to get the kind of training for classic theatre or repertory whatever we want to call it the kind of theatre which we associate readily with Great Britain.
There are no schools no companies where they can go to to learn this kind of training what we are trying to do is supply this training for actors and to train our own actors for the kinds of plays that we will be doing and found that the only way to do this is by putting them into it and by the amount of experience they will get from performing these plays they will learn to overcome some of these technical problems that you were just discussing. I think that. Any company across the country and regional theater in this area will have more or less the same problems. The number of actors who are technically proficient to the extent where they don't would not arouse your criticism in this area would would not be working with us they would be awesome working somewhere else and be able to command the kind of salary and the jobs the parts across the country and in regional theatres where they are. The directors are screaming for actors with experience. How long do you plan to stay in Rutgers church. Well they have extended the invitation to stay there through next year. At this point.
It offers a good opportunity for us because we do not pay rent. We have their complete support that is in a moral sense. Back what we are doing and believe very firmly in what we're trying to do and are willing to help us in any way that they can. Does the church incidentally interfere with your choice of plays no not in the least. We are completely autonomous as far as a church is concerned if your taste inclined you could do a play like the beard which is the one obscenity after another in the church would say nothing. I don't think they're worried about that because I would never do a play like that. Well Bill snow general manager of the Classic Stage Company. We get the impression that you are not objective for standing in the corner removed from the artistic intent somewhat indifferent to what is going on but content to manage with the necessities of a company. Is
this true or do you have any burning interest in the artistic output of the company. Oh I don't think anyone in the company thinks that I'm all that remote or unconcerned with the artistic achievement of the company I think they all know that I'm very much involved with the artistic achievement. I think this is the most important aspect of the company. I remain remote for a very simple reason. I'm not an actor. Acting is not something that. Turns me on personally. I can understand how it could be very challenging to another person but for me it is not a challenge. The challenge for me is with words. Because of that. I can stand aloof from it. The actual performance on stage to a certain extent I can stand out often from. Rehearsals. I can look on quietly without commenting. I
have as Christopher Martin will tell you I do comment. He and I have many conferences about the artistic quality of the things that go on. But it is not that I stand alone. Well let me again ask this question there are there exists a proliferation of small groups who are dedicated to an ideal connected with their vision of how theatre should be. You represent one of those groups and you gentlemen collectively and what I would like to know is what do you feel who distinguishes you from all the other groups or what do you feel is the necessary psychic distinction that you make in terms of what you're attempting. Well I'll say one thing right now that from what I've seen of course I can't speak for many of the other groups. I don't know most of the actors who
belong or the directors of the companies about New York and the off-Broadway climate. However what I will say about Classic Stage Company is that there isn't one actor in the company and one technician one general manager or director. Who does not feel that he is a servant of the play of theatre in general and that the enthusiasm and energy that goes into everything that we do comes out of a love for the play and a love for theatre and a feeling of servitude towards the audience. There is nobody there is no actor in the company who is there for personal gain who is looking. I'm talking primarily of the nucleus of I won't speak for the few people who are with us for this production or will be on their way through to something else but that's a major part of the company made up of people who want to be the servants of the play and are interested primarily in the play and not in themselves and not in their own personal gain.
Not showcasing themselves as actors who doesn't seem to be an unusual situation psychologically with a group of actors when in this day and age American actors especially seem to be so neurotically involved in the idea of acting either that is when I say neurotically involved that they cannot stand apart from the technique of acting but they become what they are on stage. They involve and bring along with them all of their personal neuroses. And you know you say that the nucleus of your company is able to remain objective and stand apart from the craft. Well this is a very unusual situation. I don't think this comes out of the in the background of most of the people that everyone in the company. Is required to have at least a bachelor's degree in theater. But more they will be considered. Lance is one of the few exceptions he's still in the process of getting his body. He will have it. Why do you make a bachelor's degree necessary requisite.
Well for several reasons first of all the discipline that college inflicts upon an individual. They will get the theatrical history historical background from their college training. They will have had some experience in not only acting but in technical theatre. They will be in volved in theatre and Toto rather than. In any specific one area because everyone in the company as Lance mentioned before does a little bit of everything and not just actors they become elevator boys and janitors as well. But realistically Kip if you were to continue with this company and you had developed it to the point where you felt you wanted to take it to a viable theater let's say an off-Broadway theater or wherever where there is a paid audience because after all the end all and be all of doing this is to survive as artists and artists want members of the audience or the public to come and see
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 19 of 31
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Other Description
For series info, see Item 3231. This prog.: The Classic Stage Company. Bill Snow, general manager; Christopher Martin, artistic director.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-19 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:37
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 19 of 31,” 1968-05-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022,
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