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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 this evening we have a number of guests and our subject is theatre and a very special theatre. First let me introduce our guests. Laurence Angwin who's a playwright and the director of an organization called the Knickerbocker creative theatre foundation incorporated. Amelia Romano the director of an award winning play called The winner which is written by Laurence Angwin Chuck James who is the deputy coordinator of the vice president's task force and Cynthia levy a guidance counselor with the junior high school who runs 64 and two students Ronald Sterrett who is with public school 164 and Mildred Carter from the same school. First
of all the Knickerbocker creative theater Foundation has conducted an event called motivation day and. I believe this is in conjunction with. Vice President Humphrey's task force on youth motivation and for a little background on that I think Chuck we're going to ask you to fill isn't just what is the vice president's task force on youth motivation. Well this is a group of young negro executives that was first organized several years ago primarily to talk to young Negro students and predominantly negro colleges. However those of us that are here in the New York City area realize that there was a great need for getting into the schools and talking with the kids there are two reasons for talking with them one to get them to stay in school. And the second reason to tell them about the jobs
that were available when they get out of school we met Flo last year when she came to us told us about the winner. Some of us went to see a performance and to put it mildly We were overwhelmed. We are whole hearted supporters of her play and we've been endeavoring to get her financial support. With only limited success thus far. Two things we are going to try to talk about the task force on youth as well as the look of a creative theatre Foundation and the play that first. I wonder if we can take this not necessarily in the order of chronology or in boardrooms but in the order of what is said and you said you were overwhelmed what overwhelmed you about the reaction of the audience to the play. I have never seen a play that got an audience so involved. Those of us in the task force have been working with young people in the schools and in colleges for
several years. We've talked to the groups we've put out films for them. We've seen them react under many many circumstances and never have I seen students react to anything the way they react to the winner. But I suppose we ought to go to the one who wrote the letter and that's Florence I'm going first of all and find out what is the winner about Florence a winner is about a young man who wants to quit school in very very brief. And the efforts of his friends and family. To convince him to stay in school. That's in a nutshell I don't know if you want me to go into it in detail I will actually prepare other people well to say it as they see it. There is a twist from what I read here concerning the play in the organization and that is the teenagers are invited as it
says here on stage to improvise their own final act. That's right. It's not only teenagers by the way it's anybody that includes adults who are in the club. Anybody who's in the audience you know initially this is not in the play. Oh I see. The members of the audience watching this I don't know that are saying that is finished. I mean yeah Rimando and I who are both by the way professional actresses are very very longstanding and also have a lot of experience in teaching particularly teenagers drama. She and I introduced ourselves to the audience and asked them how they think the play should end. This is after the first act when the family is in a state of crisis. Well you know we all want plays that are seemingly with happy endings. And I I was about to ask you. So apparently
your reaction precludes the question I was going to ask. That was suppose you got outrageous bizarre acting out of. The conclusion of the play. What kind of impression does this leave with your well. Well no. First Mr Piatt I have to make. Clear that after the audience acts out their own ending and one of the youngsters here today is one of those actors who came up on the stage and participated in acting out their own ending. After that we do our own ending. After the audience does its ending here and you do your and we have our own prepared carefully rehearsed ending so that the audience can compare what they've done with what we do. What is the point of that. Would you like to know how to answer me right. And I think Amelia Romano is the good one to tell us he's directed
at me. There are any number of things that can be said for this. First of all there is practically 100 percent audience participation. They identify so completely with the problem in the play and then when they are asked to get up. To act out their own ending there is usually a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. I think out of about 98 performances is when it's 96 96 performances we have had 94 improvisations. This same place all of the same play and with believe me 94 totally different and they're not bizarre I depends entirely on the level of the children who have gotten up to act out their own ending or the adults like I am often play and rather unexpectedly. They have given us some marvelous idea and they have. Actually influenced the change of the play by the sound of it
and what she means by that is I've incorporated changes which the audiences have suggested into the body of the play along the way and we want to dissect what you're saying like Pirandello Six Characters in Search of an offer that seems like a play in search of an ending. I mean this search is made among the audience age levels but yet you have your own ending which you keep in reserve for some reason which is again what I want to get at why. Why don't you give your ending first. Yes yesterday I had a couple of performances and I think that the impact would be lost if they saw the way the writer had the play and the great part of the play is that the audience who who has been watching this thing unfold and really identify I can't get over too strongly that the audience really a done a fi's with those people on stage during the first act
and then they want it to end in a way that ties in with Life is they know it and when they get up there they really throw themselves in wholeheartedly with a minimum of preparation Actually I think that we should go into just for a second. The way they are called up after Flo as you know now I'm the author and I can change this. She asks the audience how would you like to see that. Well maybe there's one or two hands at least the times that I saw and one person or two persons will give their ending and then it it sort of spreads and the whole audience wants to give their ending of it. And then she says Well. Do you think you could act it out. And she has more volunteers than she knows what to do with and when the people get up there they're handed signs that have the names of the characters on them and then they're just told you have three minutes to decide
who's going to say what. And she backs off and leaves the people there to decide what they're going to do. Would it be fair to ask just where in the action you stop the play and invite the audience just at what climactic point is this done. At the moment when where at the moment of. Decision when the family when Tommy who has dropped out doesn't quite know what to do. And there it's it's really the critical moment the whole family is in a state of emergency in crisis and we don't know what's going to happen. It's a cliffhanger I know but but the decision that has to be made and acted out is made by the yard with what is this decision. I mean should he go back to should he go back to Sweden should he do if he doesn't go back to school. What should he do if he does how Pan to get back into school. Well there's all these friend whose father is forcing him out of school and who is a brilliant student.
Now let me ask you this. In this situation do you must you have from the audience an adult or or how does this. Again I'm just looking at the mechanics of it out of the way. You get members from the audience who replaced the characters you have to make the decisions but also are they the audience takes parts of the characters that they have seen. But we also encourage them to choose other characters of their own make another what would be possible in this kind of situation to have an entirely different cast. For this I mean everyone can replace everybody on stage. It's possible it's never happened. How many characters are in the play. Seven seven. The purpose of all this Mr. pioneers I may just make this one observation. The purpose of all this. The purpose of everything we do is to try to make youngsters and their
parents think about what will happen to them if they drop out of school so that they will get some real real inside. Well to stop them from dropping out. This is the whole purpose just want to encourage someone to give us an idea. Without I mean without telling. I don't want to ruin it. For any originality that may ensue. But what have been some of the solutions worked out by members of the audience. Well how would you like to start with this Tara who was one of the actors in last performance would you like to start with him well when a million I can you know large or would you like normally start with Ronald Ronald. Were you in the audience when you saw this play. Yes I was. And you decided that you had an ending that you wanted to see happen on stage. What what was that ending. How did you want to see the play was how did you want to see the events resolved.
OK first of all let me just say that he chose to play the leading character of Tommy Wright in the play. Thats the one who dropped out of school. That's right. I want to see the play in by Tommy like brought back to school taking a part time job either at night or even running going to school at night really going to school and you went on stage and you acted this out. Yes. Do you remember any of your lines and how you said any of that. Words to the other characters. Yes I do here maybe wanted to I mean well let's create a situation right now I mean we're you know just gone onstage and they're dropping out and then the decision now rests somewhere with you and with the other characters. What happens what you don't even have to say the same thing but give me a general idea of what you said. Well my sister asked me why I don't go back to school and I told her I don't want to go back to school sick of school I'm sick of people bother me telling me what to do.
Going back to school and then what was said to you in response to that. Well she kept on begging me to go back to school when you fly don't go back to school what's going to happen. We'll be able to get a good job and then their mother came in and she was sick right. Yes. Did this with this change your mind in the play was this the thing that made you say well I'm going to get a part time job and go back to school. Yes. He put up a very tough fight to stay out of the army. Yes. And we were running short of time because the custodians always chase us out of the schools and we have to break down I said. So I had to go up on the stage and force him to make a decision a little bit. Well that's what I tell them rather than tell them what I just told you. Both are from 164 unhappy.
Where is that OK by the way. And Miss Lee you're the guidance counselor at the school. What's your reaction and opinion to what this player intends to do and the method it uses. We have that great of an effect. Frankly I was very pleased for the simple reason I have always believed that dramatizing something for the children makes a greater impression more lasting impression. You know the old saying A picture is worth a thousand words. Well I think that a drama is worth ten thousand words. And that children remember vividly and much longer the things they hear and if they are allowed to participate this is even better. And from the reaction I've gotten from all of the children who saw the play and from some of the parents I think this is one of the greatest things that's ever happened to Steve.
How did you get this idea. While I was teaching youngsters from all over the city acting on Saturday mornings kids who couldn't afford to pay for acting lessons and it happened that I lived right around the corner. And I'm just not the kind of person who can be just partially involved in anything. So the kids would come to my house with all sorts of problems and I'd do my best to help them out with it. And I discovered that through acting I could help them solve many many very very difficult personal problems. And the idea of going to college was kind of prominent at that particular moment and I was of a mind to write because I've done a great deal of acting and I decided it wasn't sufficient challenge for me anymore I wanted another one. And I wrote a first play which was published by Samuel French called it's up to you about the
ambivalence of youngsters about going to college. And in the research I did on math I found that wow college forget it. The kids who were dropping out of high school was the problem that had to be coped with and fast. For that I want to go back to that now because to me the question I was trying to ask before and Miss Lee and James suppose this backfires. I can see where this solution of some members of the audience would get up. And create their own ending which would seem quite appealing while it might not be the direction that the purpose of this is intended for. For example suppose some youngster got up and said that he acted with his ending by taking a gun and going out shooting and robbing and then the next scene he is Ritchie's He's wealthy he has no problems.
And this ending takes place no how. How do you counteract this possibility even of ideology coming about. Well look and check me on this but I don't think they've ever had an ending quite like that they have had endings where Tommy dropped out of school I believe and I remember I believe that in some of them he became a boxer this was something that he had been thinking of as a way to get money but usually the people in the audience are not thinking quite in terms of using a gun to get what they wish. And if they worry they're not going to get up and let the others in the audience know about it. So I don't think that's a perfect disguise for them to let them know because it's under the guise of an improvisation. I'm sure it is. You know actually in the air during the improvisation fair extremely truthful and be the things that we have learned from bad thinking.
And from what they're saying and what they do on the stage has been you know incredible. Actually we did this up at Youth House the way you might expect an ending such as you describe where you have we played it up it spat it where the where you have the kids and the maximum security. And. We never had any such and the worst we had was their worst. Yeah that's a bad term to use. I would say the most negative we had was was there a bit. Yes well what kind of negativism was that that you chose to include father in the cast. And there is no there isn't a father is mentioned it is His presence is very strongly felt. That's a three act play about no it's two hours where two axes actually a one act play into seeing us really. And they chose to include a father. And the boy wanted to drop out of school
and the father. Urged him to do sell in order for the boy to go to work to get money so that he could give it to the Father with which to buy wine. And I asked the mother. Whom they also had in their play. If she agreed with that ending. And she said she did. And that is the way that ending ended and the US House people found. That it gave them tremendous insights into the youngsters with which to start rehabilitative program not to be difficult. Do you feel that you're really not reaching the people whom this message is really for. That the. In other words what I'm I'm getting at. Do you convince mines that attitude and emotions that have already made up in one direction to move into another direction or
does the audience comprise a positive outlook at any rate and consequently. They will get on stage and act out the positive outlook of. This. Part this is the year you're asking an enormous. Objective really for one play. I think this might be a part of a larger program of which this might be one part. It's the method and the technique and the with which we reach these kids and people and so on that is what we're attempting to do. But to. Change A and entire point of view in one evening it's to make them think so that we hope that with continued activities of this kind it will eventually change into a positive. Kind of thinking. Well I think you know I know you are really are in some cases yes it has done it.
I read you a letter from a teenage young man from Spanish speaking Harlem. I knew not at all. I am now and this is a quote As a result attending evening classes at Benjamin Franklin High School as a result of watching the as we watch of result as a result. Let me ask you a generic question. I think excuse me Mr. Pryor I think you might ask because the two young people here that we've been right we're going to get to both of them. Mildred and Ron first chart what from your experience do you would you say is the greatest cause for dropouts on the part of youngsters in school is it because they are asked by their parents to drop out to make money for wine or whatever. Or is it because they're disenchanted with the education or because they can't identify or find reality in their environment and that in that particular area. Well the last two statements that you made which said definitely lack of a done if occasion I would think. Several things
pushed these kids out of school and I say push them out. One lack of success many of these kids have never achieved any success in the classroom at all so they see little reason for staying there. The other reason that they leave is that they have lost hope. They can see high school graduates who aren't working and they just think why should I stay here for another year or two or three years because I'm not going to be working anyhow. I'd like you know I would probably use a quote from one of the task force members a young lady by the name of when Wharton know her and who works for the Worthington corporation in New Jersey when speaking of the task force she was asked one day. Are you in the placement business and she looked at the questioner and said no we're not in the placement business. Where in the inspiration business. We try to give these kids some hope.
We go before them in their schools with people that we call living witnesses at the high school level. We go in with not only college grads all of the task force members or college grads or almost all of them but we also go in with craft and clerical level people jobs that these kids can fill if only their high school graduates so that they can get to talk to other black people like themselves blacks and Puerto Ricans. We have added Puerto Ricans because we found that many of the schools that were predominantly black had a very high mixture of Puerto Ricans. So we mixed our task force teams Well these kids have never met people with jobs such as many of us have. And they really want to know about these jobs and we enjoy just telling them about them and we hope that by telling them something about ourselves and something about our jobs that they will aspire to jobs such as these or if they can't get a job that takes a
college degree at least they will stay in high school so that they can get a good paying job right here in New York City at the crafter clerical level and believe me there's a lot of them. May I break in here as a counselor. I have found over the years that one of the most important keys to the attitudes of children to a good school stems from the home. Unless the family is sold on the idea that education is the most important thing in a child's life. And unless the family sells this to the child. Many children never get the idea no matter how much you hammer away at school because somehow the home counteracts much that the school tries to do the community counteracts much that the school tries to do and therefore one of the things that I would like to see the task force do incorporate in their program something some way of reaching the parents of the children. Now one thing that I discovered when the play was brought to our school was that.
All of the children except one who volunteered to come up on that stage worked children who at one time had been in serious trouble in school. And as a result the law student has the opportunity out sort of relaxing and identifying with the characters in the play and many of them were even carried away with the scenery the scenery was so real that they spoke of the scenery being so natural and real. But every single one of those youngsters there is a change. Well I mean that's and one performance Mr. Parks recognized. I want to tell say one thing too. I've researched six months to find out why kids dropped out of school you say why were you having them additional reason that they dropped out of school is in math play in one form or another. It covers a whole multitude of things it includes It includes housing it includes broken families it includes drug addiction
every problem that causes kids to drop out of school is in their play that's why they identify so closely and Miss Lee is absolutely right. The one big factor is if there is an adult in a kid's life who wants them to stay in school they will stay in school and as a matter of fact the mother is really the leader in this play. But like all kids the kids steal the play away by the mother wants the kid to stay in school. And they're very desperate circumstances.
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 18 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.: Youth in theatre. Florence England (or Angland), Amelia Romano, director; Chuck James; May Cynthia Lee, junior high guidance counselor; Ronald Starrett and Mildred Carter, students.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-18 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:56
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 18 of 31,” 1968-05-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
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APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 18 of 31. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from