Seminars in theatre; Episode 28 of 31
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 and theatre Richard Pyatt. Good evening and welcome to another discussion all the theater for which we have and we are very glad to have three guests who've just received Wardes of awards of one kind or another the reason I say that is because Warren Lyons award as producer. I was going to say tacit but no it's very tangible because it's at the box office but Warren Lyons is the producer of two plays. At the Provincetown Playhouse here in New York at McDougal Street Red Cross written by Sam Shepard and music written by our second guest John Gray hair and he has received the award the Obie Award for the most distinguished playwright of the season and appearing in musica is our third guest Peggy pope who has received. That's a Bentley. I think I
just might be interested in seeing how hearing how one of these awards reads Village Voice off-Broadway award O.B. one hundred sixty seven sixty eight for outstanding achievement in the off-Broadway theatre a Village Voice of Broadway award is here with presented to Peggy pope distinguished performance music and congratulations all of you by the way. Thank you. This is your first producing venture and I think it's the second time you'll be saying it but I might write and it is a successful off-Broadway producing venture. The reviews are wonderful and John you've written other plays I want written and a lot of other plays. How did you two get together. I mean how did you get to produce his play and how did you get to get it to him. We've known each other a long time. We're not seven years. I'm friends for a long time. And when the play was done the music that was first was written for a theater in Connecticut called the Eugene O'Neill
theater Foundation which is a summer theater beautiful ninety five acre estate and K'naan Long Island Sound and the play was written express but they do 20 new plays a summer and music it was written for the O'Neill and done there last summer. And one came up and saw it as did Gordon Davidson from the Los Angeles Music Center. And the play was taken out in Los Angeles where it played at the Mark Taper Forum and then once that well wanted wanted to start with it was a different production in California have a whole new cast new production to change. Was it a substantially changed by the New York production you know change did we just the first day we started rehearsing and Johnson announced that he wouldn't run and I. It did affect the play in Europe so the only changes that were made in the play were before and
the the part you know what you know in the world going out I think you are going on forever. March 30 first after Johnson's incredible state of you know STATE OF THE UNION that is where he said that he would run and bombing you know bombing there would be de-escalation wealth and the possibilities existed even if you whether you believe them or not at least possibilities existed in some way and the only changes were made in the play. You know to take care of them in fact is a play itself I want to join it. Just give us a rundown of what it has as its hero and I I love the name of the hero. What is it Jack. Argue chag argue it almost sounds Shakespearean. I mean I don't know what they had that in mind but Jack argue you know with an anagram of my name. And who would know that me but it does it sounds like you know someone like Ben and Jack are
Jack argue that goes through a series. The way you get the play episodic events in his life are are satirically traced. I say satirical because it seems like he's traced from the he's a prototype of of the middle class. Rotarian or are they unaware they are the the becoming aware discontented person who find themselves caught up in all of the problems of our society nationally internationally and through various experiences. And here's where I think you should correct me or you should have been been wrong to find himself and he ends up in Paki pubs I should say in her Leeds flat and receives an unusual married man. It is often been I don't know what the name of these this particular thing is but I called it. Well it has a
rather euphemism. Yeah I don't know. The rest of the variation of the call girl routine but to say that only diminishes the real interest of it. And he goes out to Vietnam and through these episodes which are very cleverly and imaginatively directed in terms of scenic design and moving from one scene to another. We get an interesting play. Well much has been compared and I don't know whether there with any justification really to the type of played or to the type of the expression America Harrar tried to put on I. Do you find that that's a justifiable comparison John. Well only in the sense of there were both ways of trying to deal with what America is about today and the difficulties of the difficulties of living here the difficulties of being an American today and the incredible joys of being an American an American
today I think no matter what you think about this country in terms of the demonstrations in terms of the protests I think this is almost it's so exciting being an American in America today if we're going to have more possibilities keep existing all the time. This is when you realize you know that the revolution and the French revolution is happening right now the student revolution. It's American inspired America. This it would seem so since coming on the heels of Columbia University USA just in the 20th century just I think it has any kind of name probably called the American century or the the everything it from movies from the arts from the science whether it's the bomb or whether it's Marilyn Monroe or you know between the movies science revolution it's all it's just it's coming out of it's very American. There was a man in the audience the other night who was so pleased that the
playing music had been written by an American that was the thing that moved him mouse because you've been so disgusted and he was ready to leave the country he was an actor he was going to go to Mexico although it's no longer novel for Americans to criticize themselves anymore. Oh it seems to be really. The routine way of expressing oneself doesn't and off-Broadway and warrant your mention as your first producing venture and you chose off-Broadway I guess for many reasons but I cannot have been done on Broadway today said that about hair but it was done on Broadway a different production. Fourteen new songs new plot new writing new direction new production and I have to ask you when you have to write the greatest way to do it. You only have to change your make up I mean the off-Broadway scene has been considered by writers and observers of the theatrical scene as the
most vital as the greatest area for opportunity expression of original ideas and now some claim that off-Broadway has gone the way of Broadway and now its off off Broadway that we look to for the Vitalist experience do you find this is so is that why you're going to Broadway. I'm sorry say I do look around one of the big hits off-Broadway mainly frothy musicals not plays that are as vital as they used to be somehow. The play opening called facts. I got off off Broadway. It should be where you come from. It's Off Broadway is now off off Broadway is now becoming the New Haven. I'm on Broadway but I think you're right on the money involved in that the cost of production. Yes you know what because the more commercial and profit you have to be the reason I mention this is because there was an item in the papers about you on that
you were about to produce your next play. Another time John another play of John's life. And this will be on Broadway. And John has written it already and it's what was the title the House of Blues. What just what is that about. I mean that the title is so intriguing. The House of Blues leaves. Can you just tell us a little bit maybe you can't. It's one of the it isn't another thing like music or. No no it's a play it has 11 songs in it and John are in it. I would vote yes we I wrote again that's how Peggy and I met Peggy and I did the play. Aha. Oh it's been done under the auspices of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation Foundation in Waterford Connecticut which by the way they are doing I think and you're the best person to say so. A magnificent job in. Getting together an organization that allows opportunities not only for actors but for playwrights to
work and experiment. Well it's I think in the last the last five years have been so incredibly exciting for writers today because up to five years ago there literally was no theater as such for there was no true theater in America. There were lots of theaters that had commercial ventures in them but there was no sense of a theater except for Broadway you know what I meant which is the whole you know I mean there's no place to go to right to learn and you got to go to tell you know if you want to write well you go to you know television and try to you know you can kind of live event some day right that play well in the last couple of years. Just a theater has developed in America out of necessity. And. The point that I am most closely involved with is this Eugene O'Neill memorial theater foundation in Waterford Connecticut which at this point is a summer venture. They run in the summer and do 20 new plays on this beautiful 95 acre estate on Long Island Sound with some of the best people
from New York come up there and work in the summer and they only do new plays and I've written three plays for them now. And it's it's quite an X. It's a very extraordinary place necessarily I don't think we mentioned earlier that you also receive the best Short Play award from the Saturday Review of literature for music as well. Yeah yeah having That's quite a bonanza I mean everything is happening all at once for a member of the cast to receive an award a playwright to receive an award and justifies the great faith of the producer in the whole venture. I want to talk about one of the plays Red Cross first and by way of talking about it I want to throw this question out and maybe the question has a great deal of pertinence more for you John and for the actors and actresses other producers don't care really I don't think as long as they feel happy about the play and they feel happy that the play is succeeding. But. That form of playwrighting seems to have
come full circle in the sense that we no longer seem to care about story plot or cohesion. In other words we've given up. Is there a kind of playwrights given up communicating. You know the kind of words the use of words you know the exciting thing that happened to writing to theater especially in the last within the last 10 years you know since 1950 is that for the first time play writing is becoming more allied to music and to painting than it is to the rest of the literary the literary act and a play like Red Cross is pure music. When you sit there when you're listening to a piece that we're listening to a piece of music you don't know what does that mean. What does that mean. What does that mean with program attic music you do don't you. With problematic music.
But even if you don't know the program a program out of who they can and you know you can say oh now we're coming to the fountain the road. Speaking of music and you said Red Cross is pure music. What is a again this question may not make sense but a number of patron was watching when they come in to sit down to see Red Cross. You have this blaring rock beat type music and it's overly loud. Now I realize that the producers and directors know that this is overload. I realize that they have taste. So the only other conclusion I could come to was if this was designed this way you know to be extremely loud in and cock a phonic if I can make a word out of that. What is the purpose of that. Well and also the same timing with notice that not only are your drums being assaulted by the same three bar phrase of music repeated over and over but at the same time Red Cross by Sam Sheppard directed by Jacques Levy and this is Jack's
conception of Yahoo's was associated with the open theater. What he wanted to do on this play because of the musical miss of the play that it is not a live it is not a play to be watched in any with any preconceived notion of how to watch a play. And not only are your drums being assaulted but the set is bright white and its such a pure white that it has to be painted before just before the play every night. The floors are white the walls are white the props are white. There are two beds bright white sheets. The actors are wearing white costumes and the lighting is blinding and there is something like 78 tremendous visual impact there. So there's a nice 78 instruments on full intensity so that your eyes are being assaulted. Years of being assaulted in some way to free the audience to say forget you forget your eyes forget everything you know. I'm just here to watch something so pure and so new that I want to make.
We want to give you every day and every hope that we can then what's the next step for an audience after they're bombarded to their senses of embodied visually in order to orally. What what is the what about their mental equipment their intellectual equipment. Is that bombarded at all. I feel it in terms of the plain terms yes a civic lesson I was staying with this for a second the Red Cross production there where characters come on stage. I mean they're already on stage they begin to they begin to communicate one way or another with each other but not necessarily in a literary way. In other words we recognise now that we're not having literary theatre at all. We're having a kind of dialogue that an exchange of dialogue that lead circularly somewhere. I mean this is the feeling I get as a theatregoer from this I'm I'm only speaking for me at the moment and I have a right to speak because I go to the theater I went to there and I saw this
and I'm bringing away from it. What I've tried to get from it like I think any theatregoer would and all I'm asking now is what is the next step for a theatregoer. Does he appreciate this sort of crystallized expression of non-color and exaggerated sound exclusively or is it. Are there any ideas to be taken away from this. AR Yes I think if you concentrate on these assault a dunce he will concentrate primarily they will concentrate only on the ideas of the play and that you will find the idea of the play that you want the play will be lost in a variety of costumes and color. And what was in that knife I don't know what it was about but wasn't that nice. What is Jock Levy is trying to do. Please pay attention to what the play's about it is a piece of music. These people these three people in the play are three themes and you must you must put the themes together you must notice what
happens when these two things come together. It's almost there's something very beautiful geometric related very much to the you know to the the Nouvelle romance the new French novel which you know of. You know Robi. We get not all music musical in the sense that film is musical of a montage of ideas placed what happens when this idea is placed next to this and this is placed next to this and you must make that you must make the connection with you. I understand everything and I've seen the play about 30 times now and I've had a lot of talks about organized discussions. And I've read about it too I think. But it was some of those arguments and discussions I mean about the noise about a light yellow and what is the plane now. Right right and right. My the no telephone in the SAT you know. As I did yesterday I mean. Yeah but I think what Sam has done in this place to take the things that we usually expect to find in the play and throw them away you don't know who people I don't know what they are what they're doing and
what the relationship is where they are I don't know any of this. He's taking all the colors out and growing out of the set. But he's put the colors in the words instead and you have to say it's a challenge the audience to forget that and come into this and start different way preempting let me ask you this question a lot and there's an old saying I think that you might know it among the directors and actors. If you can't always occurs with a difficult line from Shakespeare or something the actor can't do it. We take it out. You seem to be getting at the idea that we take the actor out or we take the actor out usually the actor has a name you take the line on. And they were getting to the place now where playwrights have a very difficult job of delineating just those things that you just mention in terms of arguments who the characters are why they're there or what have you. Now a playwright goes to the other end and says I won't even try to do this. I remove all of these X so called extraneous things and just concentrate on
an idea. If it was a retrogression in theatre I think it's just the opposite. While I think it's kind of a growth saying we've had it we've done that let's move on to something else now. I think it puts a tremendous responsibility on the actors if the choices are wide open three different completely different type actors could be in play and it would be different play because of what the actors would play nicely and I think also that it makes the audience participate in a way it's not used to anyone out of primarily because of television we've just had so many words words words thrown at people who step back and just watch and plot anything. But now this makes the audience sit up and react violently some outcry that violent arguments about the play. Well of course I don't want to go into at the moment a discussion on is it good to have reaction as long as you have a reaction. Regardless of what provokes that reaction because I think we could get into a killer saw fickle discussion about it which may not lead us anywhere.
But I think it is questionable at times who may say I go into a room and I want to I mean a party or anything we all maybe go and no one's paying any attention to me and I take a pin straight pin and I stick somebody in the arm. I said and you know I got a reaction. They know I stuck that pin in the arm. I just want what the consequences would be if I did many part of America. How do you come up with many producers produce produce. You see like this and you could ask the same question by analogy but getting to musica which is not as unconventional I would say as Red Cross because we do have color and and marvelous imaginative set of arrangements. By that I mean you've dispensed with. I think the idea of disorder audiences haven't seen it can get an idea we're talking about Jack argue who goes to Peggy's house of ill repute and he knocks on the door the door is carried by the
stage systems to various locations on the stage until finally it sort of comes down center and you do the whole thing down center with a kind of behind the door I mean it's sort of a cute innovation there. But again John it seems that you decided to in your own way to do away with the so-called necessities for example. In watching video we would know that ordinarily we would not we would know the door would be where we couldn't see that it was a one or two dimensional situation I mean it would appear to be three dimensional. So we have done away with the three dimensional effects in effect. Then you've done away with the segues of what conventional plays ordinarily would have the segue of of who Jack argue is Jack argue as is I mean he's Day and we've no time element like one scene he's
26 the next scene is twenty two. It's wild it is well it's a kind of exclusion on the part of an artist that we see in paintings or that we expect in theatre and one in a different way. But you've done it in a completely all out way now will you go on writing plays that way or you don't know. Or will you keep some of the conventional expectations in your work. You really don't you know I mean each play creates its own rules. Each play it's. This play was written specifically and it just dawned on me I had been out of school five use and I wanted to write an imaginary autobiography. What would have happened you know what would have happened to me if I had not decided that I wanted to write and had decided that I did want to get a job and you know in just you just get a job and you know one or
more or you know a life like the commercials promises in the magazines promises and so I decided well going to school five years and I write an imaginary you know and its And I have five a year for each you know every year from then to now what would have happened to me and that was the way that that played the way the music formed its own rules and every play must breathe and find its find its own life in its own rhythms and the Broadway play that you have written. Yeah. Has that found the same rhythm as music or or you know it's a very realistic except in sections of it are sung there are 11 songs in. But it's a very realistic play and it's about when I was a kid I hit it. The play started I was hitchhiking and I was stranded in this very exotic I was stranded in the Sahara Desert. I was just really on thick and I thought
of my doing here and I started. Just as I started writing this poem the start of this just fine how does it right I don't have to see anything. The play started that way and it was a very. The play is very very a very realistic play except that there are sections of it that I wanted to be more than just pure The just pure words aren't enough that so sections of it are sung and it's very exciting it's great fun to be to be able to. That's what today's theatre is so exciting that they're all every As Peggy said the choices that exist as there are so many possibilities now so many choices exist for a writer for an actor that poetry is coming back into the theatre again when you reach a point that says this man is very happy here. Words are not enough. He's happy but also I mean he's so happy that why why can't the second the section that should be sung. That's why when I go to play you know play
finding its own rhythm. What you just painted was a very glowing picture of the the actual situation for actors and playwrights which is vehemently disagreed with by most people commenting on the theatrical scene that there is no opportunity for playwrights there. There are no opportunities for most actors and actresses to make a choice at all. They and I should tell you about an internal choice that they make once they're in a play but how many how many actors can devote their full time to their to the craft that they choose without driving a cab at night or without. Not with not without being able to enjoy the goodies of the commercials tell us that we're supposed to have and that everybody is probably somewhere or somebody has all of this and yet a great deal of skill energy and time is necessary for acting. A playwright may or
may not get his play produced. You know Warren lie and you've been a friend of yours. I'm not saying he produced it because he was your friend and if he did with you so what. But the point is he he did produce it and you knew him suppose you didn't know Warren line. I had another producer do what they want. What another thing that came down to I thought I'd rather work with a friend and then with that strange things come out in this show that people never know sometimes about each other and I knew that anything the reaction really did happen to not not not secrets but I mean little now was after the play had been done in California. There were a lot of people wanted to do it and I wanted to make sure that the director who had done it originally Melvin Bernhard did do it in New York and I wanted to make sure that Peggy from the part had been written did do it and Warner had seen it and had an association with the O'Neill
theater and we all knew each other and. We thought it was really a lucky situation of a bunch of friends. Hey gang I promise I don't know you know some it will seems like that and I'm saying that most playwrights are not that lucky but I'm very. Really I'm extraordinarily lucky in having good you're awfully good I think that if a playwright is good you get found because there is a dearth of them although not my friend necessarily you know it may take years to for anyone to invest enough money for example of how you know hair. It took a millionaire to bring here to Broadway. Whatever you think of here is that's not the relevant point I'm making but the butler is a millionaire and it took all of that to get this kind of a play a role I mean off-Broadway I think is and has been with the exciting theater is Broadway continues to be somewhat the conventional desert where we go to see
conventional plays and I I think conventional type plays are great if they can retain the interest that the so-called unconventional plays into and I think that's the where the the grace is that Red Cross music or other plays member who rob for one reason or another.
- Seminars in theatre
- Episode Number
- Episode 28 of 31
- Producing Organization
- WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-28 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 28 of 31.” 1968-07-16. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2f7jtt17>.
- APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 28 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 http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2f7jtt17