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This is Seminars in Theater, a series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession who comment on the problems and pleasures of life in the theater. Here now is the host of Seminars in Theater, Richard Piot. Good evening, welcome to another of our discussions on theater. As many of you who listen to the program might know we're constantly berating the institution known as theater because it doesn't seemingly live up to anything. And tonight we have along the same lines a kind of discussion that intends to bring a different kind of meaning to traditional theater. Our guests include Richard Costa Lanets who is the author of the Theater of Mixed Means by Dial Press.
And actually the contents of the book and the ideas expressed will represent the spring board from which our discussion will begin. The concept of Mixed Means just briefly, Mixed Means Theater rejects traditional dramatic techniques as objective development characterization and even at times speech in an attempt to actively engage the spectator in the experience being created and demand a more individual response to all kinds of sensations. And the elements include new in this new theater include music, dance, light sculpture, painting, odor, and modern technology. Along with Richard Costa Lanets we have Meredith Monk who is involved in dance theater. One of her works that represents her, I've been told is the 16 mm or 16 millimeter earrings which has been performed at the Judson Theater and we'll talk more about her activities
and about her background as we get along. Ken Dewey is a director or creator of environmental theater and arts and his background is playwriting. And Lawrence Cornfeld who is the resident director of the Judson Poet Theater and currently has a production at the Cherry Lane Theatre, his production is called In Circles by Gertrude Stein. To begin by the way, Richard Costa Lanets, I was born in New York City, took his AB degree at Brown University and his MA in American history at Columbia University as a full bright scholar in 64 and 65, attended King's College University of London and I'm being waived at presumably because he doesn't want me to say any more about him, I don't know. But that's very much history, we're talking about the presence in the future. Now we've moved up to the present immediately and Richard, the theater of mixed means,
I read a little bit about what it intends but mixed means is not a new concept regarding any kind of performance. It seems that mixing the media or mixing the techniques and the environments has always been with us. Yes, but it's the way things are mixed that separates the new theater from the old. For instance, theater has always used lights and plots and new technologies. But traditional theater or literary theater, the emphasis to focus, the major point of interest for the critic and the spectator and the performer and the director alike was the script, which was the script of lines, dialogue. Further back, the primitive theater was a mixed means theater in the way that I talk about it and mixing things on an equal status so that lights, props, technology at performer have a kind of equal with the expressive meaning, an expressive way they're organized.
But what separates the new theater from the primitive theater is that these various means tend to be used non-synchronously, disjunctively, chaoticly, or no, I'd use the word order disorderly rather than disorderly, there's a difference. But I mean in the sense when you go to see a balancing ballet, the dancers all move together and the beat goes with them and the lights go with the beat, this kind of thing doesn't happen in the new theater. You don't get that kind of synchronousness of the various elements. So those I think are the two essential differences. But what interests me more, talking about my conception of mixed means theater and the things that it comes out of, you know, in my conception of mixed means theater, it comes out of theater, about a literary theater, certain tendencies in there like our toe and the living theater, it comes out of tendencies and dance, tendencies and sculpture and painting in music, in music, for instance, the concern with the space into music is performed, cage, eyes was into that, stock eyes into that cage is into that.
What interests me though is in development of certain artists, where certain pieces were music pieces, or certain pieces were dance pieces, and then all of a sudden they were into the other realm of mixed means theater. You can see it in Mercy Cunningham between his works prior to 1962 and his work since then like Winter Branch in Variations 5 which are theater pieces. You can see it in Meredith Monk's work, where certain pieces prior to, well, particularly in 1965, were very much dance pieces, they were concerned with expressions of movement. But starting with 16 millimeter earrings, up in particular, she was into the whole theatrical conceptions where she was using film. Well, let's ask Meredith Monk something that you've established already. The idea is one of the ideas that you've highlighted in the major premise of the theater of mixed means seems to be a disordered order, and that, again, for just to state it another way, there is the desire to not follow a script, not follow any kind of choreographic plan,
not to have these means synchronized. And it's not entirely true. All right. Well, in order to get at the truth, Meredith, I just want to ask you, when Richard Gastell on us mentioned that in a Balanchine ballet, we see all of the dancers moving in unison. We hear the score following their rhythmic pattern, and yet the theater of mixed means does not want this. This is as simple as I can put it. When you are, for example, your work that we've been talking about the 16 millimeter earrings, why don't you want this unison? Why don't you want this rhythm? Well, I think there is a little bit of confusion about these issues. I think that some people that are working in new dance and in new theater are definitely working with the idea of unison. I think where ballet is different is that ballet is dealing with one technology, which is extremely specific and is in a tradition, whereas what people are doing now is much more
concerned with mixing technologies, like the technology of movement, with the technology of film, with the technology of sound. However, these mixtures are sometimes conceptually just as planned and just as synchronized as anything else, as a ballet would be. But you don't move. You don't have pieces where these elements move synchronously, as patently synchronously as a ballet does. Well, I don't know. I think that would be an interesting idea, too. It would be very interesting to do that. Now I think of Ivan Reiner's work, and she's definitely interested in a certain kind of precision and unison movement, which is absolutely precise to the last degree. All right. We'll get back to this because I want to bring out something else. I want to move to ask Lawrence Cornfield a question. He has a play, presumably a play I call it, that, running at Sheridan Theatre. Did you write this?
Gertrude Stein wrote it. Right. What is your function as a director with it? I interpreted it. And I set it on stage with the actors and the composer. You followed her? No. She gave me stage directions. Script. Gertrude Stein play consists of, this play consisted of nine and a half pages of sentences, giving no characters, no set, no plot, and that is for us to decide. And this is my third Gertrude Stein play, they've all been the same. The mixed means, if you were to see this, it would all look very set, very planned. Well, it is by this time. The actual working out of the play was one of using people, using them as their own characters, finding out what they had to offer. Not just my and the author say idea of what it should be, it was a communal effect. I have, I want to get to something that you've been, you and Meredith have been saying about
the mixing technologies. After about 12 or so years of doing plays and events and happenings and environments and whatever you want to call them, I've discovered actually that I don't like technology because in almost every one of the things I've done, I've tried to eliminate the machine and the as much mechanical things as possible. But I've not just tried to eliminate them, I've tried to substitute the machine with people. And this is sort of the reverse of what's going on. I don't know if anybody else is aware of this, of me. Oh, I think that that's very much what's going on. Now I think they're, and I'm working that way now too, I'm working on something which is extremely static and it's much more aligned to what's happening in painting and sculpture now than it is to theater at all. And I've decided that this time I really want to eliminate the film and the tape recorder situation as much as possible.
I think that's why I feel so close to your work, Mary, because I don't, I'm tied to the technology. Larry, it seems to me that what you're doing is using a mixed means process as I described to put together your plays, you're letting people do their own thing, you're letting, you have a freedom in the use of materials. And also what you call a post literate ideology too. Richard, let me interrupt you for a second, because from your book you said that very few, this is not very popular with audiences. If you had to take a number you'd say about a thousand persons really have attended mixed means performances of any kind. So with that in mind, I just want to establish a base and a frame of reference for another few minutes for our audience by mix means we're talking about specifically what in the book or here here, I'm talking about a kind of theater which happens in a setting which is theater in the sense that some people gather together for something in mutual concern
to use Ken's definition or some people get you can put it, some people gather together to act upon others in various ways, a theater which is different from the literary theaters we know it, the traditional Renaissance theater. Although it doesn't necessarily happen outside proscenium, some of these pieces happen inside prosceniums and exploit the proscenium situation, which is very crucial. And I just would leave it there. Now as I said before in development of certain artists you can see the difference between their dance pieces and their theater pieces and their mix means theater pieces and music pieces and their mix means theater pieces, their literary theater pieces and their mix means pieces. Now the question I wanted to ask Larry since he is working very much out of the mix means vocabulary is why do you use a script? A literary script written by an eminent authoress, no less. I'm glad you asked that because this is what I was getting at. Because you seem to me that this is quite singular in your experience. Well because I always have.
Because you come out of a theater, because I come out of a theater tradition, a tradition of the living theater where I apprenticed and then as you know it was a general manager and assistant director there. And the first mixed means production I was ever involved with that I ever saw was the living theater's production of the marrying maiden by Jackson McLo at the score by Cage. I was the pianist and the pit for that. Well the language was very minimal. And the language was very minimal. It was from the itching and I used Gertrude Stein in the same way. If I do a play by Paul Goodman, I don't use it the same way. I use literary theater plays because there are some literary plays that I'm interested in and excited about. Have you done things without literary scripts? Oh yeah. Well I've used just words and then I've done things trying not to use words at all. Well can't do it is a play right or at least that's his background. We understand from to use your coinage, Richard let's say literary theater has a specific object, a specific objective that is if we go to see any play running we go to see barefoot
in the park. We go to see the exercise. Any one of these plays ostensibly there is some meaning and some plot and some, these are conventions. Right. Right. But what I'm establishing here is we know the audience knows what is expected of it and it goes there for some mutually expressed purpose. Right. But it often goes to see how the conventions which are familiar to them are fulfilled. But that's a step ahead of this elementary step. And because in the new theater you can't go for that kind of expectation. That's where you know what conventions are there although conventions do arise in fact. Conventions do arise ultimately because there is no place to go but into a conventional sense unless you break out into a new innovation. No I mean conventions arise in the sense that if somebody gets a good idea somebody else
is liable to do it again himself. But mixed means theater because you can't repeat a good idea, doesn't it? It does, yes, and the whole avant-garde notion is you shouldn't either. What people do. In other words you've established and I'm still trying to get to Ken Dewey. No. Well I think they can very much took the leap that we're talking about with Larry in the sense that he hasn't used literary scripts recently. But you started out composing literary scripts for performances, right? Well let's see if I can't toss it back to you in a form that you can relate to because it's that I'm sitting here at this moment confronted with the same dilemma that's confronted me for the past 12 or 13 years since I began to write plays. The paper today has this headline, Columbia Students Hold Dean Captive. The second page. Of course we all reacted to that earlier and so there is no reaction. Now we don't know how this incident is going to end, it may end as a tragedy, maybe the
man will not survive this in some kind of way. We don't know what the result of this protest is at this particular time. Here's a dramatic happening which is unfolding right as we're sitting here talking. Now in the second page the headlines are Mass Peace Protest awaits LBJ in Chicago. Don't gloomy on peace talks is the F111 in the air or grounded and then a list of the war dead? Because you're eliminating the whole idea and concept of cause and effect and this is just a happening. Well no, the point is this, the people who are responsible for communicating in taking who have accepted theater as a technique at a certain point and I'm now retracing some of my own experience, were confronted with the fact that the daily newspaper with its pill of the improbable coming at you, the street event, the occurrence that you were confronted
with right then was very often more dramatic and had a more impact on your life than the kind of thing that you might sit down to write a play about. Now you had several reactions, what could you do as a playwright? Well you could sit down and in fact write a play about it which might or might not be produced for six or seven months at the earliest. By then you already had to assume how many hundreds of other experiences similar to these, the problem then became could one expand the vocabulary, get out of the limitation of the literary, construct some form of making an intelligent response to this kind of experience at that time and on that spot maybe in the street wherever it happened to demand it.
So that step was then taken to see what else could be included in the vocabulary of Krama. Now, if here's a little curious thing with words, it's playwright, W-R-I-G-H, he plays a rot, they don't have to be written, they may in fact be written but the intention has always been that they're constructed as a boat, they're constructed and the vocabulary need not only be the literary one. So you're looking at a group of people who at various times have explored some of the other vocabularies that are available to someone wishing to go into theater. I think we all confront the question of the theatrical environment. You invite people in to do something to them and what, and you remember back to what has been done to you in this environment and what is important. And certainly in my theater going experience, it's, although I am trained in history and
literature, it's not been the literary theater that has moved me as much as the non-literary theater as I call it, and moved me as much in the way that art can move you, particularly in America, particularly in the past few years. My theory of something to do with conventions, with conventions going stale, particularly in the literary theater in America at this time. I mean, how many times have I seen the character stage left scream that he's a failure, come stage center, fall on the table, put his head in his hands and sob? Whether this, whether the problem is with the medium itself, that you just simply can't do anything more with literary theater or with the directors themselves, that they can't do anything more. I haven't quite decided. Certainly what Larry's doing suggests it's not the problem with the media, but the problem with directors. But there is a sense of staleness. What did you mean? I mean that the originality of your direction and avoiding, particularly these kinds of uptown clichés, suggests that directors can overcome the problems of something to
be intrinsic. I seem to be with the medium at the moment. I see. Well, let's take an example of literary theater that is broken away somewhat from convention, take a play by painter, take the birthday party, or take the homecoming. This is literary theater. Certainly. It's one of the few valid recent examples, or recent examples that strike me as valid. Yeah, but then the argument here too, I mean, or the turn of mind is that all of you are disgusted with conventional and traditional literary theater because it doesn't offer you stimuli sufficiently to make any impression upon you. That's not true. Well, Richard does it is. He doesn't. You say it is. No, you don't. I don't think any of us say we're disgusted with, well, I'm disgusted with, well, it doesn't excite us as much, although I think each one of us had a whole list of literary plays that we would love to either see or be in or do.
It's not the point of what we're disgusted with. It's not a matter of either or. It's just that this happens to be what we're doing, and many of us are interested in certain exciting things that excite us and move on. But you just do things because you do things, unless you're doing things simply to do things. And if you're doing something, simply to do something without any doing it, it has more validity and interest to you. Certainly. Well, what would you say if I said that, yes, I do things because I do them? So then that would be an anomaly, an eccentricity, and everyone is entitled to have eccentricities. And we find eccentricities in conventional theater, and we find eccentricities in everyone. But if we're talking about a meaningful experience for an audience, which must put up with eccentricities, no matter where the eccentricities come from, then we have a certain larger responsibility if we are publicly exposing our eccentricities. You call all-originality eccentricity?
I don't call any originality eccentricity. No, what are you imputing? I am only taking you at your word. You said theoretically, if, suppose you said, yes, you were only doing this because you wanted to do it. Why do you do your job? Now, what is my job? What is it? Why do I do it? Yeah. What is it and why do you do it? What it is is enigmatic, why I do it is problematic. Why do you do... You see, we could go on endlessly, but... No. Well, ask me the same question. No, no, no, no. Hold on. I think what we're trying to get at is a notion of art as, no, I'm going to back up. I can't follow that. All right. Let me see. I don't see... Well, stick, there's a problem. It's sort of... It's in your book, too, which I think is a marvelous book. The critic does not have to be justified, neither does the artist, they're not responsible to each other, as much as the critic would like to think so.
As much as many artists would like to think so. Our head here at the table, the other Richard, you're not responsible to me and I'm not responsible to you, your job is interviewing me. My job, that's not being interviewed. My job is being a director, being an artist. I don't have to have a reason for what I'm doing, other than that I can do it. I don't even have to have a justification before the event. Right, that's a very selfish, personal outlook and you're entitled to it. But we're not talking about you because you're relatively unimportant. What we're talking about is an audience which is relatively important in terms of a conglomerate mass, trying to receive some impression, and this is what we're talking about. It's a very impression when they go to the work. Why work in this medium, theatre as opposed to music, or you're also been interested as opposed to dancing as well?
But I do work with music and dance, because theatre is a conglomerate art, because I like it as well. I think the problem, I absolutely, almost with few exceptions, I'm very disinterested in literary theatre, period as a statement. And that is mostly because I think that, because of a number of things that are happening in our society right now, there is definitely a change of consciousness, certainly in the younger people. And I think that what's going to happen in a few years is that for one thing, and I see that as a hopeful thing, is that people are now becoming a little bit more in tune with themselves as a unified body and mind situation. It's the old dualism of body and mind. And I think what literary theatre has done is detach those two situations where an actor primarily is dealing with the verbal, word, line situation first, and then working with the body as a secondary source.
Bad actors do that. But let's talk about the good actor for the moment, who, let's assume for the moment if we can, that Olivier, Lawrence Olivier, is an excellent actor, a man of the theatre. But he's a man of words, isn't he? He's a man of body, and he uses his body. I've seen him several times, particularly in a fellow, and he would not strike me that way. Compare his presence with someone like Merce Cunningham's presence, and no, is a difference. There is a Merce Cunningham has a dancer's presence. But he doesn't have the other dimension, you see, we're talking about absences of dimensional facets, I mean, and what we're talking about is the amalgamation. But you're speaking of the theatre mixed means, which includes the utilization of all kinds of means, kinetically, tactically, sculpturally, whatever, to make some kind of impression. Right. Now, what we want to find out is what impression are you trying to create through via theatre of mixing?
No, no. Now I get into the critical question. In the book, I did something a little bit unusual. In talking about any new art, particularly an art that is between arts, or between the historical arts, you get into the problem of how do you talk about it? Do you use a language in the case of the new theatre, a language of dance, a language of music, a language of sculpture, a language of painting? There is no fixed language, particularly not yet since this art, as I can see, was only about a decade old. So what I did in the book was use as expository chapters, my conversations with the various major practitioners, who came out of the various arts, in the sense that Kendoe was once in literary theatre, and Halper was once in dance, John Cage was once in music, Russian Berg, Oldenburg, and Whitman are once painters and sculptors. And now, as I said, for these chapters, I use conversations. In the course of the conversation, who is after all not a real conversation, but a forged conversation, an art conversation, a fabricated conversation, we developed a language, particularly appropriate to the processes and purposes of each man's work.
And what emerges from the book as a sub-theme, I think, is that there is no way to talk about the new theatre. There are at least nine ways, and maybe even more. I think I was accidentally brought out in your conversation with John Cage. You didn't, you succeeded certainly in discussing it, although it avoided sounding like a structured conversation. Well, well, except that the Cage's way of talking about what he's doing, in terms of the life likeness of what he's doing, is quite different from the way Robert Whitman talks about what he's doing. And in fact, take it one step further, the experiences you're going to get from various kinds of theatre, and even from the various kinds of genres within the new theatre, the experience of a happening is different from the experience of a kinetic environment is different from the experience of a stage of performance, and these are entirely different things. This book is very much about differences within the lumped new art. So when you say what kind of meanings are available, better ask the question individually. What kind of meanings are available, do you think, in your pieces, Meredith?
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 21 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.: Richard Kostelanetz, author of "Theatre of Mixed Means" Also: Meredith Monk, dance theatre; Ken Dewey; Lawrence Kornfeld.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-21 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:24
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 21 of 31,” 1968-05-28, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
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