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Commissioner you mentioned the professionalism of this Broadway cast whoever it is or whatever it may be. Do you think we have a great deal of professionalism in theater in New York and indeed in the country. Well I myself don't look down and I think it's a great mistake to look down in any way on the so-called commercial theater. Sometimes I call it the private enterprise theater because and I think we ought to see it in the context of our economic system as a whole. And I don't think as a higher level of professionalism anywhere than in the Broadway theater there may these people may not be. Not have the deep training which one sees in the repertory groups in France. In England in the Soviet Union to take three examples but certainly they have professional entertainers in the very best sense of that would like I've been engaged in recent day in a in an attempt to try to make the tax exempt money gifts some had ations and others available to the commercial theatre to help the commercial theater be able to swing plays which are good in
themselves but which are in danger of not finding their audience in a situation where they hit play seems to get all the money and all the advertising and the good play is often lost and doesn't even live long enough to get into they repertory so that other theatres in other parts of the country can take it up and perhaps in the end learn to play it as one of the real instruments of our culture. So yes I think that it's rather a long answer to your question but these kids if they see groups from the Broadway shows will certainly be learning something of what. What the craft can mean. You know Commissioner it winters here spring is not very far behind as the saying goes and summer certainly is a spirals of life and that the Shakespeare in the park if I can just ask you about that. Are we going to again have. Shakespeare in the park with its ethnic motivation rather than its Shakespearean motivation for this
upcoming summer. I don't know what I mean when you mean as the Shakespeare in the park it is it's an integrated company but it certainly doesn't aim to have to create a social revolution that aims to do the best plays and the great plays in the best possible way. Well what exactly do you mean that there is that there is of course the other Shakespeare Company which goes out into the into the ghettos and into the poorest sections of the cities with the budget include the same Mobi are the most of the other things below Shakespeare and will the budget also include the schedule of Shakespearean plays that we had last summer. Yes well the city is round two Joe Papp who was. Really a great man and a great genius without question. We will be the same as last years. That is we give him four four hundred thousand dollars which is about a third of all the city money going into the area of the performing arts out of 40 million dollars which is forty two or three million dollars which goes to the cultural institutions.
Only one million two goes to the performing arts. The rest goes to the museums to the botanical gardens to the Zoological societies. And his money very went to the libraries. And his money very well spent and very necessary. But the total performing arts segment is small. And I say that the Shakespeare in the park and the Moby of Shakespeare gets a third. Well I'm very glad we're able to keep it at this level. And I think that we're doing a superb job. I don't think there's any question but we'll have a good summer of Shakespeare in the park this year. Joseph Papp is planning to do Henry the four part one and part two with a very good Falstaff. And then he's going to end up the season with Romeo and Juliet. And that ought to be a fascinating subject particularly coming after the difficult plays you might say the bottom of the Shakespearean barrel. We did last year with the five boroughs be the recipient of number one the Gordon Duffy Theater Workshop Program. And do you
have on the horizon any other theatrical programs as far as all of the parks are concerned. We have spoken to many musical programs the performing arts in general that is the Metropolitan Opera will be playing singing everywhere in the film on it will be playing at all the barrios. But we're doing small things like the paperbag Playaz this summer for example which will go out and reach the children and then many other different types of shows it will be a legit asthma bila film Obeah which includes the films made by young people some of them I think I mentioned Roger Lawson awhile ago who's had extraordinary this extraordinary ability to evoke from young children not only the capacity to express themselves with the film but also just as you have in a different field and go out in their capacity to evoke technical abilities of these children I mean they themselves make these movies themselves about things that worry them. And we take those around into the streets. The other programs I don't speak because we
wait still on the financing which may make them possible. Of course these will be free performances as all of the park events are I assume commissioner there is that segment of the populace that says parks for meditation for quietude for casual strolls through lanes and and running brooks and not for the Harrar and the shallot in the sweat of the crowd. Are you going to add heat here or pay any attention to these cries are we going to have more activity on the limited space we have in the park. Will you is someone reading this the entry about me putting the ones that I do never the one being pure meditation the other being with weight and screaming. But there is a there is a middle ground in the first place. Some of our parks offer meditation we have a very strong emphasis today in the parks department on natural resources on
nature within the city and I am very anxious to preserve and to develop and to use in appropriately quiet ways. Nature trails an alley upon park in Inwood park the beautiful bird sanctuary in Jamaica Bay. The nature center is at Wave Hill in the Bronx and at high rock in Staten Island things of this kind. We are going to make better use of for the study of nature. And if you will for the meditation those who want to meditate in the midst of the city but there are other places and other purposes which the parks also should serve. I myself think of them as being a setting for great public events. And not for political events. And primarily we have Forum areas. We do allow gatherings and dissension and protest to be to be expressed but in a
park like Central Park the. The celebration of music and the arts it's not listening to music it's really celebrating it every day. Everybody of all ages and all races of all types coming out under the stars of a summer night. That's great and I think we're probably doing more of that if we can this summer so far as our budget allows in the mood of the city encourages us than we've ever done before. I think a lot of people have a lot of things to look forward to this summer in spite of the cloud the prognostications of it being extremely hot. Gordon Duffy I know why the commissioner at least I begin to suspect why the commissioner Commissioner hechsher has this program instituted in the Parks Department the State a workshop program which you founded. I wonder why you do it obviously. I assume it takes up all of your time. At least it's a full time project and I assume you're salaried by
the year on some kind of salary. Yes octopi I'm sorry it is a recreation leader in under civil service right now and we haven't heard too much from al-Bashir in the except a few cogent remarks but I want to get a few detailed things about how you work but why do you do this Gordon you say. Is it do you got an artistic and aesthetic satisfaction from it or are you are you getting the kind of social satisfaction from this that automatic concomitantly arrives when you have a successful production and terms of what you're trying to do. Well I think when you do things with human beings you don't separate those things. Certainly my artistic satisfactions are very close to the social ones as you say. We get very involved of these kids after a while. At first they're just a hundred kids. Now I know their names. I'm very bad about names but I know their names I know a lot about them because we work seven hours a
week with each one of them all at different times and small groups sometimes me even though there's a hundred and we work in groups as small as eight people sometimes. So we work with very closely already in just the few weeks that they've been here since we've been in the new studio. We've got some of them have made remarkable progress already and there's a great kind of group spirit about it was just turns us on all the time and we just we did because they just loved to be there they love to do what they're doing and you know that's really what we're after I think it's you know that's really Ament you're in the. Classic sense they were they love to do the thing that they're doing now and you know I really I can't ask for anything more myself. It is an act as also I imagine my spirit. Yeah I think so. Been some day surely you want to go on into an area where they are pure theater. We'll give you a reward. Yeah this is this is true and I'll tell you this is sort of by the way I don't want to lose you and I don't know where is it. That was the night you asked.
I have always believed since the very beginning I've had occasion recently to look back over my original sort of writings and plans on this as I started a couple of years ago and I'm back to what my original plan was and that is that I feel that an adult professional group of very high standards should function at the same time as an amateur group for young people because they feed each other the expertise of the professional group feeds the youngsters and the enthusiasm of the youngsters feeds the professionals. And we are now that we have space in space that we can be in 24 hours a day and we are sent to the we you know we think that it's very possible now to begin on a very using our teachers and some other professionals that we know not only actors but directors painters sculptors scenic designers and so forth musicians to have them work together in a kind of adult professional experimental theater workshop as a part of
our program now in other words we just spend a little more time with them we hope out of that to develop. Not only teachers you know so that we can expand our program somewhat but also just to do things as commissioners as you know theater for theater sake. It's I know has been reminding me about this recently I want to write you know go into a blue funk about I think she says you know the whole point is that you have to keep refreshed by doing one thing. You know this Mr. made for instance the conductor with sandals Philharmonic said you know he can only conduct opera at the Metropolitan so long that he has to get back to the Philharmonic can only stay there so I guess to get back to opera for me is quite true. I can work much better with young people if I'm also working with with the professionals. At the same time or at intervals with each one so I think that I think it's possible to kind of keep my eye on the workshop for you. Considerable time in the future and still do the other professional production that I want
as basically this is a parks department project. Commissioner would you say this is a plan that should be adopted by some of the major cities throughout the nation or perhaps some of the. You're aware of some of the projects that are going on or what is the situation with the parks in some of the other major cities will they be able to utilize a project like this or would you advise it. Well I hope the plan as a whole would be something that other cities and other communities would want to look at him consider very carefully. They have to find in the first place somebody like Gordon Duffy And Alba and Sharon if they're going to make it a success in addition to that they've got to find a city administration which is sympathetic or highly sympathetic which would mean a new commissioner. Well maybe but I don't think you can. And I was thinking of my boy John Lindsay our cause look on us is absolutely true. They have to look even upand I mean our organization is interesting. A park department is ordinarily concerned with capital projects and maintenance and you know
repairing the fences and cutting the grass and feeding the animals in the zoo. And that takes up all the time of most Park Commissioners. But again the mayor has reorganized the work that I do so that in and around this reorganization plan I become administrator of Parks Recreation and cultural affairs and all these three functions and serve each other and illumine each other I mean I don't know sometimes whether what you're doing or want to be under recreation or into cultural affairs it's no wonder cultural time. It's we just would and sometimes it's done outdoors in the parks and sometimes it's done done indoors in a building which we agree to maintain so that. It's a complex thing which we seem at the moment able to comprehend within our system and within the total atmosphere of New York. I'd like to think of course that the whole project is transportable and capable of being imitated. Well Commissioner like anyone involved in it ministering and overseeing a complete agency and as you mention not only one in several
related attenuated branches of that I know you're very busy but have you had a chance or will you be able to watch any of the rehearsals or will Gordon Duffy let you in. Oh yes well I'm going there in a few days to a sort of open house that he and I up to that time I've been letting him work out some of his problems himself and only receiving at my desk the echoes and the reverberations of them last summer to be able to drop out of the East River ampitheater and see some of these improvisations to see the opera. The essay on that extraordinary Would you call want to do called Ability was baseball. Not in the baseball opera didn't it. Well I mean these are great experiences and the high points of a summer which took me all over the city and almost every block of many of the areas we were putting on performances of all kinds but nothing seemed to me to have the excitement of these presentations that were being done under this workshop program.
Now this workshop program because of the available space I understand will be able you'll be able to expand this as a winter project as well. Or is that not anticipated. Well as it is we're doing it now. You do this you're watching Perry I see. I know they're doing it this is the way we always work years do you know when I come down in a few days with you that you'll then be putting on something motility improvisations the whole party is going to be one big improvisation. Being here I know you know you won't be working from any written script throughout your whole program was not correct. We will begin with any written script. What we're going to do is we have playwrights and composers coming in right now to own and these are professionals the one gentleman named it POMERANZ he's one of the recent Ford Foundation playwright grantees at Yale University. He's one of the ones who's working with us now Richard Peasley a composer since he comes back from England he'll be working with us directly. There's a poet from New Haven who is a teacher of
English at Yale. His name is Robert Stuart is going to be working with us. There is John Duffy no relation to me who is the music director at the Connecticut Shakespeare Festival he's going to write one of our works for us Warren Brown who is our musical director and also teacher of conducting at Juilliard School of Music is going to be one of our third composer. And we have a room yet for a couple of other playwrights that we're considering other words all those people are going to be coming to our improvisational classes or acting classes music classes and so forth. And they are going to pick up what we start and work with it and eventually they will end up with a written script. And but the kids are all right. It has all been there before them you don't get to know so you go in but I congratulate you on that a ray of talent that will be participating but is this going to be doing this great US or are they on salary or how do you get all this talent to work for you. These are these are quite unusual artists who are interested in doing the thing
itself and to be quite frank about it. We have not yet talked about money but I feel that it is my responsibility to pay artists for what they are able to do and I am seeking unabashedly foundation support to make a grant to each one of these six composers and playwrights to pay them for their final product. When was your first production be ready for the public to take a look at it which is different than last summer we hope to have the block opera which we will be doing on Saturdays. Ready to go. At the beginning of the summer which is a great innovation for us it is made possible only by having a winter workshop facility. We hope to have that ready to do every day the first Saturday after the 4th of July. That is or perhaps the second one was a break and through August you see so we be doing one play all summer long. The other ones I imagine we would open those demonstrations in one week just before Labor Day.
Now the block party I mean the block I go its party to yeah it is going to be. Afterwards the people on the block are going to sponsor it they're going to be the host of the large scale on this block party operation in terms of the participation of the neighborhood the neighborhood children. Could you tell us how that how that would work for example you take this opera this is it. It's an improvisational opera. Correct. You know that's a good way of putting it we don't know quite what that is yet and that's part of our job. You take it into a block and the neighborhood knows you're coming in. Oh yeah and how do you get there the hosts were not. The whole point is we don't impose anything on a neighborhood. We want like we we want to get other people working with as I have suggested for instance to several people the community relations department for instance at the at the parks department that it might be a very nice thing to get some of the urban core college students if they could spare some of the work on a project where they could go several weeks in advance to to each of these blocks find a
block which is you know in thought to be difficult in terms of several problems that are there to interview every single person on that block. Are you interested involved in this for this type of. Yes we might be. I have a sort of I'd like to have a core of people who you know are paid so that I can be sure depend on them and. But. I think that's not the point here. What we want to do is to involve those people get them to want to host this event to get them to want to help clean up their blood for to help decorate for it to have a party after to have the mothers of the children serve food for the actors during the morning rehearsal to have a parade in the neighborhood. You know all the things we want them to do it. And with us like helping them because you know they don't have that sort of sense of you know we are able to achieve something and so will the neighborhood. I really am against just coming in and dumping on the Lance always live with the children of the
neighborhood be able to participate in this production. Oh yes by all means I mean I want to how do you know it sounds crazy you know like some people say why don't you rehearse them for two weeks and I don't think that I think my my experience with kids in the neighborhood is if they want they want to do it that day. And if a circus comes to town that day and they want to be in it they want to carry water for the elephants and I will let him carry water then other words will come in that morning at 9 o'clock and I'm going to rehearse till one o'clock with the small groups you see and then you know have to run through. I have a big parade that they will start you know three o'clock in the afternoon three to four will be the performance that will be a party afterwards dance you have an orchestra and the whole thing is going to be a big festival. Right now that's the block party. And you'll be doing that every Saturday. Will you be performing Additionally in the park proper. That were in part from East River amphitheater we're not the sort of Park Street you label a group that you're trying to put on us I think.
So yeah I don't know I was just trying to find out were you going to be going to be in the streets on Saturday night and were going to be working ourselves training kids after and this is our primary garage and we are not audiences are yet able to get with it. Oh yes I feel the block up or it is going to be such a big administrative thing and I think I'm going to through a lot of the responsibility for that in the direction of al-Bashir and she's going to engineer the putting together of that enormous project and all of our telephones are going to be ringing and we need all the space to do for instance the scenic thing for this may be done instead of by scenic designers It may be done by environmentalists we have. A garage in our present studio with people who do environments work in and maybe this kind of decor is what we need that's very large It involves you know large industrial scaffolding and things like this. So there'll be lots of costumes to make after all of you going to put 200 kids from a neighborhood near but you've got to get them to wear two and you know because the sort
of sense makes them a more special. So there's a lot of places that I think we want we want to keep. I want to keep the amphitheater calm. That's 900 like to keep for the benefit of the children in the program who are getting training you know working toward something at the end of the summer and trying to getting themselves together into a group and to begin to understand what this is all about it's only fair to them to keep the tension and hysteria. Two miles uptown you know in a studio which is where you're going to summer vacation. What are you going to do about the planetary problem. I mean you know the earth revolves around the sun and that's questionable period of 24 hours where you're going to get the other I want to say. Yeah we work there. This is where to go. That's where you get it from here. But we want to thank you all. Commissioner August Heckscher of the Department of Parks and the the tremendously interesting program that is being planned in the
works for the parks and the youth of this city at least a certain percentage of the youth certainly. And what it looks like is going to be a very exciting project in especially that block party aspect of it. And Gordon Duffy We want to thank you for giving us the the inner workings so to speak on what you're planning I know it's difficult to talk about the details when you're really formulating and half and half but we appreciate it. And I'm sure and we wish you the best of luck in the hours because we know you'll probably be doing most of the legwork but this was seminars in-theater a recorded series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession. Join us again for our next program when host Richard Pyatt will lead another conversation about life in the theater seminars in theatre is produced by radio station WNYC in New York City and is distributed by the national educational radio network.
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 14 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.: The role of New York City parks in theatre life of the city. August Heckscher, commissioner, New York City Dept. of Parks; Gordon Duffy, director of park projects; Alma Shiffian, asst. director of park projects.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-14 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:24:40
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 14 of 31,” 1968-04-09, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 10, 2023,
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