Seminars in theatre; Episode 8 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 in theatre Richard Pyatt. Good evening and welcome to another seminar in theatre. This evening our guests include the artistic director and executive chairman of the Sheffield Playhouse in England. It's a government subsidised theatre presenting plays in repertoire and it's controlled by a board of governors composed of local citizens education with lawyers. Business men and other interested members of the community. Our guest who is the executive chairman is Mr. David Bray shore and the theater is administered and run professionally by the artistic director Cullen George and his direction about 14 or 15 productions are mounted every year. These include a wide range of
styles from Shakespeare Moliere Oz born Miller and new contemporary plays. Our third guest is Dr. Michael Leszek who recently returned from a European study under a Ford Foundation grant which also included part of the United States specific study was to observe directing techniques throughout the world. First I understand. Mr. Bray sure and Mr. George you're both here from England to study specifically the thrust concept of staging is that correct. Yes that's what's so important about the last staging that London or England is willing to pay for your trip here or somebody is willing to pay for it to stay here for this amount of time. Well building a new theater in Sheffield. A lot of new theaters going up in England at present in the provinces outside London for companies
such as ours which is you know a state subsidized company is presenting a wide range of work. And we've been working in old theaters converted cinema hours and so on and something has a chance to put up a new building. And we've been aware of that. Stars of directing have have been trying to burst out of the proscenium in our little theater we've been building out a four stage addressing the side walls of the theater trying to get more in touch with the audience. And about five weeks ago sir Tyrone Guthrie came up to talk about theatre and asked us what sort of theatre we were building. And we said we got vague. We've got we've been discussing here and our vague plans at the moment for a proceeding theatre with an adaptable for stage and he said Well have you seen thrust theatre in action and we have an apartment. He said I think you want to go to to see the theatres that are going up in America of this sort to see what you thought of it. And the trust I think very magically said well you better go in with a sort of American rather than English speech. We flew the Atlantic and here we are.
Well how many states are theatres visiting here. Well we've we've dated Minneapolis for four days I think it's a matter not just of seeing a number of theaters but seeing a theater one theater in action which is why we spent nearly a week there. Have you been to Lincoln Center going to Lincoln Center today. That should be an experience. I want to ask you a few other things. Mr. George I want to I can call you call and it is about a theater in England and about the concept you expect to find here. But first of all I'm curious what does an executive chairman do in theater. Mr. gratia Well his functions are changed very much. Generation Sheffield over the last few years this theater began 25 30 years ago from an amateur group became professional 25 years ago in that all the actors were professionals and the director was a professional but the general management of the theater was run by the executive committee who were amateurs
dedicated amateurs like myself a lawyer who's vitally interested in theatre. But the management was run by the executive but the pattern has changed all over England and we've changed it in Sheffield in the last five six years. The whole direction of the theatre is not just a production of the play onto the stage has been the function of the director calling and he is in charge of the direction of the theatre. But as we receive public money from the out to council we recede £38000 to see what's that about $200000 and also from the City Corporation. Once again I have some buffer between the individual director and the public. So as a sort of protection for him where he can be shot at night saying that he had missed spending public money he does a particular type of play. What would be an equivalent position here in American business
manager or. Me to executive chairman while the executive chairman Means chairman of the executive committee which is this body of interested outsiders amateurs businessmen lawyers doctors university professors. There are about 15 of us. Do you have an overriding voice regarding artistic concepts or regarding the choice of plays or is that entirely up to the artistic director. Well I think it's a bit of both it depends very much on the personality of the director and how tactful he is with his executive committee. If he produces to us his suggested program and we have the right of saying well we doubt whether a particular play goes well or not but I suppose in the ultimate We should have the right to veto a particular play. We've never done that yet we've made suggestions and he has taken note of them. Do you have censorship problem at Sheffield or Sheffield plate. No we have in England the office of Lord Chamberlain who who can censor a
play and if we put on a play which he had censored we should be liable to prosecution. There's a lot of argument going on at the moment about the position of the Lord Chamberlain in drama. We I think I myself I can't speak for everybody here I'm rather glad we got to know Chamberlain because he's a cushion behind us. We did do one play and had a furious letter from a local minister who wrote to the Watch Committee which is a committee of the local council. Primary concern concerned with police work. But he complained bitterly about his play and asked for us to be shut down. Well our answer was simple. This play has been licensed by the Lord Chamberlain and the watch committee said well in that case we've nothing more to say. I want to remove we could be at the mercy of any crank in Sheffield who cared to write to the local What was particularly interesting to the play was was this called The Real McCoy it was and it was. So the life history of a TV personality who got to the top five by various underhand means and we sort of took off a TV program where
a prostitute was being interviewed and a clergyman was there and this TV man was playing off the clock for the whole time making him look ridiculous the point being we were in fact satirizing the TV personality not the minister. But he got this particular chap with all the wrong end of the stick as it went out of him before the first act finished I want to talk a little more about censorship and the fact that the new play by rock has been censored from performance in the National Theatre. In spite of the fact that we're interested in doing a number of other persons. But before I do that a few fundamental questions about the Sheffield Playhouse and some comparisons from Michael let's stack the wood is the seating capacity of the Sheffield playhouse five hundred forty seven. Five hundred and forty seven. Much too small in fact is it really yes we want to build a theatre for a thousand of private. It's economically not viable for a thousand a thousand would be I mean it was five hundred forty seven. If we play to capacity we
still need a subsidy of 50 percent of our sort of how far away from London field one hundred and thirty miles. About how to put in some 270 sign and how many theaters do you have in Sheffield. Well two one one dollar one heart one of the hard touring theatre Lyceum and six months of the year does being go in the summer and in the winter takes touring productions from the National Theatre or anything that's going around other Sheffield playhouse has been in existence for about 25 30 years is that correct. But it has had an amateur standing until when 25 years ago the trams 24 Well it's been a professional did it and it's times like yes that you are. You've been operating. With how large of a repertory company or with a repertory company engaged for some of being there three or four years but it's a minimum engagement of 12 months and how large of a company do you maintain 20 sort of actors and stage management and another sort of 20 staff on top of
that and how many months of the year do you operate. Well 52 weeks a year in fact no breaks we do have a break a fortnight merely to sort of give the actors a break but in a sense there that they're kept on contract the whole time and we hope next year we may not be close. You know there was such thing as vacations Well they do have that fortnight but hoping to stagger it on the holiday. Men are expected to work 48 hours a day seven days a week and I said Michael in your travels that you get a chance to see the Sheffield play house. Yes I did I did and it's a person in play I was you know it's a personal playhouse with the possibility of moving out approximately would you say. Yes proximately 10 feet you can move out of the personal room what would you say that compares with the Broadway houses here
as far as seating capacity in acoustics. Or would you say that there were problems. The problem we have here also a common GA is that most of the actors get to my wanton while general statements I make cannot be heard in our houses which are our I would say relatively small houses. And when you mentioned a thousand seater I wondered about that. Just one fundamental problem and that is of being heard. What good did you have a hearing problem while you were there did you see a production while you were there. Yes I did I saw the Duchess of Malfi there. I had no problem hearing the actors and the suggestion of course is that perhaps it's not so much a problem of acoustics here as a problem of projection on the part of the actors. The house was an old one and I've seen a number of theaters that essentially turned out
turned out pretty much the same as the Sheffield house but the projection and the elocution is quite good. Under your Ford Foundation grant. What were you what was your primary intent. What were you to observe. Find out and garner the primary intent was for me to observe directors in action and to work as a director and as a performer and to eventually come up with a book on techniques of directing. There has been very little written directing per se and it is one of the most difficult things to teach. The idea was Hopefully that I would come up with some ideas in terms of training directors. As it turned out I have a suspicion that you cannot do this to a book you can perhaps elucidate and perhaps inform in certain areas of directing and
perhaps open up certain doors for people to look into and to experiment with. You can caution against certain particular types of attack. You can talk about the various things that are involved in the directing but essentially I would say the only way to learn directing is to begin to do it and to have somebody watch you work with the result of your Ford Foundation story. No no not with those conclusions. What you arrived at after visiting how many countries I visited approximately. 12 countries and a number of theaters here in the States. Would you know I am going to go against my basic premises and write the book. I said what were what were the countries that form part of your right to study especially European countries. England was the first and from England I went to Yugoslavia and visited about three or four theatres in Yugoslavia directed at the
National Theatre in Yugoslavia. It was in English or directed insur procuration. And I directed in English they acted in Syria. Then I went to Rumania. How could you understand that the reflections were correct. It's amazingly enough it's not so great a problem. Sometimes the problem exists when in the beginning weeks of rehearsal when you're talking about concepts or when you're talking about character formation and a general total view of the play. But first of all they did understand a certain amount of English and I picked up a certain amount of the Yugoslavians or progression and there are people around that will translate when you find yourself in a bind. I found I had to work much differently than I usually work I had to essentially stage the production first block it out first and then move into the actual work what I consider to be the actual work I prefer to work two or
three weeks. Mainly relationships and the language itself I spend a great deal of time on reading before I physically block it. This way I had to physically block it so they could get an idea from that. At the theatre I wanted are also under a government subsidy. Totally So yes. What was the size of the video you were working on or the size of theatre I was working in a small 300 seat theater which is an offshoot of the main National Theatre the main national theatre houses approximately fifteen hundred and was with a large repertory company also yes all of the in Yugoslavia and in all of the Eastern European countries that I visited. The theaters are connected at least indirectly with an academy or a school. This is one of the most important things that that I picked up from from these countries that the directors and the actors from the major professional companies in Eastern Europe. Also
are they teachers and trainers in the academy so there is a direct link at all times between the theatres and the academy. Gentlemen what would you say has to be directed primarily to a doctor. I would assume the question being what would you say is the fundamental difference in training. And the opportunities for training and the ability to develop one's craft here in the States and its theatre operations and in European theatres in general. Well if I may speak first for the for the Eastern European countries England I suppose I would think Cullen or David talk about but the primary difference in terms of structure is that when a student is admitted to the academy and passes through his four or five years of training he is definitely in without a doubt
to be used as an actor and one of the major repertory companies for the rest of his life. Now he has a very difficult time getting through the academy and there is a great deal of dropping in the first or second year. But an actor knows from the very beginning that if he essentially passes the standards of the academy he is an actor trained to be able to deal with the standards of the theatre of the country itself. So the frustration of an actor coming out of an academy going through his initial training and apprenticeship is not there. He immediately enters into a company to be sure. As a matter of fact when he is at the academy he works at the National Theatre as an apprentice sometimes taking major roles. If there is a young major role so that the one of the things that impressed me more than anything else in the Eastern European countries was the lack of destructive ego on the part of an actor and on the part of the director. I remember very clearly one anecdote.
When I went to a theater with a friend of mine who was the artistic there one of the artistic directors of the Yugoslavian National Theatre. This man was the student of the the top artistic director of the play. The rehearsal that we were watching was being conducted by the artistic director. We were sitting. George was my friend turned to me at one point and he said I don't think he's quite doing that right. I said Well it's possible. And then he leaped up on top of his chair and called out to the director and said COSTA It's all wrong. And I expected a blow up I mean if this had happened here I mean this just isn't done. Why should you go out here. Costa turned around and said Oh he said well you may be right why don't you come up here and work with the actors for a while and Costa came back Costa was the artistic director sat with me for a while watched his student working turned to me and said you know. He's right I was wrong. That's my student. It's very good if this is something that I think is is very important and may sound trivial
and a little bit. And I think it will but I think it is a basic foundation of their approach to theater and their love for what they're doing which is not vitiated by a kind of personality ego that leads to self-indulgent acting. We've often discussed on this program with many individuals and groups that one of the insidious factors in American theater is that it's basic frame of reference is personal. It's basic rate of reference is neurotic and deal psychologically with the actor and himself the actor and his problems rather than the actor and his craft which I I think you highlighted very well because this seems to infest our training programs here we have and this is again a these are general statements but they hold where actors
are trying to learn a craft. And the only way they are being taught is through. Psychological involvement with themselves which is the the basic approach to the learning of a technique a craft here whereas any of the European countries and in several of the theatres even not so far removed from here or the school. The approach is I think the focus is on the craft and they will see the internal aspect of the individual develops through his own living awareness and observation. We are in one of the countries where you observing that I was served in Rumania and in Russia Poland Czechoslovakia Sweden England France Italy and just spent a few a few days in Luxembourg and some of the smaller countries as I passed
through. Did you find any Western players in production. Great many a great many For example I'll be it was being done in Romania and in Yugoslavia. Which one of his plays Virginia Woolf was being done on how to turn carpets play the day the horse came out to play tennis I believe the title remembers being done in Yugoslavia. They were done in the natural way in the language of the country in the language of the country Tennessee Williams has done a great deal. A good deal of the English playwrights and painter is done very often in the Eastern European countries not so much in Poland Czechoslovakia and Russia I think there are still a good deal of censorship that prohibits these plays being done. They are still considered slightly decadent with the cost of theatre relatively inexpensive. It was the whole European theater. For me it was always under $1 for me so for you it was
there for the average person who lives there. The reason I say for me is because the standard of course is somewhat different for them to pay 20 cents for for a ticket is approximately equivalent to us playing and paying about a dollar fifty. How about their standard of living. But everybody can go and everybody does go. People go to the theater as a matter as a matter of course. We're moving closer to western shores and go back to the Sheffield playhouse. We were in repertory and you have a nucleus. I mean of actors that more or less are under contract with you and they stay with you. Do you also have a training program attached to the theater in any aspect. Not not anything like the extent we merely have in fact one or two students attached to us. I think this idea of a training school attached to a theater is vital. The Bristol Old Vic which you probably have heard about anyway
when they were over here has a school attached to it. I think it's fair to say that both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. Although they don't have an official school attached anyone who joins there whether he's spear carrying or whatever takes part can take part in continued exercises in Voice movement and so on and so launching is very keen is down to the gym every day. And anyone who sings on bars and holds horses gets in his good books and all in his productions I think. Well that's right. Do you know that production has a lot to do with this at all. Naked and unbolting around the stage but seriously behind this I think there's a very a very good basic idea that the actor should be athlete sing a tumbler you know the theatre act I think this fact is lost upon the general public because I don't think even a number of actors never realize
the tremendous physical skill that is needed to perform just to perform on stage and I know many an actor has woken to the moment he had to do something that required degree of control just standing somewhere immediately almost collapsed because he wasn't in condition and muscles weren't tuned up enough. But and I think anyone watching a live setting and see this is an athlete par excellence I mean to watch him in in any one of his Shakespearean roles. You do you intend to have a training. Yes it is our intention of the moment as I say we have a gesture towards it in that we are allowed to employ students for they come for 40 weeks. Their parents have to grease up to support them but we have to pay them two dollars a week I mean this is just a gesture more. But I
hasten to add for that they make the tea they scrub the stage they do all that but they also walk around in productions where not a lot of important principal roads but for 40 weeks they do do imbibe. You know there they are and since a true Apprentice and we have found almost without exception that after 40 weeks with they then have to join the company abide by union law. I wish in a way it was 52 weeks with Israel in the middle of a season. These I may say are pretty drama school. You would meet them there about 16 stage struck youngsters of the last known we select the ones who are prepared to work. They then will after after sort of for two weeks if they make the grade the promoter of the company for a further to complete the year then they go to drama school. This is really pretty dramas but it means that by the time they go to drama school they know that there is a lot of hard work. All the nonsense is knocked out of them. Starry eyed It's in the right sense so they realize this is something that they can spend their life learning and
probably everyone who's done that and gone on to drama school has done extremely well better than the student going straight from ordinary high school. Alice when you audition activism assume you do it for to gain them in the company. What school do you usually prefer that they've had training as a dangerous question if this gets back to England. Well to be quite honest I don't think I'm not being political here I don't have any particular school. It's not like they've been weakened where are they going to Christ Church Oxford we know that well that doesn't mean if they go to the central or rather they come to us you know each school has its own it has it sort of has its sort of ups and downs like so part I mean whatever and one here saying a rod of the best. A lot depends on the state on the student too. But I would say that. The central rod Lambert the big the big the big name is one one normally tries to cover their productions. I think where it where it went into were not anything like as happy a place as Eastern Europe in this in that we have between as
you would imagine between between I've what I imagine America is like and what Eastern Europe is in that at the drama schools which are mainly in London which is again I think a bad thing I think that should be attached to the theaters. You know in the provinces I would someone from the north of England would come to Sheffield. I'm like you have a drama school in Minneapolis all Dallas wherever it may be. So they're in London right. Agents are probably round at home time. They get their eyes on someone who they think is talented and naturally they will help them on their will they will they will they will. They'll get in touch with them they will sign them up and then they regard they're going out to a place like chef you are just the sort of thing to do for a few months and then they walked off to the West End television where they can of course make so much more money or even straight into television. Rada by the way we should point out the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts I mean that's what it stands for when you mention rather some of our listeners may call that.
- Seminars in theatre
- Episode Number
- Episode 8 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.: Sheffield Playhouse of England. David Brazier, artistic director; Collin (or Colin) George; Dr. Michael Lessack.
- Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 8 of 31.” 1968-03-04. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 9, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-3n20h65n>.
- APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 8 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-500-3n20h65n