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Success in the arts. A recorded program by the Chicago undergraduate division of the University of Illinois under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today success in the art of producing and directing a play. Our participants are Herman Sherman well-known director producer of such plays as Inherit the Wind The Little Foxes and watch on the ride as critic Roger Detmer play critic for the Chicago American has teacher Francis Gould some director dramatics University of Illinois Chicago undergraduate division. The moderator for the series is Studs Terkel well-known radio and television commentator. Here is Mr. Terkel to open the discussion of success in the art of directing and producing. Seated around the table are Herman Sherman and director producer of such plays watch on the Rhine the corners green little foxes Children's Hour Grand Hotel Roger Detmer Inherit the Wind and Herod the wind
of cars or Inherit the Wind that powerful drama that deals with the trial of Morton that deals with ideas and thoughts. It's highly provocative. Roger Detmer drama critic of music critic of the Chicago American misses Goldson constructed of the drama department the rest of Illinois downtown branch and Mrs goes now we have a question to shoot at Mr. Sherman right now and he has I would like to ask is this young man the function of the director. And I suppose it will have to be shortened somewhat as if to limit this subject Well I think that the director actually performs all the acts or should perform all the acts of produce the play by producing it I use it in the English sense where the director is called the producer and the producer as we know here is called the manager.
The pre-production production of a play means to assemble all of the elements and put them on the stage and transpose the manuscript into a play which is spoken and acted on the state. Therefore the director must cast the play. He must supervise the settings. He must supervise the costumes. He must then interpret the play to the actors and see that each of them performs his part in a way which will make a unified presentation rather than as individuals on the play on the stage that they all then merge into a performance of a whole thing so that no actor step remains apart
as an individual so that none of them remain apart as individuals. They must lend themselves and he must bend them to the purpose of his interpretation of life. Thank you again. This involves. His understanding of all these elements particularly his understanding of the nature of the actor which is a very special thing. I was never one to strike an analogy may make this even more clear. Would you consider the director comparable for instance to the conductor of an orchestra and the actors as an orchestra players or would with the director act more as a conductor working with a group of soloists. In other words an interpretation to begin with. They are all soloists. Each actor only sees his own part in the play.
He doesn't see anything else as the play develops under the guidance of the director he must marriage the actual people who are playing the parts who are not really the people that the author conceived of when he found the play in his mind and in the air. They never could could be. He must merge their real personalities with the character and what comes out is finally an orchestration. Yes but the ear actor in no case is merely an automaton. Oh of course not. If you were an atomic htan then you would know it sitting in the theater and you would give it a very bad notice because it would destroy sense of logic and reality. Nothing is more evident than the sense of conviction that comes from the actor to the audience or the sense of a lack of conviction from the actor to the audience. You may not know what's wrong but you know something is wrong. And then the finest play in the
world. Go right out the window. If you sitting in the theater feel something wrong. Your instincts are at work upon the stage. If the actor seems unhappy not sure you'll become very unsure and you're the play is done for and you went on for you want to go. They cannot be automatons. In other words though the actor is a soloist he set the director's job is to make him aware of the all the all that is right and you play it so yes you know no play exists with one character. What about the matter of our musical dramas musical plays today as a question of what's in your mind is today. You've been writing about it all in your columns. Well there seems to be the idea today that this is the era of the musical theater especially the musical theater in which it has the greatest possibility for survival. Good bad or indifferent. More so than the than serious drama.
Now I was just wondering I've heard it said that this kind will have passed in five years. I was wondering if Mr. Sherman if that happens first of all whatever you have to say about musical theater and also if it's possible that this trend will and do you have any idea with which direction theater will go as far as audiences are concerned. Well first of all. It is all the way it has always been true that there is a larger and more immediate available audience for a play with music and dancing than for any other type of play. If you have a musical play people more people more different kinds of people will want to go to see it. Then if you produce a classic tragedy. Secondly if you produce a comedy a play with a lot of fun in it and laughter
you have a better chance of reaching quickly a large audience. Then if you produce a tragedy or shall I say simply a serious play the least the smallest the most difficult to come by audience is for the play which is serious. When George Bernard Shaw wrote Heartbreak House which I think and I think you'll agree is a very great play. It was about one thousand twenty one. But it wasn't produced in England until 1930. Its first production was in New York in 1926 and in the preface to they published a book of the play. Shaw says that he wouldn't permit it to be produced when he had finished it in 1921. It was during a period of post rock for a period when there was a great
boom in the theatre both here and in England in fact all over the western world and theatres were demanding very high terms. If a play did not sell out all the time the landlord of the theater could get out to get another one. And Shaw says in just these words a serious play must be able to exist with half filled houses for the first part of the week and three quarters filled park houses for the last part of the week. And I knew that no theatre would keep my play under those circumstances at the time so I wouldn't let it be produced. I had to wait until dish conditions changed and a landlord would be willing to keep my play there without selling out. This is true of the serious theatre and it has always been true. A
very bad musical play will do pretty well and absolutely for our own musical play will only run a couple months a pretty fair one can run a year. A good one can run forever. A little comedy like seven year itch or three men on a horse can run and make a fortune. A serious play must always be produced. So with that it can do well with selling out. That's a very tough quarter. Now I think that there has been a conditional change in recent years. I think for example in hard to win a serious play despite the fact it has a great deal of comedy there's a serious play. Has found audiences much more than I would have found within
say 10 years ago. There is a greater interest in the theatre in all its forms now a play like Death of a salesman sold out and sold out month after month. Nevertheless if you want to get rich in the theatre don't produce a serious play musical plays have always been popular. I was reading a history of the theatre in London in the 18th century. The whole of the 18th century and I was astonished to see how during the various historical periods of the of England during that century when the words considerable changes in the attitude to the theatre political mainly when the times they were read there were not permitted to be any theatre. And what at times fears existed by Grant of the King.
And in the middle of the eighteenth century there were two important theaters licensed by the king. The covent garden and the dirty light which still exist and they produced musical versions of almost every one of Shakespeare's time and every year there is a new era of I didn't do a musical version of Hamlet nor of Macbeth but he did musical variations of of all the got the place every comedy every other play and they did some new ones every year new versions and they were in competition. One of them was what do Twelfth Night at the door Elaine and the other one would put on his version of it with music and that they didn't do for no good reason they did it because they wanted to public to come to see the fair and they obviously were not coming to see the place
without music really want it done. What about this matter that have serious plays at Cassandra's occasionally a lot more than that frequently signaling the end of serious drama in America. The audience won't come to it yet why. Yet here you are. Well it isn't true. There will never be an end to serious drama if there is an end to serious drama. There will be an end to musical drama and it will die it will die completely. If the theater was only musical comedies it would be no theatre and 10 years there would be a theater alive. The basis of the art is the stage as a puppet. When Shaw and I go back to show again you forgive me I think perhaps accept me for accepting him as a man to quote all of us except of course he's a great teacher he's a great teacher was a bad critic you say he has a wonderful critic and just bad about that he was a wonderful critic a marvelous music critic a great lover of music and
great I think great knowledge of music don't you think so by all means. And a wonderfully fascinating writer. Successful at it and he decided in his 40s to become a playwright he decided deliberately because he said I am concerned with the course of the world and I believe the stage is the principal pulpit of the world from which to speak. I still think if that's true that if shot were alive today he would say the same thing because I think of all the other forms of the entertainment arts springing from and rest upon the platform of the theater of the stage the moving pictures the television whatever it may be. The basis is the theatre. It was that place where the New Thought can be introduced because it is a free
place. Anybody can say I'm going to produce a play and if he determines to and is capable of carrying it out it will be produced. You cannot say that of a television show because you are dealing with large corporations and very valuable instruments of projection. Running into millions and hours which cost fortunes. You cannot say it of a moving pictures because it costs a million dollars to do a picture. But anybody can say I'm going to produce a play and whatever he decides to produce can be produced and presented it may close tonight but is open in your student. In that case we should aim primarily for the theatre then rather than from the arts which have grown out of it. Arts being Motion Pictures and Television. I think that television as I necessarily follow. I think that the theater it doesn't necessarily follow greatly he can go he has to get a
job in television that can be his stock but he won't come into the theater. If he wants to know is if he wants to be an artist if he wants to perfect himself he must come into the theater. He will never get that training in the television. He must come into the theater and he must work at it and start for it and struggle for it and nothing else must matter to him if he wants to be an actor. He better say goodbye home goodbye everything. There's no easy way out doesn't mean that if you're a very pretty girl somebody might not come along as soon as you stepped off the train and the Arkansaw got a pint for you but we don't live. I'm pretty noses and pretty faces and the part I talk be about later on course because that has always been true oh yes the pretty face there that must say something else the play must say something it must it must. Must say something about the time in which we live. It must
mirror that time and its actual purpose. Tom and I I'm curious to ask you out of that proportion have been that you found in directing say the male animal and some of the more serious things you've done for instance the foxes the proportion of your pleasure or satisfaction. Well my satisfaction is going to be from my nature. That's why not that I don't often think oh how I would love to be Georgette who is so clever and able and experience that producing musical plays and comedies which make such a value so rich and ravenous. And I'm not I'm sure you are but for my nature a comedy is a dangerous thing for me to do. I love comedy and I'm pretty good at it. But unless there is something of meat in it I'll chew it to pieces.
You see I I can't live with it more than a week and I want to be more and more and more and by the time I'll win it's a dead pigeon. And I think I'd like to be very careful now if you remember the male animal was actually at core a serious play. In fact it was for me a very interesting experiment because it was an unusual piece of playwriting. It actually had farce scenes in it. Yes. And yet at car it was an extremely interesting and I had a very serious idea of academic freedom and that's what interested me. Would it be possible for me to get that play on the stage that was very funny and in that in it so it would work and it was very difficult to do this serious ball that was its heart and it was difficult. I had no immediate question. I was wondering
however going back to the subject of the Student What preparation do you expect as a producer and a director from the neophyte. I expect I can do. I expect him to study. I expect him to constantly study to learn how to act. To go from one teacher to another act act act to go and see every play. To watch it watch it absorb it to live among actors eat among actors and study and work. Whether he's got a job or not in the company of Inherit the Wind in New York there are 10 people who after the show the curtain comes down at 11:15 go pick up their makeup and run to a class where they work till 2 in the morning. And they are working actors and that is the only way.
There was a wonderful actress called Cissy Loftus who died a few years ago when she was young she was very beautiful and her beauty made a way for her in the theater. But she was also able and as she got older she couldn't depend on her good looks and good looks. So she lived by her acting and her advice to actors when she was very old was the actor must never refuse a part. If you've got two pots ofter to you you can choose but you must take the part because it is better to take any part and to not act. You must act your job Mr. Sherman you are both the director and producer. We've been delving into both facets of your your job. What about the matter of the producer. So how does he. I'm sure many young producers would have been listening going oh how does he go about
getting the money where does he see the angels route first of all let's say that this young fellow wants to be a producer. Well he doesn't just go didn't go out and become a producer. He gets into a job of some kind in the theater or around the theater. He works at it. He goes to another job. He learns you absorb it and one day he says I want to produce this play that somebody brought to maybe the fellow he's rooming with both of them managing to pay the rent. They're pooled funds maybe that he doesn't have to have any money just enough to live on. He says I want to produce it. So he takes an option on it he may have to borrow the money. But one can always borrow money. And then one seeks to find people who will invest in it and that can be anybody. That's up to him as the fellow next door is the man who put it who put money into play once before. Is somebody new back in Evanston.
It doesn't matter who is his mother. Whatever it is I have produced plays when it was terribly difficult to get money and I had to go to not well off a row of relatives and get a couple hundred from that's when the couple hundred from that one very often reluctantly given and go to the modest plan and borrow two thousand dollars on another friend's endorsement and he terrified that he would have to pay it. But I did want to what extent is producer beholden to NGO or as you know now extract to no extent at all. No he says to the angel if you got some money you are going to afford to gamble. Please put it in. If you can't afford it don't do it. How come so few find writers of novels and literary figures have been not too successful when it comes to writing plays. Well I think that.
There is a vast difference in the narrating of a story which is what a novel usually is and the acting out of a drama and by acting out it means exactly that. The story is told in terms of action and action. Of course it's conflict. Just yesterday I was rehearsing with the actors in Inherit the Wind polishing our performance and the first scene of the play between the boy and the girl introduces the plot. Now the teller of the story would simply say. He said to her because he was in trouble and so on and so forth and quickly on one page the story could be told. And then he would go on with his characterizations. The office here facing that problem
have to two people in love and disagreeing with what was right and what was wrong. But loving each other very much. They were almost immediately embarked on a bike qual and then hating themselves for quarreling when they only wanted to say I love you. They made an effort. Each one of them again to say that and immediately found themselves quarreling again. That is action. The conflict between the two and in the short scene I don't think the audience realizes that the plot has been exposed to them all they were aware of is that this young couple are fighting and are upset with each other. They're interested in drama not in being told something. Don't you think that's true. I think it's very true. I feel here Scott. I don't suppose that the bones of the play structure don't show. That's right. So often you can view a play or read a play and suddenly say Well now this obviously is the exposition of the shame it
couldn't have been presented more subtly extract. This is the main explaining of the beginning that that I am as I said you cannot you must do it grand magically it must act. It must be done. In other words somebody walks on the stage and strike somebody in the face. That is an action. Now I don't have to know why and what happened out of it. It's probably time to spout one more question gentleman lady. What do you think that perhaps the idea of duties of a producer. What is it you are both producer and director Your job correctly when I have an idea as well that a producer do one of his specific duties of the producer what must he do aside from raising money. He must initiate the project. He must find it. He must be the one who decides whether that it shall be produced and he must be equipped with sufficient sense of his of the needs
of the theatre to know what needs to be done to help the play. Who shall be in it when it should be done. Who is to get best press to get for it. You must then arrange all its business to be able to know the proper theatre the kind of place to try it out at what time of the year how it shall be handled. Advertised exploited or publicized how it shall be set up economically according to its costs and its operating costs how much it has to do in business in order to be able to run profitably. And then he must manage it as a business man manages a business in the world he has to be a businessman he has to be an artist you. Yes he be a promoter. Yes advertising and yes all e all these things to be a good producer great judgment and yes and
judgment in the theater like in anything else is subject to error. The Great. How are the ground of a thing about the theatre is that success in the theatre is a wonderful success you know. It's much more secure much more successful when you're successful in the theatre I guess than you are at anything else. The lights shine on you but they also shine on you when you fail. And it's a bitter thing to fail in the theater because you only get one chance and everybody is looking at you that night and you fail. And it is terrible. It's right it's frightening because it's such a public exposure and you need to have great resources of confidence to overcome failure. Many people cease to produce because they are so get
so frightened of being wrong of having made a wrong choice of having Use put judgment. And I can understand it. And then they do nothing. They become frightened. They are like kind of an old folk song you got across that lonesome valley all by yourself and all the time because if you don't you don't have to become successful and that's it. Like opening up a kind of grocery store which immediately expands and then it's there for your children your grandchildren might be but you may have a success and you're on top of the world and then you have to start all over again. With them it was an exciting a lot of challenges that nobody comes in to see your play because you had a success last year and this note of success in the arts. Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. Thank you my cosyn appearing on today's program or Hermann Shumlin producer of such well-known plays as watch on the Rhine in The Little Foxes. The
critic Roger Detmer drama critic of the Chicago Herald American the teacher Frances schools and the University of Illinois undergraduate division. The moderator was Studs Terkel the announcer and producer is Alfred Partridge. The success in the arts is a recorded program produced by the University of Illinois undergraduate division under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. This program is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters This is the end E.B. Radio Network.
Success in the arts
Producing and directing
Producing Organization
University of Illinois
WILL Illinois Public Media
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, which discusses skills needed to excel at theatrical production and direction, includes panelists Herman Shumlin, director and producer of such plays as "Inherit the Wind," "The Little Foxes," "Watch on the Rhine"; Roger Dettmer, play critic, Chicago American; and Frances M. Goulson, University of Illinois.
Series Description
This series presents panel discussions that focus on various aspects of the arts, including the skills needed to excel. The series is moderated by Studs Terkel and produced by Alfred E. Partridge.
Broadcast Date
Film and Television
Media type
Embed Code
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Moderator: Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008
Panelist: Shumlin, Herman, 1898-1979
Panelist: Dettmer, Roger
Panelist: Goulson, Frances
Producing Organization: University of Illinois
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
Speaker: Partridge, Alfred E.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-19-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:23
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Chicago: “Success in the arts; Producing and directing,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 16, 2024,
MLA: “Success in the arts; Producing and directing.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 16, 2024. <>.
APA: Success in the arts; Producing and directing. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from