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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 Piet that evening and welcome to seminars and theatre this is Richard pied once again with a discussion about. Theatre in New York Theatre in America and we always turn to the refrain of that song what is this thing called. Acting and acting and love sometimes synonymous words. And in our efforts to find out what it is what is this thing called Acting we call upon all of the actors directors on sambal companies repertory groups that we can have at our table here to discuss. The theatre in America and that discussion involves the training of actors a particular state of mind and condition that the American theatre is in. Ideologically. Craft wise as well and we're very very happy tonight to be able to introduce
to our guests to our listeners. Douglas turned toward the artistic director of the Negro Ensemble Company Mr. Ward has worked as a journalist for three years. He studied acting at Paul now and actor's workshop. He made his debut as an actor in the Broadway highly esteemed circle in the square production of The Iceman Cometh and then he was featured in the cities and a production of lost in the stars in the direction of Ike and taro. He then won the position of understudy to said Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the sun and assume the lead role opposite Claudia McNeal during the 10 month national tour of the play on Broadway has been seen in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest with Kirk Douglas and Gene Simmons all proud way he again gained critical acclaim in the blacks and blood not playing the latter in Chicago and Washington D.C. as well and his Shakespearean credits include Coriolanus for the New York Shakespeare Festival on television has toward has been seen in a number of shows but most recently Mr. Ward
is most famous for. The play is the one Eric plays that he has written and the happy ending and day of absence which was presented by Robert Hook's at the St. Mark's playhouse with the both of them acting major roles in them and the double bill won praise from the critics and audiences alike and were the winners of the Vernon rise Drama Desk an Obie Award and played over 500 performances and a very good show which I don't usually say about any show but I have never seen that one and I barge for it in every respect. We don't have Gerald as Krohn with us and Robert Hooke Robert has a very busy as anyone who reads the theatrical pages would know in preparing a television series for that it will depict the life of the New York Police Department and recently starring with Leslie Uggams in heavenly baby. But we DO have been very glad to flock to Mitchell who has just written a book called Black drama and the story of the
American Negro in the theater and locked in. Mitchell is the author of plays like a land beyond the river and star of the morning is a lecturer and author of many articles on the history of his Harlem birthplace. And the particular book has just been published by Hawthorne books and he and to Daniel A. Has a background in theater that goes back to the McAlinden players and we'll hear more about that rather than my rolling and reeling it off. But one thing I do want to mention the in the book itself he actually involved and analyzes the history of Negro pioneers who opposed the minstrels the Harlem theatre movement the Broadway development in the plays of James Baldwin Leroy Jones and the rain has Barry. We're going to be talking about his views in the book and also the fact that I believe Douglas.
Turned toward once acted in one of locked in Mitchell's plays so we all started off as evening with first of all. Douglas Congratulations on all the success you've had with the plays and with the performances and more recently with the grant from the I think the Ford Foundation on the Negro Ensemble Company. And we just start us off by telling us number one how much that Grant was and what. Will the Negro Ensemble Company tried to do. Well the grab and self. As it was four hundred thirty four of our mouths. It's more or less supposed to. Cover. Three years activity. It's a very small amount when you. Look at the necessities of running the type of program that we have outlined. Actually. The program
itself is divided into four parts. We more or less have two acting workshop training aspects of the program. One of the first training group is for the development and training. Of young negro actors. Will who have had no experience and no essentially no training and we will provide them with as rounded a theatre around it a training and theatre skills as our budget allows that which would include acting training voice dance of you know I live theater skills. The second workshop group is essentially similar in its in its training program except that it involves. Actors who are already professed already professionally experience these this will be more or less the apprentice wing of the future
hope of the company itself. Fortunately we have a very playwrights directors workshop and which we This will be a working situations will not be a training I do not happen to believe that playwrights and he taught directly to me taught him to to to to write or act I think what they need most is a place where they can see their work in progress done by professional actors and then maybe present it in a couple of times before a live audience and it is through this method that they will learn and realize what's weak what's strong and game and gauge the audience response to that play is the same thing in relation to directors I think the only way a director can develop is if you have a chance to practice or to carry out his ideas in relation to us staging in relation to interpretation of everything. So so this workshop will primarily be a working a doing a workshop. For us and
we have a professional. Theatre Company now this this company will be will consist of 15 actors. Hide hopefully on a year's basis after a three month preparation period they will go into rehearsal for their first production. As of now it's scheduled around November and I with the goal of opening in January then we will have a 26 week season and which we will do four to five plays in repertory six weeks off five weeks according to the number in succession and in this professional company we hope that as far as the play is that we will have a balanced season we will prove pretty present plays while primarily having reference and relevance and prints to the negro experience that will will come from. Any source available and in all styles as long as we think that the play is a work with doing
and Company this is essentially a sketchy outline of what. The company is more or less about. Well it's pretty good outline it has four distinct divisions as you've outlined it. And I want to ask you a few things about it. If practice makes perfect as this is what you've outlined more or less in terms of the directors workshop and actors but this doing process you're talking about. Rihanna. Why don't we have more good directors and more good actors who've been practicing now for 20 years and still can't direct a good play. Least as demonstrated by what we find on Broadway on half of Off Broadway. Or I should say three quarters of all Broadway now and perhaps a half off off Broadway. What is the problem that I think the main problem there are many problems I don't want to simplified but I want you know I'm just just talking off the top
of my head. I'll just mention a few that comes to mind. My my my my feeling is that. The standards and values. Of both. OC light craft is primary in the first place in terms of the development of an artist of any kind. Write a direct and so forth. I don't think that you if as you said practice practice may maybe make perfect but at the same time practice by itself. Is not an equip you to do any more than than then just leave the mechanical outlines of things as you know we probably have skill stagers we have many directors who probably can stage of play. But in terms of the imaginative the creative ideas that
go into to both directing and given the fact that you have a good script. I think they reflect the fact that the superficial. Standards that exists right now I have for instance recently I was at International Theater conference and I was on a panel in terms of the relevance of the theatre too. Helping society in that sense which is too broad a time anyway. But. Blackness Pownall some of the American representatives in both on the panel and in the audience became involved in discussing what I call revolutions before the fact. And they talk about whether or not they fear that is giving up the text whether or now it's going to be mixed media happenings and etc.. Suddenly particular in this atmosphere of an international conference where there were many delegates from from from. The emerging new countries they were delegates from from East Europe eastern european you know that was from all over the world. So I have found that the
ABs option particularly the western theater in all of these. What I've seen revolutions before the fact that they were not dealing with the realities of the particular theater in that particular country. And it's all right to talk about what the future of theatre but unless there's a verifiable evidence about some new departure or some new revolution which is put to support him by both. The Artist and the audience I think that it's it's academic to talk in theoretical terms. I mean as far as I'm concerned the real revolutions in the theater will emerge out of the actual activity. It will not precede as as I think now we getting all up in this and then out of the out of the content it's right out of the content you know it's like it's not going to happen. Bye Bye bye. Theorists as you know and I know there are many are many times we read in the
last five years these great Tell us about the new theater the revolutionary theater and the very practitioners when the very people who wrote the books were given an opportunity to put into practice. We got what happened with Lincoln Center with the with blah in Irving after pronouncing great revolutionary ideas and came here and. And presented theater which wasn't as good as the commercial theatre. I don't know what's happening at Yale but Bruce Dean for instance is now are embarked on something out but I don't what's going to happen in terms of a college campus I mean is the revolution the theatre going to come from from the diving. Ivy enclosed environments of the universe that I have. I should think not of if in a revolution going to develop in a theater it's going to come as a vital fact away which involves an audience which goes far beyond the present audience that exists now for the theater both on Broadway and in its in its areas on Broadway and in the repertory.
Look at you know what you've done in the past seven or eight minutes now. As you've hit upon. Three to four or five of the major themes connected with the disaster of theatre in this country and each one will bear some kind of elaboration and I want to. Get in to Mitchell who has had. One of the problems that is usually cited here on this program when I ask why we have bad data aside apart from the fact that usually eyebrows raise is what do you mean we have bad days. But I thought it was one of the all recognized fact one of the other problems is that one of the reasons given is that we have had very little history in this relatively young country of drama. It usually stated that England has a tradition and they have as well as other European countries the Comedie Francaise in France has that and so on and so on. But we seem to have some history in
theatre and specifically what would you say often Michel. And with your background with the rose McClendon players and your background in theater generally and now you've done a survey on the American Negro Theater would you entitle black drama. What would you say a Negro Ensemble Company should address itself to. I think Doug has remarkably lied and what I think is about I think he's done it much more eloquently than I could. The only thing I would like to say I'd like to see many more companies write the Negro Ensemble Company. In all fairness I don't believe that's enough. Nor is the money they got enough. I could name. A hundred and fifty good actors all while not working like I could name 100 scripts that the Negro Ensemble Company supreme will not be able to do.
And. One of the realities is we need many theaters in this country in the city. Now in terms of a negro company one of the patterns and one of the things I think Doug. Was getting at. Is there has been a concrete effort on the part of the American establishment to make theatre into a middle class luxury to divorce the masses from the theater. This has become apparent with the sabotage of the WPA theatre which did remarkable theory. Our justice is going to happen to the anti-poverty program if we don't watch those cookies in Washington. It's a dangerous thing to have an enlightened electorate being present with an enlightened electorate. You will not have the kind of thing that happened to Adam Clayton Powell. And there is evidence that there is a growing awareness on the part of the electorate is judged by
two elections the Lenzie beating city hall here and certainly every Republican who went along with Goldwater got washed away. So somebody in this country can we now which couldn't happen before. But to get back to my point. From the beginning of the American theater. Guard there was the effort to weed out the masses as a matter of fact negroes were segregated in a Park Theater here in the 18th century they had set up stairs and the poor whites had to sit upstairs to watch what happen when we grow started the African Cup an 18 20 run that copy was eventually destroyed by white hoodlums and significant right after the destruction of the African company came the invasion of the palm the stereotype. And so what we have in this country is what I call the history of the double cross of the masses and particularly the negro. And that this is going on unless we do something about it.
Are like ensuring the success of a company like dogs and having more companies know the premise you've set up about is that there is a double cross of the masses. And then as a corollary there's Doublecross to the theatre going masses and then as a further corollary there's a double cross to the participants in the theatre. B they assume no negro or white or what have you right yet who has done this double cross. What is euphemistically called the power structure. And let me let me put it like this. One of the things dogs talk about these academic saboteurs and that's what they are operating to represent what I would call a how to pronounce the word. Can you see it already your auto erotic characters we can say that I'm aware of at all they're really doing is indulging in a lot of nonsense. I becomes beautiful academic. It has
no basis in reality. The end result of that kind of thing is even the so-called good plays we've been getting are false to the founding of fear. I'm thinking about right now Death Of A Salesman which was a play it is well done. But this play is a farce on the following level. This man Willy Loman was obviously a Jew and also obviously off the Miller is not secure in his roots. Ere go he tried to make this man as to the Willey wrong when he made a really long one. Also he committed the hope of having the president a manufactor Trust Company saying I could identify with that man. What Miller Foster here are the American public was a man who couldn't make it in the most ideal social system. Not Mikey. Well this man this man's a pipsqueak. People like my place anyway. MARTIN That's another very good point. The way in which you bring it out may be
offensive to sensitive ears but I think you're attacking the idea that the salesman death of a Salesman is a great American tragedy as far as the theater concerns itself with American tragedy and you're saying I think that really lawman was nobody to begin with so that his downfall essentially was not tragic but an effort to both assume I am saying that I'm saying the author does not have. His work rooted in specifics and any great work of art is rooted in specifics and the specifics of Willy Loman is he was a man of a certain religious background with roots in Brooklyn. And this does not with was a specific example Brooklyn has a sort of religious background. Those are specifics that ducked the point. And I think in the same way a wonderful television play called Joey ducked the point was actually a play about a
negro. But here they had an Anglo white Anglo-Saxon Americans doing dishwashing in New York City. And the latter part of the 20th century. Well that is false. I mean I know this is not this. Not to get into a hang up here because frankly I am not. I'm not going into the anti business. I have no time to be fighting friends and allies. I'm much more interested in a head on confrontation. There's a white man on the corner selling me pants I want to. He's not my enemy and I as a matter of fact he may be but he's still in your hands and we assume he may be only all this level that he he has been a victim of the same divide and conquer tactic that I have that a victim of then in speaking of this term reality which Doug has used and you have used and I have you almost in 15 minutes about six times I think more of we're weaving in a political ideology into of theatrical ideology which is
alright because there they all seemed anchored to reality this reality that we're talking about. Does it involve the theories and premises and Michu in connection with the Negro Ensemble Company. I mean are you after an artistic purpose or an ideological purpose with your company. Or do you find the two coincide. Well if you if you will notice and sketch and outlining the program I didn't go into any ideology or I didn't go into any manifesto. I find that just as I said in relation to other theater let's say the white fear that there's been too many ologists and manifesto stated before the fact. We want to avoid making any big pompous pronouncements about what the controlling audiology and so forth of the theater will be.
Any ideology is reflected through drama through art. Have to depend upon the ideology of the the guiding lights moving the whole project. And that and those ideals and those attitudes in those you know those commitments have to be so much part of the guiding forces until we we trust that they would they would they would help and inform the stamina and values of a particular venture. I would not like I would not like say in the wrong song will come there will be a calmness which is going to create revolution present revolutionary black theatre friends I would never make a statement like that right yet. Yet in the process of selecting the plays given a good play in the first place given the play which makes a statement on all of pertinent relevant.
That involved black people all black people in that confrontation were white people. If the ideas and the ideology is manifested through the art and the plays themselves then that's the worm that I will present. In other instances as I have discovered and loft I'm more or less you know bear me out here and that too many times particularly the negro playwright in the past has addressed himself to the only audience that he could depend upon or he could trust all you people if he got it and I was the white audience. This to me in evitable effected the nature of his creativity and that his has effected his tone. Affected his in his in his as is up his options. His dream lines or are always thought of in terms of like explaining when crossing out a white audience. Now in
terms of the Negro Ensemble come there and I was the artistic director. I am interested in works which speak directly to a negro audience. Now this is I mean to the exclusion of the white audience I have defined and I found this out in terms of my own plays that sense since Negroes and whites live in the same society and are linked together well you know and inexplicably that they understand that they live the same lives even with they're on opposite sides of the fence. There was no such thing as speaking exclusively to Amy Ryan. But I find that that a Mefford am of being much more valid and creative and speaking troops. If you going to speak to the white audience then speak to them through the negro audience first and in that fashion I think it allows much more room for variety. For instance I can see us doing just a sample based on our roots and our history I can see us doing a musical not a silly musical
model Broadway for office thing but from a musical of substance which has nothing to do with Les a racial conflict. But that will be both entertaining and lightning in certain areas and so forth but that as long as it's that's as it's as we're speaking to each other. Well can you see the Negro Ensemble Company performing Henry the film right. Right but and I'll give you I'll give you an example and I taught Ed. a very he respected him for his his his his his creative interpretation. An actor came in and did Henry and he did this speech where I was laughing. Henry Henry is a rousing his troops and the Africa it was of like a two or three minute audition. And he did a very few that he just he just change. He changed the environment to Africa the locale. And when he talked about all you you know and I was one point in the speech when he talked about the various various.
Soldiers are soldiers from various Yes various areas you know like from from you you from from the west and you from the east of the country. Well he made a little going in and change it in relation to African tribes. Not worth it. But I don't know I would have to see the play and the start of the play in totality to see whether or not we could transform it into a complete African and rock. But I could very easily see us doing here in the field with a creative interpretation which makes it valid for our times which make it have a more potent reference to the audience that we try and attract not just for not just wrenching the play out of context but I think that I'm Tatar Shakespeare I am glad I don't blur one of them being done in that academic. I don't blame the museum timesharing which is because Shakespeare is not being done to the degree that one cannot be tired of him and this is why it's hope and reason I ask you the question whether the Negro Ensemble Company would do something like Henry the aside apart from the
innovation on Shakespeare and decide apart from the curtain see of making the location contemporary to an ideology or making it contemporary to a relationship of current times but on its own grounds and in its own period I believe and I say this based on what I've seen in by the way happy ending and day of absence which is what I want to ask you and I'll get back to the other of the by the way Robert Hook's did play Henry the Fifth in the party right. Yes I asked her to get up and I hardly. That's another I hadn't didn't think about when I asked the question about every different but it is significant.
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Seminars in theatre
Minority theatre, part two
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents Douglas Turner Ward, artistic director, Negro Ensemble Company, and Loften Mitchell, author of "Black Drama", on black theatre and minority theatre.
Series Description
A weekly panel discussion series on the theatre scene in New York City, moderated by Richard Pyatt.
Social Issues
Media type
Host: Pyatt, Richard I., 1935-
Panelist: Mitchell, Loften
Panelist: Ward, Douglas Turner
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-1-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:29
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Minority theatre, part two,” 1968-02-26, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 26, 2024,
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APA: Seminars in theatre; Minority theatre, part two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from