Seminars in theatre; Episode 5 of 31
This is seminars in theatre a series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession will comment on the problems and pleasures of life in the theatre. Here now is the host of seminars in theatre. Richard Platt Good evening and welcome to seminars and theatre there's a big crowd with another panel. And our discussion as you know usually revolves around theatre practices the trends the reason why we have no theatre here in America and the reason why we don't have any actors. And the reason why we have difficulty training actors and we're going to talk about this tonight in regard to one of the successful off-Broadway shows fortune and men's eyes directed by Michel Nestor and our panel includes the producer of this show as well as the Viet rock which was his first production. And that's David Rothenberg one of the members of the cast. Victor Arnold who plays rock in the fortune in men's eyes. And. Pat Macquarie and Paul Jones.
Who formally. Under the aegis of. You pointing this out to John Davis for any reason now because I got it I always want to identify Pat McGarry and Paul Jones. They are ex convicts. I mean if I can describe it that way. Yes and that's actually in the frame of reference of the play. It makes more sense and John Davis whose educational counselor formally with the federal program on Riker's Island start off fortune and men's eyes is a very very interesting play as I saw it and as I'm sure all of the reviews have indicated that they know many I would say that many of the reviews are interesting many of them were so shocked by how they couldn't confront it as a reflection of reality. You know to play written by an ex-convict based on his own experiences
and there was a handful of small but influential critics who were more shocked by the fact that it was placed on the stage rather than the fact that it's a reality of life. But the way they played out there's no reason why we can't mention the name John Harvey John Herbert. There were there were many critics of course that was very good I don't mean to. I think whining Why did the critics that sag. You're talking about one of the find it so shocking because I think that the reason that conditions that do exist in prison now exist because there's a segment of society that won't confront it that the same those same people sometimes may be drama critics who in seeing a play I so offended by the reality of it they and they are offended because this is all that down on the stage is a mirror of life is held up and reflected because the conditions do exist in prison and I'm sure that two men who've done time will tell you that it's probably a lot worse. But they don't like what they see and they don't want to see it. They negate it.
Well first of all certain conclusions about critics who are shocked by the revelation of certain conditions existing in prison I mean and I think least of all the critic should know what's going on or have some idea you should always remember critics only a man who writes his opinion down and isn't really very different from anybody else. Well that's different and is knowledgeable. I can understand how. But this play I couldn't expect people who come from their nice middle class homes to come in and have any idea really of what exists inside of prisons it's their ability to empathize which is which had become apparent you know. All right now we can talk about a play from critics or another subject to die this way all together like talk about the play from two viewpoints one is theater and one as a representation of exactly what goes on in prison or the conditions that the play represents as being represented as being a duplicate in prison and first of all
of Pat McGarry. PAUL JONES Would you say from watching the play and you're very familiar with the play now that does the play exaggerate at all. No I firmly believe in the majority of prisons. It's an understatement. That there is so much more like goes on that you have to be there personally to find it believable. Because I've come out of different prisons and I've done approximately 20 years and try to describe some of my experiences and found people believing that I had lost my mind or I was making it up looking for sympathy. I've even showed scars on my body and they still didn't fully comprehend the tragedy that exists.
Well Paul Jones this is an under to some degree it's an understatement about the conditions in prison. Do you have anything to add to what you saw on the play that you felt was an understatement that could have made the picture more real. I don't think the play itself could have given more. I'd say I was meeting people myself. People don't want to understand. They don't want to see. It's like they're happy on their own side and they don't want to know what's going on on the other side of the fence. Which is without I just anything you do if you're happy doing it fine. You don't want to know who's sad and who's not. And I like add a little something there when people are often mistaken. When you say gee it's terrible the torches and so forth they immediately think of beating this is really the least part of it. You can recover from beatings but it's the mental and
emotional torment that you're subjected to constantly. The dehumanization the humiliation of being a number a caged animal. This is really where the mystery is. And they see these don't touch these do not show most of the time on a person's face or body. But how do you think the theater is a good medium with which to bring this message across to the public. Definitely because ever since I was a child and had begun to use my imagination I realized that the only way to get to people was to entertain them while delivering some sort of a message. Because you can't give it to him statistically or in Colfax. They need to have it given to them in some form of entertainment. Well John Davison you were the educational counselor don't you. Not a great deal of experience with of men who are incarcerated and from your experience. What
about the viewpoints that have been expressed. How close to reality or how far away from reality would you say our discussion has been so far. I would think very close. That the play dealt with primarily. Homosexuality and through this the author wanted to show. The degradation. And the dehumanization that takes place. Because of the system and because no one outside wants to know I think this is absolutely accurate that the audience may not easily respond to the homosexuality is a different problem. We had. I remember seeing films. On late TV shows about prisons and in the thirties and. The various types of brutality that existed which were almost always physical. They never did deal with what minority was talking about. And when I worked in the prisons. And had to deal with.
The situations that were happening day to day to men we were supposed to be rehabilitating. And found that we were a helpless almost helpless to stop some of what was happening to them. You begin to wonder if we can do anything at all. Because there comes a point where do you put your job in jeopardy do you say I have to risk. I saw a young boy go through almost what went on in the play with the protagonist I suppose where the corruption. I don't know what he came in with but I know when he was there. And for the year I was there we watched him being pulled into a very unhealthy sex system that operates with the knowledge of the guards with the knowledge of the the institution. So so well that I mentioned something else you know because I I was thinking about it I get shocked all over again. And the counselors and the teachers we talked about this when I forced the the people to look at what was happening to
this young man. We asked him. If he wanted protection. He had his own problems going on he was frightened he would not have spoken openly at any point unless we had been able to take him out of that setting and put him someplace where he was safe from the man. The guards and probably the warden and we couldn't do this. And so there was nothing we could do and we had to watch the degradation that went on. The he became like an animal and the program we had which was forced literally on to the institution by the federal government and where we had a great deal of difficulty getting some things done that were worthwhile in our new ideas in rehabilitation. We couldn't go past our little corner we had a corner where the men came to we did our work and the minute they stepped over that line and went back there was nothing we could do. I think we should point out also that in the play
The reason that some of these men are in prison in the case of the protagonist it was for a minor character characterized by minor but it was a six month term for stealing a car I think was I think the play points out that these are not. And the cases that we're talking about necessarily a 20 year murder cases. I mean they are there for a short period is that correct. Yes yes many of the men at Rikers Island where there. Was some involvement in drugs. I worked in the adolescent division. There are about 40 percent some kind of thievery. And then there was a scattering of other. There are various kinds of felonies. There were some outrages convictions. I'm thinking of one that was on the panel for statutory rape.
We checked on this and there was a he happened to be negro. There was no white young man in that prison at that time for statutory rape. One of the mind of David Rothenberg you obviously produced this claim because you liked it and you've been holding panel discussions at the end of the play is that still going on. You know on Tuesday night telling every Tuesday every Tuesday night what is this. Who. Who comprises the panel people here right now. It's generally two or three ex-convicts and somebody who has worked within the system for the present. We've had the Department of Corrections Commissioner McGrath and the lady who's the superintendent of the woman's house of detention and we've had ministers and psychiatrists discussing the play at around I think a. Reflection of reality. Is there an audience participation involving this can stop them. As you. Well. Know when you and I we met John Davis when you have these these officials from as you mentioned to me from a graph and you had other.
Responsible persons does this come as news to them does this shock their sensibilities or commission. It was a particularly interesting when you could almost feel the electricity Pat McGarry who's here was on and a fellow named Clarence Cooper who's an author and who has served 8 1/2 years time you could you could feel the tension that they were the two sides of the ex-convict and the official and you could. Sense that it was a real drama because McGrath questioned some of the aspects of the play. But he because what John has done is reduced all the essentials of prison to put it on a stage. Obviously all the things that take place in the play wouldn't happen exactly as they do in prison in one single cell. But for dramatic purposes he's reduced it. McGrath quibbled with that and I think Clarence particularly took him to task and I jumped in because they questioned they pointed out that this was just dramatic license but it's
the dehumanization which the play depicts which is the essential which he was ignoring but it was very healthy because it was the first time that a commissioner from the Department of Correction had ever sat down and discussed in an open forum with an ex-convict. And I can't help feeling that both sides came away with a better recognition of the fact that they were human beings on the other not institutional thinkers. I imagine some of the questions from the audience are probably surprising I know that you want to say something whether you know victory. Well we're going to hear from him in a second. I thought I thought you meant you were back you know just listening to you. Yeah I would imagine that the questions that would be raised by some members of the audience would result from statements made by some of the things you said that and some of the things Paul said. Regarding the the problem of when a law is
broken. How do you handle the person that has broken the law. That's always. Well but. Let me put myself in the audience for a moment and throw this question out to the panel because that's where we're reproducing a panel discussion and a real one. What what would be your recommendation. I personally who have been arrested 23 times and convicted 22 times never felt that I was done an injustice because of stupid petty crimes I committed. I did break laws and I wasn't playing the game. Therefore I had to pay the consequences. This is all well and good. But they seem to forget that it doesn't end there. That just because I do time in sort of quote unquote payment this doesn't help the situation at all because most of the time thank God I was able to come back out into society. This time I came out and this time I
hope to stay. It's been quite some time for which I'm grateful. But getting back to where after they arrest me for breaking the rules because that's what the law is too good a name for them. There are rules in the game. And I have to pay. What they do to me inside would be indicative of how I would react once I was released. Or again when I was released and each time the cost of the treatment there I had no desire to break the rule until something's wrong. Can I say I think the best indication of how the system operates comes from the ex-convict and you never see newspaper stories or the interviews of the ex-convicts whenever they go up to Sing Sing they talk to the guy who is inside at the moment who really can speak freely. But Clarence when I was discussing the dehumanization and the process of the hole which is solitary confinement which is discussed in the play and he talked about how he spent
15 days in the on bread and water with no mattresses with no plumbing facilities painted a picture of Har and a man from the audience said Well when you do something wrong what should we do just slap your knuckles. Clarence said the first time I went in it was because I had written a poem and tried to get it sent to the Saturday Review. I mean when you try and fit the punishment with the crime it is. Paul let me ask you a question do you feel that David Rothenberg and people like him is exploiting the and making money off the plight of people who go to prisons and the conditions that accrue from it. No in fact I think this should have been done a long time ago. It's a little late. Or as some people say it's not it's never led to late and I think it's it's still late. It should have happened a long time ago. I don't think that David can make too much money from the show. I say that I think the show
has. A fine point and I think it's wonderfully acted and has a reality. It's so real. But I'd like it to have. Well I was going to. First of all Victor Arnold who plays rock and I and we congratulate him here on this program I don't usually do that. And but I don't have your former credit would you just give us a little bit of your background like one of the shows where you went and what's happening. When I was in the dept. on Broadway for 10 months and with al these Malchen for a week. David Rothenberg Viet rock and now his other credits fortune and men's eyes currently. Yes what do you think of it as an actor. First I'd like to answer. I'd like to say something about David's background he's more than a producer. He's going to very devoted and loyal friend. And I think only one has to only know David Rothenberg to
know that he's not even a matter of exploitation concerning. The unfortunate guys doing time in relation to the production downtown. He's not he's not built that way and I constructed it because when I asked a question I don't know David Rothenberg. No I had no no I don't mean to suggest I just wanted to have you point about it but I was I think that that might I think it can come to a person's mind. Absolutely I think the question is valid but I'd like to stand in the midst of all of them pick. Really positions well taken. Also though getting back to you for the moment and the play and the part to do portray Iraq. Yes. What do you think of the play as a play. Well I can tell you that it's the most exciting play I've ever been in. There are many points of view I think. Jack Herbert wrote a good play. In terms of its validity I don't think that he question I think it's been borne out by the fellows who did the
time. So we can't question it on that score going so far as it meeting the dramatic requirements. I think that the fact that we've run eight months indicates that her between a certainly a good play a good player. There have been complaints about the second act. I mean I I had my own game but that's not what I'm bringing up I've heard critical complaints about the second act. And part of that seems to exist that the after the first act was which is tremendously exciting. And. Amusing entertaining dramatic. Well done. The second act seems to get slightly confused. It seems to become a slightly enigmatic. This of course as is an opinion and the acting seems to reduce in. For the moment. In splendor in the second act there seems to be an
adequacy and I we will be specific in a moment. But what is your feeling about those complaints about do you think invalid or I call you Rocky which is we show you how good a job you don't know why I like you calling your rock. I appreciate that. In a strange way. I don't really actually think I'm the guy to talk to. Insofar as play construction goes I tell you not to speak for all actors but I think actors are the last guys. In the world to. Have to. I mean the classic example is actors are given place to read you know and it has nothing to do with intelligence as your education credits background or skill or whatever. And they're notoriously poor play readers I've discovered including myself. I went I went on a reading and I bumped into Maureen Stapleton and I don't think I'm saying anything wrong and you know by using the name but we had waiting in the lobby
to go to this reading and I of course recognized her she didn't recognize me. And I introduced myself to both Karen brown manila envelope. And I and he she had the conversation by saying well what do you think. How do you do and introduce myself and oh hi nice me she's a regular gal and she said I said what you think of the place. He says I don't always he says will go 12 floors will find out you know. So I mean I really don't I really don't know as a as an actor you know what does anything change for you from the first act to the second act and I think you know there was a second man I mean I think what bothered most people in a second act is the fact that the playwright has reason or did not as we know it he has utilized a sonnet to express the emotions. Between two of the men who were caught in this desperate situation in their fight for survival and one out of desperation the Sunnah from which the title fortune comes and I've had many people say this wouldn't happen in prison I think that we have
this notion of the nonliterary that everybody in prison is a gorilla. Hatch was talking one night on the panel when somebody questioned this I think it was Richard checking of the grammar of you who love the play in question the reason the utilization of the reading of a sonnet and Pat answered by saying Would you believe me. What was it on Forgotten Rowan in Florida singing an aria to a man who was doomed to death. I'm in a situation that you can just picture and people. I think are afraid to accept the fact that we're a business introduction of the Literary of the intelligent of the of the feeling of the concern. Perhaps that is that that's one reaction to it. I don't find the use of the sonnet invalid. I think that what draws attention to itself in the second act in this whole scene. With the use of the sonnet. It's a directorial problem. I would venture to say that if I might be because the sonnet can be used I don't find
anything wrong with that I mean we all know. I think most people who were in New York are somewhat sophisticated enough to know that everyone in prison is not an illiterate you have like to step in on the right hand because we set up a government program. To work with adolescents in right on Rikers Island. And my own experience has been with. Many young men. Who went to prison and came out again. So I had some background. I don't think most of the people came from the school system in one way or another. And I had some experience with difficult to reach you. When we set up the program we were so sure that we would be handling in most cases a low level of academic achievement that not only met intelligent but a low level that we had to get ourselves I had a lot of material. I prepared my own material a week in advance
and we found out why we went in that one third of it we had 90 min The first cycle one third of the men who are below what we call it had a kind of 4th grade reading level all the way down to nonreaders and they may have been in school 5 8 9 10 years. Which is a comment on our system. Then we had another group which is again about one third and this was a kind of random sampling that we had out of the 700 man. One third approximately were between a fourth and eighth grade achievement level. I had close as we could measure the measurements are not that good but what they were. And then we had one third who are of our. Some had finished high school. We had AI on the side we did a program of preparing a high school equivalency which we were not supposed to do but that's where they were in our program wasn't good to deal with them and we had to do something so we did this on the side anyway and if the government steps in now I don't know what they'll do about it but if we serve their needs on this basis but we were so
impressed with the two thirds higher we knew about the bottom of what we thought that would be most of them. And this is from a fairly knowledgeable people. I'm don't I. I think I bring a certain amount of knowledge with me when I went there and sort of the other people did. And we did not know and we won not prepared for the high level. And it doesn't and it was interesting that the kind of. Character the rocketeers who is a stereotype in some ways. Nevertheless I did not find anything to challenge in his rep in the play. I felt some was a little too quick they don't talk that way to each other but the level of the content of the play in terms of dialogue I would find no question about now having had not yet there because they are incisive in a certain way. There are many distortions they have a command of language that again surprised us and continue and we could open it up even more they were hungry at times for vocabulary we didnt take Grandma very much. They were
very they wanted to know words whatever nobody ever ever does take grammar. Right right right right. And the more the market is saturated with books why ex-convicts you could have a library shelf here I now have. Oh OK John you know you made a very interesting example in report on statistics. We're getting back to this second act because I want to get on to some other things and getting back to the scene that revolves around the sun and I think what is hard to believe is that is the is the emotional. Over blaring at this point. The actors involved. I mean it's a technical problem I think from a writing standpoint it's valid. But I say what is hard to believe I think falls down a bit because first of all we remember the first act is so tremendous. I mean there's not a second in the first act that doesn't grab an audience from several levels and then the audiences build up and he's waiting and we get to that second act. Certain matters
there and you can tell that the or the audience I I happen to be in started fidgeting. They certainly were embarrassed. They we shouldn't be embarrassed but they were embarrassed because of the situation. This was several opinions and I think just to counter this I want to say that the day before I went to the Metropolitan Opera to see a grand rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. And I had to walk out of that. I mean not that Correlli wasn't a great singer or that Ronnie wasn't but the directing was fatuous the choreography was inane and just didn't the scenery the costumes were misconceived But and this was the first play that I had seen in a long time that I wanted to stay. I mean I did today I did. My opinion is not going to set anyone in the world on fire but this is an indication that I have some other opinions that I respect of the negated the same things that you know it's a good play whichever way you look at it.
- Seminars in theatre
- Episode Number
- Episode 5 of 31
- Producing Organization
- WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
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- Series Description
- For series info, see Item 3231. This prog.: About play "Fortune of Men's Eyes," (or "Fortunate Men's Eyes"), written by ex-convicts. David Rothenberg, producer; Victor Arnold, actor; Paul Jones, John Davis and Pat McCarrey (or McGarrey)
- Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 5 of 31,” 1968-02-26, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q814s57m.
- MLA: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 5 of 31.” 1968-02-26. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q814s57m>.
- APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 5 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-q814s57m