Seminars in theatre; Episode 19 of 31
I don't think that this bothers me that much. I don't think that bothers anyone in the company, but right now we feel that by making the compromise and becoming purely a financial organization which we would have to be at this juncture of going out into the off-broadway area, that we would have to sacrifice and compromise our artistic principles and what we're trying to do and what we're trying to build because of the need for survival financially, which we don't have. This pressure is not upon us at the moment. Of course we don't intend to stay inside a church working for nothing for the rest of our lives. That brings me to the next year that we will be able to pay the actors and we're planning now and at a summer season at the church where the actors will get paid. That brings me to a quick question I would like to throw at all of you. So you feel you've had the opportunity and the chance to assess your real value, your real worth, working in situations such as you do where there is no paid admission and
where if you had to compete with all of the off-broadway admission prices for theater seats, do you think you would come off as you have, do you think you would survive, do you think you would be able to compete with this existing theater climate? Bill? Gee, let me say that there are as many different personal reasons for working in a field such as this as there are people probably. I have known many writers, many painters, many musicians, people in the arts over the years. And I find that there are a very large number of them who are far more concerned with developing their art than they are with the financial problems of living. We live in a time, Dick, when it is not difficult to come by enough money to live on.
We have such as the Washington experts and we have 10 million starving individuals in the country, but I am not referring to the people in Appalachia or the people in Harlem or any of the other underprivileged areas where there are very severe problems, but for most of us who did not grow up in that kind of an environment, it is not really terribly difficult to make a living. I am not saying that everybody is going to go out and make 25,000 or 40,000 a year or 50,000 or any specific amount, but the amount of money that is needed in order to live reasonably comfortably is not all that difficult to obtain for most people. I have known so many artists who have worked on their own supporting themselves not through grants, not through donations, not through patronage of any kind, but they work six months a year and then they write or paint or compose six months a year.
I feel that there are a number of people in that category connected with a classic stage company. They are concerned more with the development of their art at this moment than they are with their development as members of the acquisitive middle class. Of course, my question, more immediately concerned what you thought of your possibilities of existence in terms of the competition of the theatrical enterprises that are going on off Broadway where you have to contend yourself with finances, where it is a realistic aspect of the theatrical existence, not your social existence, but you must pay press, you must pay for a theater, you must pay rental, you must charge an admission fee. This was really my question based on the assessment of what you have seen, the classic stage company move from to its present moment. What is your, at this point, what is your assessment of it, do you feel that it exists?
I think that we are definitely moving toward a point when we can subsist financially on our own, absolutely. When I say subsist financially, I mean that we will be able to pay the people in the company, we will be able to eventually operate a theater where we pay rent on the theater and so forth. This time, we are trying to build up an interest in the public in New York and this kind of theater and specifically in us while we build, if we were now contending with the financial problems of paying press, stage hands, rent on the theater, that would be our primary function, would be trying to raise money for that and we would have to sacrifice the artistic principles that we are trying to fight for right now. That off Broadway, and more recently off Broadway, has been considered by large majorities to be the lifeblood of the vitalism of theater in this country, where experimental ideas
have been tried in some successful, some not so successful. Among all of these theaters, there are a number of viewpoints regarding actors and the need for training that actors should have and they range from the viewpoint that actors need no training at all or actors need a modicum of training or actors should have the zenith of training. Now, you mentioned earlier that you would require a Bachelor of Arts degree. I take it in theater. Why do you feel that, first of all, the history of theater is important for now? First of all, in the kind of place that we are doing, I don't want to announce that the company that our next selection is TARD 2 from Have them all, look at me, who wrote that? I think that they have to have a feeling and a knowledge of the kind of work that we're
going to be doing right from the start and know that this is what they want to do. Most of the people have come to us because this is the kind of theater they have read about it. They have, to some extent, performed in this area in college and they know that this is the kind of theater they want to do, as opposed to the barefoot in the park on Broadway. Now, I'm not condemning that kind of drama or musical comedy or any of the other forms that just this is the area of theater that we have all chosen, made the decision ourselves of what we want to do. And we only know this, that this is what we want to do, because we know about it. It's not something that comes off the top of our head. What other requisites would you require from an actor who wanted to belong to the classic stage, come to them? Well, at the moment, he must not belong to equity because of the problems we would have in her and we, unfortunately, there is a showcase and workshop code in equity, which covers most of the off-off Broadway ventures, because it really does not cover us because it's built
up mainly to protect that the actors who are working on new and experimental plays, whereas if the production was successful, the playwright or the director would benefit from it. The actors in our company, the ones who are benefiting from it most, since the playwrights are already established. Well, what other training attributes, personal attributes would you require from an actor? You may not, you may, what you're talking about, as you can't use an equity actor, even if you wanted to. That's right. What do you require of your actors, other than a Bachelor of Arts would like to see that they have done in their past and in the resume, that they have done some work in the area of classic theater and the kinds of plays that we're doing, whether it was in university or regional theater, summer theater doesn't make much difference to me, but that they've had some background and experience in this area, and this way they will know that this is what they want to do, but keep you said earlier that there is no place where an actor
can receive training. Well, training is another thing. Now, they may have received a great deal of training in college or at some drama school or company somewhere else, but it does not coincide with what I'm looking for. Therefore, there's kind of a retraining period into the concepts and techniques that we use at the classic stage company. If we can say that there is that kind of concept and technique which can be definitely defined, I think that we reorient ourselves for each production and put into each production the kind of training and direction that is needed for that particular play. The land says an actor, an assistant director with a company, and you're still involved in your education. Have you been able to determine what it is that you would need to complete to some degree your professional capacity in terms of your craft for acting?
Well, I find that a lot of the training I've received at college works theoretically but is not very useful at all practically in producing a play. In other words, you can write all sorts of philosophies down on paper, but when you try to put them on the stage and show an audience this one idea or another idea just doesn't work, and I feel the greatest thing that I can do as an actor to complete my proficiencies is to be in front of an audience, first of all, and develop a feeling for using an audience in the best way to show them what I'm trying to do. Well, when you say theoretical college is full of theory and no practice, how does this spill over into what you're trying to do? In other words, what is the theory that you can't put into practice on the stage that
you're receiving in college? Well, largely, for example, in our acting class, we're studying Stan Slavsky. And his principles work very well in an acting class, but when you get on the stage, they don't work very well in the aspect that he relies on spectacle, and using your body to show an audience by doing things. And I believe that that often delves into being phony on the stage. And I have a suspicion that the audience can detect that to a certain degree. They may not be able to say, oh, I did see that, but I think they can feel it. And I think the greatest duty of the actor is to be sincere on the stage. Do you feel that you can't be sincere utilizing Stanislavsky technique regarding the doing rather than the thinking of an action?
Well, that's a tricky question. Would you restate it? Yes, I understand it. Well, I gathered from what you said about Stanislavsky that there was some one aspect of Stanislavsky that you were being taught was to actually do the action rather than talk about or think the action, and principally with your body. And I wondered whether, and you said that seemed to be insincere. And I wondered whether you were getting the correct Stanislavsky training or whether I'm getting a misinterpretation from you or on what point you're trying to make. So I asked you, why do you feel that's insincere? I feel it's insincere because I think that in view of the man as a person, you have to realize that the emotions motivate the action and not the action motivate the emotions.
Well, there's no argument, isn't it? Yes, it is. It wasn't spring from the Lang theory. If you see a bear, you are frightened and you run, or a bear that's coming at you, you are frightened and then run, but the other theory is that you see the bear, you run, and then become frightened. I'm of the feeling that you're frightened and then run. This was an oversimplification, but this is an interesting viewpoint from a young actor Lance and why I'm taking it up is because I see the dilemma that I talk about every week connected with American theater and the training of actors for it. There is so much confusion and it seems that it's unnecessary. And you seem to be confused about, I say you seem to be, about Stanislavsky, because I think most people agree that Stanislavsky himself did nothing really more than to be the first one to codify in print what an actor does automatically.
And I think possibly Stanislavsky has been misinterpreted by American teachers. And I just ventured that as a... Well, Dick, I think what's wrong has been ineffectual at any rate in the American training of actors is that most of the drama schools are not connected with working companies. The actors are given a tremendous amount of theory, thought, move body movements, start to some degree fencing speech, but they have no place to put it into direct practice in front of an audience. We'll be able to experiment with it, to feel the effects of what all of this training is being aimed at. What is your viewpoint and hope out of some of the new organizations that have formed such as the New York University Professional Training School, Yale University's Active Drama Re-Hall, or reorganization, I should say, under Robert Bruce Dean, do you see these
as these organizations implementing what would be or what is the ideal for theater training in this country? Yes, and no, I think on paper, ideally, this is what we've been looking for, and I think that Bruce Dean has been much more successful to this date than NYU has, and I know more about NYU having been there, but not connected with the professional school. There is a teaching follow-in in the Educational Theater Department. The climate that's created at NYU Professional Theater School is one of complete idealism. They are given the kind of confidence because they were accepted as students there, that they were the best possible students that could ever be accepted at a school like this. The training is removed into, if you are studying acting, you major in acting, you never touch a hammer, you never touch a lighting dimmer, you never touch a boom, you never go near a needle and thread, and you are driven into an area of just acting or just scene design.
There is no interlocking of interest. I think that a young person has to find his where he belongs in theater, and he can only do this by being exposed a great deal to all of the elements of production, because theater is not just acting, it's not just scene design, it's too much in this country of separating all of the elements. Theater is a combined effort of the box office staff, of the backstage staff, of the actors, of the director, of the costume designers. It's a unit that should produce the play and the production, not the individuals. I think that many of these schools are specializing themselves too much at the point where the young actors are left at it. After four years, they get out of the school and they think, you know, because I went through four years at NYU Professional School and I now got an A in all my courses that I am now the greatest actor that ever came down the pike, and then where do you go for work? Unless they place you, you are just out on the town like everyone else, hanging on the
doors. They're left nowhere. Now, if you go to a company and say, yes, but we also need an assistant stage manager that, well, I have no experience in stage managing. Well, I'm sorry. We'll take the actor who's not quite as good because he has at least that experience, and he can be of more use to us. Now for the past few minutes, we've been talking about what is primarily an internal matter in terms of actors and training, but let's focus this now to the guy who pays his 350 wherever you're going, he goes as far as $10.50 and under the table, I guess it goes up to $20 to go see a production. What is this to him or he to you that anyone should weep for any of this? In other words, what I'm asking is, what does the man who goes to the theater, what is he expected to feel and what is he expected to do?
He doesn't concern himself with these problems. I mean, these are problems that actors and ultimately, indirectly, our society is faced with if we want a viable art, if we want some inspirational art, performing arts, that is, and it could be a great force in the life experience of individuals who go to the theater rather than just a palliative for the moment of three hours. What is he to do and how is he to react, for example, when he comes to see the cavern? Is he going to say to himself, well, this company, the classic stage company is here trying to get its foot on the ground, trying to perpetuate an idea and trying to present something that's meaningful and worthwhile, what do you think the average person thinks about when he goes to the theater? Well, this is difficult to say, especially in New York City where you have so many people who go to the, for as many people as there are, there are that many reasons for they're
going to the theater. The person who pays $20 on the table to get seats to hollow dolly is not, I don't think, is the kind of person who is going to come and give us a dollar to the man and Superman. I really don't. That brings to another aspect of money, lately there has been great interest and concern about business and the arts and government in the arts, and I think Bill Snow, you mentioned earlier subsidies and grants in such a way as to give me the impression that you would not be interested in grants or subsidies from foundations or the government, or would you? However, did I manage to mislead you that far? Well, I had the impression that you said the classic stage company was operating without the benefit of grants, and I, well, let me ask you the question now, all of you, do you approve generally of subsidies, grants donated to companies for their perpetuation? Well, I don't, it's not a question of approving or disproving of grants, unfortunately, I'm
in the financial straits of the theater, it's the only way to exist on a large scale. By having grants. All right, this is true of the APA, it's truly concentric, it's true of all the major repertoire theaters. Well, is there something wrong with the ratio of interest and performance that I put on? I, what I'm getting at, shouldn't it be a buyer in seller's market, why should it have to be supported? Well, I think we have a complex enough economy to have all sorts of experiences in it, Dick. I mean, it's no one supports Broadway, Broadway supports itself. Broadway supports itself, and it's always a bank rupt every week as well, in certain cases. Let me say that as a result of the fact that it has to support itself, there are many things which can be artistically valuable, which it cannot offer the public for the simple reason that it must support itself, it must always aim at the bank role.
This causes a great restriction on the kinds of things that can be done on Broadway. That is one of the major reasons for all of the experimental activity off Broadway and off off Broadway today. Broadway cannot do that to kind of experimenting. It costs too much. It costs too much. It costs too much. Because of the type of play that it is and it would not be at this moment, the time is not right for that kind of a play, and this is why they did not hold it back for Broadway production and gave it to an off off Broadway group who would present an experimental production of it. Not that I'm trying to chase the classic stage company out of town, but what prompts this question is there's a great deal of interest, and indeed a favorable climate outside of the New York area and rebirth, or I should say rebirth, of regional theater. Why would you stay here in Manhattan in this crowded city where all of the attempts are
made? That's an easy question to answer. First of all, let's take Hartford, for example. There's only one professional theater in Hartford, and that's the Hartford stage company. If they produce the worst drama in the world, if anyone in Hartford was interested in live theater, that would be the only place nearby that they could go to see it. It doesn't really matter what the caliber of the work is. The theater can exist in outside of New York, whether there is no competition between companies. What about Michigan, Minneapolis, Texas? All of these regional outposts where theater would be appreciated for what it is. Well, I would say that it does not interest us so much to leave New York, because we feel that there is a greater amount of interest in New York for the kind of theater we want to do. At present, the APA is the only company in New York, and to some extent Lincoln Center, of course, they don't operate on a repertoire basis, the APA is the only place where people
can see this kind of theater, that can trace the historical elements of theater. You can see a play like the cherry orchard done in a good production. Do you think the APA is a good, repertoire company? You're putting me on the spot. Well, the theater is on the spot, and that's why we're talking about it. However, I will say this, I disagree with their policy of bringing people in for productions. I am one of those who agrees firmly in a permanent company, which makes no alterations when they choose a new play, if they cannot do it with the people who are already in the company, they should not do that play. And yet you do the same thing, and without compassion to attack the APA. We're still building a company, and I try to, every time I get a new actor, I'm trying to see if I can work him into everything else. And a new actor came in last week, he is now taking over four roles. Are you aiming for a repertoire company? Yes, we're already running in repertoire with Man and Superman in the Cavern, and April 1903, open with Tarte 2 for North 3 shows, we'll be running simultaneously.
Well your next production after the Cavern will be Tarte 2. And how long do you run these plays? What's the running? Well, I was still in the experimental basis, when we did Hamlet, we did six performances over two weekends. When we did Man and Superman originally, we did nine performances over two weeks. The Cavern was scheduled for nine over four weeks, with insertions of two performances of Man and Superman in the middle. We found out that the interest is still there for Man and Superman, and every time we stopped performing it, we get hordes of calls with people who still want to see it, because they heard about it, or they're anxious to see the play in its entirety. So at present, we've been performing each show for nine performances, we schedule it for nine to see how well it will do. If the reaction is good, we continue it, as we have done with Man and Superman. Well, I think at this point, I'd like to make a little announcement we've been talking about Shakespeare, a great deal, and I, for the benefit of our listeners and all of you
here, I hope you will tune in on your dial during the birth week of Shakespeare, which will start here at WNYC April 21st through the 27th, at which time we'll have the leading personalities, figures, drama schools, university departments, et cetera, all talking about or acting scenes from Shakespeare throughout the whole week, and perhaps we'll get an even larger viewpoint. In the meantime, I want to thank you, Christopher Martin, the artistic director of Classic Stage Company, Bill Snow, the general manager in Lance Brilliant Teen, the assistant director and actor with the company, for joining us on seminars and theater and giving us an idea of the growing pains of a company devoted to idealism and art in the theater. This was seminars in theater, a recorded series of discussions with leading members of the theatrical profession. Join us again for our next program when host Richard Piett will lead another conversation
about life in the theater. Seminars in Theater is produced by radio station WNYC in New York City and is distributed by the National Educational Radio Network.
- Seminars in theatre
- Episode Number
- Episode 19 of 31
- Producing Organization
- WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-19 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 19 of 31,” 1968-05-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r20rwg1j.
- MLA: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 19 of 31.” 1968-05-14. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r20rwg1j>.
- APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 19 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-r20rwg1j