Hard travelin'; Woody's children, part two
What what do you account for the popularity of happy ending and day of absence. Precisely one of the areas that I have touched on briefly. I found I didn't know before we open I mean I was like every other playwright I had no idea that I would reach a fine an audience first but what my audience specifically which was I had always hoped. At one point in my writing career I had consciously decided that I wanted to address myself specifically first to a negro audience. I don't know whether I would succeed in the commercial circumstances of of all Broadway you depended upon reviews. But what happened is the reviews were good enough to give us a chance to then seek our audience with with with with some conflict. Now what we did is we sought the negro audience and we got them in the first instance through the through organized theater pods that was about three months after after the parties were over. The word of mouth spread around this is getting to your point where apparently apparently the show
was life because no show runs on less than you can you can have all the parts you want once they are over then and word of mouth doesn't take over you dead if you get it yes I think the the reason for this was live somewhere in the area that the negro the turnout of the negro audience for instance was it was an unusual phenomenon. I think the reason they turn out. And because. I think they sense the fact that here was something which was which which will be directed towards them. As as if it was a natural thing. I mean it was normal and you know it was like it was written. For them now and at the same time there was a young white audience from between the age of I would say from high school age or college age up to the middle 30s 35 who identified also with the statement contained within the satire. I mean like Francis and happy ending
the young white audience tended to side with the negroes in relation to the point of view of the play. The Although white audience beyond third if I was very upset. I mean I felt themselves very frightened because they felt that that these satirical thrust was aimed at them. But I think that you know besides the fact that I'm you know besides the fact that maybe the plays were they made people laugh and even though after they finished laughing they realize well it's a situation that's so funny is that many of these these these new factors I think led to the continued run and that we did that I was not it was a sort of the I was a sort of writer who came along and I was not doing what some of the colleagues had done which was the ruling white people red flags I was right on and so forth. And here in the play which was directed at Sharpe but yet directly to his major audience I didn't have to shout or scream could comfortably.
Right you are but I want to smash your locked in. Who want his comment was but I want to include this and I think one of adding to the reasons you gave aside apart from the acting. You see this cannot be overlooked. The acting of the company really counts for a great deal there but you know the plays and I think this and this is what I came away from actually appeal in as far as humor and its irony and satire on two levels right. First of all a negro audience watching these plays would derive both levels of comedy and I'm sure there's comedy there that never reach the wide audience because they could they couldn't possibly they were to threaten them anyway. Not only that but there was an indigenous material in that. I think unless if an audience of white audience laughter they could not laugh at it in the same. Quite in the same manner that a Negro audience I have even if they found it humorous which I think you
have this double bill of laughter you see and this double level of satire and irony which was tremendous and I think this and you speak of the younger white group the college group which is the same group that is now frequenting restaurants that sells so-called soul food in the same group that is precluding you know they have this direct tie and they're trying to correlate their own activities and frame of mind with anything so I can see that that level locked and you're going to comment oh I wot f I may that was place apart from Douglas turned towards craftsmanship which I had in my. I think Doug's recurrent theme is the interdependency of Maine and this is something as long as I've been knowing we haven't actually discussed this. And his approach there although many right can become uncomfortable. And be outside of some of the humor. He'd have to be a real crank here not to see what the man is saying in both
barrels praise these two groups in this country are depended upon one another. And this is not to detract from mama's towards militancy because he is as militant as anybody growing. But he is a man rooted in what I was calling specifics before and this works when it's translated into artistry. SALLAH my remarks were not to shake up sensitive ears but the point of very strongly that there is a black right a whole group of black writers on this continent who are not interested in doing away with whites. And there are long distances comment and that I think it's in drama. It's our natural situation this constant drama puts us in a privileged position and Dromio we as from one set and reviewing writes novels. We have a beautiful situation where we live in a society where the the intrinsic tension created job a
level that you're talking about. We live in a double level situation. We live together which means that that that that that whatever is said is not alien. Let's say a negro writer whatever his comments are not even the white audience audience in that sense. Yet at the same time you cannot talk about a playwright writing a play which is going to have a hundred percent simultaneous cohesive harmonious effect upon less than black white and so forth. What I think often was also intimating in terms of what he was talking about was the fact that if you are not dealing with the specifics in terms of the tensions even that between white and white in terms of class them you are tending to to to to to flatten out your material to the point where you know you're talking about some amorphous universe Alan thank you. The thing that I think in terms of the way forward for us in terms of is I like the idea. That as aloft as the independence the fact that that that unhappy ending the
employer was on one side of a fence and all of the white people came in and found themselves in that class area found that they they felt uncomfortable because they thought they were being being being satirized they were then you got the servant. Now the servant and I employ existed in our relationship together. But yet at the end of when you get both of them in there and the playwright is well ingenious enough I'm not you know but he utilizes this natural tension that exists this double level of attitudes rather similar situations that to me in a way is what. Drama may be all about if we're talking about conflict and talking about. Dealing with with what what we said like a certain reality which must be you must deal with an imagined table but taking advantage of the fact that that you know people talk about the power structure. But as a player I wrote a play about the
power structure just talked about a generalized power structure would be he would not it probably wouldn't amount to be you know good play. Just like those playwrights who have my alarm on all of those. Those sort of generalized category and I would say if you wrote a play about the power structure define it you have to die on it and then be specific about it to the extent that we understand the relationship then to relationship. I mean the things that that cause attitudes to differ. It's between the press and the press and all of these factors but I think these are the things that create give a writer an opportunity to create dramatic tension. You know I want to get into some general questions about being in connection with the ensemble but first just a few minutes into that if it comes in my mind I'm going to ask Mitchell when he spoke about his book about a specific connection with the miller and with Doug Ward What about raisin in the sun.
I don't know who you really were I thought I what about raising the son because I knew I had some friends and I enjoyed I enjoyed Regina's so I was at the show I was a good show. It had a lot of things going for it including a talented writer a talented cast a talented director. It was a good show. The reactions to it entry me. I got tired on several occasions when other people buy other people I mean non negroes would tell me that even though I didn't belong to their group I could identify and this trouble me but it was the way I was glad to see it. And they deserved everything it got. I also liked her second place better than Raisin In The Sun on some levels the sign of Sidney Bruce teens when we talk about the rain has been a mess for those of us of ours who Yeah. Unfortunately every decade
black people lose an important theatre artistes. I don't know why but every decade since the beginning of the road was an untimely. Lunch is in effect right and I'll have you know close experience with rays both and that's what I like acting in it. Ten months. And the thing that interest me about racism will often talk about the audience. Is that. Everything Lofton says about Razan is certainly valid in the rain was one of you know my dearest our dearest friend the one I was on a road that was one thing that that began to disturb me about this this related to interpretation of actors and also AB finest started and if there was any one thing about racism that one criticism not criticism as such because of the rain was 28 years old she was a new young playwright and call you didn't expect a perfect play but on the road but the play was unanimously greeted from
Louisville to Baltimore and all of these places the same. And after a while this began to to disturb me because sometimes I would come out of theater after acting in it and white people who I knew were going right back to the same. Segregated neighborhoods that the play had you know and I have talked about were crying and I mean they they were so moved and so forth. Well I began to think well something there must be a what there must be an area that that that the play is is is is not getting through on and it's own statement and I began a really long is saying in terms of raising them I played the role so I had you know I had to really dig into the reason for why it was that if if if Walter Lee younger of the sun and rays only the rain had have made him a little more. Of a tragic figure rather than. You know attempt tempestuous like in his reaction and
that he tended to to always blow up. Not out of the inevitability of his frustration his real frustrations a little as a man he tended to do it as a boy throwing a tantrum and consequently what and even what the people liked about the play. It was the fact that he was laughing so about Willow when he was like he was he was too weak in a certain sense to carry the weight of the final almost tragedy of the situation where he was taken by a con man. But the audience saw that he's going to get taken very early in the play. His wife practically sledded his sister said it his mother said it so the audience never really thought of them as a real man just grasping at straws in his frustration and consequently when when they found out that he was finally taken. Instead of identifying with him that they might instead of thinking that maybe I could have been taken in the scheme too they tended to say oh I know he was going to throw
away this so this was the essential. After everything about the play being a beautiful plan it was everything invalid about about about about the play and deserve everything it got. This essential flaw I found kept it from rising to even a higher level where the identification with the man would have you know when there was no identification with a real man it tended to be the audience tended to identify with with a temperamental boy and consequently this is a thing that many white audiences Sauder never they saw the light that would have been a little harder for him if they they have to then a file with a real man and that situation speaking about this added dimension which you just can't you devalue alkali on but and this is as many like to see a production with this in mind.
Current production done of this with that in mind. You brought up this added dimension and this is what I want to ask you about in connection with the Negro Ensemble theater and before I do this might get a bit of history under my belt from Lott and Michel Martin. At any point in the history of this country we're negro actors collectively engaged in theater. Was there ever a time when they were better off than they are now. Unfortunately yes there are Negro actors worked during the Depression and then they work now in this age of prosperity. One of the things that happen in this country every town village and hamlet once had theaters. The number was in the thousands and by the 1940s a rate was reduced about 200. Also there's something called Toby Toby time theatrical owners and bookers Association also affectionately That was tough on black actors. Right happen is that those cats would get broke for 52 weeks a year from one place to the
other and George Wilshere who was one of the members and Sidney Easton tell me that they had to literally say don't we for two weeks I'm going on vacation. So this whole unemployment situation is a relatively new thing now. There was there were also the groups that we had the Harlem and I think happy ending a day of absence is certainly a land beyond the river come directly out of the kind of ensemble playing that we did in lofts cellars and wells dug any old place any place we could get all of us. Sometimes we had white people on the stage there in the audience. But when you look at something like analog caster which was a terrible place but beautifully done by. Hilda Sams Fredricka they took that bad imitation of an a question went for broke and a thing ran for years on Broadway and made a name for a number of people. Yes yes we're going to go a bit earlier in history
beyond the depression the one thousand twenty years from the late 18 hundreds. What was the situation of the negro. Not so much I'm not concerned about whether he was employed or not employed because we always have unemployment problems not so much based on. Color based on the economics involved but let's say What was his position in a theater and that in the late eighteen hundred man I would receive back a telescope This is what happened in our market I mentioned the Afghan company after it was sacked. A bunch of whites went south saw the menstrual show. The medical show was created by slaves to satirize the slave master. They took them I suppose shell and began to use it against the negro to paint him as a clown and so on. And this I have to tell you was a part and parcel of the whole thing to dehumanize the people and justify guilty consciences for having slavery after slavery came
the sabotage of the reconstruction and the mess Bush shows were were sweeping the country Negroes to get employment. Went on stage and they began to caricature themselves in the 1890s a group of men Bert Williams George Walker Jesse shared. SH Dudley John Debbie Isham and I'm sure I'm leaving some people I've sat down and literally worked out a plan to defeat the menstrual tradition. And so they launched on Broadway between 1890 and 1910. The origin of the American musical comedy pattern. I laugh when I hear accolades thrown at Rodgers and Hammerstein a Rodgers and Hart because back in 1983 Williams and Walker did in the whole me with music by Will Marion cook and they took it to England did a command performance in 1960 did another show call in absentia which by the way the New York Times said was a little too arty for darky show. You know yeah so a lot but what happened is the negro was really
taking over Broadway. Bob Cole head is badly title play a trip to coon town done in 1890 8. There was the red moon and the shoo fly regiment those were operettas by and by J Rosmah Johnson and Bob Cole. Then what happened. In 1910 the theatrical trust syndicate took over the theater organized it on a big business level. And negroes were excluded from the Broadway theater either as patrons or performers only brought what it was for 1910 in 1917 was in the downtown theatre. Negroes had to go to Harlem where they built the crest at the Lincoln Theatre Lafayette and the Alhambra and they had their own companies there Lafayette players to the Alhambra players and it was not until 1917 when Charles Gilpin did Abraham Lincoln he was in Abraham Lincoln and then of course in 1920 he did the Emperor Jones of the Provincetown and then came shuffle
along which kicked off the the Iraq now known as The Black Black Renaissance well-off and you know you talked about you're to be congratulated for Cap's home heritage in about three minutes at a beautiful rate when it my appetite now a number of other people but also you brought something to my mind which I've always said at least recently is history comes full circle and what is really happening is that I think it takes the white population about oh 50 to 75 years to appreciate what it always had. But it has to go to England and it has to go to Liverpool and come back in a kind of. Discuss this form. And actually we've had it all along but I'm talking I guess abstractly about music and what is currently the rage these days which is always been here in this country for quite some time. But and same thing with drama somewhat the way you describe the early period here with the loft
theaters up in Harlem and all the other small groups that tried to put on theatre what later came to be a kind of off-Broadway attitude and Renaissance. I've got about five minutes and I want to ask you Doug assign a pod and we would talk about this other dimension. Is it just enough. I mean that the Negro Ensemble theater if it has this as its aim to present the type of plays that you've written. Day of absence and a happy ending. Without what I concern myself with in connection with members had here a Shakespear Joe Papp sort of everyone about the problems the elusive problem of acting here in this country. Are you going to concern yourself within your company about diction about speech about movement other than the indigenous speech. I mean which works very well in a play like they have ending in the
letter. Let me just say on this on this. QUESTION The Negro Ensemble Company is interested as much as the fans allow to present and train actors. That is to train them to the best of their ability to carry out the aims of a professional craft which involves diction movement and everything everything else now. My feeling is that in with a company of our orientation that we have a vast new area of creativity to explore. So I'm not interested. My act as I want to speak as well or better than any of the actors ever spoken yet at the same time I do not want them to become imitation Englishman. Well this is the confusion of American theater at right there right. My feeling is that.
You have to you have to speak well in order to be clear in order to to to communicate to the audience that that entails a discipline which has no race race tie to him. But at the same time I have fun even in moderation as now I find that some actors come in and when they do a classical role suddenly they have divested themselves completely of themselves that they have an entire rightness and that's another program right which we like to talk about with kids. The irony with our negro act is too many of them have been also trained in what we call the method. Oh my God. The problem I find here is that they are they have become less interesting as actors and yet a person like Marlon Brando in the era of hanging out at the Katherine Dunham of Danske. Who picked up added to mannerisms that are essentially a negro up and then they leave and then everybody a claim him as as as
as as a new fresh talent. And yet the negro actor comes along and tries to make himself an imitation Englishman and not even utilize the natural and beyond just how it is so well take a look here. If you look at what they call a bollard Brando swagger and look at the Harlem bop rock the hippie dead rock is their science. Thing is the thing we invented we used to stroll along the seventh heaven what I was talking about earlier about music having to go to Liverpool to England and then come back and see the Lightnin Hopkins University Texas one when I had a Big Mac has things said Just which is this is the start of the concert saying well I have the goal to get to you and you have the indigenous blues thing and it's been here for like 50 years. Little white people discover him after he's invited to England by him for the reason being is I haven't had a happy year to tell you that as I look back and look at your own home you know you are so many levels in this band.
Well we've run out of time. There's so much more to say and talk about and perhaps we can do it another time. For now I want to thank Douglas ward of the artistic director of the newly formed negro Samba company successful playwright as well and author playwright actor as well loved and Mitchell and success on his recent book Black drama. I want to thank you both for coming down and chatting for these 55 minutes or so with us. Thank you very much. Thank you. 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 Pyatt will lead another conversation about life in the theater seminars in theatre is produced by radio station WNYC in New York City and is distributed by the national educational radio network.
- Hard travelin'
- Woody's children, part two
- Producing Organization
- University of Texas
- KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program, the second of two parts, explores Woody Guthrie's influence on the current crop of topical songwriters is shown, as demonstrated in this sampling of their music.
- Series Description
- A series about Woody Guthrie and his Depression-era folk music.
- Media type
Host: Adams, Judith
Performer: Guthrie, Arlo
Performer: Ochs, Phil
Performer: Seeger, Pete, 1919-2014
Performer: Reynolds, Malvina
Producing Organization: University of Texas
Producing Organization: KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
Writer: Tangley, Ralph
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “Hard travelin'; Woody's children, part two,” 1968-01-29, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 23, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-rf5kfk9f.
- MLA: “Hard travelin'; Woody's children, part two.” 1968-01-29. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 23, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-rf5kfk9f>.
- APA: Hard travelin'; Woody's children, 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 http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-rf5kfk9f