Seminars in theatre; Episode 22 of 31
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 Pyatt Good evening and welcome to seminars and theatre. Our guests this evening include when Hanneman director of the American place theatre and Ronald Reagan the author of the current play there the ceremony of innocence. Ronald Reagan this ceremony of innocence is his third full length play his first two hairy noon and night in the journey of the fifth horse were also presented by the American Place Theater. The journey of the fifth horse brought the author an Obie Award for the best all Broadway play of the 1965 66 season and during the same period was produced with television by Channel 13 and the play was recently presented in a Sunday night performance by the Royal Court Theatre in London
where it has been scheduled for repertory production in April. His first original television play the final war of early winter was shown last season as the initial production of the new CBS drama series was written as a New Yorker and was educated at Brooklyn College and then the University of Pittsburgh where he obtained his Ph.D. in English literature. When Hammond is regarded by members of the profession as one of its most prominent teachers of acting and he's been responsible for the training of many of the present day theatres most accomplished actors. He is also educated in New York and is directed in all forms of theatre repertory workshops stop touring companies and off-Broadway including the original production of Shirley Jackson's the lottery in Tolstoy's the power of darkness and he is currently I think since 1962 when the American Place data came into being at St. Clements church here in New York. He's the director of the American Place Theater.
One of the when the American place theatre did come into existence in 1962 is that correct. Yes it was an idea that was brewing for a couple of years before that in 1962. We moved over to St. Clement's church which gave us a place. And since the word place is very important and the place is very important to actually have a theater. It really started to become a concrete tangible theater at that time. Well American plays there seems to be responsible for a number of original plays being produced. I take it this is one of the main activities that you engage in there. Well it is the the basic activity we do not do place other than I originally a place where you know what our policy is to do plays. New plays by living American writers. And
that's all we do we do them in various forms ranging from full Productions has a current ceremony of innocence by Ron to Redmon and the other productions we call studio productions writers to readings various forms of developmental Productions. But it's always a new play by a living American writer. The current production the ceremony of innocence has been given. I would say without having read every hundred reviewer but it has been given unanimous positive appreciation by all of the reviewers and I can see why Donal Madden who is the featured performer in this by the way I was looking forward to talking to him. I did want to say about Donald Madden because I thought this is the integration of a good play and good performers and good directors and a place to put it on is essential for the overall success of a play.
I think you would agree to that. And Donal Madden represents really the I think potentially what American actors could be if they had if they were indulged in the first place with some qualities I would say indefinable qualities but I don't imagine has the versatility and the talent and. Why I am disappointed that he's not here is that I think basically potentially he could be one of the best actors in America and this is what I want to do. The reason I'm mentioning this yet is because one of the basic formats of the program here is that we talk and we have talk with with every member of the theater practically with repertory groups etc. about the fact that actors have no place to go. In America there's a large generalization but what I mean by that. We have no schools no institutions whereby the direction of an actor can move forward in elevating his
craft in an overall way is the American Place Theater considered by yourselves and you're the director an opportunistic place for continued training for actors. Well we don't think of it as in training ground for actors but of course it does have that byproduct because at the American place there the actor is giving it given an opportunity to work on something that's never been worked on before. To truly create a role because it's never been created before written by a contemporary of his and usually a present acting problems that he hasn't encountered before because more and more the contemporary plays. The play is written by our writers. Different in the form they are they do not continue on from the traditional form and very frequently present new problems to the director and the actor that he's never had to solve before. Also unfortunately our actors do
not have the opportunity to be seen in worthwhile material most of the things they do are for the commercial market and they just do it to earn a living. So we feel a kind of revitalization of their creative force when they had their marriage at the American place there and most of them cherish the experience. And I do feel it's a developmental one but we do not think of the theatre as a training ground for actors and the primary way but it does have that. You're a result of the fact you're on Forty sixth Street in the same climate as church and that is between Ninth and Tenth Avenue that is considered off Broadway in view of the fact that I should say regardless of its location uptown it's still considered off-Broadway houses then. Well we operate on an equity our Broadway contract and to that extent is defined as our Broadway other than that I don't know you can do it geographically or
by the nature of the plays and I think more and more we should stop thinking of Broadway and off Broadway and it's just theater and each theater has its own unique character I certainly think the American Place Theater does. Maybe it's a mid. I don't know. Well what I think is a is a profound complement. One of the critics and one of the paper's own it which one said that Ronald Richmond is not Shakespeare. I think for someone to say that you're not Shakespeare is quite a compliment really because it means that you're coming very close to being something in that area. The ceremony of an innocence. I don't think you were trying to be Shakespeare rather were you. I think is a legitimate question because the comment itself is autumn when I read it I had to laugh. I think what the critic became aware of was that
language was being used in a rather non-pros form I've been using a kind of prose poetry an attempt to bring back metaphor into plays and I think the critics here while not expecting poetry suddenly came upon became sensitive to that something else was happening to language other than merely an overt prose statement and responded to it. Of course Shakespeare's plays are in poetry I am a contaminant and this is no good for the modern stage we can use that form of line. But I've been attempting to use a prose form of mine which nevertheless carries a metaphor with it and the years of some of the critics have been attuned to what they know something is going on they haven't read the play and therefore they can only go on what they hear and not see or we see a poem when we look at it in front of us all we are so
there it is in a you know a poem poem but we merely listen to it if it's spoken properly we're not aware of it immediately. Something about the rhythm of language comes through so I think that's what the critics respond to. The rhythm and the syntax of speech by the actors in the play do vary. I don't know whether that is because it's written that way or because some of the actors speak that way but some of the comments have centered around the fact that the in part the prose sounds quite contemporary in colloquial and in others it sounds quite classic and removed. Is this because of the acting or because of the writing. Well I think that part of any play whether it's a Shakespearean play or not is in simple prose rhythm the rhythm changes from scene to scene from character to character and they pick up the different
tempos. It will not sound all the same. No I think that you reserve your poetry for those moments when you know a great deal of freight or material has to be gotten down into a short amount of time or when the passions call for it and so on. I think there must be variety you cannot simply have a play which is one poetic speech after the other. You sooner or later you come down to single response to single lines and I think this shift the players is orchestrated in a sense where piece of music you balance scene upon scene and you listen to the sound that entire scenes make you listen to the sound that the speech is and then lines and then words Meg by things when I think they
just put it in a different focus as the language within a scene when it begins to sound of example Sussex sounds quite contemporary and yet within the same context and sequence of timing his scene. The responses from the other characters do not sound contemporary. So if the question really are that I think some of the critics have raised it is this design or is this as you want it or is you not wanted or as a thing I do is it as you think it should be. I think when you're dealing with an historical play in dealing with the ceremony going to sins which is set in the 11th century I faced a very definite problem of language. Obviously I could not use old English wrangle Saxon merely because it's a complete foreign language to most people today. So I am faced with a choice what language do I use to make it completely contemporary. I. Would be I think to create a
feeling in the part of those that are watching it that something was wrong these people of the 11th Century out there they are speaking quite contemporarily to us. And I think this would have been a mistake my object my language choice was such that the audience would not be bothered by the language the language. And form I would say and structure is probably Elizabeth and at least in the poetry aspects of it. Inversion. I like it not and sort of I don't like it. I think that if I had the king saying I don't like it I didn't like it. The audience here would begin to wiggle immediately and I would say something is wrong in their life. I like it not that I think that you are always in dealing with a play you and dealing with language the language if you cannot use the actual language is not a contemporary plane you can simply use contemporary rhythms and you must find something that will not strike the audience as being at
all unusual. Where when how and when. A number of successful productions of input all of the American place theatre the Old Glory one of them was noticeable by Robert Lowell Hogans goat and the floor. I don't know whether they get too much notice but it's by Bruce Jay Friedman knows a coate sees me as flaws but I'm a Swenson a poet and appeared as a one act play along with another one I play which was bought by Bruce Jefferies man and that was called 23 Pat O'Brien movies. Well the reason you apparently in each case something appealed to you in these plays what appealed to you about the ceremony of innocence. Ronald women's writing to begin with I begin with the writer I must feel this is a writer of consequence that can make a difference. Naturally you want to love the Plato and. Really when I decide
to do a play it's because I love it. So if you say what appeals to you about the girl you love you just say well you know I love her. What appeals to me about is obviously a play for our times is obviously a play that communicates something profoundly truthful about humanity in all times and something which we should. More and more begin to reckon with which is that irrational strain in man which is constantly causing up evils. And that's one way of pointing at us. I felt it would be a play people would come to watch listen to and a marriage with an experience beyond just a short piece of titillation which sometimes the theater is and that's fine too but there has to be a place for this kind of play and American Place Theater is such a place. And that's why we decided to do it.
The interesting thing about the play other than the obvious talent behind it is it's written about at least most people come away from it thinking and deriving or inferring that it has something to do with the present political conflict that military conflict we have in Vietnam. Whether you do or not I think that I think the theme is more is universal enough to be applied. About the reason of man regardless of where they conflict is but I think what is interesting is that it's written about a contemporary situation in a most un contemporary way and I think most what we're witnessing in the theater for the most part from new playwrights. It is a kind of absurd abstract writing and transcending the what might be labeled the average guard type of writing but yet Ron you have sort of given her an impetus to
the style of writing that say can elevate the subject matter or at least affords you the opportunity to be elevated with a certain beauty and yet have a current implication and do you think your writing will continue in that direction or we will revert very toward the world through our. Let's say I'm not familiar with your other other plays. Can I just say they're hairy noon and night is still considered by those advocates of the theory of the absurd and the vanguard as the end in that kind of a headache they couldn't get over it and it was just a wild unique event in the theater that was filled with absurd things and wild humor and bizarre situations and Ronald just happened to write the ceremony events and says Is there a way he may go way beyond what he did in Mary noon and night in that direction next for I don't know maybe
he won't agree but every time he creates a play he creates new unique totality which takes on its own character. What do you want an audience to come away from the theater with after they've seen the play. What kind of react this guy or ceremony of innocence or if you have different I mean we're talking about your introduction now that everything is so conscious. For example I don't think that there's mixture of styles that you. Called attention to in the ceremony in Venice is that conscious on Ronald's part in the creation of the production. We attempt to reflect what we see in the writing and there is this mixture. Now whether or not Ronald was conscious of it and how conscious we were in casting certain people in a certain way and in handling them a certain way so that sometimes it seems historical sometimes it seemed contemporary. There's a kind of a of a just a permeation of something which we want to come through. Now that's not the answer the question you just asked me but it does have to do
with it so that things I don't think you can spell it out so much about me that some people are going to tell you the way that it's about the Vietnam War and other things people going to take away if it's just about human nature and not even think about the Vietnam War. And I don't think what they should I have to feel that there is something in here that is erupting some sort of truth some sort of. Life life revelation is coming out of it and I just hope the audience takes something from it that they can take from it. I hope they are caused to think hope their thought process is provoked. I hope somehow or other they are reached in deeper regions then they usually reach inside themselves and then they come away knowing what the theatre can do for them what the theatre can reveal to them. Because I find that much too often and Rees And I understand that the audience has been bored with theatre and the more intelligent audience finds it
usually trivial and boring. And we're trying to bring them back to have a stimulus so that they know they can have a stimulating intelligent and enriching time in the theater. And that's what I hope they come away from from the play with and I really I think each person will take something different away from the play and that's fine with me. There's a lot of discussion these days about Repertory Theatre and the need so-called repertory anticipate setting up any kind of Repertory Theatre at least. No because. Since we're dealing only with the living writers it is impossible to predict what the season will be in advance so that would be impossible to choose a company that we know would do the best job with each play. In addition when you're dealing with contemporary writers the casting has to be much more subtle. For example when you do Hogans go you
have to have actors who are capable of giving you that Irish-American flavor which all of us in America are familiar with. When you're casting a play like Cecil Dawkins the displaced person based on the Flannery O'Connor story set on a Georgia farm. Again the casting has to capture that flavor. And then when you're doing a who's got his own which is about a black family in America you have to have a cast of black actors or the next. We're doing three one act is directly after this played by Ed ballance again mostly black people. Now they. You can't use the same people over and over again so a repertory theater is not right for the American place there. But I did many many many repertory theaters in the country and getting back to the training of American actors they have much more opportunity now to stretch to explore because there are many many more regional theaters and most of them are repertory companies. A great many actors outside of New York
are getting very valuable experience and in New York they've been getting more. I think the decade of the sixties is marked a great improvement in the climate for actors in the development of actors they're not just hanging around New York knocking on agents doors panting to do a television show or get into some Broadway comany they're in Seattle they're in Los Angeles they're in San Francisco Houston Washington Minneapolis Milwaukee and we can name many many other cities which didn't have companies before. So that and some of the actors in the ceremony of innocence have gotten excellent experience in those regional theaters and they can speak and they can handle important roles. Cause regional theater is on the up climate and I think needful E So this is not in of itself those you know guarantee or assure that the proper experience on actors part of the evolve any real
development of his craft whether he needs work extra work in his speech or in the work in his body whatever it is. What you said about repertory theatre though in your connection with American places you've sort of neg ated the concept of Repertory Theatre. I don't know if you say well if you say you need certain actors you can't plan ahead. You know you don't know what the play is going to be. Then you're pretty clued in the least it seems that an actor cannot adjust to the type of character that is needed in the play. Well it is much easier to plan on a season of doing Shaw's Man and Superman Chekhov's three says there is Shakespeare's Korea lameness. Etc. and pick out actors who can reasonably well fit the roles in each one of those plays and say we'll have actor play this part this part this part and that part so I think that is exactly the right thing to do in the regional repertory theater it's just not right for what the American Place Theater is about.
Willie I get I'm going to presume that regarding the assistance of funds to theater been many requests that the government should federalize them subsidize theaters and give more money. Do you think if you think that there's any way maybe you think there's nothing wrong with theater anyway here in this country. Maybe it's all Apple cream. Like everything else dressing well. Yes you do as a matter of fact. Now I think it's much better than it was here in New York or in the country throughout the country and in the end New York was in New York now where you have. There is like Shakespeare in the park we have a job perhaps a public theater we have the APAC is now resident. We have a Lincoln Center. We have cafe le mama. We have the American Place Theater and that's much more and many others I can't name them or hear much more live activity going on than there was in the
50s I remember that the 50s very well it was a period of great frustration and not much happening and it was that kind of dormant frustrating atmosphere cause many of us to start trying to break new ground. And I really feel that things are better in the 60s I don't think that we've had a peak or anything like that but just by comparison it is better as a playwright. We have a view on actors What do you think is the major weaknesses of American actors when it comes time to do one of your players. Well I suppose that the acting requires a great amount of discipline and I don't know just how much discipline American actors are willing to give to their craft. This is not a particularly talking about my play.
I think in the theatre in general they lack a certain discipline I have seen them argue with directors I've seen them fight walk out into their psychiatry is reminded of a story where a director asked an actor to move a cup of coffee from one end of a table to another and he said Why what's my motivation for that. And the director said to him you'll be fired. Who is that. There they are. They were often part of their great genius I suppose leads to the fact of being undersupplied in the arts. There is only discipline without discipline you have nothing you feel are going to write. You must sit down and work at it even when you don't feel like working at it even though you know that at the end of the day you're going to tear up everything you've done requires concentration and discipline. As in they're
too lax from what I've seen with themselves are too easy on themselves. They they often don't think of the problems that directors face to get a unit out. A play is not one actor it is everybody that is at work upon it and they often think of the the players revolving around their particular role. You tend to ask an actor what was the play about the play was about my role. Somehow no matter what party has he tends to think of he doesn't see the whole of the play for the for the part that he is playing. I will go back to that again discipline. To be undisciplined is to do nothing. Well Ronald let let me interject here that in the ceremony of innocence company and it's not just because it's the current plate you have a very disciplined cast and this is what's been fortunate fortunate so I don't feel that what run of the saints should reflect on this current point.
Let us play they hold very close to the set of performance every performance and this is a time you come to the theater and you feel very relaxed you know you're going to see your play and it's going to be maintained on a certain level. And Donald's not here then but I will say the Donald playing one of the key roles in of any role is kids hands. Has a high degree of discipline and professionalism and holds to the performance that was set to a markable degree. Not that it's mechanical but he holds it and the rest of the cast does too. But I will also say that the nature of the play makes more for it than some of the other plays which are exploding all the time and are much more explosive and the curial nature and Ronald the characteristic of his previous two plays was more that than this and
- Seminars in theatre
- Episode Number
- Episode 22 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: 68-11-22 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 22 of 31,” 1968-06-04, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 7, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-sj19qr8b.
- MLA: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 22 of 31.” 1968-06-04. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 7, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-sj19qr8b>.
- APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 22 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-sj19qr8b