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The program will be is the modern theater a reflection of and influence upon our society series ideas and the theatre. The actual views and voices you will hear drama critics Brooks Atkinson Richard Watts JR young fellows and nurse and George Friedly writers go or be don't. Tennessee Williams and Thyra Samter Winslow. You will also hear actor director Cyril retard social philosopher Kenneth Burke and apologist Solon kimbo and a summary by the consultant for ideas and the theatre. Dr David W. Thompson those who make this series possible. The University of Minnesota radio station KUNM in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters is under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. And now here is the producer of ideas and the theater Kao AMS critic at large. Philip Goldman.
Is it even worth the effort to analyze the influence of the modern theater. Who sees plays anyway. And finally discipline actually have any effect upon those who do see it. Well this might be called the objective perhaps pessimistic approach. I must confess that I started with a more subjective and optimistic observation when I interviewed Mr George Friedly curator of the special theatre section of The New York Public Library and Secretary of the Drama Critics Circle. Here is how a theatre critic and scholar George Friedly responded to my more positive view of our modern theatre. It would seem that the theatre is a vital concern or at least a concern to a lot of people and it may even be a kind of a mass medium. I think you're quite right in timing that one of the mass mass media. Several friends the amateur play broke and stay
to their one hundred fifty thousand amateur producing organizations in this country. If they had that many groups producing plays obviously must have tremendous audiences. And when you reaching that number of people then you know it is a mass medium. And I think that the very fact that in the theater you can't strike out and say something it's very close to your heart and the way that you can do in the movies with the cold you can't do it in television which is even more nice now in the movies on I can see where they do have to restrict certain topics because you can't tell who is going to turn on the television set for the Tommy salmon is going to do it or not. It's quite possibly would but I think that for that very reason you have to turn to for strength of expression and for mature adult topics to mature adult
life. No I think I think that when a man is fully developed a man a woman to fully develop their character is very definitely said I don't think anything it's said to them on the stage or written in any book is going to change their basic character. But it may strengthen certain results. That was George Friedman a curator of the theater section of The New York Public Library and Secretary of the Drama Critics Circle. Mr. Fregelius pointed out that the theater probably has more tradition and freedom than any other mass media. And I think we agreed we could call it a mass media because Mr. Friedly also pointed out there are 150000 different groups presenting plays in the United States. I think the least that these add up to is a good reason for viewing our modern American theater as both a reflection of and influence upon our society.
Well with this generalization in hand let's get specific. Let's look at a typical play of our times. What would it be. Oh I suppose a typical play is one that starts on Broadway. It's a hit. It's sold in the movies. It's a comedy. It's supposed to be sophisticated and it's usually about sex. Oh yes and it has one set and a small cast all of which guarantees that it will be produced by many of Mr. Freeh leaves one hundred fifty thousand civic summer school and little theaters throughout the USA. And then of the play we've chosen is the Tunnel of Love produced during the one thousand fifty six fifty seven Broadway season. Here is the distinguished columnist and drama critic for The New York Post. Mr. Richard Watts Jr. to read as part of his review of the Broadway hit The Tunnel of Love. Mr. Watts It's basic contention is no doubt sound enough it is acquired some families experience great difficulty in having or even
adopting babies. Others churning them out with great regularity which is hardly a revolutionary theory where the authors appear to be on more doubtful ground is in their belief that there is something prodigious Lee uproarious about both phenomena. There was I thought a little evidence that either the desperate effort of one wife to be a mother or the inevitability with which another kept becoming one was by any means essentially hilarious. There's a second theory on which tunnel of love is based on it to possess a certain validity. It is that some men have no talent for infidelity and that when we attempt it no matter how innocently they're sure to make a mess of things. That was Richard Watts Jr. drama critic for The New York Post. Brooks Atkinson is a drama critic for The New York Times a comparatively long question that I put to Mr. Atkinson about the Tunnel of Love. Do is short but succinct reply. I mean I thought of this player as I thought that I might reflect a growing cultural concern with fidelity. Do you think that possible
is more here than what the authors really had my. Oh I think they were trying to make a fast buck. Well it would be hard to quarrel with books Atkinson's contention here that many a successful Broadway show was written and produced to make a fast buck. This view however seems to make a fundamental question even more imperative. What effect might such a fast buck plays have upon America particularly young America. I put this question to the drama critic for the Catholic News Dr. Joan Allison a nurse and to one of our leading actor directors Sir Richard if a play must stress sexuality and even seem to condone infidelity to sell. What does this say to our younger generation. First Mr. Searle Richardo reply. As a rule I don't think they're too influenced by the behavior of people on
stage. And of course another thing is that most young people can't afford to go. But it's that by the time they can they have a little more sense. While Sir Richard's view is sort of a comforting one I believe there is more to be said about the influence of these successful Broadway marital comedy that is primarily concerned with extramarital activities. This more was very ably said by Dr. John Dallas a nurse drama critic for the Catholic knows. Mrs. nurse. I read an article not too long ago by a former member of the census for the New York State group you know. And he used to turn a climate of acceptance which I find very interesting. And his point was that if a child sees a an act of brutality.
But there's no proof that he's going to go home and hit his mother over the head with a brick. That you don't have a nice simple overt act resulting from it. But if he sees this act of brutality in the next act of brutality in the next act of brutality that gradually he begins to accept brutality azen as a common ordinary fact he doesn't get excited it doesn't shock him will surprise him any more. And it becomes a thing that people do well than the kind of simple example of an adapted to a child but I think with regard for instance to the handling of marriage problems and this this casual attitude to act extramarital love and they believe based on that always comes out alright. Since these are very attractive people engage in it they are not regarded with contempt by the people around them. They live happily ever after after
that. I think it does tend to build up this climate of acceptance for this type of conduct. And as a cumulative thing has an influence. Dr. John fellas a nurse drama critic for the Catholic knows has I think summarized the real concern we might have about the theater's influence today in the free Shiels the climate of acceptance. Is the real influence of the theater this climate of acceptance going unnoticed. I put this question to Dr. Solon Kimball an outstanding social anthropologist and professor of education of the Teachers College of Columbia University. I think that one can answer this by saying that the nature of the influence is something that no one yet as yet has been able to determine. But I think that a safer answer is that these kinds of portrayals are reflections
of the kind of thing which the viewers find compatible the kinds of things which viewers of perhaps want to see and are willing to see and to perhaps get to treat on a simple level as morality plays of the modern world. And to that extent they ought to be taken seriously. They ought to be analyzed they ought to be understood because. It is then that we can have an objective look at ourselves and perhaps make some decisions. If this is possible. About whether this is the kind of the world which does rather this is the kind of portrayal which does represent us or whether it's the kind of world with which we want more of the kind of world which we have whether we want it or not. That was social anthropologist Dr Solon Kimball when Professor Kimball referred to modern morality plays. I thought of the works of
Tennessee Williams. When Mike Ross reflecting a popular view accused Tennessee Williams of writing modern immorality plays Tennessee Williams replied. I think that most of my works have a point of view. It's not deliberate on my part. This is I don't feel that I'm in my right. Dilemma I had to sit in the reality that was Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tennessee Williams. It would be difficult and unfair I think to place the responsibility for good influence in the theatre upon the shoulders of the playwright. Before we turn to social philosopher Kenneth Burke for a few suggestions as to how and why our modern theatre might be a good influence. Let's hear from two objectors who don't believe the modern theatre has any influence at all. All rebels are writers. Thyra Samter Winslow and Garvey Dahl author of
numerous novels TV dramas and the hit Broadway comedy a visit to a small planet. Mr V Dahl views the theatre as artificial and neither a reflection of nor influence upon us. Surprisingly though both authors Winslow envied all came up with observations contrary to their own objections. First Garvey doll points out a direct influence from a specific play. My old friend Tennessee Williams caused a revolution in certain forms of those to relationships in America. When he rode A Streetcar Named Desire. And wrote the character of Stanley Kowalski which then Marlon Brando played brilliantly. It became a highly imitated character and it was a it brought in a whole new First of all a whole new character in fiction and in playwriting and then finally a whole new character in life that was not. There were not many Stanley Kowalski running loose before then.
Now this is an accepted American folk type the sort of crude basic lusty male who is very much in charge of the situation who is brutally insensitive and yet at the same time is enduring and this is not been an American folk hero before. It's not a fact the only previous American folk hero. One should say heroin which would have been established by the theater was the brave clever little giggling jabbering girl. Who would come in where all the big intelligent men had failed and her rattly way would solve everything. Television series are based on this thing and this is still the most popular American folk character something nobody believes in life and it gets back to my point of the theater is no reflection of life at all as a whole set of absolutely arbitrary and artificial characterizations and standards and intellectual definition of the
culture one should look to it. That was playwright Garvey Dahl author critique Cyrus Samter Winslow also will challenge some of our fundamental assumptions. We seem to be assuming here that the theatre is an influence not only because it has status but also because there are certain universality ease in what a play presents that we see ourselves in the theatre. Thyra Samter Winslow drama critic for Gotham died and one of the world's most published short story writers disagrees. This is when so I don't think we have any right to put ourselves in the place of the characters in all conditions as they do on me and think this that me and thought that I think. It was enough. Whenever we have a certain right to just analyzes the possibility that this may reflect some cultural factor we can analyze it but that I don't think it's necessary. I write short stories about very unpleasant people occasionally but I don't think that that that one short story about an unpleasant family makes
a hole or that that's to be talked about as the whole countryside. I wrote a story one time I had a book of stories a short sketches called my own my native land. Partly there were things I learned in my hometown partly from gathered partly made up entirely a great many of them imaginative and in my home town didn't like them may pick up certain stories and said How dare you write about Mrs. So and so of course that story had been about me so and so the entirely imaginative story. I don't you know Mrs. So-and-so like that type of life I would like to hear it interested me but I did no bother. But then people are so apt to draw conclusions that this represents a family. This represents this is a symbol. Let's approach this from any other direction. Even though a popular person or popular play may not reflect universal types might it not influence others to appear like that type. In other words what I'm driving at here. If enough of our plays and stories are
only concerned with the degeneration of the family. Do you think this represents any kind of an influence in the way people are going to look at their own family. I think we're in a pretty bad state. If we can't go to a party and see it without drawing conclusions play with our lives I don't think we do. I don't think we're influenced by a single play who might be influenced by seizing a place. My objection to it is that we aren't influenced enough we don't go to theater enough that they're in London and whenever I go to an hotel in Staten Island or the chamber maid always tells me all about the place she's gone to. And everyone will like that your taxi cab driver and everyone who goes to the theater because the theater is an expensive and if part of their life. But here in New York they do not they go to the movies or listen to television and not a number who go to the theater. So instead a theory infers think too much I don't think it influences enough. I think we all should go that they are much more trying to be obsessed by it. Well perhaps I should have said Kyra Samter Winslow seems to disagree.
She does agree that a season of plays are many similar plays could be an influence which I think gets us back to the idea of a climate of acceptance. Ms once also goes a step further and suggest that the theater should be an influence. This in turn suggests that there may be something innately good about the theatre. Well I asked one of my favorite philosophers to probe this idea. Here now is Kenneth Burke author of permanence and change the rhetoric of motives a philosophy of literary form and many other stimulating books. Mr. Kenneth Burke anytime you build up a loud shout not and wonder as a society builds up shall not say that it has certain types of property that must be protected. There's fear as my girl or your girl or something and I have what is theirs and I shout not involved there and no trust biasing any time you were brought up they lash out not in a society you set this condition for a yet for an arch which for a
drama which can get its appeal precisely by blathering that thou shalt not that isn't a does divide a stag's of you say Thou shalt not steal. Other than that then you've got to drown on somebody stealing I shot a kid you got to drown on a murder. Oh my why didn't know about em or sexuality or anything at all any time a society has a lash up not there's an opportunity there for the Brown on his two legs to do what it takes there's a great G-d and saying if you say Thou shalt not what would happen. That's the fundamental principle act and I think that's that sound in a way in the sense that I think that that art then does liberalize our society because if it weren't for that quality would work for that that wonderful AB or worse twist whereby Otherwise I think we would just get so clamped down we couldn't bide said leave the holes bugger we just weighs down like a bunch of a lot of trumps. But but because of this fact that you cannot finally keep people entertained
except by and by. Am imagining the end of breakdown of the yet from the very structure that they're leavened by and asking everyone underlip What did someone there is a liberalizing element there which I think but less thank God for I think that stuff slips out a lot. We really would just become a bunch of ants the without a single edge of movement possible. Kenneth Burke has presented a view of our tear that makes art a very essential liberalizing influence in any complex civilized society that needs our shelter not rules to exist and I imagine even the less complex primitive societies need similar rules in other words. Art serves a highly important irreplaceable purpose for all of us as a release a release that is not only psychological but also critical progressive and entertaining.
I asked kind of her to apply this liberalizing function in art specifically to the drama. The notion I have to resist the reasonable notion I am 11 when work would be the ideal. Drama does every play rugby. He would go you were this way. Well the word play about religion. He would write that play while trying to figure out for himself a whole group of a whole spectrum of different attitudes towards religion and you could have people who were the most devout and completely honest believers in religion and you have abs or groups that were as it is using religion as a mere blind like morning talk to you if you could do that properly you would work out a whole rated series of think walked who represented different places along that that Rayna spectrum were right that would be to my point of view
the ideal drum at the best point of view but really yes you would try to represent each stage along the way there as that's completely from within as you caught I think sometimes you might say Shakespeare's work approaches that Sowers and his way shyness to yes only shot at someone but I think that day but I think that the usual dramatist. Is he she is one can find. Well what are you going to do with them as he is a granted just because he can't do Les Brown is it not is he going to do nothing or is he going to do what he can do. Well the thing is I think that the emotional test test this ideal test and he carries out his function because if we only had his drama would be as crazy as he yes but we got all the island around us and not a lot of them wake and we can get our work we can patch our world up again one on one and get values that run one man in control of things if it is limited. It's terrible news just like Hitler. I mean everything he had was backed by the whole structure
and I was terrible. But a whole lot of man each one of home represents a some oddity of his own I think that's when it gets a form of humanisation and we can use it. Well then leave the range of human limitation witnesses I believe are doing that in art of our mutually cancelling excesses. Give your fair years of all human lead roles in society. That was social philosopher Kenneth Burke and now for a summary of today's program here's the consultant for ideas in this theatre. Dr David Thompson professor in the theatre arts at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Thompson the participants in today's program seem to disagree as to how the theatre reflects and influences our society. George briefly suggested it has a wide and stimulating influence zero regard so only a slight and team influence. Harvey Dahl said that
the leader creates new American folk heroes. Dr. Stuart and Kim both maintained it only reflects what the audience already finds compatible behind these and other apparent contradictions or wherever there seem to be a general agreement as to the intimate relationship between theater and society between stage acting and social behavior. At the heart of this relationship undoubtedly lies what Aristotle called our instinct of imitation. The theatre reflects society by imitating it. The theatre in turn influences society by our imitating the drama the kind of reflection and influence. Depends upon the nature of the society the quality of the drama and the training of the audience. There were a number of hints in today's program to the effect that in so far as our society is solely a matter of Commerce with our drama only a product and our audience only
consumers. We are in a bad way indeed. Recall the comments about commerce. Mr Gallup spoke of a place stress on sexuality as its attempt to sell Brooks Atkinson aptly said the aim of the tunnel of love was to make a fast buck. Join fellas and Norse pictured the way in which dramatic clichés in the mass media create a climate of acceptance something which is very like the use of repetition by advertising to ensure automatic acceptance of a product especially significant in this context of commercialism where the repeated references to children to a hypothetical child by Mrs. Norris to little Tommy aged seven by Mr Friedly to our younger generation by Mr Gallup and to the whole childish idiocy of the tunnel of love as reviewed by Richard Roth's Jr.. Despite our sentimental notions to the contrary children know the least about the art
of acting. Drugs are and are the easiest to entertain to intimidate and to sell a commercial society therefore using theatres solely for commercial reasons would find a commercial advantage in keeping the audience childish might this be happening now in America. That is the question. The really terrifying question which today's program skirted but did not focus upon and it rightly did not attempt to answer. I suspect that question is so personal and so politically charged that it has to be answered by each of us for himself. It has to do with our own childishness our own view of society as a political entity our own belief in the theatre as an art that explores the mystery of human acting. If we wish to pursue this question pleasurably and as adults we need only follow the practical advice of Thyra Samter Winslow. I think we should all go to the theater much more and try to be
influenced by it. We then in time may approach Kenneth Burke's ability to value mutually cancelling excesses. This ability to embrace contradictory accesss marks the psyche of liberal society and the great art of the theatre added there. That was Dr David W. Thompson a consultant for the series and a professor in the theatre arts at the University of Minnesota ideas and the theatre has produced by Philip Gellman a critic at large and a commentator for this series. Next week a discussion of sex fun and John on the Prize winning play he wants of the Toreador the participants will be drama critics books Atkinson Doctor Jones Ellison nurse John Beaufort and Thyra Samter Winslow plus authors scholars Eric Bentley Martin is working.
Ideas and the Theatre
Is the Theatre an influence?
Producing Organization
University of Minnesota
KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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A discussion of modern theater and whether or not it has an impact on modern society. Featured speakers include Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams and Cyril Ritchard.
The series presents a discussion of the current American theatre; its values, beliefs, patterns, and problems. Participants include Arthur Miller, Eric Bentley, Gore Vidal, Brooks Atkinson, Cyril Ritchard, Clinton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and others.
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Guest: Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983
Guest: Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012
Guest: Ritchard, Cyril, 1897-1977
Guest: Freedley, George, 1904-1967
Host: Kerwin, Jonathan W.
Producer: Gelb, Philip
Producing Organization: University of Minnesota
Producing Organization: KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-7-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:44
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Chicago: “Ideas and the Theatre; Is the Theatre an influence?,” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 14, 2021,
MLA: “Ideas and the Theatre; Is the Theatre an influence?.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 14, 2021. <>.
APA: Ideas and the Theatre; Is the Theatre an influence?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from