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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 and theatre Richard Pyatt. Good evening and welcome to another discussion on the theatre. This evening. We're going to be talking about the playing in title the concept. And it's written and performed by narcotics Addicks. They taught village. It's produced I'd offer counter Are you the producer of the play. I'm the co-producer of the producer morning 11:00 myself right now so levered isn't here tonight. Right. And our guests along with Mr. Cantor include the director of the play Laurence. Second row. And two of the cast members Carol Bruce and Jamaica's Donald O. But well it seems that theater more and more are the techniques of drama in some form or other are being used more and more less for entertainment than for a social involvement for the
solving of the social dilemmas or problems. Is this what the concept sets out to do just to make it sound so deadly. You know I don't agree with you at all. I don't think the theater. Is any more message prone now than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago or 30 years ago. I think what is happening though is that using new techniques of theater. I think as a result of various cultural theatrical political social and emotional explosions that have taken place very recently that the whole form structure content of theatre is changing and in its own way its own modest way the concept which is a play that was created and acted by members of an unusual community named a top village which is on Staten Island which is a.
I guess you refer to what Larry as a therapeutic community are ex narcotics addicts more of a human izing community and therapeutic. Well I'm. Anyway let me interrupt you it is but anyway I want I just want to finish the sentence is that the the concept is up a play that's very much in this form it's very contemporary. I've been in the theater for 22 years and I have never quite seen anything like and I'm very proud to be involved. Well the name of the catarrh I'm sure is known to have a theatregoer of in one way or another. They what I said earlier was to counter this of what I just want to do. Qualifier before we move on to a little history about religion and how it all of us came to be is that the techniques of theater are being used to solve social problems to solve medical problems to solve personality problems. And these techniques derive somewhere between the actors studio type of
Stanislavski his techniques of training an actor involving the use of delving into the inner personality of an individual through the use of improvisation or through the use of some kind of. Focused inward technique. I would say that if we try to do the same thing with concerts if we were if we put a number of musicians and quotes on stage to perform a symphony the public wouldn't accept it yet everything is accepted when it comes to the theatre. Now I say this negatively at this point and will develop it a little later. First with the concept what was the concept behind the concept in data village how was day top village established who knows a little more about it. LAWRENCE The director yeah data Abelard was started by David diet's the executive director.
About three and a half years ago. I think challenge for you went on the history better than I care. Carol GROSS Right. Well actually it started as a pilot project from the Brooklyn Supreme Court and there was a small grant. And it had certain stipulations that only felony felons from Brooklyn Supreme probationers and no female. It started off with this but then as they as they progressed along the way it was sort of a handicap with just having male addict. There. So David saw the need to have a more of a family type environment and set up and I was unable to do this with these kind of stipulations so we opened up a village with the help of. It can lead to mental health and you know like being supported by the community and donations and what have you and then the doors were open to
everyone that necessarily mean that you have to you know come through the court be a probation or live in Brooklyn or live in Brooklyn right. It's also open to females. They did the name day top. Does that derive from anything special is about just poetic named a top village and it has a special kind of temptation to drug addicts you know to persuasion. You know one of another and persuasion they top. But as they talk about connected with persuasion What does that mean I mean is there any connection between his name date top village and something that we don't know about. Now day top village is the name of our community. Why wasn't it named night top or I mean because they are hot because those are the initials for a drug addict. Oh I see what you want me to see I think it's what's known as an anagram addict title but now I get it eventually
I get all these points and it takes me 55 minutes. But they top village now it is located in Staten Island I was right that we have two facilities one in Staten Island and another one upstate New York and Swan Lake. The Brooklyn was mentioned. It had its beginning in Brooklyn. Step down it now in Staten Island but the Brooklyn Supreme Court. Ah well you know I love the Brooklyn Supreme Court started now where the how much money did they give and where did they get the money was it was the city money that was fine I think so I don't know. Imagine first started it. You know it doesn't really matter I'm just curious and it was very small and so the NIH for that big grand I'm Micheline to an attitude of mental health that's going to question the number of plays movies have treated the subject of narcotics addiction. How does this differ. From let's say a movie like The Golden
Arm or plays like a connection connection or what have you. Well I think it differs because like the community of de top itself we are primarily a community of people interacting with each other. And geared towards going back out into society and trying to effect some kind of meaningful change and communication in the world as a byproduct of this we happen to cure a drug addicts. But the primary focus is not a science factory for the rehabilitation of narcotics addicts it's for people you know we're talking about data. Blair he's talking about the play the real let me tell you what's different about this play. There's been a number of plays involving drugs and drug addiction. And some of been a very effective and some have not. Some films have been very unusual and some have not. This this feels this is a strange kind of evening. It's
really not just a play it's almost like a way of life. It has a life changing quality of this play. And one of the factors that makes it strikingly original is that every member of the cast is a former narcotics addict every member of the cast. There are no professional actors in it. Every member of the cast is a royal as I guess there are still members of the day top community who is not right. Yeah they were all men as they type community as of yet and from up you know I'm a I'm in the business I'm I'm a professional theater person I'm a professional theater producer. And a publicist. And this particular evening which I saw first at the Staten Island Jewish center was done in a gymnasium without any facilities stage facilities to speak of was one of the most moving and emotionally absorbing experiences of my life not just in the theater but anything else. And I was so moved by it that when my partner Mortimer Levitt suggested that we bring it to and so the two were off-Broadway I
was delighted to do so. And we are bringing it it's it it's playing at the Sheridan Square Playhouse and every dime. From that engagement goes to the top has another interesting point because it is being treated by the press as a theatrical event it is a theatrical event but now does become a theatrical event because and you answer the question I was going to ask you what your involvement is it is a purely social or is it theatrical. And why you were involved but you've answered old question you know what's not in anyway commercial it's it's. I just sort of after years of working in a theatre professionally I decided to rejoin the human race. That's a lot of fear. I did just to respond to your initial question and Arthur's response as to why how this plays different is it reaches people on all levels of society I mean our move forward and it's not
just applicable to Addicks with the problem of addiction. What the play says is very very meaningful for everybody who comes to see it you know it's not just a way about addicts as are you. This is all I know is a universal range and slope because drug addiction basically is a symptom of it is you know you get a you get hooked on various things. Some people get hooked on drugs and others get hooked on other things. But in a sense we are all addicts and this is one way that at least for me this is. This play shows how this group of. There are only eight people in the cast. How these eight people and states I must say with enormous imaginative and imagination because there are as I say they're not professional actors. It shows how the techniques that are used in data are not just as Larry say said techniques for the cure treatment of addiction but for the Cure and treatment
of humanity that will develop that in a moment or two a few bread and butter questions about all of this. How many act as played in one agony lasts for a whole hour an hour and a half. No it's it's more about an hour and 40 minutes than an hour and 40 40 minutes. It varies from the times that if you see the play another thing you understand is that there really although there's a basic script. There are all kinds of improvisations within and around the script depending upon audience reaction depending on the way the kids feel during that particular night so that it changes that it's a living breathing pliable plastic kind of evening I've never quite seen anything like it. But what I want to ask you then there are three things that come to mind immediately because I had a group on seven hours of data not long ago called their play was called the winner. And they involve the audience through having members of the audience act out the ending they would like once the crisis the conflict
arrived and members of the audience would this involve a lot of kids and adults who have problems and. That and many answers and a kind of an audience really direct audience involvement evolved out of this technique. Now it does the audience participate in any way other than as spectators I mean in terms of what you're doing yet the audience does participate. I know that the winner of Florence and her group and it's not the same kind of thing that they do. And I really don't want to reveal how the audience participates. Right now because you know what I think Larry unsullied should've interrupting but I think what we have to do is say what it's about so that it's very simply about how one addict gets into de top and what happens to him as a result of being and a top. And it's.
The other seven members of the cast relive certain life situations that have occurred prior to their coming to de top and while they are at de top it's as simple as that Khalid a play a documentary a collage i happening to use all of these mixed means of the two techniques. Well we don't know. Well we know and I don't mean mixed media know that the lighting is very simple. The scenery is practically nonexistent. They are the basic props or box eight of us I said feet of mixed means actually because that's my negative term I apply to mixed media and many cases so it's only because Nike equipment running mixed media can be very effective but in this case it's not necessary because because there are there's theater in this theater this kind of theater comes back come to his theater without professional actors. Yet it has more meaning and more incisiveness and more bite than anything I've ever seen on Broadway. Well that's what you keep saying that and of course. Unfortunately is one of the times I haven't seen the play yet. But how do you manage to do
this when the resources the talent and all of the other available means do not do it for Broadway theater and usually. Up to a point for Off Broadway theater. How do you do this. Well I can speak for myself like the parts that I'm playing you know with I can have emotional recalls. I don't really get involved at such as not a jail scene. I've been in jail and I you know recall back and try to relive the past like how I felt at that time I mean I want to dirty sell and try to get bailed out. That's one of the parts I play. And also as a push at one time I've done that and then I'll act out that. So I want I really don't want to have an emotional recalls and reliving the past right there on stage. Going to get some stylize in it now that I'm aware of it like a steady tripping all the way out like two different
techniques that we had showed us you know as far as this is concerned. How are you doing this entirely from. An emotional memory or are you doing this now with a sort of standing outside of yourself and looking at yourself or do you feel through this emotional recall the same series of emotions that you felt when you were actually involved in the real situation. As I feel it only now I have a little control over what I mean by that he said. So well that's enough for that like snap out of it and go into the next scene because it's a spontaneous play like you do when there's no obvious sign of writing to another scene. Well how does how do you I was tell you Larry Lawrence. How do you control the sequence of events. I mean after all it is structured to the extent that you have a theatre you have to get out of it at some point and someone has to come in at some point my basic script we have we have a sequence of events what's improvised as the dialogue within the structure so that the
structure is set there. Each scene follows the next scene the same every night and within the scene the actors have freedom to improvise their dialogue and change it every night. But there is a logical progression of scenes from first to last where do you find that working with actors that have not been trained. You get. A more imaginative response in and a more immediate and realistic response in there in probably improv is a Tory moment then with experienced actors Yeah but most definitely I don't know if I could work with experienced actors anymore because they're too trained in all of their technique and he just gets so bogged down in talking about. Acting and style and getting you know emotional recalls and Lilly's actors in the concept of a dried up when one sometimes sometimes they do and then we change our
material. Carolyn Hax I'm sorry finish up my son. Sometimes we do dry up sometimes the actors do and then we try to get new bits to make it more spontaneous. All right now you've all establish that this is a great experience for an audience I mean in addition to obviously a great experience for the participants. And I still would like to know if it's possible without seeing it I mean in order to answer this question of that it is two parts to it you'd have to see it I guess I'm going to have to be there. But also can you verbalize it to the extent of what I'm really asking is Why can't we have this kind of theater structured I mean why it why can't we have this when we have all of the resources highly. That really goes back to the question you asked before is why can't it happen on Broadway or off-Broadway and why is it happening here with nonprofessionals. I am one of the reasons that this play is so moving for audiences is because it evolves out of the daytime community and
what's happening at de tap community is so strong and so real and so powerful at this particular moment in our society when people are looking for answers to problems and there's nothing being offered them. And all of a sudden here comes a group of eight people that are exposing themselves and showing themselves in a way as more artists said it's the story of one person's struggle to overcoming his addiction by going to a day tough. But really it works on many many levels and symbolically it's the story of one person's struggle with facing himself and his own growth so that an audience comes to see this play and all of a sudden they see a group of people working together. And these people are working and helping each other and there is change happening. There is one person who is really changing and he's found a way to struggle with his existence at this time at this moment which is very very real and meaningful. And
people are very very moved to try to find a way to struggle with their own problems with their own meaning with its own cause sorry Tara it's our Aristotelian catharsis if you really want to know in theatrical terms. That's what we look for in. And there's a lot of ways this was a well you get it occasionally but this you know this gets it without slickness this this gets it almost in spite of it. It's a has a raw quality in the terms of the the structure. You know it's the concept for me is one of the most extraordinary theatre readings I have ever seen. You know and at least since I've been on about wanting to hear earlier you said it not only concerns itself with narcotic addiction problems but it covers it's universal. Yeah well let me get another thing I want to explain. It's very easy these days in the welter in which we live. I mean you have just had to pick up a paper or turn on a radio watch a television set
to know that these are nightmarish times for everybody in every way and yet. And one of the one of the ways in which these times of. Have events themselves in our theater notably by the way off-Broadway off off Broadway is in a lot of plays in which the blandness in the blankness and the kind of hopelessness of contemporary society is shown frequently with great anger and frequently with force and sometimes not with such force. Well this isn't a play. The thing that I like about the concept is that it's not it's not a nihilist evening. It's not a play where you go in and where existing values are torn down and battered and mutilated and brutalized and where the society that's evolved in this country is attacked and attacked and attacked and attacked and nothing has suggested to improve it. Here is a play in which these people through the medium of the day top village and through the medium of their own
torment in the struggle against their own addiction which they've succeeded in winning show that there is a way of changing. Society through changing oneself and that there is a way out there is some hope because I think if there is no hope then there is no point in continuing with anything. And sometimes you get that feeling especially when you've been around a long time and you see everything kind of crumbling in front of you you wonder Can anything ever be build up. Well I think that this little modest play without scenery and without rights and without professional actors even without a plot professional playwright is one of you know it so it's really a way out. Somebody said to me on Saturday after seeing it Saturday night he said I've never he said I've my whole life been changed by this play. And I it was hard for me to this is a realized sounding stage but I felt I agree with it I've heard lots of times we performed at Cafe La Mama people just came up. Cried at the end of the play woodenly stood around embracing
each other with love because love is so strong we shown in this play not it would only ask us once and everybody how sensitive must you be of an audience to get this feeling I mean after all. That kind of reaction seems to me would depend in great measure upon a sensitivity that you come into the theater with already. Or do you find that this happens to people who are not particularly sensitive. Well gee it happens to our house to a hell of a lot of people I mean there are some people who are just very very turned off. And would you know to save me years to reach the end that bother me I was getting turned on I got turned off. I think what is the relation between turned off and up tight and turned on I want you here but the other way when you're here in this case you download.
We've got the jar guy you see we don't have to worry now we'll know what it's all about. There's a lot of that by the way that's interesting. Yeah it was interesting for me as a form of speech major I was very interested in a lot of the terminology which I really had not heard of you know things like hair cut and you know you know what a haircut is not as an effect it's a dressing down it isn't for a better man to have you know what environment does that come from. Because from daytime to stay top top you reprimand What does react. What is that what were you as you may know a hostile reaction. You know it could mean you use the expression why did you react to him. So yeah well first it was hostile hostile because it was the use of the word reacting to that phrase becomes like we get a custom you know like a home and enough feelings for groups and things like that and he was like if you hit a time like that when he reacted to me on the floor so we take it a gradual as a hostile reaction. Do you use a lot of these times a pity and the audience follows it. Well we
have a glossary that's printed with the program because I tell you that's an interest not a another thing about this evening. You know the very fact that the techniques involved here are not professional is in itself a tremendous asset to an audience in other words you after you've watched the concept for about 15 minutes you are not in a theater anymore. You're out in Staten Island or in a jail cell or were on a broad What is it a mall that is cornered. What's a baldheaded corner. Well it's actually just a street terminology for thing you know like guys that hang out in the Corning I suppose kind of thing a bald headed you know I was phrasing this and Jimmy and Carol are you conscious while you're performing this of all that off the counter and Lauren sacro have been saying that you're doing. Are you conscious of having
this effect on the audience. Most times I don't think I'm that aware of it. First of all sometimes if I get my full flow involved in what's going on until sometimes I'm completely unaware of the audience at the time. And then towards the end I realize that there are people there and sometimes I can feel when people people are being touched. And at the end it's a sort of that interacting with the audience outside and then you kind of know you know you know the response. And sometimes it's good and sometimes it isn't so good. But it has a lot to do with you know how you feel you know doing the actual performance. I've never really I've never experienced acting before and I don't even consider myself acting that much when I'm on stage because the same is Jamey of a lot of the things that I'm actually I actually feel myself you know like realistically. Like before I came to de top I can feel myself in a lot of these things and there was want
Larry suggested changing. We have several emotions in that first thing and I don't have to preach anger and that was really me you know I was always so angry I felt everyone around me in the world outside. And you know like that part I just felt it and I felt let me ask you this if you have to project anger and you're not a professionally trained actress. So you don't feel angry that night. What do you do. Oh I have an outtake I can always think of something that will make me angry. OK let me ask you this. Oh sure is the Jackal that. You know that story. I don't think I want to tell it to us. Well I don't know if I can do it on a city on stage I wouldn't want it to be about to hold it but especially about the guy that the guy was who gets a flat tire and he's whipping himself up while he's looking for a. Farmhouse to borrow a jack you know everybody knows that story and he gets so angry and so angry and so angry and so angry
because he's anticipating the guys are not going to lend him the jack and you know that story as he opens the door and he finally gets pregnant hits him in the rock and says taking a damn sight right. How does this by way of giving us a little more of an inside to it how does this the concept and the techniques involved differ from psycho drama.
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 20 of 31
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Series Description
For series info, see Item 3231. This prog.: Discussion of the play "The Concept" performed by ex-narcotic addicts (ex-drug addicts). Arthur Kantor, co-producer; Lawrence Sakerol, director; Carol Bruce and Jimmy Costaldo, actors.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-20 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:30
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 20 of 31,” 1968-05-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 28, 2024,
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