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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 pipes that evening and welcome again to our panel discussions on theatre and its practices across the nation and specifically regionally here in New York that we can apply that to Manhattan. Our guests this evening include Robert Mack Beth who is the founder of the new Lafayette theatre Harlem's first professional theater which opened last year with Ronald Milner's who's got his own and the event also marks the debut of Robert Mack best director and his first career as an actor he's appeared in Tiger Tiger burning bright and a taste of honey on Broadway off-Broadway in the blacks the Merchant of Venice with a living premise in one year with a living theater. And it was during his association with the latter group that he first began to make plans for organizing the new
Lafayette theater. Also On Our panel is still Evans who has distinguished herself on Broadway in take a giant step and our line of Broadway and hollowing bride and she was the mother in the original American Place Theater presentation of who's got his own subsequently RISD recreated the role when that play opened Harlem's New Lafayette theater and again on a tour of New York State University. Her films include To Kill a Mockingbird in the quiet one she's been featured on TV's Naked City other television shows in the 70s as a former teacher in New York City public schools and has studied acting at the American Negro Theater. She's the director of our theater workshop and previously had an acting group called the pilot players which we'll ask her about our theater workshop. First of all. There is a series of players by at Boland's which
successfully played at the American Place Theater and has now moved to another theater of the Martinique for the general public run the three plays run of the generic title of the electronic nigger and others and son come home. Here's one electronic nigger is the second and Clara's old man and his Evans plays the mother in a son come home and the neighbor one of the neighbors I believe in this thing the Enquirer's old man of Robert mag bent First of all the Lafayette theater that you were as you did establish and in Harlem. Is in what state of condition I think I just threw when you said it was burnt down. How long had you been in the location I got burnt.
Only about eight months. Considering all that about eight months we took the place over and April of last year spent four months getting ready. Then opened it and spent three three months in production. The. Theater wasn't ready with the time that we spent and I wasn't really ready for a winter so we had to evacuate for the winter time and leave it alone the heating system wasn't as good as it should have been. And during that time of our being out of it not being there regularly the fire occurred. We were in a ball room that was above. Of A can supermarket and those kind of places places are notoriously dangerous places as far as seismic I think in saying so that's why you're glad it burnt down.
No I'm not it was a great old place we like that old place it was it was a good building. Well the reason I ask that quite sensibly silly question is that it seems to me that it would give you an opportunity to start new quarters in a more comfortable place. Yeah that's true it does do that but. I don't know if he does do that we in the end will find new quarters in the new quarters will no doubt be better than the other quarters. But you invest a certain amount of time and thinking in the place that you're in and if the place is an interesting place like that place was a place with some classes and history of its own. When you lose the place you know you lose a little of something is you know you have to reorganize it in lots of ways that you wouldn't really have to do it had you had the old place. How large of a organization did you have or I'm talking about in the past tense don't assume that it's concurrently operating we have we
don't have a running company in the sense of there's no company on salary at present but there are about 15 or 20 actors who we've been working with working together for the last eight months six eight months some of whom worked in the productions others are hoping to work in productions when we go back into production this year. We've been staying together working out together once or twice a week and. Looking forward to going on into a season what did you have in mind. This is a brief way of asking you what the objectives are for the new Lafayette theater. Is it simply to present plays in Harlem or do you have some other ideas that you are trying to implement through managing a theater. Well my feeling about the theatre is that I said this before so it comes out almost by rote but like the church
the theatre is a community kind of ritual and. Everybody doesn't go to the same church. All churches are not exactly alike. The type of people who come to the church connected to the type of people who do the church thing create a certain kind of church both in terms of ritual and physical presence and everything. You know I mean in terms of the kinds of things that are talked about in the way they're talked about the way they're handled all of that I think is the same with the thing that I believe that the theater is the same way that that it it's a kind of a thing that is done by a group of people. And that is participated in as far as audience is concerned by a group of people and those people are all kind of very much a part of the same thing or should be very much a part of the thing that I don't believe in the separation of the artist and the people who come to see him I believe that they're all a part of each other when they aren't when something happens and the art begins
to narrow itself down to a very small chosen group of people who. Supporters of the art so they appreciated the art and everybody else has kind of looks and says oh that's what art is. But it has nothing to do with Man I don't know from it you know but from my point of view it would be impossible for me to have a theater any place else doing anything else. I mean I would have to have had a theater in Harlem. Well the fact that it's located in Harlem does that preclude any audience member that wants to come. Oh no no no no anybody can come to that theater exactly as anybody can go to the bima or the Abbey or the Japanese. Right. When you go to those theaters in their own environs though it's like one kind of experience that you can't get even if they tour you know. That's very true that's very true I think to the to reinforce this point you're making via this news will.
May want to hear from a different point of view this this in a very simple way that's very true. I remember when I used to go to the movies Saturday afternoons. If I see a certain movie in my neighborhood and if I see a certain movie on Broadway as an entirely different audience connection and response this is I know this is what you're talking about this is exactly I know what you mean and I think there's a lot to be derived from it by someone else from a different area going to another area to see something in its environment. Speaking of that I want to talk more about what you're doing with the Lafayette theater. The one I saw I happen to see the three plays at the American Place Theater. And these were successfully directed by you at Bullen's as written from interesting plays a one act plays. There's an interesting thing about watching these plays even at the American place that I haven't seen him up in Harlem but the fact that there's a kind of invited
audience. And at the night I saw that the audience seemed to be for the most part tuned in to what was happening on stage a little more than I'd say a set A more. Disparate audience that you might find even in that same area but end up in a public oriented This place is a subscription theatre and general public apparently doesn't get him. What how would that change. Would the acting have changed at all with these very same plays in the theater up in Harlem. From the way it was performed at the American place they're still good but I say I don't know I only I haven't been the director I hypothesize about a lot of things but they know like don't really do it and that's a good way to get your voice started here's what what is your feeling about that.
Well I've been in that situation twice I did guide is known by Ron M. Night at the American place and then at the laugh Yeah and the difference is really there. At the American place beautiful there. Lovely place. The people there in the audience singing too. They viewed us as. What is this. Who are they. What are they trying to do. They try very hard to understand what we were trying to do. And we felt that a lot of the energy a lot of the effort a lot of the but there's a patient that we sort of expected from them to come with us were expanded in sort of viewing us.
I put this. And then when we did a town they seemed to have tuned in right away. They knew what it is we were doing and they were part of it. They were where Head of us. We didn't have to make a point big your laces hinted at something and they were there with their. Now this does something to the actors. It's stimulating. Well it's it's everything. You know you feel the participation from the house you feel the appreciation. You you know when it's going well. And this this is like a tonic to the actor on the stage. Yes I would imagine gives the actor the feedback in the connection with whom he's trying to reach anyway and add another dimension to his own acting range while he's involved in life threatening. And as. Bob said a moment ago that it's
a thing involving the actor or the artist as well as the audience it's a thing they do together. And in that way when you really do it together back and forth we're getting we're giving and getting from each other. It's a thing we can all do you know enjoy and when it's over it's not as if I am here to show you what I can do. Well you know the premise you're setting up both Bob and yourself is that if you act with indigenous material within the environment from which this material springs that there is a connection that is between the audience and the actor that you don't find oh no if this were true I don't I'm not suggesting a problem for you I'm I'm opening up just a question I want to ask ask you about it. I don't get this connection. If I watch a play on Broadway you will see something by it. And if I go to see something somewhere else within the
Broadway area. It is in its environment its writing about indigenous problems presumably. But I don't see this connection you're talking about. On with the Presumably the same cast of audience that you're talking about because in Harlem because everyone can identify with what you're writing about or because there are nuances and subtleties coming out that the person is from another area or region is not aware of so it doesn't connect. But I don't see this connection even when it's in it's environment on Broadway as I say what is I know maybe I'm wrong maybe I just don't see it. I don't know from so I don't know. I just see what I'm saying. I could when I'm saying it might only be. Valid in the situation in which I do it and it may have nobility for anything else. The end is that what I'm saying that much
like some kind of spiritual doctrine perhaps. Much like my Irish. Ideas about transcend the Transcendental Meditation. You know unless you were with him believing that and doing it you know you could say well what are you talking about I don't understand it. You know and you're right you don't understand it it doesn't really mean anything. But I only know for a fact that it is not just indigenous material either some funny kind of thing about the reason for which you do whatever it is you do. There's something about those. Do you remember back in the old days when when they had a big band coolie Williams and Biggie and a great solo guys used to blow one note solo for 15 minutes and variations on one note right. And it was something about his doing that he wasn't doing much. You know I mean he was doing a lot of stuff you know there was something about his doing it and
his digging doing it and his digging you were digging doing it and that kind of created a whole the same thing about Ray Charles. Let Everybody say yeah yeah. Anyway says yeah and he says nice. Yeah again I think it's just some funny kind of strange thing James round as very the very same thing. Now that is some variation on that can't define. You talk about it when you talk about the James Brown the rape charges and some of the other that you know you talk about the same. It's hard to define except that you watched the three plays of the American play particularly close oh man. And when there's a large chunk of Negro audience in there and you can tell the difference you know that the white audience is sitting there saying one way and then the black audience is then yeah yeah you know and always and at the end of the play it's kind of like.
You know all the wipers I don't mind what I put you know what kind of people and everybody all the all the all the all the black people in the audience who are relating to it differently. You see one is no is no better or worse than the other. Yeah I think that's a good point to make because we're not talking about and this becomes confused because at least I'm not talking and I don't think you talk about talking about racism we're not talking about racial subjects and we're really not talking about that factor is setting it apart right and this is important I understand yes. Yes because for example when and when this goes on the air won't be as watching kurang being interviewed by Sammy Davis Jr. Now there was something wrong. That should be a very interesting interview. Well I would love he was on it and it was on The Johnny Carson show but the point I'm making is related to what you just said about who
is the organizer of us. John I want to go into what I mean for our listeners it is organize organizer of some group or political group or what have you. Social group. But the point is Sammy Davis Jr. was interviewing him and asking him what the point of us is about and as he was talking about it he was really going on and on and on and talking and Sammy Davis Jr. reaction to this was laughter and saying wail and wail while you see everybody in the audience but most was listening intently to this with a different kind of response but this is very similar to what really you're describing also in a related way because of the fact that Sammy Davis Jr. is saying whale whale I mean something else than the audience listening intently to what ideas what he really expressing.
Was he talking about at least that to me is a relationship to what you're saying. Each person seeing it from his own point of view each point of view being valid no one is saying that that you have to pop your fingers right. You know you don't have to say anything that's not your thing if you watch east in theater let's say a few years ago you watch Easton theater with a whole Cockney cast and they are. And the play is about something really connected with East and East in characters. It's very likely that Weston. London theater goers will not get the same flavor and not really get the same kind of warmth or connection with the East and Cockney part by the way this car is old man. Pros of the audiences. Well I don't I don't usually go into what plays are about already. So I was sort of talking I had to get a guest for the listener but the point I'm making is cars all man has its own flavor.
On one level it's entertainment on another level and it can really be appreciated though on two or three levels I think can be most appreciated of course by those individuals who can identify with the nuances and the subtleties that are being expressed in terms of slang in terms of behavior in terms of reaction. So it has that that advantage really it has that in its favor and when you direct these plays. You were concerned with an artistic end is that a fair assumption. What meaning you're not are you concerned about bringing in what you just described to the for those that take care of itself. Or are you concerned here with our antics. Then I want to say this about the play's. The really terrific plays of the electronic nigger isn't at all what one might think it it's about I would say
that because we know that Leroy Jones has you you are I would say very close to Leroy Jones at least according to what I read. But your writing is not at all like the Roy Jones and the Romans. Yeah at Bowen's I'm sorry but that's right. It was a something a Jones name in a second play. The electronic nigger the name Jones was on the way. On the board of course the obvious Wonder Woman there is does that mean it would that have kind of a humorous connection with Leroy Jones with a teacher there. But the point the point of this rambling and what I'm getting at here is that these plays were really theatrical entertainment on a very high order. By that I mean leaving aside any consideration other than an enjoyable evening in the theatre.
And so this is the real point that I am getting at and I'm trying to find out from you. Do you get the same reaction from the audience watching them observe these plays. And do you as dull as an actress get this feeling that come through to you that that these plays are being enjoyed on on the basis of real theatrical entertainment. Yes there's certainly the one that that is better that is best understood. Is Earth's most overtly enjoy it. We get much laughter from the electronic media. And sometimes I think. Clara they do get the point. They don't seem to petition participate in Clara's old man they don't seem to they're very quiet sometimes. But at the end you get there to respect him. The feeling of the impact on the audience and you know they
they have been with you. They have been with you. They couldn't keep ahead of you. As I. Say black people in the audience who sort of really keep ahead of you anticipate the humor. You know that and sometimes we don't even get a reaction from the humor part with most of the audience. But at the end you realize that they have been with it all along. But I thought I would add to this to my impression is that the number of black people in the audience who are in the same position as a number of other white point let's let's let's let's clear that let's clear that now everybody. There are no statements you can make about any way of enjoying plays or about what the plays mean because they only mean that or they're only enjoyed or enjoyed or appreciated or seen from that point of view. For those people who see it from that point of view and when one really one of the problems I've found is and I came up in the
school that suggested that people have to be taught to appreciate the arts that there are ways of appreciating the arts we had music appreciation courses we had all kinds of things like what you look forward to appreciate. Think that's true. I think that people can sit with a thing and be it a painting or a piece of music or play. They can sit with a thing. And they can just sit and watch it with no qualms about any of it. You know I know no particular things about any of it and sit and watch it and see something and leave and had participated in their own way whether they could say that well I liked this part as as good it was good comedy or or that was more this meant something or anything that you just see what it is and it is what it is. You know and one of the one of the you know you can say a lot of things about the place being good entertainment.
From a purely man and that may be true for some of the people there for others or people who didn't like it. They didn't like it. There were those people who were in the middle acquirers old man got up and left. You know there were lots of them who couldn't get up and leave but who wanted to and who at the end of the play. Didn't like what they had seen. Are you talking about black and white and black and white then green or yellow It doesn't make any difference. Well you know as it does I thought it just so happens that those plays are about black people and a lot of the rhythms and tones and are native to the people who are there. There is also one other factor in this is the important factor for me at the Lafayette. There is some impact. There is some value to a group of people getting together to pay specific attention. Formal attention to the life structures to their own life structures and forms. You turn on the television set any time you want to and you find stories and things about the life forms
of white people who live there and any place who do all kinds of things I mean the soap operas that this one that wins in the Old West in the New Africa they got probably got everything you know all types of forms that your lives take you turn on the you know the radio the same thing but you don't find that with black people. You don't find that kind of attention being paid to the forms our lives take. You find the only forms that are paid attention to or the only possibility for having attention paid to this poem's is to strive for the form that is presented as the form that will be paid attention to that is the known to the middle class. Aspirant form which tends not to be in the end anyway although the television shows do every once in a while put a negro couple in there. Somebody's in there and you get your little taste but it doesn't fit and it doesn't work. It's very very important for the people who come to my theater and who came to the American places here this place to see formal
attention being paid to life forms that everyone else rejects as being a subculture of ghetto culture. An educated rat of a nomad. That's the way people live. You know I mean nobody pays any attention to the Irish subculture of the Jewish subculture or that you name it subcultures that are right on OKC wrote about it. Oh yeah but not really a back of like day and this is equivalent to that this is the point I'm trying to at least this is my feeling about the right form of attention being paid to the life forms of those people. You feel important and I think it's important that we do that I think. I think the fact that you know a dozen actors and some technicians and $20000 is spent for that purpose you know to pay formal attention to the way people's lives are some of the time. Not that it has to make any points about we shall overcome or kill whitey or anything you know. It doesn't have to have that kind of a point
to it. It just has to do exactly what the church service does. Yes let us pray and then you sing a song and then you go home you celebrated the existence of something that you hold valuable. And in the same kind of way we do it.
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 17 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.: Negro Theatre Ensemble. About black theatre and minority theatre. Estelle Evans, actress; Robert Macbeth (or MacBeth), founder, Lafayette Theatre of Harlem.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-17 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:15
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 17 of 31,” 1968-04-30, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 10, 2023,
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APA: Seminars in theatre; Episode 17 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