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We do the same thing that they do off-Broadway about releasing an actor who gets a chance to do a better job so that we double and triple cast up plays when and when it's busy in the repertory estate. Do you try to do what is known as type casting in your claims your life has to be typecast because there is no makeup no lights no help. We have to talk when casting for death on the rocks because we don't get an alcoholic you know that's not that's a community that you don't know where they are. Equity rose and say I'm going to drunk for God but obviously what will Castro have competitive reading yes we have regular meetings like anything else and we have first class directors and we have to act if you have no idea what distinguished important actors apply for. Well that attempts made to respond in that way. I look if you have marvelous actors that they must all be working for plays for a living as I don't see them on the New York stage or generally and whatever which is a basic running theme of this program is that we don't have any good actors places for training in America there's no doubt about it.
Now there is why do you suppose that is so. Do I have any. Well you know the whole theater system now in America which where all the original training grounds have gone you know all the stock companies the road companies all those things have gone. When Francis Vera and I were kids we went out to stock I did five years a one night stand with something called the jitney players. She was a leading lady and Banstead response company in Detroit where so many great actors came. Now this vanished and of course we're beginning again now a whole using the repertory theatre having a regional repertory theaters on the other hand the actors that go out there to play all these great classic cars have not had a chance to get experience. So they're getting the experience right one of those paid on is and sometimes the results are not very good but sometimes a modeless I saw a play last week up at the Providence theater. Try to square house it was one of the best acted best directed most beautiful and you play I think I would have to travel out of town to see what is going on with
qualitative performances of these regional groups and I think there are some prizes of course want to answer is money too I was fortunate enough to begin down at the Neighborhood Playhouse when it was still on Grand Street. And for three years this was a repertory company but it was a subsidised home to the hilt by the Lewiston sisters and you know without without that it was a tiny theatre it would never have paid its way even when it sold out it didn't make money. And without that kind of subsidy you could have preparatory you know there was recently papers of subsidising that open and possibly closed but subsidising them along Broadway plays long enough and a place you can get money for the theatre. You know when you think that to bring a simple little play now costs a hundred thousand dollars I want you know. Yes it is in a play perhaps with two people a minute. I think staircase which had a cast of two people cost $100000. When Eva got into her seventh repertory it was the same kind of thing Mrs. Barclay had picked up the
tab at the end of the year. So her biggest worry is do you know maybe she lost $30000. That doesn't get a play on progeny off Broadway now. You know I mean the costs have become unsanitary. Well the Globe Theater Shakespeare apparently without great subsidy subsidized Of course you know I was a duke's players the princes players that would be only slightly but I mean the point I was trying to make is the only subsidize good performances. Do you think all of the farmers of the globe are great oh come on. Well if our understanding of Shakespeare writing directly for actors specifically for actors of certain bards I would say most of them would have had to be great because he's a great a great roles great part of the man and you will see the same role as the plays have not changed. You see now you're going to see some perfectly dreadful performances of Shakespeare now and some very wonderful performances of Shakespeare we don't know what it was like any more than we know what the sound of the voice of the person who sang Mozart all we know is what contemporary writers
wrote about of course we are told though that Shakespeare while these plays were subsides that he earned his living and he was very commercial about his plays I'm all for that and you see I'm a great believer that something should be. Commercial to this extent that it drives me absolutely mad when I hear about the community theater people the amateurs who say oh you were in the commercials I think I said you bet commercials they are like Shakespeare like Sofitel he's like sure like Tennessee Williams That's the commercial theater I mean I think that play must succeed. Speaking of course that's a terribly expensive jump for it. Yes now it shouldn't actually. But the unions have made it so. But I'm not knocking you know Amber goes. You know about a hamburger but everything has gone up except the quality of the acting. This seems to be going into a different direction. But speaking of the costumes classic plays Do you ever conceivably do costume play with plays for a living because it's these have to be real place.
This is what I listened on they were to on television channel 13 last night about one of those Repertory Theater discussions and I now call it a secret or a fact is that you know I never saw. They feel like you're the center of. That's an interesting one I thought I said I thought well I guess that's what theater of fact. Yes do you know your place for living. You started to mention some of the plays that you had produced out of the thirty seven and all of these problems complex problems or do you would you ever envision just producing a play with say a problem of teaching a person how to appreciate music. Either words what I'm getting at music organization you want to how to play. You say well this is a how to handle some alcoholism isn't it. But I know the words but your plays are generally commission for heavy problems I mean not when you came from.
Educational problems as they affect schools and parents are not necessarily heavy but but they are capable of being handled by in this form. I would say to try to teach you know how to appreciate music or anything of that sought. You need a different kind of visual aid. And the how to play. I don't think would it would we always say we can dramatize everything. But I believe the kind of things that we dramatize are a little different when we did that not just teaching a little bit about being teaching that for them because they are not all deadly serious I want a good bar for instance which is about what point do you let your child go you know teenager or as a little you know its commission bar child study Association of America it's a comedy it's quite light. How much to cling how
much to let go at what point. Now this is not a great big serious heavy drama. And even our place if you have a disease will write a play about it I mean you know we have that on all sorts of various health problems but they're not they're not grizzly in any way you know but they they show you how to cope. That's only how to think about that what what your resources are how you can cope with this. I see you've got a play called The door is open. Yeah. Doing it with stroke that deals with how to react to a person in your family that has had a stroke. Sure not a lot of them have the stroke victim managed manages to conquer his fear. And because I think it's general generally acknowledged that anybody who's had a stroke has a long uphill road to travel and this deals not only with how he travels it but the family with him.
You know when I get off a good player but as a person to person call which is about volunteers because that's what our whole program has involves so many volunteers both from the theater and people like Mrs. Rymer who just interested in the community. And this was commissioned jointly by I want to read that often. But I feel I'm an awful izing and I get carried away. This was a joint commission for the American Hospital Association International Red Cross the association of volunteer bureau the Junior League of New York and the united community funds and councils that we had people from all over the country on that panel which I happen to serve on. And they came from Washington and Chicago and all over the country for the meetings. And when when the play was ready and had been tested it was used all over the country for Community Food and groups of that so we did the premier at that opening of the new American Red Cross building here and you see we had to think of a dramatic situation which would involve all the different volunteer organizations. And so somebody came up with a thought
maybe it was you know maybe the author. Let's have a flood. You see this is what everybody would have to jump in on the day the day that that was priming it was the day it was a breaking of a dam you see big dam breaking that was tremendously dramatic. The day that we did that the American Red Cross was the day that the dam broke out in California. It was the spookiest thing was watching the process. It really was quite extraordinary and apropos of that play I had a funny thing happen I was going around the country for a place for a living going to different cities in which we had chapters and we have them hundreds now all over the country but they were at this point five pilot cities. And I was invited to lunch after we had a conference and I thought it was normal lunch and I walked into this big hotel ballroom and I suddenly realized Oh it was a united front. You know I saw the red feather. And I thought that's nice and they was going to me up to the head table and sat me down next to the chairman. And I thought isn't that gracious you know on the out of town foreign. And suddenly I heard the chairman's voice say well
now deliver the keynote address for the United Fund. Well very good. But you know I thought I thought goodness I could I use this plan as the basis of my you know quicks me which is this extraordinary thing that we have in America of the volunteer that doesn't exist in any other country. The original thought of this play was send me no volunteers I was a businessman who said if you want something done you gotta pay someone to do it. Yes well in the end all the volunteers save his wife you know do all the things and he keeps saying what can I do what can I do and I keep saying you know sit down stay out of the way we're trained these are all trained people and at the end he said you know it's a funny thing I've lived in this town all my life. But as if there was a town underneath a town which I never knew about until the Asser is this is the side of the town that cares and that's the point of the volunteer and also there are a number of volunteers with ways of living we can
see that. Does the organization ever get the benefits of having one of the most prominent names in theater acting for it such as Ethel Barrymore called. Well I'm on the other side of it I'd love to and I never ask Oh I see who does the casting when you see her and ask me for the next. Well actually we have had one of two of our committee members play for us but as a whole we try to separate what they do. It's going to will frequently go around and introduce a play and talk about plays for a living and on rare occasions we are able to persuade Katharine Cornell to do the same thing. She's very shy and hates to which she sometimes does. I mean are you ever tempted to bring one of these play into an off-Broadway production have you ever read one that was so meaningful and so stimulating dramatically that you felt you wanted to because it's not often we're not a commercial organization you know. First of all I want to play so you have to do three of them. We were friends as we did want to say out of the lease before Brecht on breath just as a curtain raiser.
Just one performance for people that might be interested in the subject which one was that the children are listening which is the National Council for Christians and Jews it's on prejudice. Most interesting we do have another dream someday somewhere. I hope there will be a theater where we can have a continuing repertory where people can come and see the plays and have a showcase sort of a place for living repertory. Yeah. So the people who are interested or able to book it would be able to come and see what it was like and then take it out to their community. Now this of course there's that word subsidy again but that's OK. The timing thing is what we dream of when we ask the foundations to give us money. And it's because we're neither pure education. It's very hard for them to understand what our function is and why they should subsidize us. But someday we'll make home far away are you from having this idea because it doesn't sound that impractical.
Well we fall between two stools we you know keep drawing to sell this to a foundation of perhaps one day they will. But you know for the Ford Foundation will say oh yeah your education and your health and education and then we'll go trotting around to that department and say oh you all see it or run back. So far I have had you know some foundation Help us about but not big enough and I think a lot of us live now. I've got another dream I'd like to see as have a paid professional discussion leader and classes on how to lead discussions. This is something we need very much frequently. The play stands or falls to some extent on the discussion after the show is over. And if this knowledge does not lead well with the efficacy of the players not as good as it would be otherwise. Well that's an interesting comment. What exactly how how important is this breakdown you mean that the questioning will be a year into an area that is irrelevant or that it will in many instances is a good deal of question about technique I mean what kind of drugs do you use.
What do you do about this or how how sick is the person when you get a doctor instead of being on the philosophy that's going on in the play and to keep it to such as with let's get basic. The fact that one must make choices to try and keep this in the forefront of it rather than some of the other things that come up. Also even very highly intelligent and informed people are not good discussion leaders we have sent our plays out on mental health and had a psychiatrist lead the discussion who before the play ever began gave away the whole plot. The entire subject and came up with all kinds of a didactic can ruin the pleasure of the discussion too and this can happen and has sometimes I have a panel that will have four people setting up on the stage after the play and they'll all talk to each other and a poor audience might as well go home I've seen that happen conduct after play discussions. How is it handled. We have a list and most most communities that booked the place have people available to them who they know are good. The discussion
leaders but occasionally as I say even even the most vaunted authorities don't happen to have this knack which is the knack of bringing out the audience not telling them what you think but finding out what they think and how much they've learned from what they've seen. This is very and this is a very important technique and one needs to learn it. Well look at me also. Excuse me. Many times the broadcasting media in every form or another will be asked to support the annual campaign of the American Cancer Society or the Red Cross etc. and or even diabetes do you have a play on diabetes. No we're hoping to have one commission that epilepsy too. But I suggested in contacting one of these agencies that we do a dramatization of it and I wanted to write a 15 minute play. I said I want to write but then I failed I mean I default because I didn't I'm not a playwright. But I thought
this would be a marvelous idea. These were used as a pool every year. In other words for example I think there is a cancer campaign on at the moment with these plays ever be available free of charge to a noncommercial station that would help this campaign. Well we got off on this all the time and I'd like my sound problem there. Have been over the years because if we if we allow a new station even in a big city like New York then that little station out in Ohio wants it. And we have a feeling that this is extremely good material which someday we might be able to sell to public television or some group as a series as enough then now for one of two series you know the usual 13 week cycle and to dissipate what we think is really quite important and unique. There is no other material quite like it available at the moment. Holding it
tight to our chest I don't say that we always will. Also it's very difficult if you did it on television or on radio then where is your discussion. You see that you really are not ends in themselves and I just want to say one thing about what you said about the discussion leader. We have one play on narcotics called the Underground bird which is a sort of a satire and one of the experts I went around with a lot because I produced it and we went to Rutgers and one of the experts on the commission was the discussion leader. Well it ended up being a hideous fight between him who was you know very anti drug of course and the student body instead of leading a discussion he was writing was and he was telling them he was telling them about you know you can't get a government job at all about all of the things that make you. It was probably this is not a good discussion Lee is he's a great expert but it was not a discussion it was just a colloquy between him and he was no policeman so he was top of the deck and
it was just the last thing in the world that the college audience wanted was somebody coming up and telling him that about us about drugs and the follow up on the production of these plays is very important. I mean the follow up in terms of discussion and you know eliciting the probably the view that you tried to get across in the first place with the police. Do you ever concern yourselves. Aesthetically with these clothes or is the message distinctly Yes artistically and aesthetically I actually what I had in mind was Are you concerned with the quality of the speech of the actors the quality of the movement of the actors the overall. Economy of the production It depends on the play. These have got to be very real people. We very often do them and you know all those new terms I'm learning a lower socio economic groups. They very frequently argue with us that ah plays a middle class that the
actors are too middle class now when I was a kid I was brought up to think middle class was a term you know that there were down there now middle class seems to be you know way out there. So therefore we cannot have the speech too elegant. We cannot have Shakespearean actors out there that an audience of a lower economic group will say oh you know pipe her. I want to have the law allowed a dog and that's not that's not the girl next door. Does this mean I'm all that talk so we have to have some of these we have to play with a less elegant accent you see this. Isn't Shakespeare this I just want to write about what about not it an elegant speech particularly but simply non-regional Standard American English. I don't think that you would find that we murder the English language ever. You know and our actors are heard and their voice production is correct. All we're saying is that they don't go in for this so-called international speech you know that would equip you for Shakespeare is what ruined Shakespearean here.
Yes I think that way. But you do concerts do you hire directors or is there one person who directs all of these plays that is on the staff a place for living. We hired a new director for each play but as the casts are replaced and new new casts you know we as I say we double cast and triple cast sometimes then our staff director Jane Harman and her assistant Catherine Claypool prepare the subsequent casting. But each one is done by a director of known ability and credit. Yes it was rumored you were responsible for the commissioning. This latest play let's get basic Does this mean that you're going you're going to be responsible for the commissioning of some other play very soon or. Well that one is always hoping that you'll find someone who has something that they want to write a play or have a play written about and they've got enough money to pay for it. So one of the things I do though is wherever I am I talk about plays for a living. I never miss a chance. That's very interesting
because as you if you travel a bit how many people across the country in various places are caught in the magination the excitement of a play and for a reason so out of these things One always hopes that it will be a new play little grains of sand and little drops of water. Well how many states do you service. How far are you I think going to answer that better than I. Well we have a very active branch in Southern California. And those people are professional actors. We have branches in San Francisco Washington. I think this one for me now in Chicago is one in Nashville is it. Houston we have them. Providence Rhode Island St. Louis and then all over the state of Ohio. And with 10 different universities playing them around they have a wonderful program there where they play them all around the state of Ohio.
Again they are subsidized by the State Department of Mental Hygiene. Do they have such a distinguished board as the New York office. A Houston board of the national board where I've been on the Philadelphia where we had our first chapter out of New York was Philadelphia powerhouse. Really people who are really important in the community and interested in both the House on the welfare on the community and in the arts because I don't want the same people through the local Family Service Association which has access to the community leaders and so they are able to draw them into this project. Very briefly the Family Services Association of America as an organization all of them plays for a living. Has one other division the divisions of the have. I don't understand it better if you knew that the Community Service Society of New York is the New York affiliate now. Family Service and Family Services the national organization which has similar branches all over the country
are voluntary workers with a living professional now but I was a volunteer for ya. Can I just I want think about that I think. Very interested in about the actors. The most important thing about our actors is that they are heard and this is very difficult. We got some young actors who have only played in television studios because they're used to having a microphone over their head. And believe me when I finish with plays for a living they have learned how to project well in so doing anything else because they are in some way you are perpetuating a kind of school for actors who don't have the opportunity of playing for as you mentioned before was experience not a school because we don't train them from scratch and we make them be because they cannot be heard. Forget it. Well that's another complaint we have about the Broadway stage and the Off Broadway stage that I train for it. Well what other problems can you tell me about that you anticipate getting or what problem would you like to see written about that you have not
had a commission for as of yet. I know the one I got to do is anything to help in this. The president's commission you know this. Enormous thing about our cities about that. Yeah right I guess it was all about Iraq and that's an asset in any way that we can help with that we would certainly. Well there's a there's you know the paperback book is out and it's full of dramatic information always matter of fact I must say this WNYC is presenting the report in its entirety every night starting tonight at 9:00 o'clock having readers read on the happy hour so that the entire record of how you know. From 9 to 10 p.m. there will still be going on when this program goes on because I think it'll take at least two weeks to finish it but I had to mention that is absolutely the line of the wonderful work for him. Do you anticipate you haven't written about it you haven't had a play about LSD yet have you. Oh yes the underground burger
is about you know not hot at all no yeah yeah and have you had any other than that example you mention have you had any do you ever find yourself converting rather than some birding the purpose. Well I think so because naturally at the end of that play somebody always gets up and says Well I smoked pot you know. And I'm going to go out on the street here now that they have the other you know the information what is the difference from that it's still the non-addictive and I lose an Atari and so forth and I think that you've got an enormous amount of information out of the discussion not of the plan we got I think that enormous amount of information out of all of our guests and I don't have any more time except to say goodbye and I want to say goodbye to Ethel Barrymore Cole to the executive producer of place were living there Alan the vice chairman of the governing committee of plays for living and one of the founders of the project and Mrs. Paul Romer secretary of the governing committee. This was seminars in theater. A recorded series of discussions with leading
members of the theatrical profession join us again for our next program when host Richard Pyatt will lead another conversation about life in the theater seminars in theatre is produced by radio station WNYC in New York City and is distributed by the national educational radio network.
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Seminars in theatre
Episode Number
Episode 16 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.: Plays for Living theatre group: Ethel Barrymore Colt, executive producer; Vera Allen, co-founder; Mrs. Paul Ramer, secretary of the governing committee.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-11-16 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:23
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Chicago: “Seminars in theatre; Episode 16 of 31,” 1968-04-23, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 9, 2023,
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