IN THE NEW YORK THEATRE DURING THE '50s, nothing much was going on. The time had come for America, we felt, to have a real, honest-to-God repertoire theatre. Actually, Peter Zeisler and I had been working on a Broadway musical and the experience of a large Broadway musical made us think, both separately and together, that there must be something better than this to do in the theatre. From that moment on we decided to investigate and see whether anybody or any place wanted us. That was the motivating factor: We were really dissatisfied with our work and what was going on in the New York theatre. Off-Broadway theatre, Off-Off Broadway, even the Public Theatre had not yet developed. Big musicals and smash comedies dominated Broadway.
Being a producer and working in those kinds of shows meant that you had to seek a big hit musical. You had to raise a great deal of money (although in comparison to today it was pretty small). You had to have a hit, a show selling at a capacity of 99 percent, to survive. The atmosphere was not very creative to us-it was not a rewarding way to spend one's life in the theatre.
We talked at the beginning about an artistic policy for the Guthrie Theater. It was a bit of a banter between the three of us--me, Peter and Tyrone Guthrie. Guthrie wanted a completely classical theatre. He believed that was what America lacked. Zeisler and I didn't disagree, but we thought that repertoire should include American plays.
Alan Schneider served on the founding board of TCG in 1961 and later served as president, from 1982 to 1984. He was artistic director of the Acting Company, the head of the Juilliard School of Theatre and the graduate directing program at UCSD. The following excerpts come from an essay by Schneider that first appeared in TCG's "Theatre Profiles 5," published in 1982. He died in 1984.
WITH ALL DUE RESPECT TO OUR CRITICS, within and without, the theatre that is done by TCG's constituency really does matter. It began to matter that morning some 20 years ago when Mac Lowry, with the whole weight of the Ford Foundation at his back and with the strength of his own personal vision, sat a bunch of us down in Canada to ask us what we felt was most needed to make the American theatre tick better. We told him: "Communication!" And he gave us a crack at getting a lot more of that to spread around.
And now, as the Broadway theatre retreats to its ever-shrinking although still glittering beach-heads of boulevard comedy, recycled musicals and pre-tested imports from other climes, it is the nonprofit theatre that is "profiting." In New York, in Los Angeles and in San Francisco, and lots of places in between, this theatre is more alive and shining than ever before. It has come increasingly to matter-even to the purveyors of the Tony awards, and soon, they tell me, to the Pulitzer Prize committee. Who knows what might come next? For whatever the turns in the road ahead, it remains astoundingly clear that this theatre will be going on to new heights of artistic leadership and responsibility. It is now the nonprofit theatre which carries the promise of the future.
Not that the American nonprofit theatre has been or is without problems, contradictions or critics. Our numbers have indeed grown amazingly, and some of our quality; but then the available financial pies don't go around so easily anymore, and we're not entirely sure what to do about that. A few years ago, we were being asked to justify our artistic existences in terms of social good. That seems a long time and place away now when there is the actual and increasingly explicit possibility that the base of federal support, for most of us our very life-providing plasma, is in danger of being taken away, or at least severely curtailed.
Cable television is a-comin' 'round the mountain, and we're all keeping a wary eye on it, not yet really certain whether it will redeem us or ruin us. On our other side, having failed to lick us, the denizens of the Broadway jungles-producers, agents, operators of all kinds-are trying a variety of ways to join us. But as we have sadly discovered, alliances with the commercial theatre marketplace are not entirely unfraught with risk. Along the way, we may have made ourselves grow administratively top-heavy, over-bureaucratized and sometimes desensitized to our original impulses. The indigenously American disease of confusing ends and means is always in danger of infecting us. AT
Nina Vance was the founding artistic director of Houston's Alley Theatre. She served as co-president (with Peter Zeisler) of the TOG board from 1968 to 1971. The following passage is taken from 'A Theatre Director Speaks on a New Stature for the Arts,' an article Vance wrote in 1965 for UPI. She died in 1980.
DURING THE LATTER THIRD OF THE 20TH
century, there is going to be the greatest change in the American theatre since over a century ago, when Uncle Tom's Cabin was the first American play to become a solid hit show. This change is being brought about primarily because of interest being shown in the arts by philanthropic foundations and by the recent legislation by the U.S. Congress to establish a National Foundation of Arts and Humanities.
Of equal importance is the fact that the arts have caught the attention of the nation's educators to such a degree that, before the end of the century, it is entirely possible that a young person who is gifted in one of the arts might be as desirable to colleges as is the 1965 All-American high school football player.
Obviously, the combination of financial assistance and Federal recognition being given the arts is bound to have many results. Hopefully, one happy result will be that a fine artist will enjoy the same kind of respect from society that is accorded a business or professional man.
Indeed, it might not be unrealistic to assume that the actor who takes up residence in a new city will be able to have a telephone installed without paying a year's deposit in advance!
In like manner, it is certainly to be hoped that the artist will regard his new-found place in society with equal respect. With recognition comes obligation. It is vital that the American artist understands the obligation imposed upon him by today's "boom in the arts." The businessman has long known that financial aid does not automatically guarantee a good product.
The artist must apply this principle and realize that the measure of his success will be based upon the quality of his artistic endeavor.
Change is painful because it implies growth. Certainly, there is the danger of painful side effects from our "cultural explosion." Perhaps, however, we can ward off some of the danger in a lesson learned from looking back. Those actors of over a hundred years ago found that Uncle Tom's being a solid hit did not bring them automatic acceptance as solid citizens. Today, the affluent American artist must face the fact that American society is business orientated and that he must, therefore, use business practice without ever forgetting that his function is an artistic one.
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|Title Annotation:||Alan Schneider, Nina Vance|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2001|
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