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November 01, 1964 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1964-11-01
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The Classic and the Absurd:

Theatre at Wayne

An Energetic Drcma Department Adds

A Repertory Company to the Bill of Fare

By LYPE O"DELL
EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO Leonard
Leone became the drama faculty at
Wayne State University. His only equip-
ment was a dream in his head, a hammer
in his back pocket and an old carriage
house that served as a rehearsal hall.
The plays were performed in the audi-
torium of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
From this meager foundation, Leone,
with the help of countless interested
others, develoned the sprawling, energetic
theatre program that last year won him
and his department a $40,000 distinguish-
ed professorship.
The development of that theatre pro-
gram included the overhaul and reonen-
ing of the old Bnnstelle Theatre in down-
town Detroit, the commencement of an
experimental nro-ram of student directed
plays in the Studio Theatre and the es-
tablishment of a permanent repertory
company, the Clarence B. Hilberry Clas-
sic Theatre.
A touring children's theatre has also
proved popular in the Wayne program.
At the Bonstelle Theatre, a varied pro-
gram of six nroductions is mornted each
year. Iast year. the nlays ranged from
Samuel Beckett's bleak exercise in ab-
surdity. "Waiting For Godot," to a witty
and colorful sta-ing of Shaw's "Caesar
and Cleontra" directed by RichArd Spear
as a comnlementarv nroduction to his
"Antonv and onatra" sit the Cias.sic.
Along the way, Negro History Week was
saluted with Oesie Davis' "Purle Victor-
ious," and works by Moliere. Tennessee
Williams and Umo Betti were r*rformed.
This year, a series of nlavs with relig-
ious themes will be treated. commencing
in November with Archibald MacLeish's
Pulitzer Prize drama, "J.B." Paddy

Chayefsky's adaptation of the famous
Biblical story of "Gideon" is scheduled
for March, and the season will close in
May with "Androcles and the Lion,"
Shaw's version of the second century tale
of the Christian who finds a friend
among the lions in the Roman arena.
In the midst of Shakespeare, Shaw,
Williams and other acknowledged mas-
ters, Wayne has not neglected the tyros.
In the Studio, an intimate theatre locat-
ed in the cellar of the Classic, an experi-
mental season operates in full swing the
year around. Like most catchphrases,
"experimental" means something differ-
ent to everybody. It might mean doing
"The Adding Machine" in Restoration
costume or casting "Rhinoceros" with
genuine rhinos. At Wayne. it means sim-
ply a place to give students a crack at
direction. The plays produced are fre-
quently old stand-bys, sometimes they
are wildly off-beat, and occasionally they
are brand-spanking new and unproduced.
Last year, two originals attracted at-
tention in the Studio and one of them
created violent controversy. Early in the
season, Will Thomason. an actor in the
Classic comnanv. directed his series of
five studies of human relationshins entit-
led "Kaleidoscone Onintet For Janey." A
sePnitiTe th-stre artist Thomnson amus-
ed his audience throughout most of the
evening. and in one of the sketches deen-
lv touched them with a sinenlarly deli-
-ate and uhtle tatoient on nreindice.
Another original work, "A Song For All
Saints" by James Linebrger. nlaywright-
in-residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Thea-
tre, was a sensational shock-niece that
received not only administrative wrath,
but a scathing review from Detroit News
critic Jay Carr. While many found the
work disgusting and tasteless, an equal

numer could be found to defend its vir-
tues.
THE PRIDE OF THE theatre depart-
ment, however. is the Classic Theatre.
Cl arence B. Hilberry. retiring urpsident
of the university and whose name the
theatre cnrries, has said that he consid-
Prc it Wnyne's nroudest achievement dur-
ino the eleven venrs of his office.
The theatre plant itself is located
within a former Christian Science
Church on the Wayne campus. Tt is an
intimate house with 518 seats and a
flexihle onen staoe. Based on the Greek
and i'nahpthan oncent of a nlatform
iiittin- for-ard into the audience. this
form Was adanted as the best setting in
which to nerform the classic renertoire.
most of which was not written for the
mneirn nronsenilm stnee.
Desi-ned by Prof. Leone and Associate
Director Richard Snear. the most inter-
esting physical feature of the theatre is
a ramp which encircles the auditorium
and serves si an extension of the stage
itself Tn come of the n'avs the audience
is literally surrnnded by the action.
I-enne sees the onen stne as a snecial
attraction to the andience. "Tt was a new
statement of theatre for many of our
natrons and they eninvpd the oyn-ri-nce."
he said "rt wasn a benefit to us in the
theatre too +n d-oeise new wavs of seeing
familiar "lYs. I didn't oeeit e a single
viirce lt++r r o" or 'rthole nYnrnm "
The first Classic season "Shakesneare
40" bpan ajsniciously in Janarv of
this vear. Ree-use of the fnrt-hUndrpdth
anniversary of the Rard's birth. only
Chakcn+aparaa n nrontinns were offered.
"Julils Caesar." "As You Like It." "Ro-
meo and Juliet" and "Antony and Cleo-
patra" attracted 60,000 patrons over a

six-month neriod. More than half of the
total audience, approximately 32,000,
came from metropolitan* area and out-
state the tre-goers, with especially strong
attendance by high school and commun-
ity f'roulns.
Prof. Leone said he felt the Classic
Theatre had Passed all its tests in its
first season.
"We know it works in its two major
aspects." he said. "The figures show we
have an audience for classic drama, and
we have learned that a renertory pro-
-ram is fensible for iniversity students-
they can maintain the performance
schedlel end attend elasses as well."
The Classic's actor-students are pre-
dominantly graduates. chosen from over
200 annlinants from colleges and univer-
sities across the country. Many of them
have worked as nrofessionals on the
stage. in motion nictures. radio and tele-
vision and are now returning to enllege
to obtain advanced degrees. Not all of
the enmnany are strictly sneech and
theatre students. Renrescnted neademic
fields are history. English. classics. hu-
manities and economics.
rTHE 'TDrA OF A RE'P.TOPY eomnany
a devot-d to the nroduetion of the
classic aneient and modern seems to be
wetepnino the theatrien-.minded nireles of
the eountry like a r'ash. Tvron flunth-
rie'C theatre (nor 1nde' the dir'ntinn of
Dmeaiols: C'amnhbll) is enterina its third
seann in 1Ffinneqnolig: ge-nttle now has
a aroin and othere are nreprrina to open
""l ny*r th nnntrv.
It has at last anoarently become clear
to those who care about the cultural fu-
ture that a really worthwhile dramatic
tradition will never develop in this coun-
try without a continuous, unified acting

ensemble based on a vigorous and pro-
gressive artistic policy.
Walter Kerr, drama critic for the New
York Herald Tribune, recently emnhasiz-
ed the imnortance of this kind of theatre
in contributing to community culture
when he said that "in those countries
where revival is a constant practice be-
cause they have reertory theatres or
state-sunnorted national theatres. you
have a more alert audience, a larger
audience and a steadier audience. I am
sneskinm now of France with the Come-
die Frnancaise and Germany where there
are staefendowed theatres in almost
every larve mnicinality. and England
where they have a continino tradition of
renertorv not onlv at the Old Vic but in
cities ouitside London The more of these
older masternieces you see the more
alert von are to the notentialiies of thea-
tre and the more eited vou are ahnut
the thomloht of .t*enodinof the theatre."
State-endowed theatrs in the United
States eem a remote pnossihility at this
time, hnt un i reritu.-_non sord groins
such !S U C T.A 'e Theatre Groun the
Universitv's Association of Producin
Artists. Michioan States Performino Arts
comnny and Wayne's Clasic comnany
are nrovinq themselves enahle of losing
at least Part of the "theatre gan."
For the actor as well as the andience,
renertory theatre nroviden attrantiv on-
nortunity. not, the least nf which is iob
securitv. Wavne' aetnrYstndents. wheth-.
er their aim is nrofnsinnal or educational
theatre. are enabled hv followshin grants
to nurne their artistic and academic
goals with a minimun of worry about
diminishing finances.
Quite apart from the financial prob-
lem, today's young American stage actor
is continually plagued by lack of oppor-
tunity to appear in a number of different
parts each season. Compound this with
the omnipresent' threat of typecasting,
and the most optimistic outlook for the
average successful stage actor is a well-
paved rut.
This is one-of the problems that has
kept American acting at a relatively low
level as compared with, say, British act-
ing. If an actor is to learn his craft, he
simply must play a variety of parts, and
express the widest possible range of hu-
man experience.
Another phenomena of repertory thea-
tre, one mutually beneficial to audience
and actor, is the thrill of ensemble play-
ing. The marvelous range and variety of
a great masterpiece, like "Julius Caesar,"
or "Oedipus" or "Galileo," demand the
collective expression of a group. True
ensemble playing is rarely seen in the
American theatre, because most casts are
put together for one show alone, and dis-
perse after the run of that show is com-
pleted.
THERE ARE, OF COURSE, numerous
disadvantages that threaten the ar-
tistic healthiness of any repertory com-
pany, and the Classic has suffered from
all of them to a greater or lesser degree.
The optimistic outlook of the Classic
company's directors does not indicate a
lack of awareness of these problems, but
rather a sense of knowing where one's
troubles lie and recognizing the steps
which must be taken.
One such problem, is the ego-centered
actor, who finds it impossible to sub-
ordinate his own self-indulgent personal-
ity to the demands of the. company and
the play. These individuals have either
never heard or have chosen to ignore the

wisdom of Stanislavsky on lovin the art
in oneself arther than one's self in art.
After all the human basis of a repertory
comnanv lies in the humility. self-sacri-
fine an, willingness to coonerate of its
memhers.
Another maior nrohlem that renortory
facns is the difficlty in findine dedi-
noterl et'.rc with sufficient range to per-
f0n,"f +h- lcic This is directly related
to the" on*4vin1in- ornsn of tvneastine
on the +he tre mentinned earlier. In
E'n'a'"d where a lnna estahlished rener-
+M." ,ied^Rion exists. An actor like Sir
Te.nrenee Olivier was fully canable of
nlavino- the title role in "Oedinus" and a
fnn in "The Critic" on the same double
hill. (rranted. Olivier is a brilliant actor,
but the list of da~zineiv versatile English
aetnrs able at the fall of a bowler to
nagv "traoedv. comedy. history. pastoral,
rtnAl .-nmiicen historical-nastoral tra-
gical-historical." should shame every
Amrionn actor whose range is limited to
his nonP motional points of reference and
who findle van Pls1iti1 too heavy.
Wayne is attemting throuh the Clas-
sic Theatre and other facilities to teach
actors more diversified technimies. If
this nrooram and a few others across the
c'fntrv are not sunnarted by actors and
audianne alike, it could hanish American
renertnry to the silnhrrons anuarnire of
medinrity where mneh of the commercial
theatre alrendy wallnwg. It might even
mean the demie of classic reertorv, for
if the nctors are unable to cone ademate-
lv with the great masternieces of dra-
rnatic literature, there is no point in per-
formina them.
The matter of support for classic rep-
ertory brings up another grievous prob-
lem. It is not enough to have good box
office, if the attending public does not
develop the qualities of discrimination
and imagination. A passive, sterile audi-
ence plodding forth to attend the theatre
only because it is the thing to do will
bring about a sterile, unimaginative
brand of theatre.
Does this necessary, enthusiastic, and
intelligent audience already exist, quiv-
ering somewhere with anticipation for
the moment it will be presented dynamic
theatre, instead of "expense-account"
pap?
It does to some extent, but there re-
mains much to do in the way of cultiva-
tion and development of permanent, ap-
preciative audience. An repertory com-
pany that does not hear the call and go
forth and civilize the heathen is doomed
to mediocrity before it ever opens.
Classic Theatre leadership has heard
the call and has gone forth with the teen-
ager as its principal pagan target. The
extensive promotional work carried on by
public relations director Margaret Spear
in the Michigan high schools resulted in
upwards of 25,000 teen-age patrons for
the first Classic season.
Professor Leone thinks this is the single
brightest omen for the company's future.
"If we can keep this program alive and
vital for ten years," he said, "we will
have created an audience familiar with
the classics of the stage and responsive
to them. Each year more thousands of
youngsters will be introduced to the plays
and, we hope, return in succeeding
years."
THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE of the
Classic Theatre looks very bright in-
deed. Advance sales are clipping rapidly
along and the season has expanded from
Shakespeare alone to embrace the

Prof. Loon e on. the 4pm ref

Greeks at one end of staae history and
modern enic theatre near the other.
The season will open on January 6
with "Manbeth." one of Shakesneare's
most widely read and nerformed trage-
dies. It was comnleted in the neriod of
his maturity. after he had established
himself. with other great tragedies like
«xx ~1t " "nthllo" and "TWing Tear " A
recent survey repnorted that "Macheth"
heads the list of mainr works.of literatire
taught in American high schonls, Associ-
ate Tirector Snpear. who is also desionino
all the sets for the shows, will direct a
t-aditinnal nrondetion of this nlav.
The second play to open, Shakespeare's
"The Taming of the Shrew," may well
turn out to be the fastest, zingiest pro-
duction ever seen at Wayne and the most
interesting "Shrew" that ever- clobbered
an au-dience. The stage-within-a-stage
convention will be used expressively, with
the players performing for Christopher
Sly. Much of the comedy will consist of
clever gimmicks and superimposed gags,
all of which can be justified for this
rambunctious work. Director Leone has
set the play in contemporary Italy, with
motor scooters speeding around the ramp
stage and bikini-clad beauties a "La
Dolce Vita."
Rated as perhaps the greatest of all
Greek tragedies, the third production,
"Oedipus Rex," was written by the tragic
master Sophocles. It is one of three ex-
tant plays by the poet-dramatist based
on the ancient Greek legend of the ill-
starred Oedipus, who became King of
Thebes after unwittingly murdering his
father and marrying his mother. Spear
will direct this show.

On the :
Rx i" and
he the sati
T.edies" by
txa5 the fir
ad a'"nnr
PA n""r
tro.
Not ton
Rrnh4- na
cnsonm that
wnk for 7r
hart of the
gene Ionesc
body seems
with varyir
highly arr
theatre.
Professor
ful researc
Brecht's "G
of the 1965
sult will no
Brechtian p
care to see
intent is pre
The versio
ond of three
man poet-p]
translated fi
Laughton vw
production c
Considered
Brecht's fine
the great It:
the rotation
with the Chu

The interior of the Classic Theatre with the stage set for "Antony and Cleopatra"

Pompey's camp in "Antony and

Page Four

THE MICHIGAN DAILY MAGAZINE SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1,{1964

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