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February 28, 1960 - Image 16

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1960-02-28
Note:
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Conservative, Flashy, Obscure
The Power Struggle In Ann Arbor Theatres
By CAROL LEVENTEN

The

Ideal Repertory

Th

THREE ELEMENTS -- the con-
servative, the flashy and the
obscure-seem to have dominated I
a type of power struggle in the
Ann Arbor theatres during the
last fifty years. This competition
between the speech department,
drama season and a non-cate-
gorized amalgam of the off-beat
has led to the growth of each-
and to the death of some.
Small local groups have flour-
ished and disappeared here with
about as much success as might
be expected in any active com-
munity, but the sprouts of the
first university-affiliated group--
the Oratorical Association-have
prospered most.
The Association, which appeared
after the speech department was
created in 1914, was untraditional
in view of the department's pres-
ent Playbill activities - tickets
were free, but distributed "by in-
vitation only" and all perform-
ances were characterized as pri-
vate.
The Association performed con-
temporary dramas and period
pieces, similar to the policy pur-
sued now, and the first shows,
directed by R. D. T. Hollister, were
presented in Barbour Gymnasium.
PRODUCTIONS, unsupported by
ticket sales, were limited by a
small budget, but the shows im-I
proved in the 'twenties, when,
Valentine Windt came to town.I
He dominated the theatrical scene1
until his death in 1956.
In 1929 when the UniversityI
purchased for him the Union's
old "mimes theatre" building (then
located behind the Administration
building site), Windt created a'
"Lab Theatre" which was basically
no different from the Association.
Concurrently, he took steps to
democratize the drama. When the
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre open-
ed in 1929, he rented it for experi-
mentation with "public" type
plays and charged admission.
And, when the Lab Theatre
building was condemned by the
fire department in 1932, and pro-
ductions were necessarily limited
to the Mendelssohn stage, the new
theatre's competition was elimi-
nated and the experimental con-
cept initiated a permanent com-
mercial orientation.
However the Lab building was
used for shop work till 1946, when

"almost as fine an instinct for
promotion as her son," Prof. Hal-.
stead recalled.
The season quickly changed its
original semi - professional status
and emerged as a full - fledged
Equity stock company with a un-
ion crew. The Hendersons brought
top stars to town and, by getting
special releases on contemporary
plays, were able to mix current
hits and original plays with clas-
sics, standards and period pieces.
They left after eight years;
Agnes Morgan and Helen Arthur
replaced them for two years and
promptly plunged the Season into
a two-year period of debt..
HENdValentine Windt was
called back. He'd been advising
all along and when he stepped
into the director-manager position
officially, he was able to combine
his promotional, managerial and
directing talents to revamp the
Season.
It is reported that he capitalized
on the stereotype of the professor,
naive in business and unknowing
in the ways of Broadway. He was
able to get excellent cooperation
from agents and stageworkers' un-
ions who were inspired by the
idealistic image he created.
Windt secured top names at cut
irate salaries-his list of acquisi-
tions is headed by Eva Le Galliene,
Helen Hayess, Lillian Gish and
Katharine Cornell.
His own enthusiasm stimulated
the cast to overlook Actor's Equity
rehearsal regulations and work
overtime, helping to establish the
Season as one of high quality.
Windt's fame spread, as well as
that of the Season itself, and well-
known players fought with each
other to get roles under him-at
reduced salaries.
He became known as a director
who "coached actors into per-
formances which they could not
attain by themselves," Prof. Hal-
stead remarked.
THE SEASON attained financial
independence, but was dis-
continued during the war. Then
Roger L. Stevens revived and un-
derwrote it, with Windt directing
again. And, when a bill was passed
exempting educational institutions
from the 20 per cent federal
amusement tax, the danger of pos-
sible financial loss was greatly
tdiminished.
Stevens, inspired by the pos-
(Continued on Page 28)

Suggestions Include Liliom,
Medea, The Cherry Orchard,
King Lear or PiTars of Society
By THOMAS TURNER

-

REPERTORY theatre of the type
Tyrone Guthrie and Oliver
Rea may bring to Ann Arbor em-
bodies a principle of theatre anti-
thetical to that of Broadway's one-
shot, big business approach.
It assumes a lasting significance
on the part of works Included in
the repertory, rather than, a pass-
ing popularity-the distinction is
comparable to that between books
accepted as "classics" and those
riding the best-seller list at any
one time.
For this reason, a repertory
theatre could be a valuable ad-
junct to an educational commu-
nity.
Since, however, the repertory
principle can at present be seen in
operation only in the Stratford
Shakespeare Festival, the Metro-
politan Opera and some off-Broad-
way houses, it would be well to ex-
plore the principle, and its strong
points and limitations when put
into practice.

lan, "a superb comedy, giving a
delightful picture of life in Italy
some centuries ago."
The Cherry Orchard by Chek-
hov is "a most sympathetic por-
trayal of very real human beings."
Shakespeare's A Midsummer
Night's Dream is fifth on the list.
It is "when rightly performed, a
sublime experience."
The modern Hungarian tragedy
Liliom by Ferenc Molnar is of
"universal appeal."
King Lear is "a most powerful
tragedy, to me the greatest of
Shakespeare's work."
Man and Superman by Shaw
describes a battle which "appears
to continue without end in sight."
For his ninth play, Prof. Kap-
lan lists Duerenmatt's The Visit,
which received critical acclaim on
Broadway when performed by the
Lunts.
"After having read this," he

says, "I am most desirous to see
it performed. The author calls it
a comedy, but a devastatingly bit-
ter one it is!"
And he rounds off his list with
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller,
"a modern American play, historic
in content, with many implications
for the present day."
"Only four of the plays were
written in English," he notes in
closing. "This is perhaps a reflec-
tion of a feeling that a balanced
program should represent many
cultures."
PRESIDENT Hatcher selected
ten plays he felt could profit-
ably be revived by a repertory
theatre.
"Each is a great drama in it-
self," he explained, "and each has
just a little bit more."
The Cherry Orchard was se-
lected because it provides the

it was finally torn down, an
and crew headquarters were
ferred to the University's
porary Classroom Building
remained there until 1957
theatre quarters in the
Building were completed.

Speech Department One-Act F

d class
trans-
Tem-
They
when
Frieze

WINDT is regarded as an almost
legendary figure by speech de-
partment students, and his con-
temporaries still praise his abili-
ties. He transformed the depart-
ment productions by adding
designers, costumers, a full direct-

ing staff and a summer stock com-
pany.
The directing staff grew slowly.
"I was gradually shifted from
other assignments into theatre in
the late thirties," Professor Wil-
liam P. Halstead of the speech de-
partment recalled. After the war,
Professors Claribel Baird and
Hugh Norton joined the group.
Halstead and Norton have con-
tinued in this capacity, but Pro-
fessor Baird withdrew from direct-
ing in 1953 to concentrate on1
interpretation. When Windt died,
Prof. Jack Bender switched from
design to direction, and heaed i
the Theatre Committee till 19o9.I
Windt continued to expand ",i
activities: He inaugurated joint
performances with the music
school in 1934. This venture, which
began with Gilbert and Sullivan
operettas, has culminated with
the annual performance of two
full operas.
THE SUMMER stock company
was created for propriety's
sake.
Because E. H. Krause, then Dean
of the summer session, believed
that the Drama Season's plays
were "not the most appropriate
repertory for the summer audi-
ence," in 1929 he asked Windt to
form a stock company, using stu-
dent actors.
The Michigan Repertory Play-
ers, as Windt called his group,
produced seven plays in seven
weeks that year. Guest directors
and designers assisted in the pro-:
gram, which since has been cut
to five productions.
These summer plays influenced
the academic side of the depart-
ment. Graduate theatre courses
were offered in the summer'
months, making this one of the
few universities with such a pro-
gram. The classes attracted enor-
mous enrollments, the depart-
ment's reputation grew and stu-;
dents began to produce laboratory
shows.
Audiences built slowly. Sellouts
for the summer bill were not un-
usual by 1936, and the winter!
offerings approached this level by
1940.
During the war, despite ex-
cellent attendance records, rising

ATTENDANCE fell in the post-
war years, and is just now be-
ginning to climb again. The in-
crease is attributed to last year's
innovation of season tickets and
longer runs. This, coupled with
the department's operating on a
minimum budget, puts the project
back into the realm of solvent
ventures.
A mother and son combination
initiated a new project in the late
twenties-Drama Season.
Robert Henderson became direc-
tor-manager immediately follow-
ing his graduation from the Uni-
versity and his mother, who
handled the business side, had

Plays
production costs forced the de-
partment to accept an annual ap-
propriation from the literary col-
lege to cover rental of the Men-
delssohn theatre.

Carol Leventen, Daily night
editor, is a junior in the lit-
erary college.

For this purpose, several mem-
bers of the University community
were asked to discuss what reper-
tory means, in terms of a list of
plays which might constitute (or
help constitute) an "ideal reper-
tory."
Prof. Wilfred Kaplan of the
mathematics department, is presi-
dent of the Dramatic Arts Center.
University President Harlan
Hatcher is a professor of English,
and has edited several anthologies
of modern drama.
Profs. William Halstead and
Claribel Baird (Mrs. Halstead) of
the speech department teach act-
ing courses and direct speech de-
partment plays.
*Y YA REPERTORY theatre I
understand one which has
several plays ready for presenta-
tion at any given time and pre-
sents different plays on successive
days," Prof. Kaplan wrote.
'The Metropolitan Opera pro-
gram in New York follows this
plan, as do most opera companies.
It is also the standard pattern for
most theatres in Europe.
"The advantages are many: each
play can be prepared over a longk
period and put in production only
when it is ready actors do not
perform the same role dayafter
day for many weeks; a repertory'
program presents an ideal attrac-
tion for a visitor from a distant
city, who can see several different
plays during a visit of a week, for
example.
"The choice of plays in a reper-
tory program would be governed
by many considerations: need for
variety, availability of proper casts,
problems of set construction and
set changes.
'In preparing the following list,
I have disregarded the practical
questions of feasibility and chosen
ten plays which I would be most
. happy to see over a period of two
or three weeks. It should be clearly;
understood that these are the
choices of an enthusiastic theatre-
goer, and not those of an expert
in literature or drama. . .
PROF. KAPLAN begins his list
of plays with Don Juan, by Mo-
liere, "a biting comedy, ever so
much more profound than the
libretto of Mozart's opera."
Schiller's Don Carlos, "a power-
ful historical drama in the grand
style," follows.
The Commedia dell' Arte piece,
A Servant of Two Masters by Gol-
doni is, according to Prof. Kap-

"best picture of the decay of an c
epoch." Chekhov's charateriza- t
tions give the picture validity be-
yond the immediate scene, s
Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac
is "a big romance in the grand 1
manner. The same sort of thing
has never been done so well in I
modern times."
-Galsworthy's Justice was in- c
cluded in part to represent the r
playwright, whose decline from s
popularity is unfortunate. At the e
same time, the play "points up
sharply the problems of adminis- ]
tering justice."
Pillars of Society, one of the first a
attempts to present a contem- I
porary social problem, would rep-
resent Ibsen. Though not one of C
his best known plays, it is one of u
the best. et
Pirandello's Six Characters in x
Search of an Author represents I
another interesting development in
modern drama, picturing "elusive i
mental states" and showing "the t
relativity of truth."
Eugene O'Neill certainly deserves
inclusion, according to Hatcher,
who selected Desire Under the
Elms over The Hairy Ape only
after some hesitation.
Saint Joan represents Shaw at
his finest. Unlike most of the Irish 1
playwright's other works, it is "not
dated ... not superficial."
For his eighth selection, the
president turned to R.U.R., Karel
Capek's forceful fable of a world
of the future. R.U.R. is doubly
important in that it represents a
period in which it appeared Cze-
1. \ l
\:. N a S.' a V
14.
\ l A' ?N
"aea \. ."k
N. N

1

Waltz of The Toreadors

Rigoletto-Summ er productions

King Lear might be induded.

Tht:. MlIWIGAN DAILY MAGAZINE SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 1960

I

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