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May 20, 1956 - Image 7

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1956-05-20
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Page -Twelve


Sunday, May 20; 1956



PROBABLY in no other com-
munity of its size in the world
today can a theatre-goer find such
variety as here in Ann Arbor. Par-
ticularly at this time of year, as
the annual Drama Festival gets
under way, one is more than ever
aware of the extent of the surg-
ing dramatic activities in this Uni-
versity town.
To begin with, there is televi-
sion; plus the movies, which in-
clude not only the commercial
houses but also the Cinema Guild
and the Gothic Film Society.
For live drama, there are, first
of all, the academic presentations
offered by the Department of
Speech; to these add the Civic
Theatre and the Dramatic Arts
Center and one discovers that
drama is, indeed, almost constant-
1y available. (One must not omit
pointing .out that in Ypsilanti
there is also a civic theatre group
and that the high schools in both
communities offer dramatic pre-
sentations.) The previously-men-
tioned Drama Festival, the Sum-
mer Session of the University and
the Saline Mill Theatre round out
the year,
SUPERFICIALLY, the s c e n e
seems well set; the house lights

dim, and it's curtain time again.
But now two problems intrude; the
productions and the audiences.
For one must admit that the
programs offered by all these
groups fall somewhat short of the
ideal. Certainly one gets a va-
riety of plays, from English and
continental classics to Broadway,
but somehow the excitement, the
very essence of theatre, seems to
be missing. There is no magic.
One feels neither the participation
in ritual fQr whith Mr. Eliot
pleads nor the expectancy of a
Broadway audience, even though
its members may be witnessing the
eight-hundredth performance. Ev-
erything seems somehow warmed-
Perhaps one can suggest at least
a few reasons for this appearance
and sense of apathy. One expla-
nation is, of course, in the selec-
tion of the plays themselves. There
is, when one gets down to the real
.facts, little that is new or stimu-
lating being presented in Ann Ar-
This is Marvin Felheim's first
contribution to the Sunday
Magazine. An assistant profes-
sor in the English department,
he has long be'en interested in

bor (or, for that matter, in any
community theatre anywhere in
America) today. The Broadway
climate dominates the theatrical
air all over the country.
Few original plays, few poetic
plays, few if any experimental
dramas of a non-Broadway type
manage to get on the .boards.
Many significant dramatic talents
from Aeschylus to Strindberg to
W. B. Yeats are constantly ne-
glected until a chance Broadway
production proves their value;
then everyone jumps on the band-
wagon. On the other hand, in-
ferior plays, with successful com-
mercial tags, make the grade ev-
Perhaps the productions are
partially to blame. A fresh ap-
proach, done with taste and ima-
gination, can make an old familiar
piece exciting and new.. Little
known works, or new plays, must
frequently be treated in new ways.
411 our local theatrical techniques
seem tame and ineffective. Inter-
mission comments at local theatres
are rarely concerned with the
plays, the actors, the methods of
production; instead, people talk
about the weather, politics or
sports or deal in local gossip.
There is simply not enough stimu-
lation in the methods used, not
enough dash or daring.

THIS DOCILITY is not all the
fault of the plays and the pro-
ductions, however. Much of the
difficulty lies with the audiences.
Somehow, the community theatre
in America has not created a new
audience or a new demand. People
are not only willing to accept but
they actually require what is safe,
tried and true. The spectator at-
titude prevails. This passivity is
most distressing when the audi-
ence happens to be the members
of a University community. Ex-
perimentation should be the es-
sential requirement to please such
an audience. After all, television,
radio and the movies, plus trips
now and then to Detroit, Chicago
or New York, plus the fact that
some local groups are committed
to "popular" theatre should cer-
tainly gratify the tastes of most
people and at the same time allow
for productions, on all schedules,
of plays of other sorts.
But the demand should come,
after all, from the audiences them-
selves. An intellectual commu-
nity should have intellectual,
artistic standards and desires.
Theatre-goers should insist that
theatres present unusual fare.
Audiences must be large-and-
broad-minded. Only in such a
way can we carry on the tradi-
tions to which we are, in theory
at least, committed.

Bring Back
(Continued from Page 3)
row of having Madge leave her,
runs along waving, through the
middle of the yards on the same
street. And Mrs. Potts, who under-
stands everything and has engin-
eered the entire romance, runs
too, slowly, along the alley at the
rear of the yards, waving to Madge.
SCo the story ends. You've done
something exceptional with
"Picnic." You've captured some-
thing of what I could only vaguely
call the "American Dream.' But
it's unquestionably there, this
something; and it infuses the pic-
ture with the quality of greatness.
For these reasons.I am asking
you, gentlemen, to bring this pic-
ture back and show it again to an
audience who, given this second
chance, will not fail to recognize
the stature of "Picnic."
What the movie says is expressed
in the most common of terms. I'm
sure not one of us could find any-
thing incomprehensible in the ex-
perience of this small group of
people, even though the characters
are "nobodies."
Thank you, gentlemen, for your
attention and your patience. I
trust we can come to some ar-
rangement in the very near future,


S11, AA4v. 1n 20_ 1956




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