Back when it was fashionable to do so, I once saw a play in which actors drew their lines from a hat before declaiming them. I’ve spent better evenings. Works that make a single point seldom entrance me even when I like the point, but this time the point was wrong too. The play set out to show the value of the aleatory, the randomness art needed if it was to imitate the universe, but it really showed through negative example that the arrangement of the action was more important than diction, spectacle, thought, music, or even character, all of which might, at least in part, survive a good shuffling.
Belknap, Robert L., Plots (Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures)
But no matter how frustrated I get, if I can say it, if I do it in front of an audience, I get some relief. In other words, theater keeps me sane. For me, it is medicine for a toxic environment of electronic media mind-pollution. All that machine/profit-oriented info is poisonous to my inner machinery.
Theater clears my head because it takes the subtextual brainwashing of the media madness and SHOUTS that subtext out loud. (“You are shit compared to the fabulous creatures out there in star-world.” Or “You are ineffectual because the world is too big for you to make a difference.” Or “The solution to your misery is money, money, money!!!” Etc.) Somehow, when I really examine the boogeyman of my inner thoughts, he’s not so scary. (“You are going to lose your job and end up homeless. Toe the line. Toe the line. Toe the line.”)
Theater is ritual. It is something we make together every time it happens. Theater is holy. Instead of being bombarded by a cathode ray tube, we are speaking to ourselves. Human language, not electronic noise. Theater is laughter, which is always a valuable commodity.
Above all, theater is empathy as opposed to voyeurism. All good theater is about imagining a walk in someone else’s shoes. All theater asks the same question: What would I do if were me up there?
I’m pretty sure about all this. What I don’t know, I put in my shows. There’s alot I’m confused about. But one thing I know: Theater remains at the frontier of the greatest mystery – what it means to be human.
Eric Bogosian, from the introduction to, Pounding Nails in the Floor WIth My Forehead.
On the night of November 19, 1957, Rick Cluchey was locked in a cell in San Quentin Prison serving a life sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping (though the circumstances had been questionable).
At that same time members of the Actor’s Workshop from San Francisco were preparing to perform Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the prison’s massive dining hall, their stage erected, ironically, on the spot where the prison’s gallows once stood.
Alan Mandell, then a lanky young man in his late 20s, was the company’s manager.
“There were about 1,500 inmates there,” Mandell remembers.
“So the play began and it was amazing; you could hear a pin drop. Herb Blau (the company’s principal director) had explained to them that the play was about what we do while we’re waiting—waiting for Godot—which for some people represents the end and nothingness; for others it may be God and salvation. Well, these guys really understood what waiting was about. At the end there were screams and shouts and applause. It was astounding.”
Farber, Jim. 2016. “Samuel Beckett In Prison”.