Saturday, September 12, 2009

More lists

My friend Rick has done it again, actually this one was posted awhile ago but I have been behind on my reading and posting.

The post in this link is a list of the most influential theatre practitioners of the 20th century.

Ricks entire blog is fascinating. For those who are not aware, Rick is entering a PhD program in the spring and has been given a reading list of well over 100 plays. Many of his friends asked for a copy of the list and we had much to say about some of the choices. Theatre types tend to be a little opinionated. Mostly though we were fascinated by the list, which included plays we had never heard of, lesser known plays by the Masters, and all kinds of wonderful stuff. Rick took that brief discussion a step further by starting this blog. As he reads each play he will post a little about the play, the plot and importance of the piece, his personal reaction to the play and usually (at least so far) some discussion inducing section. The first one I referenced on this blog led to the top 10 American Playwrights Fantasy draft. I will probably steal (er honor) Rick's blog many times in the future. I owe much of my career to Rick, his ambition and his loyalty. I wish him the best as he travels down this new road, and am thrilled that he is taking us along with him.

This is a tough one, I am woefully ignorant of a lot of this sadly. I have heard of them all sure, and even know more than a bit about a few of their theories and practices, but not as much as I wish I did.

So with first admitting my basic ignorance, here is my list, not particular order though, well maybe a little order.

1. Konstantine Stanislavski -- No arguing this one, his influence on theatre and how actors approach their work is huge. Not sure I would put him right after Shakespeare like Rick did, but way up there.

2. Bertolt Brecht -- Theorist, writer, director. A huge personal influence on the way I have always approached lighting design. And for the record (well mostly for Rick) I know that Brechtian does not mean white light (although it kinda does).

3. Peter Brook --The Empty Space might be the most influential book of the century. Rick had much more about Mr. Brook. I have read Empty Space, that is enough to put him up here.

4. Joseph Papp --Shakespeare in the Park, the Public theatre, art for the masses. Making Shakespeare not only fun, but accessible (as all art is once we stop thinking it isn't).

5. Margo Jones, Nina Vance, Zelda Fichandler -- Founders and Artistic Directors of Dallas Theatre Center, the Alley Theatre and Arena Stage respectively. The Founding Mothers of the American Regional Theatre movement. They helped bring to life the notion that high quality professional theatre and culture in general need not be confined to a few blocks in midtown Manhattan. (All Rick's words, there is nothing to change.)

6. Cameron Mackintosh -- Changed the face of commercial theatre forever. Les Miz, Cats, Phantom, the mega musicals that have dominated The West End and Broadway for the past few decades. Without his style of promotion and production would we have seen Hairspray, Wicked, Disney, etc? Note, not all on this list had a totally positive lasting effect on theatre.

7. Adolphe Appia -- Changed the way we approach design and visual composition on stage forever. First person to use light to do more than just visualization. No more dependence on the centuries old drops and wings, Appia introduced more 3-d scenery and lit it. Also his approach to everything contributing to the visual picture led to Edward Gordan Craig and desire to use marionettes in place of actors to better create a visual picture. I do not necessarily agree with Mr. Craig, but as a college design student I loved the ideas.

8. Stanley McCandless -- First lighting professor (Yale School of Drama of course) developed the first method of lighting a person on stage. His basic method (two front lights 90 degrees apart, 45 degrees up, and one back light at a 60 degree angle) is the basis for the majority of lighting today. Introduced plasticity to the stage, giving lighting designer the vocabulary to sound as pretentious as the older more established design professions.

9. Abe Feder -- Virtually created the individual lighting designer. Before him the design of light, while important (Thanks to Adolphe Appia) was done by the scenic designer, or stage manager, sometimes just an extra crew person backstage. Abe Feder made it an art form in and of itself. He was also a force in the architectural world of light. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Feder at a USITT conference just a few years before his death. I have never been in a crowd that was so in awe of a single person as I was that afternoon with a bunch of lighting students and professionals and the man who made our field possible.

10. Arthur Miller -- Although he trailed a little behind Tennessee Williams in his Broadway premiere (at least as far as his important ones) he reshaped the way American theatre was understood and appreciated. Ibsen may be the father of modern drama, and O'Neill the father of American drama, but Arthur Miller spoke with a voice that has not been matched in 1/2 a century, AND his plays still get done at all levels, from the smallest community theatre, high schools, university and at all levels of the professional theatre world. He had the ability to take a simple scene, a back yard, a small struggling middle class family, Salem Witch trials, and make a powerful statement about War profiteering and duty (All My Sons), the struggles of capitalism and struggles of middle class America (Death of a Salesman) and the entire community witch hunt of the House Sub Committee on Un-American Activities, not to mention the betrayal of a personal friend, Elia Kazan, (The Crucible).
All that and his personal life was quite a roller coaster. Born into a middle class family devastated by the Depression, failed at his first Broadway play, married Marylin Monroe, called before the House Sub...nearly black listed. His life was as thrilling as his plays. Well more thrilling than a bad production of his plays. He was, and possibly will be for some time, the greatest American playwright.

Okay, all are subjective, all are my opinion only, and all can be argued against. I also have an obvious bias toward the design fields, especially lighting, but that is to be expected.

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

Would Cameron Mackintosh even be possible if weren't for David Merrick? And why does it seem that a lot of producers are often larger than life? I'd probably switch out Mackintosh for Merrick.

I'd place Agnes de Mille somewhere in the list too. Oklahoma changed musical theatre, and part of that came from the dream ballet sequence. And she WAS the dream ballet sequence.