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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II

Malpede, Karen
Notes and discussions: off off Broadway: the effort to create a contemporary theatre,   pp. [522]-529 PDF (8.0 MB)

Page 528

528      We are working in the Open Theater to
change our own lives. As we work to
build a different context for ourselves, we
learn and this learning is not secondary. There
is no profit in demonstrating something on stage
which you don't know yourself.
Disenchanted with the commercial structure
of theater in this country, and still seeking
an audience for their work, the Open
Theater has been touring Europe this
past summer, and Chaikin has at times
contemplated moving there permanently.
He says:
The off-Broadway audience is no broader than
the Broadway audience. Off Off Broadway
has a coterie audience. This is nice only to the
extent that audience members sometimes
make some valuable comments.
Theatre observers generally cite three
reasons why the Open Theater must be
regarded as a significant and creative voice
in today's theater: It has found an
intellectual approach to acting; its
development of communal consciousness
pulls the audience like an undertow
through the surface of a work to its heart;
the theater has selected and created the
pieces of their repertory with an unerring
sensitivity for those statements which
harmonize with their social and artistic
At its finest, Open Theater acting creates an
intense ensemble.
The Playwrights
The abundance of writers is what makes the
vitality of Off Off Broadway possible, and,
by the same token, the existence of
Off Off Broadway is what makes possible
the increasing numbers of talented actors
who decide to write plays. The published
works of writers like Rosalyn Drexler, Maria
Irene Fornes, Paul Foster, Leonard
Melfi, Rochelle Owens, Sam Shepard,
Megan Terry, Jean-Claude van Itallie and
Lanford Wilson form the available texts of
this new American theater.
Their techniques, styles and potential
talents still remain to be adequately
assessed. Very conscious of the tenor of
their times, they all work in various ways to
bring contemporary perceptions alive in the
theater. Tom Eyen, a young writer, describes
this drive:
The era of Williams, of quiet realism and
twisted beauty has ended. In the 60's we no
longer live at his pace. Not what a play
says, but the moods a play brings on are what
makes it important today.
Leonard Melfi says:
A playwright must constantly seek new ways to
assault an audience, to make them realize
they are in a theater. Audiences should not
know what they are going to see. They can
love a play or hate it, just as long as they
didn't expect it. The theater must always
think young, because the whole country is
thinking young.
The Audience
Off Off Broadway makes peculiar demands
on its audience, demands that are not
at all unhealthy. It presupposes an
audience willing to arrive at a theater with
no real idea of what it is going to see
and risking the possibility of viewing a
theatrical disaster, but courageous enough
to make up their own minds about the
experience just witnessed. Because theaters
are so small, assaults on the audience
are prevalent. A production of "A Coffee
Ground Among the Tea Leaves" by
Donald Julian at the Cafe La MaMa began
an intermission and turned the house lights
up only long enough for the audience to
stretch. Suddenly the action began
again with actors not yet on stage, but
mingling with the unseated audience.
In Sam Shepard's "Forensic and Navigators"
the entire theater room at Genesis is
blanketed in smoke so the play ends in
total "obscurity." Most people who go to
see a play have no wish to commit
themselves to becoming part of the action.
Yet, risks like these are constantly
demanded of an OOB audience.
The Future
At present most of OOB operates in a
reasonably secure atmosphere (save for
eviction notices and persistent lack of
funds). The pressures, especially for the
newer writers, are minimal. The audience
and newspaper reviewers still possess a
great tolerance. To randomly pick an OOB

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