The Minds Behind The Group Theatre

Waiting For Lefty staged by the Group Theatre

In the year 1931, the Group Theatre emerged through the combined efforts of Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasberg. This group managed to create a company of well trained individuals who are made known for their strict style and dedication. It has been made up of members who aimed to uphold the political views of the leftists which they were able to facilitate through producing plays that revolved around interesting and controversial social issues. Because it challenged a lot of idealisms in the society, the Group Theatre garnered the attention of many people, social groups, and governmental organizations.

The three remarkable minds behind the Group Theatre as mentioned above and by dissecting their contributions in the world of theater and productions, we will be able to further appreciate it. Harold Clurman has been seen as a visionary in his works on the stage as a director and critic. Until today, he is still being considered as one of the most influential in the world of theatre for his notable contributions in this field of acting. With more than forty plays that he has directed, he has gained the respect of audiences, actors, and co-directors from different production companies. He was even nominated for a Tony Award in the 1950s for his contribution as a director for theater. Some of his most notable works include The New Republic and The Nation, as well as several books that he has written which is inspired by his life on theater. Clurman’s most personal creation is his memoir entitled The Fervent Years: The Group Theatre and The Thirties which was released in 1961.

Cheryl Crawford had a very early exposure to theater as a drama major in Smith College. Soon after she graduated from her degree, she immediately moved to New York which has been known as a center for artists since the earlier eras. During the earlier years of her career, Cheryl Crawford seemed quite unsure of the path that she would wish to take, until she was taken in as a casting secretary. As she worked behind the scenes, she met with the other colleagues, Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg influencing her outlook in life. She has been influential in the endeavors of the Group Theatre because of her connections with other actors and directors. Even as the Group Theatre dispersed, she continued to work as an independent producer for theatrical shows.

The last but still considered as the most influential founder of the Group Theatre is the very popular Lee Strasberg who, until today, is considered as the true theatrical collective. Since he was able to contribute highly to the building of non profit organizations that supported the arts and freedom of expression, his name can be seen all over Hollywood with the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. There are plenty of students who would want to become a part of this institution since the time it was built. In addition to all his contributions, Lee Strasberg is also called the father of Method Acting all over the United States because he has devoted all his life to the revolutionizing of the art of acting in New York and all over the world.

The Method is a well known acting technique that is still being used in the theaters today and in training younger actors of this generation. Although this strategy has been based on the ideas coming from Konstantin Stanislavsky, Lee Strasberg was the one who developed this and made it a useful technique for actors. The Method is a systematized manner of training and rehearsing the actors by touching their inner most emotional experiences. Improvisation is also a characteristic of the Method encouraging actors to bring out emotions through the use of their experiences and things found around them.

The development in the philosophies and strategies of the Group Theatre began with its initial production of The House of Connelly in 1931 which was shown in the Martin Beck Theatre. Due to the fact that Paul Green was its creator, it garnered instant success and the recognition that very few individuals were able to achieve during that period. But despite its success, Paul Green does not seemed pleased because of the obvious representation that exposed of his beliefs.

Soon, the Group Theatre managed to attract many other individuals with the similar philosophy as its current members. In their production of the Success Story of John Howard Lawson, it featured the rise of a young idealist as he continued to sacrifice his beliefs in order to become at the top of the corporate ladder. This production paved the way for more plays which also led to the first and most notable recognition in the form of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama which helped change the views of people about the Group Theatre. The other performances produced by the Group Theatre during its earlier years of existence included a one act play entitled Waiting for Lefty, Awake and Sing, Paradise Lost, Johnny Johnson, and Thunder Rock.

With the impending war, the American theater took a back seat together with this was the Group Theatre due to the decreased funding and negative relationships. In the year of 1941, the Group Theatre was forced to disband. There was even investigations made to expose the virtues and beliefs of the group where some members chose to testify to expose the names of its other members. The members who were invited yet refused to testify were blacklisted by the House of Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC.

As the war ended in 1947, the Group Theatre re-emerged as the Actors Studio which was founded by Robert Lewis, Elia Kazan, and Cheryl Crawford. Through this, the philosophies of the Group Theatre further evolved as it invoked the leadership of Lee Strasberg in 1951. Today, the Group Theatre still continues to influence various theaters all over Broadway and the world. With the Method, as a highly recognized strategy in productions, the Group Theatre continues to develop and unfold with the history of theatrical productions and plays.

The History of The Open Theatre

THE OPEN THEATRE in JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE’s The Serpent.

New York City is truly a place that fosters the development of all kinds of artists in various fields and different ages. All these are made possible by the countless institutions that aim to offer the needs of every individual whether old or young. Also, New York is very well known for its contribution in acting industry due to the overwhelming talent that is being showcased in the stages of the best theaters in the land. With these contributions in mind, people who love acting and the arts would wish to take a trip to this city and enjoy its wondrous offering of artistic talents and productions.

Since a lot of artists in New York City are in constant search for techniques, philosophies, and strategies that would set them apart from the others or simply help them become better, a lot of experimentation occurs from time to time. One of the most influential experimental theater groups in the 1960s was the Open Theatre that was founded by a group of young and talented actors who at that time were merely students in acting.

Through the encouragement of their mentor, Nola Chilton, these students were able to create a very clear and concise understanding of the theater. It was a major intention of the group to further explore the ideologies of their mentor which was characterized by an investigation of the political and social issues but still maintained its artistic qualities. After some time, the group attracted the attention of individuals working in the professional scene such as Directors Joseph Chaikin and Peter Feldman.

The contributions of the Open Theatre further developed the triumph of avant garde theatre and plays. There are also several key points described in the Open Theatre such as the transformations, sound, and movement that defined its techniques more concretely. In the 1960s, the Open Theatre produced several radical productions such as America Hurrah, Viet Rock, and The Serpent. All these productions are continuously being shown through remakes in Broadway to share its wonders to the audiences of today.

As the next decade emerged, the Open Theatre continued to flourish and to become noticed in the entertainment scene. At the same time, there were also several criticisms coming from the Justice Department of the United States due to the violations that were noticed in the productions of a movie. This controversy was brought about by the ambitious simulation of an orgy scene in Zabriskie Point. Its director, Michelangelo Antonioni insisted together with the rest of its producers insisted that there were no violations made in this distinctively counterculture film because there had been no actual sex involved and it never crossed the state line.

As the hype regarding this controversy escalated, the Open Theatre had to look for ways to create a comeback. However, this led to the group being broken up. Its members never stopped despite the break up, but instead, they were able to form new affiliations as it produced the Talking Band, Medicine Show Theatre, and Spiderwoman Theatre.

For more than three decades, the Talking Band has received countless awards as an experimental theater company. Just like the Open Theatre, the Talking Band is also based in New York City. The key figures behind this theater company were three individuals who were molded and trained under the supervision of the main mentor of the Open Theatre. These production heads include Paul Zimet as its artistic director, Ellen Maddow who pioneered the compositions and scripts, and its director, Tina Shepard. These individuals ensured that the Talking Band will be known for its ability to combine artistic music, appropriate language, and well choreographed movement into every production. This theater aims to create unique experiences for its audiences through unconventional means based on a great range of subjects and themes. Since its first productions, the Talking Band has been able to create more than forty original plays performed in various venues around the world.

It may sound simple; yet, the Medicine Shows have helped bring theater and its artistic creations to people around the world and across many social classes. Literally, the Medicine Show Theatre sold various products, as well as so-called miracle medications in the United States while having entertainment acts that ranged from musical, flea circus, to magic. These miracle formulations were said to be a cure for any disease and prolong life.

Another branch of the Open Theatre was the Spider Woman Theatre were some of the original members of the defunct productions created. In 1976, Muriel Miguel gathered a group of women who started this organization that aims to enrich and foster femininity. Its members were made up of women of different ages and races but they managed to work towards a similar goal – to question and oppose stereotypes.

The philosophies built by the students of Nola Chilton never went to waste. As one of the earlier members of the productions, Director Joseph Chaikin recreated the idealisms of the productions through the Open Theatre. With this and all the achievements that were later on awarded to Open Theatre, Chaikin continued on in becoming a well recognized director of his time. It ensured that every script that is brought to life makes the audience feel the emotions rather than to simply think of the causes and outcomes of events.

Up until today, the Open Theatre ensures that various idealisms and beliefs provide diversity to meet the expectations and interests of the audience of the theater. Although many actors, directors, and productions prefer to utilize a mixture of several techniques in every play that they produce, the contributions of the Open Theatre is still as evident in the different presentations seen in Broadway and in many stages around the globe. It is also part of the future of theater that this would pave the way for the future developments in artistic representation especially dramatics and theater productions. Similar to the beginnings of the Open Theatre and as its beliefs came from the experimentation and investigation of young and talented actors, the future of theater plays still lies in the past and the contributions of this philosophy.

Director Peter Brook and His Innovative Contributions to Film and Theater

Peter Brook

A lot of individuals might find watching movies and theater play amusing as they admire the talent of their favorite actors and actresses. Despite the greatness of the artists, a more important factor that affects how a film or play turns out to be like would highly depend on the artistry and knowledge of its director. A director has the ability to make good actors become better and budding actors act professionally, at the same time, if inexperienced, directors may mislead the actors. The case seemed very different when it came to Director Peter Brook because he has been able to provide tons of innovations to the world of film and theater. He has been able to create and recreate stories that would become the history and influence the future of the entertainment industry. But Brook’s talent did not come in an instant. By taking a tour of his life, people would be able to understand where he is coming from and the ingenuity that evolved through out the years of his life.

Director Peter Brook is a son of Jewish immigrants who lived in London where he was born in March 1925. Growing up, he studied in Gresham’s School and Magdalen College Oxford. As early as 1943, he has already found his way to the world of directing as he began on his first production for Dr. Faustus. This was held in London at the Torch Theater which provided a light to lead his career path. Soon, he moved to Stratford-Upon-Avon in United Kingdom to further enhance his career. In 1947, he was given the task as the assistant director for two productions namely, Romeo and Juliet and Love’s Harbour. Although his promotion to become the director of productions, Brook took each step slowly and managed to take over every responsibility with precision and determination. As a director of productions in the Royal Opera House, his name also became quite controversial for the production of Strauss’ Salome. But, his work for the remake of Puccini’s La Boheme in 1899 has gained him the respect that proliferated his name to the various productions and theaters.

The manner by which Brook concentrated and based his works on were from his earlier influences. His training was highly influenced by the experimental theater of Chris Covics and the works of Jerzy Grotowski, Bertolt Brecht, Stuart Davis, Edward Gordon Craig, and G. I. Gurdhieff. However, the biggest influence in Brook’s life and career were from the works of Joan Littlewood and Antonin Artaud. Brook took into consideration all these influences and always made sure that as a director, he is able to help artists discover new forms of expression and to continuously train his actors and actresses. Because of the techniques that he has promoted, audiences are also being engaged into the film or play they are viewing.

After getting married and having a child, Brook seemed to take his career to the back seat but still managed to create some great works here and these. These projects include The Winter’s Tale in 1952, The Beggar’s Opera in 1953, and Titus Andronicus in 1958. A few years later, Brook once again began to search for ways to make the acting scene livelier and become appreciated by a bigger audience. With this in his brilliant mind, he worked with Micheline Rozan in the International Centre for Theatre Research in the year 1970. They created this multinational organization in order to bring together artists in different fields such as acting, dancing, music, and many more. This group highly concentrated on artists who would commonly travel around the world specifically in the Middle East and in Africa. Today, this organization has found its home in the Bouffes du Nord Theatre in Paris, France. Although Brook has retired from the organization in 2008, his contributions are still highly considered and appreciated.

Some of his most notable works were The Mahabharata, Lord of the Flies, and Tierno Bokar. In every single production that he has been able to create, there are distinctive qualities that have influenced the way audiences see actors on film and on stage and have redefined the ways actors work. In the 1963 film, Lord of the Flies, Brook received countless distinctions as he is able to determine and reflect the defense mechanisms of people when trapped in an island. Despite a few differences from the book and the film, it can truly be said that Brook was able to give justice to this William Golding novel. During the production of The Mahabharata in 1970, Brook worked with writer Jean Claude Carriere to adapt the epic poem on stage. This theatrical presentations garnered recognitions which turned into a hype that increased its demand to become a mini television series. One of the later theater plays that he has directed was Tierno Bokar in 2005 that was adapted from a book by Amadou Hampate Ba. This production was able to enlighten its audiences on the religious life and Muslim traditions in Africa which Columbia University highlighted and made part of its lecture to students.

Peter Brook got a lot of attention both as recognition and as a criticism all through out his career because of his innovative techniques that challenged every rule in theater performances. Even at his old age, Brook still manages to influence the world of acting on film and theater. Retirement seems to be the last thing on his mind as he has said that he plans to keep on working until the end of his own life. But despite his specialty, he is still very willing to hand over to the next generation of directors all his knowledge and theories which also included the International Centre for Theatre Research. He wanted to have a well managed and smooth transition into the new generation. As what he has mentioned during an interview, he would always want to look at the all things with a realistic point of view. Brook always loved the theater and film world and with this, he wants to ensure that its future will be at its brightest.