Granville Barker, the English producer of modern dramas and reviver of Shakespearian and Greek plays, spoke to an audience of 600 people in the New Lecture Hall on "Ideas in the Theatre" last night. The lecture was scheduled to be given in Emerson D, but several hundred persons were unable to get in, and the New Lecture Hall, with greater seating capacity, was used.
"The theatre," Mr. Barker said, "is at its best when the play is regarded by the people not as a curious and exotic thing, carried on behind a row of footlights, but as a perfectly natural expression of the people themselves, handed over to experts. Acting does not mean pretending to be something else; it means interpreting something you are, or have assimilated through the medium of your personality. An actor playing his part is doing no more than a judge who interprets justice."
Mr. Barker spoke of the difference between a good and a bad audience, not measured by numbers, but by the bond of sympathy which may or may not exist between the audience and the actor. "An audience," he said, "can do 25 per cent. of the work, and get a 50 per cent better performance by doing it.
"There is no English or American theatre devoted to the staging of the plays of Shakespeare; we do not value the 'glorious inheritance' of his work. Before an audience can be expected to sit through a drama of Shakespeare, it must learn the Elizabethan language; this is the real problem of Shakespeare today. It is a deeper question than of our personal culture and pleasure.
"The fact that men like Shelly or Tennyson ignored the theatre is an indication of the decline of the drama in that period, for the drama is the most intensely powerful medium of expression in existence."
"The theatre is more dependent on economic conditions than any other art, except architecture; and so the theatre falls into the hands of the capitalist, whose honest business it is to make money out of it."
"If there is to be poetry in the theatre, everything else must be subservient to it. The real new birth of the English theatre is coming in the true poetic drama. This is the belief," Mr. Barker said, "which induced me to take up this new staging movement. If we can get the principle of staging Shakespeare right, then we have the principal of staging all poetry.
"I know there is great dramatic possibility here; but I don't see any evidence that you in this country want a good theatre. If you did, you could have it; the material is here, much of it to come from Harvard. To me it is a very encouraging sign that so many of you are at heart interested in the drama, and that the opportunity is given to so many of you to study it under Professor Baker. But as things stand at the present time, with the financial side of the theatre so prominent you won't get a good theatre. There will not be an American Shakespeare until we get a theatre he would be willing to work in and he would never work in the American theatre as it is now. Let us get the theatre as firm and decent a thing as we can, so that he can do his best when he does come. The truth of the drama is lost to us now, but one thing we must keep in our minds is this: be ready to welcome the truth when it comes, in whatever guise it comes.