Circling the Square
Production in High Gear
Not long ago, the staid and refined Cantabridgia Club was transformed with the help of several sheets of orchid tinted boarding into the bacchanalian Club 100. Several blocks from this whoopee manufactory stands another old establishment with a new lease on life: yellow, clapboarded Brattle Hall. For years an annual set of Saturday night subscription dances, fondly remembered by contemporaries of U. M. Pulbam and others as the "Brats," were held here. And sporadically, throughout many a winter, its grimly rearward rooms were taken over by obstreperous young amateur thespians who would onliven otherwise dull performances by jiggling scenery and communicating in loud whispers with the actors on stage.
The renaissance began in 1944 when Franklin Trask, formerly a student at the Graduate School of Education and a teacher of drama exhumed from its mouldy sepulcher the idea of a year round stock company. He procured Brattle Hall for his winter headquarters and began enticing New York actors and actresses away at non-astronomical wages with the bait, rare for the theatrical world, of steady work in one place. He figured that he could attract full houses without paid advertising by scaling ticket prices down, putting on a different play every week, and distributing large numbers of "guest" tickets in such places as the Coop and the H.P.C.
How accurately he figured is brought home, not always pleasantly, to Mr. Trask on mornings when he finds himself alone down in the basement surrounded by piles and piles of tickets and posters with three phones jangling at once and someone upstairs impatiently ringing the bell at the booth. There are notices outside proclaiming the glorious fact that the Brattle Hall Theatre is sold out every night. And the hardest part of the job is not drumming up trade but conciliating ticket buyers who procrastinated too long to get the seats they wanted. To turn out a play each and every week requires considerable manipulation on the part of the producer, the actors and actresses, and the property men. From 9:30 in the morning until midnight the typical Brattle Hall player's day is spent half in preparing for one play and half in putting on another with only a few minutes left for meals.
The script for a recent production of "The Cat and the Canary" called for a circular, rotating bookcase suitable for stowing away various dead bodies and homicidal instruments, and this necessitated a purchase. But the carpentry skill of the property men enables the company to get around most of the many problems of this sort less expensively. To illustrate this point Mr. Trask indicated in the crowded prop room an ugly, box-like structure constructed of mattresses and a few sticks of wood which he said could be made to resemble nearly any couch or sofa called for merely by the skillful draping over it of a slip cover.
For three months every year Producer Trasks' high pressure line branches out into several smaller summer stock outfits dotted around the Massachusetts countryside. Then the pressure lets up and shattered nerves are given a chance to recuperate in preparation for the forthcoming whirlwind season at 40 Brattle Street.