Theatron: A Novel College Theatre Concept
( All conversation was recorded in the plushty furnished Bates penthouse of Evangeline Morphos. Wellestey '71. the Executive Director of Theatron. Other participants included cast members Joe ????. William Henry, Yale ?? drama critic for the Yale Daily News. ?? Ellen ??? ??? the stage manager for Theartron. )
THEATRON rated first page coverage in the Wellesley News; B A D and the Christian, Science Monitor both sent reviewers in their opening performance of Bertoh Brecht's. A Man's A Man last Friday. (Eli?? Norton was supposed to some but if he did. he didn't make ?? ?? the reception which followed.) But the show isn't playing ?? ????? ? and then it's ?? ?? ?? in the ?? which means that if you're not ?? the Loeb's in-crowed here. you probably don't know anything about this great new concept in college theatre. That's why I'm writing this feature of course: to let you in an Credit Things to Come.
Which is not to be taken lightly. Theatron is the brainchild of Evange line Morphes and Michael Zielik H (A.B.. Princeton ??. M. A.. Harvard ??). Together they have built what may be the most exciting thing to hit college theatre since the Leeb's lights were installed in 1969.
Theatron even ually hopes to be a self contained inter ?? traveling repertory company composed of the best people in acting set design, ??. theatre administration, and play writhing. ??? ?????? start.
The first production is entirely self contained except that a Brecht play is being used. A foot is in the door here too. The music was written by Bradley Burg. who is presently writing a musical with Eric Bentley; it is Mr. Bentley's translation of A Man's A Man that is being used.
An intercollegiate group they've got: as well as the precedent for a continued interest beyond undergraduate days. The cast includes students and graduates of Harvard. Yale Princeton, Wellesley. Emerson, North eastern, and Babson. The set was designed by Michael Timchula. Dartmouth 68, a first year graduate student in architecture at Yale.
Yale Law Studentizing
"Can I just tell you the story of how I found Mike Timchula? Cause I think he's just a great set designer. The Yale Law School had come on tour with a plastic environment which they had set up in Harvard Yard, and then they brought it out to Wellesley, and I was talking to a friend of mine in class, and she said, 'Say, did you see that plastic thing? Well, I know the boy who designed it' So I gave him a call and told him about Theatron, and he was tremendously excited about it. and has been putting in tons and tons of time . . .
"How long has Mike been doing this sort of thing with plastic?"
"He's been doing it for several years. Apparently he began with wood and then realized that there is a shortage of wood as a possible material for artistic creation, and got into plastics. The thing in Harvard Yard was a giant plastic bubble about fifty feet long, just sitting there, and Yale Law students were sort of Yale Law studentizing in it, and inside were little plastic rooms. . . ."
The set for A Man's A Man is constructed of inflatable plastic bubbles. The bubbles are blown up by standard ventilation fans which are kept running during the performance. This continuous flow of air allows for holes in the set: several of the pieces have doors which are used during the course of the play. And in the lobby there is a plastic recruiting booth in case you want to join His Majesty's Imperial Indian Army. The audience loves it: one man had so much fun playing inside the lobby bubble that he lost his seat for the second act.
"What's it like inside?"
"Oooh, it's terrific-for example, you go in the pagoda, which is about fifteen feet high. and you get this feeling of tremendous height, because it's open at the top. And from time to time it sways-it's great."
"It's a very strange thing to be inside it. I'm inside for most of the first act. It's very would like, and very good for an actor: it's tremendous for concentration. . . ."
"Every actor should have a womb."
"Well, you know, it's really a good thing right before you go onstage, to focus for a minute on what you're supposed to be doing and what you're supposed to be feeling."
Pop Art Gone Sour
Theoretically, there is a three-point connection between the set and the production concept, which Evangeline describes as "pop art gone sour." First it pushes the pop art connotation. which hopefully conveys the same sort of alienation to the audience that German expressionism would have to Brecht's audiences. Second. A Man's A Man is a play about an individual turning into another individual. In a sense he goes through a rebirth. and the womb imagery becomes important. Third, both the set and the process by which Galy Gay becomes Jeraiah Jip are synthetic.
"It's a great set for an actor because it is nothing less or more than what you see. When you work with sets that are representations. like when you step behind a standard box drawing room set. you go offstage, and you see that there are wooden struts and four-letter words painted on the back. . . . "
That depends on the company."
". . . and that has a real effect of breaking your creativity. With this. that is a plastic ball. and no matter how you look at it. or where you are, it's a plastic ball. You know exactly what you're working with and there isn't this great discontinuity, which is very important for the Brechtian style of acting."
"One particularly nice thing about this kind of play for an actor is that there's a great stress. as there should be in all companies. on putting a company show together: but there is also a real focus on individual performances. You have to use your own equipment and range to the utmost with these parts, which is very satisfying for the individual."
"This was another factor in the consideration of A Man's A Man as a possible production. Assuming that we were going to be getting the best actors. or as many of the best as possible, we would be having good actors in every role. And here's another advantage we have. Usually in a college drama situation there are two or three good-actors who from your central pool, and you put them in the leads, and fill in other people around them. Here hopefully we have excellent people in every role, excellent people playing soldiers, which is great, you know, excellent people playing whores, which is great. And because you have a situation like this, Brecht offers the opportunity of creating an ensemble, so that you don't develop a star system. And by having a repertory, someone may have a lead this year and play a footsoldier next year; or someone may be a director this year, and play a lusty wench next year, or whatever it is."
One of the main factors in Theatron's favor is that as a group and as individuals they can afford to experiment. They are not interested in making a profit; they can afford to produce something which is not going to be a commercial success. If the group stays together and establishes a touring circuit, they can afford to do plays that are perhaps "far out" experimentally. William McCleery of Princeton sees it as a middle ground: New York is either a make or break thing, and a college production never really has any sort of a lifetime.
And these are college people, not established actors; they can afford to experiment with their own identities in creating the group. They have no established acting reputations on the line: there's no fear of losing a job. The producer handles income and outgo, without worrying about salaries and cutting expenses and canning people. A great problem in professional theatre is fear; actors are basically terrified of directors and producers all the time.
The people involved are dedicated to Theatron not for what they can get out of it financially, but for the experience to be gained. Which does not make the group any less valid: but they're just not "nailed down to reality."
"If we were nailed down to reality we wouldn't have started it. Last year when we started talking about it. I called my parents so that they could knock common sense into me. and they sort of went beserk and said. "It's great! Keep on with it!."
"The thing I find fascinating about this group is how much it's grown. As Evangeline told you, she had this idea last year, and I remember her saying that it scared her, it was so big the scope of it was so hug? And she used to say that people she?? talk to would think it was bigger than she actually thought it would be which was already tremend ??."
"I must confess that at first it sounded to me like a great idea but I never thought it was going to happen"
"Somebody owes me a lobster dinner because they told me last year they thought it would never get off the ground."
"When are you not going to be skeptical?"
"After Saturday night at Princeton."
A Fresh Approach
But not being "nailed down to reality" does not prevent the group from putting on a very professional show. A great many people in the show or connected with it are infested in the professional theatre in some capacity, either as actors or producers or directors. At the same time, they have an advantage in not being professionals.
As well as hard-core dedicates. Theatron has people who are not going to go into theatre professionally. This very often brings a fresh approach, a totally different perspective to the group. Mike Zeilik, the producer, is in astrophysics; he has a television show which invites viewers to call in their questions about astronomy.
And talk about high intensity re-