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Three panelists agreed yesterday that the unfortunate state of drama in America today stems from the centralization of Broadway and its methods of producing plays. they presented, however, different, if complementary, solutions to the problem of reviving it.
Moderator Perry G. E. Miller, Cabot Professor of American Literature, opened the symposium by referring to the Loeb Drama Center as "one of the most elegant instruments put in the hands of irresponsible undergraduates," thus setting an informal tone that was broken only when a red-hatted Republican alumnus asked a question.
The alumnus criticzed the proposal of William Alfred, associate professor of English, that Federal subsidies be given to open neighborhood theatres throughout the country. He asked, "Who would want a Democratic (with a capital D) theatre?" To which Miller retorted, "I'd rather have Kennedy--with advice from Jackie--running the theatre than Richard Nixon."
In his short talk, Alfred compared the plight of the playwright to that of a man playing Russian roulette with five loaded chambers rather than the customary one: no standards of tradition, of managerial judgment, of direction, of performance, and of theatre-going. Along the way he attacked the American version of the "Method," the outrageous prices ("All seats should range from 50 cents to $2.50"), and the middle class bias of the theatre.
Daniel Seltzer, instructor in English, agreed with Alfred, calling the theatre "a moral exercise." In pleading for the establishment of repertory companies, he traced the historical widening of the gap between the theatre and education.
The third panelist viewed the situation from a practical standpoint. William Morris Hunt '36, who as executive producer of the Cambridge Drama Festival has been working to provide audiences with the great works of theatre on a non-commercial basis, said that there is "enormous potential if one has endless patience."
"The solution is not to play the game in New York," he remarked, citing as encouraging signs of decentralization Tyrone Guthrie's work in the Twin Cities, the growth of experimental theatre on university campuses, and the fact that CDF was able last year to mount an entire production--Much Ado About Nothing--in Boston.
The import of the ideas of all three panelists was best summed up by Alfred's opening quip, which he had attributed to Thomas Mann but later admitted was his own, "If you give the public quality, they will buy quality.
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