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The Harvard Review and the Loeb

From the Shelf

By Donald E. Graham

This issue marks a step in an uncertain direction for The Harvard Review. While many college magazines long to reach audiences outside their universities, the Review has abandoned its usual political emphasis to publish an issue that will be of interest chiefly at Harvard. The issue suffers, indeed, from the insularity of some of Harvard's more inbred magazines; the subject is "The University and the Arts," but the contributors do not include an artist who is not associated with a university, or a scholar who does not consider himself an artist or impresario. Only two contributors have no immediate connection with Harvard.

It is disappointing that the Review should have limited itself to Harvard when an article on artistic activity at other universities would have been useful. But with this reservation, the issue is an excellent one. One nice thing about artists is that some of them write well. For once a Big Name writer (in this case Harold Taylor) has not let the Review down. "The Role of the University as a Cultural Leader" is a fine bit of noisy name-calling. The Visual Arts Center's Robert Gardner has contributed some thoughts on the visual education of undergraduates. Professor Leon Kirchner and Boston Globe music critic Michael Steinberg offer a "dialogue" that has not been well edited; it leads up to many issues but explores few. Perhaps the prize piece in the issue is "The University as an Atelier," by David Handlin '65, for Handlin alone conveys some feeling of urgency about the education of undergraduate artists.

Two articles, however, ought to be read in Cambridge with special care, for they constitute the most articulate recent contribution to one of Harvard's more windy permanent debates--the one that concerns the role of the six-year old Loeb Drama Center.

It has now been six seasons since the Loeb opened, and the uncomfortable administrative arrangements that were born with the theatre have not yet evolved into anything more conducive to good drama. Harvard organizations seem to run on discontent, but nowhere in Cambridge is so much unhappiness so openly displayed as at the Loeb. Everybody has a gripe, and often it's a serious one. Freshmen and sophomores complain that a "Loeb clique" has taken over the building; experienced directors bewail the lack of talented actors; and many students are extremely unhappy about Harvard's administration of the building.

The Review solicited articles from Daniel Seltzer, associate professor of English and associate director of the Loeb, and Thomas Babe '63, a graduate student who has worked on the main stage as actor, director and playwright. Seltzer's article is a visionary discussion of the possibilities of university theatre; Babe's is a critical report on the evolution of the Loeb. Taken together, the two articles offer quite convincing evidence that theatre at Harvard is not being used with much wisdom.

Seltzer lists five reasons why drama should flourish in a university. Theatre makes use of other art forms he says; it valuably illuminates the connection between literature and history; in a university it finds a true amateurism; it is of value to individual students' educations; and it can help establish a permanent repertory of plays.

It is difficult to maintain that the Loeb has done any of these things for Harvard theatre or Harvard students. The spirit, the amatcurism, and the educational value, such as it is, preceded the Loeb and have not been greatly enriched by it. Ambitious attempts at combining drama with other art forms--unusual music, or original sets--have been notable for their absence from Sixty-four Brattle Street. As for the repertory of plays, Seltzer lists three kinds of plays a university ought to perform: "chestnuts," rarely produced classical plays, and very new plays. The Loeb's recent seasons have been heavily weighted towards the first category, with the second represented once or perhaps twice a year, and the third much too rarely.

Modern European plays come to the main stage via Broadway. The only American plays produced, aside from the required original student play every other year, have been Long Day's Journey Into Night and A View from the Bridge, the one surely a chestnut, the other hardly a rarely performed work.

Strangely, the spirit of experiment--which Seltzer considers one of the undergraduate theatre's greatest potential advantages--scarcely exists on the Loeb main stage. Babe's article suggests several reasons why this may be so.

I--THE STUDENT BUREAUCRACY

If you want to direct a play on the Loeb mainstage, you apply to the Harvard Dramatic Club executive committee--a very odd bird indeed. The HDC does not elect the committee--the five-man group nominates its own new members, and only a vote of the club, by mail, against a nominee can defeat him. Before the creation of the Executive Committee last spring, elected officers voted on applications for shows; the club gave up the old structure when it was told (by the students who appointed themselves the executive committee) that the Loeb Faculty advisers would only deal with them, and not with an elected group. In return, the HDC, then substantially in debt, was offered enough benefit performances to bail itself out; free tickets to Loeb shows for HDC members; and a rash of other promises that never panned out.

One problem with the new arrangements became clear last fall when the committee met to chose directors for the spring term and found that three of its five members had themselves submitted applications for main stage slots. A second arose this Spring when the committee elected a majority of technical workers over actors and directors.

The committee setup has caused complaint on two grounds. First, it has been said that the self-perpetuating nature of the group has made it more cliqueish than before and more prone to accept the applications of other old Loeb hands. If a director has put on a play in the Loeb Experimental Theatre, someone on the committee, or one of the Faculty advisers who sit with them is likely to have seen it. If he has acted in Loeb shows and directed elsewhere, his Loeb friends will probably have seen his shows. But if he has no connections at the Loeb, he is far less likely to be chosen. Thus Robert Ginn, who has acted at the Loeb, was awarded a main stage show after directing Adams House's Andorra last Fall. A less well-known group from Lowell House is considered less likely to be chosen this Spring.

Another major complaint has been that when the HDC established the committee, it also approved a rule that no undergraduate could direct on the main stage unless he had previously directed two shows elsewhere. With competition for the main stage becoming fiercer, the student with the most successful shows is likely to come out on top--and success in this case usually means good reviews and Loeb word-of-mouth on the worth of a production.

So the undergraduate who eventually wants to direct on the main stage is tempted to try conventional plays and eschew experimenting, which may lead to failure. The process also tends to fill too many Experimental Theatre dates with shows clearly not experimental. Once he has his main stage show, he must "succeed" if he wants another, and one result of this has been remarkable: more and more of the acting at the Loeb is being done by a coterie of graduate students or Boston residents. A show with a majority of undergraduate leads is a rarity, and shows have been produced at the Loeb without any undergraduates in the cast at all.

Babe makes another point against the committee system: it has made drama political: "Without a specific policy about the relative value of kinds of productions that can be done in the theatre, without a policy above the level of collected and iron-clad prejudices, the building seems to me like a facility, a thing to be used by anyone with the ingenuity or brains or persuasion to get control. That is not really a free theatre at all, since talented people not adept at polities are going to get out."

II--THE ADMINISTRATION

Harvard muddled into the theatre business when it was given a theatre. Under pressure from students who wanted as much autonomy as possible in the Loeb and from professors who dreaded the thought of credit drama courses, the University tried to leave its control as loose as possible. It appointed a director, Robert H. Chapman, and later two associate directors, but Chapman defines their role as merely "a magnified version of the Faculty advisers to the old Harvard Dramatic Club." Occasionally the Faculty advisers direct or act in a show. Otherwise, according to Chapman, they are there to let the students do what they want, and to assist them.

But it doesn't work. As Babe writes, "strange distances" grew up early between student directors and Faculty advisers, and they have not disappeared. The uneasiness is symbolized by the fact that while Chapman says he is available to help all students who ask, several student directors (who unanimously respect him as a man of the theatre) say they would have appreciated more help from him with their shows. Some undergraduates believe that the senior advisers have made it clear that they are uninterested in student theatre altogether, save for the shows they direct.

Under these circumstances, it is all but impossible for students and Faculty to work together cordially towards a better theatre in the Loeb. And there is much the Faculty could do.

III--THE PROBLEM OF KNOWLEDGE

Few students come to Harvard knowing very much about the theatre. They have not read many plays; if they are actors, they have little knowledge of technique. Here, the critics of student theatre say, is the limitation on such drama. You may have ideal circumstances for drama, but you have few resources.

But it is hard to take this idea very seriously, for it is also universally admitted that Harvard doesn't offer much to those undergraduates who do come with some background. A Dean Stolber, who has been acting continuously since he was eight, or a John Lithgow, who develops unusual technical abilities by the middle of his sophomore year, is not likely to meet with the direction or the suggestions to stretch his talent. If Harvard theatre can't help the incompetent and doesn't help the competent, there is some question just who it is there for.

Because the Loeb demands far more technical skill than, say, Agassiz, the problem of resources has become more acute since it was built. More technical ability than ever is needed, and what little there is is spread thinner than ever among a number of shows. But at least among the technical crews there is an informal process of education going on. Today's nail-pounder becomes tomorrow's technical director when he assimilates the jobs expected of him; expertise is not so easily passed along among actors and directors. Student directors do what they can to train their actors, but there is no formal system--and worse, there is little informal instruction--through which the Faculty offers help to directors and actors alike.

The question of acting raises the issue of courses in drama, and on this score, Harvard has done something of an about-face. Courses in the dramatic arts are not only accepted, they are downright welcome, as the official encouragement of Daniel Seltzer's experimental courses shows. The effect of this encouragement has been to leave the development of courses in drama entirely to Seltzer, a noble figure who has been trying to get Harvard to adopt courses concerned with theatre for years. If things continue at their present rate, the seed planting will no doubt some day grow small, but sound and carefully structured program in drama--but in the meantime dozens of generations of theatrically minded undergraduates may have graduated from Harvard with chaos going around them. Seltzer is falliable. His first effort at organized dramatic learning, the Shakespeare-Marlowe Festival, left graduates screaming when it filled the main stage for almost an entire term. This year students in the new Hum 4 were to staff ge production but the experiment was distinctly less than a success. The explanation was that the course became unwieldy when too many people were accepted.

Seltzer is trying the same idea on a smaller scale next year in Hum 103, but it is by no means certain that this will work, for even with too many people in the course, director George Hamlin had to reach outside Hum 4 for part of his cast.

In any event, Seltzer will be teaching no fewer than four courses next year in addition work at the Loeb; he should not be asked as well as an unofficial committee on the of drama at Harvard.

In fact, no agency presently at Harvard is suited to oversee this program. It has fallen willy-nilly to the care of the Committee on General Education, which has a great many other to worry about. The Faculty Committee on Drama was set up to approve the Loeb budget and to approve main stage shows after a disastrous attempt to veto the two most successfully of 1964, the committee has more or less given up blocking the production of plays it does sider suitable).

Only one person at Harvard can resolve the Loeb's problems, and that is the Dean Faculty, who is chairman of the Faculty mittee on Theatre. Dean Ford is a busy man and dislikes invading anyone else's area terest, but it is important that he consider vening in the Loeb.

If the dean were to decide that Harvard's goal in the theatre was a modest program of courses concerned with drama, and a theatre in which undergraduates would be free to their ambitions, it would not be difficult for him to bring it to pass. Babe and Seltzer both propose supplementing the present by bringing a respected actor, director, or designer to the Loeb for a term, to work on one show and to be available to undergraduates the rest of the time. Chapman also favors this plan. Its chances of adoption, now slight, could be certain by a helping hand from the Dean.

Another step might be to restrucure The Blind Spot

The accident last Monday at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Western Avenue resulted from a traffic hazard that ought to have been corrected long ago. Officials of the Metropolitan police have complain some time that the traffic signals at this corner and at the intersection of Memorial and River Street are located in a "blind Since the lights are raised only about feet above the ground, drivers approaching the corner cannot see whether the signal is red, green or yellow until they are on top of it.

The Metropolitan District Commission, which is responsible for Memorial should install overhead signals to make the lights clearly visible at a safe distance the intersection. The cost of the improvement would be small in relation to the number of accidents it would prevent. Instead of cluttering the banks of the Charles with searchlights, the MDC should put new equipment where it is really needed.

The accident last Monday at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Western Avenue resulted from a traffic hazard that ought to have been corrected long ago. Officials of the Metropolitan police have complain some time that the traffic signals at this corner and at the intersection of Memorial and River Street are located in a "blind Since the lights are raised only about feet above the ground, drivers approaching the corner cannot see whether the signal is red, green or yellow until they are on top of it.

The Metropolitan District Commission, which is responsible for Memorial should install overhead signals to make the lights clearly visible at a safe distance the intersection. The cost of the improvement would be small in relation to the number of accidents it would prevent. Instead of cluttering the banks of the Charles with searchlights, the MDC should put new equipment where it is really needed.

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