Thursday, November 3, 2011

Theatre of Meaning

This is a variation of an original 1936 poster
The reading of It Can't Happen Here at Dell'Arte on October 24 went very well. It was a great experience being part of the reading with such good actors. I was most impressed however by the attentiveness of the audience. There was no scenery, no costumes, no music, not even a microphone, and nothing much was happening on the stage--just fifteen people sitting at tables across the stage, reading the play and interacting as much as they could, but sometimes conducting dialogues at a distance. And people were listening to every word, for 2 and a half hours total, including one 15 minute intermission. I noted in my introduction that the original Federal Theatre showed there was a popular audience for a "theatre of meaning," and this evening indicated that is still true.

Not only the audience but the people on that stage were also attentive to my brief summary of the Federal Theatre Project.  Since that evening, I've spoken with Darryl Henriques, formerly of the SF Mime Troupe, who started this national event marking the 75th anniversary of the original Federal Theatre production.  He also had been struck by how few theatre people as well as others knew anything about the Federal Theatre.  It was a remarkable chapter that has virtually disappeared from American theatre history.

According to Joan Schirle (who Henriques credited with making the event a success, as well as Dell'Arte by lending its institutional name and credibility to the project), there were 24 readings that week.  Henriques said there were 3 in Los Angeles alone.  He said the one in Seattle was elaborate, with over 300 people attending.  And someone brought it in the actual poster that had been in the lobby for the 1936 production there.

Henriques feels that this isn't the end of it either.  He's encouraging other readings throughout this year, and he sees growing interest in the subject of the Federal Theatre Project.  I feel the same way.  Its endlessly fascinating historically and has a great deal to say to us today, in ways we've just begun to explore. 

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