The Director's Theater
( Originally Published 1938 )
"ANY COMMUNITY which includes professional actors who have retired from the stage has the necessary directorial ability." This statement is taken from a recent pamphlet on amateur theaters.
Such a statement may be challenged on several grounds. First, it suggests that because a man has acted professionally, he is thereby qualified to direct amateur plays. Second, it assumes that in method of procedure, background, circumstances, and capabilities the amateur theater is similar to the professional theater. Third, it implies that direction is a casual, almost a trivial, matter. Our purpose in this book will be to make clear the complete fallacy of the above quotation.
We have, today, a commercial theater with professional directors and professional actors; we have also a non-commercial theater with professional directors and amateur ac-tors. Such non-commercial theaters are scattered thoughout the land in communities, schools, and colleges. We have no single term to designate this new theater; we must, perhaps, still call it the amateur theater; but even though we do, let it be understood that the director whom we wish to place at its head should be a professional, in the full sense of the word.
The theater of the amateur, however humble, should be an honest theater; that is, it should endeavor to interpret the play fully, intelligently, and through a creditable theater method. It should be a discontented and aspiring theater, for it has not yet produced a quality of work remarkable enough to warrant any self-satisfaction or relaxation. It should be a creative theater, for imitation will kill it as surely as drought kills the grasses on our western plains. An honest, aspiring, creative theater at the present time can be brought into being only by an honest, aspiring, creative director and not by an actor who knows nothing about directing, regardless of his success as a performer on the stage. More than this, the theater of the amateurs can be brought into being only by an experienced artist-executive possessed with a peculiar talent that he brings to his highly specialized task.
The time has already passed when we should have adopted a higher objective for our amateur drama. Our theater needs no apology; it has proved itself throughout three thousand years of service to human culture; it has been of significance in a score of different civilizations. It is imperative that we recognize directing as a profession worthy of the time and talent of men and women who possess intelligence and sound training. We have adequate theater buildings, we have an audience which has not yet turned from us, we have potential actors, and direct competition with the commercial theater is restricted to the larger cities; in brief, an opportunity is ours which may never be ours again.
Yet, we may miss this opportunity if we do not realize that amateur actors by themselves cannot create a successfully presented play; that amateur painters, electricians, mechanics, or costumers cannot save us; that insufficient directors do us more harm than good. Having realized these things, we should do something about them; first, by recognizing that under present conditions, with the director so completely in charge of the production, it is the trained director and what he does with his actors and stage that must lead the amateur theater to any success which the immediate future may hold; and, second, by preparing trained, intelligent directors to create better productions.
We cannot emphasize this too strongly. It is the director who is administrator and creator in the amateur theater. It is, in a true sense, his theater, and it is going to fall or succeed through him.
When the history of these theatrical times is recorded, it will be written that those in the seats of authority, namely, the directors, either were of sufficient caliber to meet the challenge and, in consequence, created a worthy theater by giving their productions a necessary form and content, or that they were without ability and vision, failed to measure up to their opportunity, and allowed the amateur theater to sink back to its former low estate.