- TDR and Me
Prescript, September 2005
New Orleans is where TDR earned its name. Today as I write, the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, its levees burst by Hurricane Katrina, submerge the Big Easy. The scenes of devastation and misery issuing from the "city that care forgot" are horrific. Everyone knows this "natural disaster" is anything but natural. It is a function of poor planning, incompetence, neglect, greed, and racism, proving how thoroughly the fear of poverty itself translates into hating the poor, especially the black poor.
Part of me wants to believe that the Crescent City will drain the muck, fix the levees, and become itself again—replete with beignets and chicory coffee, brass trumpets, Preservation Hall, Tulane, Xavier, Dillard, the French Quarter, Irish Channel, Garden District, Desire, and all. Maybe even better, with decent housing for the poor, effective protection against flooding, and wise management of the Mississippi's wetlands and delta. But another part of me warns that when rebuilt, New Orleans will be even more racially and economically split; that the restored city will be a Disney version of what was—Big Easyworld.
How the Army Made Me TDR's Editor
Serendipity is a big thing. In November 1958 I was 24 and at sea regarding the rest of my life. After completing my MA at the University of Iowa and directing my first theatre, the East End Players of Provincetown, Mass., I was living in the home of Mary Heaton Vorse, on whose wharf the original Provincetown Players played. I soaked up Mary's stories about George Cram Cook, Eugene O'Neill, Susan Glaspell, and the gang. But as the weather closed in, I grew unbearably restless. After 19 straight years of school, I knew very little about "the world." So I decided to join the army—by asking that my name be moved to the top of my draft board's list. In early November I was inducted and, after a few days of processing, I was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for infantry basic training.
One day I got a phone call from Tim Slater, a New Orleans guy I knew from Cornell (where I got my BA) who told me to get a three-day pass and come on down. "I'll fix you up with a blind date," he assured this youthful horny soldier. What a difference a weekend makes. I fell in love with my date and through her parents (her father was a Tulane prof), met Monroe Lippman, the chair of Tulane's theatre department, and Bob Corrigan, the young professor editing the Tulane Drama Review.
A few months later, I was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, where my army job was to write "information" pamphlets about current events, to teach from those pamphlets, and to oversee other teachers. My assignment left me time to direct plays as well as write short stories, poetry, and my first published piece of scholarship, "The Bacchae: A City Sacrificed to a Jealous God," which Corrigan accepted for TDR (1961:124-34, T12). Putting it all together—a woman who loved me, a city I enjoyed, a friend and his wife who lived there, and a professor who liked my writing—I decided to get my PhD at Tulane.
Discharged from the army in August 1960, I arrived in New Orleans just as riots broke out protesting school integration. Soon I was involved in the Freedom Movement and in graduate school. At Tulane, I worked briefly on TDR, quitting because I didn't want to do routine office work. But Corrigan, my teacher and friend (he was just four years older than me), didn't seem to mind. We hung out in French Quarter bars where Bob, a prodigious drinker, talked up a storm about how he was going to change the theatre world completely. Many of Corrigan's ideas were realized in his editorship of TDR and later in his work as the founding dean of NYU's School of the Arts (later Tisch) and as the founding president of the California Institute of the Arts. [End Page 6]
Soon the school year was over. Because I already had two years...