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The Play of Thought An Interview with HerbertBlau Herbert Blau has been an influential voice in the American theatrefor nearly four decades. The Actor's Workshop (1952-65) which he cofounded (with Jules Irving) in San Franciscohelped make the work of Brecht, Beckett, Pinter,and Genet known here. Later, he became codirector of the Repertory of Lincoln Center (1965-67), and, more recently ,founded the experimental theatreKRAKEN (1971-81). Forseveral years,Blau has been DistinguishedProfessorofEnglish and Comparative Literatureat the Universityof Wisconsin-Milwaukee,and a SeniorFellow at the Centerfor Twentieth-CenturyStudies there. Beginning with his The Impossible Theatre: A Manifesto in 1964, Blau has been a provocativeessayiston theatre.His many books include Blooded Thought (a PAJ Publicationfor which he received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism), Take Up the Bodies, The Eye of Prey, The Audience, andTo All Appearances, published lastspring. Blau has been a tireless champion of the significance of theatre in the life of a society, in more recentyearsjoininghis voice to those of many continental theorists who have outlined a new culturalpolitics. MARRANCA: Let me begin by reading something to you from The Impossible Theatre,which may be a good place for us to start. In that book, you said "The chief thing for us to do is to start creating real alternatives in popular theatre to the community theatres and the shopping centers which reflect, not the spiritual power, but the moral stupor of our cultural explosion. I am thinking of regional centers, widely recruited audiences, in collaboration with scholars, churches, unions, industry, workshops, critiques , lectures, tours, youth conferences-a full public life growing around a substantial repertoire." It's almost 28 years now since you wrote that, in what was declared a manifesto. I'd like to set that in the context of where you are today, because obviously you've gone through many 1 changes in your long career in the theatre. This was a vision of theatre rooted in Vilar and Copeau and the Little Theatre movement in America that was still possible to dream of in the 60s. Is that dream possible any longer? BLAU: No, I don't really think so. There are actually two dreams folded in each other in that statement. One was the notion of a local energy, making the scene wherever you happened to be, part of which was realized in the 60s. The other was attached to what still seems to me the major dream of this century, a dream with scale. I'd associate that with the movement of Th6dtre Populaire in Europe, of which the Berliner Ensemble became the emblematic theatre. Jean Vilar and Roger Planchon were the major practitioners in France, Joan Littlewood in England. All represent what we thought we were, or might become, when I was in San Francisco with The Actor's Workshop. But the overall dream, the one with scale, was the marriage of socialism and surrealism, which remained the impelling promise of the century, as it was, say, on the barricades in Paris in 1968. When I came back from Europe, where I went in the late 50s because there was next to nothing to be learned in the United States-it was this vision that I tried to bring back to San Francisco: a theatre of some activist dimension, with an audience composed of workers, intellectuals , and students. I hadn't seen anything like that occurring in American theatre at the time. DASGUPTA: Was it because of the political situation in which Europe found itself after the two devastating wars that the dream could not be transplanted to this side of the ocean? BLAU: You have to back up half a century in order to see what we're always contending with. When I started working in the theatre, what dominated everything outside of New York was the notion of "Tributary Theatre." The old, yellow-covered TheatreArts magazine enunciated the idea, but the word tributary was always used in a double sense. On the one hand, New York was the fountainhead and source of all power in the theatre, with minor channels and rivulets of possibility leaking out into the provinces. Then there was the second sense...


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