Tales from the theatre – Three
While studying for a Masters in Theatre, I had a chance to work with Edward Albee.
Albee had been invited by the university to mount his latest play which had not yet seen public performance. Albee drew on the drama students to cast that play, and two others, presented with it.
Through working with Albee, I met Sam.
Sam had come from behind the Iron Curtain and was a lifelong fan of Edward Albee’s work. Sam loved theatre but the repressive nature of the regimes in the Soviet block meant that he could not study the kind of theatre he liked. Most contemporary Western playwrights were viewed as decadent and, not only were performances of their plays disallowed, but the scripts themselves were held under lock and key.
As a result, Sam studied physics in which he obtained a doctorate.
He found to his amazement that the library he had access to held the scripts of the dreaded decadent Western plays which were denied the students of the Humanities. This is how he came to know of Edward Albee and many other Western playwrights.
Sam was very keen to direct, so I established a theatre company, registered as a 501(c)3, and all that.
As his first production, he wanted to put on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists.
I thought there was some irony in a physicist wishing to mount a play of such a title but withheld comment.
The Swiss community and the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce very kindly put up funding. Through the latter’s good offices, we were put in touch with a Swiss teacher of graphics who had just given his students an exercise to design a poster for the play. Talk of being spoilt for choice.
We chose a simple dramatic design in black and white with a hand upon a locked wooden box. We worked with the designer to integrate our theatre logo and text for the production.
For anyone who has never been involved in producing theatre, let me assure you, an eternity spans between the inception and the final production, that span of time being filled with an endless minutiae of details.
The first night, the audience were impeded on their way to the theatre by a storm which pulled down trees in the neighbourhood. We were largely unaware of this since good theatre design has walls within walls to give good soundproofing. The second night offered no such impediment.
We had established the theatre on the premise of bringing unusual theatre to the city. Good theatre. But that not normally produced within the 48 contiguous states.
We were, therefore, somewhat apprehensive about our choice. How would audiences respond?
We were more than gratified.
In the press of the foyer at the conclusion of each performance, audience member after audience member came up to us to tell us that this was their favourite play.
Who would have known?