Saturday, July 31, 2010

How the British see it ...


The only true account of Wanamaker's life is one which really ties his life together with that of Shakespeare's Globe on Old Bankside. Whereas the Cleveland papers of the era raved about the painstaking efforts towards authenticity of this reduced-size Shakespearean theater, and went ga-ga over the high-energy, if abbreviated productions, this is what a British historian has to report sixty years later:
(Wanamaker) talked his way into the prestigious Goodman Theatre School at the Civic Repertory and made a precocious debut at seventeen. Prophetically he joined the Globe Shakespearean Theatre Group and a photograph of him taken only a year later shows him heroically posed in front of a sign board next to a plywood replica of the Globe in which the company was to perform. It was half size and a pretty slapdash job, by all accounts a gift from the British government to the 1936 'Great Lakes Festival (sic)' in Cleveland, Ohio.

Probably estimating audience interest all too accurately, each of the plays performed was cut down to 30 minutes. It was 'fast food Shakespeare'. Whatever its shortcoming, the pseudo-Globe caught his imagination. So what if the structure was somebody's best guess and the plays being performed severely truncated - the words were the real thing and he was there to hear them.

When he returned to the Goodman in his Fall vacation, not only was he the only 'professional' actor in the school by somehow acquiring an Equity card, he was now considered to be an authority on Shakespeare. Ironic since, to the end of his life, he never claimed Shakespeare expertise - simply enthusiasm.
In hindsight, it is easy to dismiss the events at the Old Globe at the Expo as cut-rate Shakespeare - but that's why those with authority in history (and I am not claiming to have such expertise - merely enthusiasm) owe it to themselves to read up on what people were saying at the time. What really got under my skin is how the author is on such a disdainful roll that he can't help but wonder at an actor's obtaining an Equity card "somehow" when the evidence of a long summer spent performing shows an average of six hours a day, six days a week isn't entirely obvious.

"'Professional,'" he says, in quotes. That's "right." Now excuse me, I need to finish reading your "book."

Source, Barry Day, This Wooden "O"

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