"Ensemble, The Method, and All
Exerpt of an Interview with
is a conversation with Janine Manatis, interviewed by Anna Migliarisi, following an International
Conference at Acadia University, entitled "Directing and Authorship in Western
Drama". This is the edited transcript of that conversation, which
was published in a collection of essays edited by Anna Migliarisi, published by Legas 2005.
All Rights Reserved.
What exactly does Ensemble mean? What exactly is “The Method”?
How together have they changed the role of the actor, director, writer? I’ll
explore these questions drawing on my personal history at the Actors’ Studio under Lee
Strasberg. I began there as an actress, went on to become one of the few women in the Directors’ Unit led
by Elia Kazan and ultimately followed Edward Albee as Moderator of the Playwrights’ Unit.
I introduced actors’ exercises to writers and directors (talk about Jazz!).
I adapted “Conversation At Midnight”, a blank verse play by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay,
which was the first ensemble piece of Studio work to ever be performed for a public audience; and gained in the process
as my mentor, the great writer James Baldwin. I also want to pay homage to a woman without whom
the Actors’ Studio would never have existed let alone developed and changed during the heady
times I was involved: Cheryl Crawford. She was a member of the Group Theater that ultimately gave
birth to the Actors’ Studio and in addition she was a leading Broadway producer.
Note: Janine Manatis is represented by "J:" and Anna Migliarisi, the interviewer, is
represented by "A:"
One of the central questions posed in the collection concerns the moral and
legal rights and responsibilities of the director in theatrical production. Since
you knew both Kazan and Williams at the Studio, I was curious about your understanding of their working relationship, particularly
as it pertains to the ending of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. Some
of the literature on the subject suggests Kazan coerced Williams to change the ending.
J: (laughs) He may well have! Why not?
He probably did, but he did it in the service of the play. However, anybody
in their right mind knows the differences are negligible, they say the same thing; he just changed
to some degree how it was said. The play ends exactly the same.
It was just a shift in emphasis or nuance.
In point of fact Kazan makes the ending absolutely
clear, he takes out ambiguity. He doesn’t leave it up to us to guess;
he clarifies; he does not change; he does not alter Williams’ meaning; he does not rewrite; he does
what a good director does, and that is, he brings the truth to light.
Williams did not suffer – he benefited
- from working with Kazan. People have their personal conflicts.
Sometimes relationships over the years remain very pleasant and sometimes they don’t.
There are personalities that are difficult. However, that did not prevent
the working relationship of Kazan and Williams to continue, leading to “Sweet Bird of Youth”.
Nor did it prevent Tennessee Williams from becoming one of the founding members of the
Playwrights Unit at the Actors’ Studio, where his one-act play “Night of the Iguana” was work-shopped and
developed into a full length Broadway production. This work was done by Frank
Corsaro who over the last twenty years has been directing opera using the same creative process.
One of the things that is profoundly true, both of these men were major talents.
Tennessee Williams was a great writer, and Kazan was a great director.
Their conflicts, in my opinion, are made too much the focus. It is too much like gossip,
not like honest inquiry.
Who says that this demanding process is without its fire? Who says
that it is without its conflicts, the clashing of egos, of desires, of preferences? Who
says it shouldn’t? To make it about that is a mistake. We should make
it about the results: Were they good? Were they meaningful?
Did everybody benefit?
People use conflict as an excuse to back off from
the requirements of this work. People use the idea that conflict is a reason
to quit, when in fact it is a reason to go on. Out of conflict is born resolution.
The fact is Tennessee Williams didn’t quit; he went on despite whatever difficulties
there may have been. Whatever the differences between these men, I know, I don’t just believe,
I know they had the utmost respect for each other. And that is what matters, what made
the relationship and its contribution to modern theatre so brilliant and so lasting.
the business of who owns the play is moot. Because what is really important
is that the play lives. And therefore it most certainly honours the playwright, and it most certainly honours
those who have contributed to making it live.
And please tell me, is there anybody, anybody who does
not know that Tennessee Williams wrote “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”??
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