Janine Manatis

"Ensemble, The Method, and All That Jazz
Exerpt of An Interview with 
   Janine Manatis

The following 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 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:".

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.

Therefore, 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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            "Silence in Teaching and Learning "
                        An Original Email Exchange 
                       with Janine Manatis 
                          Anna Migliarisi
                                       © April 2007

The following article, in the form of an original email exchange between Janine Manatis and Anna Migliarisi, has been submitted for publication to the Council of 3M National Teaching Fellows, Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.  Copyright 2007 Janine Manatis and Anna Migliarisi.  All Rights Reserved.

Janine Manatis 
Sent: Friday, April 27, 2007 3:58 PM
To:Anna Migliarisi
Importance: High

Anna, dear friend, colleague and mentoree (is there such a word?).I looked it up and it said mentored! However, the point of this email is to thank you for sending me the invitation to write something about "Silence in Teaching and Learning”. But first off, I have to call attention to the "incorrectness" of both examples offered of how a teacher calls for silence. One example is supposed to be incorrect (negative) and the other correct (positive). It's almost - but not quite! - funny because they are identical. They're both negative.  From childhood on, we know that "Shhh" means shut up. Whatever follows is just pretend politeness. A "softening of the blow" to make yourself look good. Actually, it's worse than the sharp, direct command which at least does not masquerade behind false civility but comes straight out and takes its chances. A closed door is a closed door whether nicely shut or slammed! Neither response is respectful, productive, creative, or reflective of an honest understanding of teaching/learning or of authentic silence. Gotto run. More. Later. Thanks again.   Janine

P.S. I've never heard of a course called, "The Art of Silence", have you?

From:  Anna Migliarisi
: Janine Manatis

Sent: Friday, April 27, 2007 4:12 PM


Janine, I remember you once saying that learning has to do with experience filtered through reflection. That stuck with me. As a concept it is so "simple", yet profound. Teaching, then, as I understand your meaning, is not about talking and intellectualizing. Rather it is about setting up conditions for experiencing or "letting the work move through the body" which, of course, leads to genuine insights. Therefore, the majority of circumstances for teaching/learning strike me as counterproductive. How can anything "authentic" take place if the environment is "false"?  We need to begin at the beginning. What kind of space is most conducive to the subject matter?  What do we need to best serve a meaningful, productive and respectful exchange between students and teacher? What, in other words, brings about the best results and offers insight
which has everything to do with the concept of silence as I understand it.  


Click Here to Read Entire Article: "Silence in Teaching and Learning" - Copyright Janine Manatis & Anna Migliarisi 2007


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