The Continuing Mission of a Poets’ Theatre
We as a collective of artists offer a wide range of events, from distinctive, rehearsed, recitals (often with music) of new and classic poetry — lyric, epic and dramatic —, to fully staged theatre evenings of either plays written in verse, or plays conceived and realized in a poetic spirit that combines many media orchestrated around deep and central respect for The Word. Only our examples can makes these objectives clear.
Why a “Poets’” Theatre ?
Because we remain true to the Poets’ Theatre founders and their earnest principles. We originated in 1950, organized by young poets who found existing American theatre culture unfriendly and unwelcoming to their ambitions as poets. Inspired by William Butler Yeats (founder of the Abbey Theatre), and closer to home by T.S. Eliot, who actively wrote plays in verse (thus defying the chatty demotic prose “realism” that had come to dominate mid-century commercial theatre) the young poets wanted access to a stage of their own. On this alternative stage, the founding poets (Richard Wilbur, Donald Hall, Frank O’Hara, Richard Eberhardt, William Alfred joined forces with theatre practitioners Mary Manning Howe, Joseph Everingham, “Bunny” Lang and many others) set out to voice aloud the concentrated “high text” of serious poetic diction and embody the full dramatic force of their poems in a fully visualized presentation of live performance. The young poets also wanted to write new plays in verse. To do this they needed (as all playwrights need) a dedicated workshop space and regularly attending audiences.
The present Poets’ Theatre has at its core a team of experienced theatre artists, actors and directors who share the original founding poets’ ambition. We want better creative material to enter into our current theatre culture. We are actively dissatisfied with the usual fare of commercially successful contemporary playwriting. We actively recruit current active poets to our enterprise, and we hope (eventually) to encourage them to write original material for staged performance. We are therefore dedicated to a periodic “Muster of Poets,” which both assembles poets we admire, and (we hope) conspicuously differs from conventional poetry “Readings,” which by and large strive to remain theatrically “neutral.”
We achieve the desired difference primarily by rehearsing, and whenever possible, by memorizing our material so it can be addressed directly. At our simplest level, we start by improving the technical delivery of recited poetry: better volume, pacing, timbre and “address.” We also add conscious staging to our poetry events, and we organize each event around a central dramatic idea. We pay attention to visual and acoustic details. And at our best, we assertively “deliver” the poems, address them boldly to a listening public, develop performance technique that does not take it for granted that the poem on the page has all it needs to reveal itself. We are not satisfied with a convention of “neutral” reading alone.
We also produce, when we have the financial means, full productions that add all the multi-media resources of the theatre: carefully designed and executed settings, lightning, sound scores and new music, costumes and staging and choreography. The theatre as an assembly of artistic media has a “poetry” of its own — visual and dynamic, acoustic and sensual —that makes our work suitable for conventional art museums and galleries as “performance art” and “installations.” Our main product as a collective, however, is variety. Variety always dedicated to The Word. We speak an artful language.
This space will be dedicated to continuing discussion of our work, and to the aesthetics behind our work. We started our latest revival with a reprise of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, written for, and first performed by Dylan Thomas himself, for the Poets’ Theatre. One of our audience members at that fine performance at Sanders Theatre said afterwards, “If theatre was like this, I’d go every night of the week.” We are looking for that audience. We have been engaging that level of response with every project we have undertaken in the past three seasons. The Word Exchange: The Music of Poetry in Translation,” assembled our first muster of poets and revived a tradition of at least one such assembly of our finest practicing poets every season. Ben Evett’s brainchild Albatross (based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ryme of the Ancient Mariner) garnered two Elliot Norton awards – Best Production, and Best Actor (Ben Evett) — in our first season. We followed these with explorations of identity “We Are…” and a staging of selections from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. And that was just our first season…
Watch this space for further discussion of more recent work, and please write us your thoughts, whether they be responses to our productions or to these blogs, our mission, or our aesthetic aims.