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[Theater productions out of N.Y. and on the road]

Saturday, January 08, 1955

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Gilbert Seldes talks about theater production in New York, on the road, and production outside of New York. It is commonly said that theater is dying. Seems like everyone knows exactly what to do to fix that. Seldes has two separate ways to make theater flourish.

First he discusses a theory that is expressed in the wisecrack saying "there's nothing wrong with the theater which a few hits wouldn't cure." Against the psychology of "hits and flops" altogether. The more difficult it is to get a ticket, the better the show must be. This has a dubious effect on theater as a whole. Need to circumvent the high cost of production by taking it away from its center on Broadway. Can produce a show outside of New York - not done often. Take a rehearsed show from New York to Boston or Philadephia. Another way to lower cost production is to produce off-Broadway. Venues like New York City Center and Phoenix Theater. Jean Dalrymple, theater producer, produces shows for two or three week runs. Casts work at very low rates. Commercial theater is so costly and risky, that you have to have an instantaneous hit. In big theaters, you have to have at least two big stars, otherwise bookers won't run the show at all. This limits the imagination of the dramatist and does not give opportunities to newcomers.

First solution to make theater flourish - after a production has run and is a smash hit and everyone is rolling in royalties, a small percentage of the profit should be put into a fund that will go to the production of new plays. "Get more plays produced."

Second of his proposals is more practical. Mentions he has been accused of being an idealist. Proposes a new way for people to be paid. Everybody who contributes to the success of the play gets less in salary but gets a percentage of the profits. What happens to theater as a whole is what counts. Aware of difficulties like union rules, attitudes of greed, and aggressive individualism among producers. This has never been tried. If you put on twice as many plays, then you have twice the chances of getting a success.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection


WNYC archives id: 70383
Municipal archives id: LT6746

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Gilbert Seldes

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About Lively Arts, The

Legendary critic and author of The Seven Lively Arts Gilbert Seldes discusses big-thinking issues in art and life from his characteristically populist perspective.

Simultaneously a timely and visionary program, Gilbert Seldes's The Lively Arts (1953-1956) examines contemporary issues of 1950s television, radio, and theater, as well as current events and the intellectual arts. Seldes, who was the first Director for Television at CBS News and the founding Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, was also a renowned critic, author, playwright, and editor. As a major social critic and observer, Seldes viewed theater, television, and radio with a prescient eye to the future based on a well-informed understanding of the past. 

These programs feature commentary and discussion on a wide range of topics — from sex and censorship in the movies to progressive education to juvenile delinquency to political campaigning on television — many of which are still hotly debated today. Serving as a precursor to Seldes's television programs and providing an audio context for his seminal books, this show is key to understanding today's cultural commentary.

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