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Acting Teachers of America The Soul of the American Actor Newspaper 
NOW IN IT'S 16th INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED YEAR!
The solo performance play about HAROLD CLURMAN
The most influential figure in the history of the American Theatre
Director / Drama Critic / Co-founder of The Group Theatre

   

For Teachers

Harold Clurman and The Group Theatre:
A Celebration and a Call to Action

| Part I & II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Additional Materials | Student & Teacher Feedback |

Educational Guide - Part V

V. CLURMAN’S CHANGING ROLES AND EVOLVING IDEAS

A. Harold Clurman’s many roles throughout his lifetime in the theatre

1. Harold Clurman, impassioned theatre activist
Clurman’s idealism and audacity distinguished him early on as a unique personality in the theatre. His commitment to the Group Idea was unyielding, and his belief in the power of art and human exchange inspired many through the hardest of times.

2. Harold Clurman, director
Clurman did not direct for The Group Theatre until 1935, when he undertook Odets’ Awake and Sing, hailed as The Group’s greatest artistic success. He went on to direct four more Odets plays for The Group (Paradise Lost, Golden Boy, Rocket to the Moon, and Night Music) and two by Irwin Shaw. After the dissolution of The Group Theatre, Clurman’s career as a director expanded. For thirty years, he directed steadily in the U.S. and throughout the world, staging such notable and successful productions as The Member of the Wedding with Julie Harris and Ethel Waters, Bus Stop with Kim Stanley, and A Touch of the Poet with Kim Stanley and Helen Hayes. He directed works by many of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights, including Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and William Inge. Clurman’s final effort as a director was an acclaimed production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with Joseph Wiseman at The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1969.

Clurman directed many celebrated actors throughout his career; in addition to those noted above, he also directed Eli Wallach, Maureen Stapleton, Kim Stanley, Ralph Richardson, Roy Scheider Michael Redgrave, and Marlon Brando, whom he cast in Truckline Café in his first adult role. Brando had been recommended to Clurman by the young actor’s teacher, Stella Adler.

Clurman also worked outside the United States, directing in London, Tel Aviv, and in Tokyo, where the actors in his productions of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh nicknamed him “Uncle Fireball.”

Describing Clurman’s style and process as a director, producer Robert Whitehead said: “ He would begin to discuss the life, the complexities and the purpose of the play and the journey each actor will take as he or she finds the way to the center of the play’s world…Harold had a way of grabbing an idea and then improvising on his own words till they built and built into a passion that was dazzling, frenzied, and illuminating…he then subsided into a pensiveness in which he very thoughtfully watched the results of the imagery he had set in motion” (Collected Works, 2).

3. Harold Clurman’s affirmative approach to dramatic criticism
Considered “the elder statesman of the American theatre,” Clurman wrote as a critic first for The New Republic, and then for The Nation from 1953 until his death in 1980. His career writing theatre commentary began well before this, however; articles, essays and reviews by Clurman had appeared in a variety of publications beginning in the late 1920’s.

Clurman believed the function of the critic was to enlighten or illuminate, rather than to “praise or damn.” Critics, he knew, had the power and the tendency to do more harm than good and their opinions could cripple or catapult careers as well as dictate the failure or success of a production. While a typical critic might be short-sighted, blinded by personal bias, and ultimately destructive to a production and artists, Clurman’s criticism was altogether different in tone, always thoughtful, embracing, and forward-looking. He “guarded and perpetuated a tradition,” culturally educating his readers by relating the theatre’s rich past to the present moment and examining the social significance of new theatrical trends. As Arthur Miller proclaimed, “He has no peer among theatre critics and commentators in this country.”

4. Harold Clurman, teacher, author, and more
In the 1950’s, Clurman began teaching late evening classes, working with such actors including Maureen Stapleton, Elizabeth Wilson, Eli Wallach, Julie Harris, Roy Scheider and Colleen Dewhurst. Clurman continued to teach private classes until his death, personally guiding and inspiring hundreds of theatre artists. He was also appointed as a professor of theatre at Hunter College in New York, where he taught from 1967-1980.

His ideas on the theatre also found expression in his many books and essays. Clurman’s published works include The Fervent Years, his comprehensive account of The Group Theatre’s life and work in the 1930’s, On Directing, and his autobiographical work All People Are Famous, among others. In 1994, Applause Books published The Collected Works of Harold Clurman, containing articles, interviews, letters, and criticism spanning six decades.

B. Why do we celebrate Clurman?

1. His ideas, and the passion with which he articulated them and put them into action, inspired a generation of theatre artists (those who would lead and shape the generation to follow) during the formative years of the American theatre.

2. His initiative had an enormous effect on the course of history; his actions are an inspiring tribute to the impact that can result from the dreams and actions of one determined soul.

3. His universal embrace of life and art widened the scope of concern of theatre artists in the 30’s. As a critic, his aim was to encourage and support the health of our artistic institutions, rather than to damage or control individual careers. His opinions were thoughtful and constructive; his criticism was designed to take care of the art form and those who devoted their careers to it.

C. Why are so many young theatre artists virtually unaware of Clurman’s legacy and his tremendous contributions to their profession?

1. As Stella Adler has written, Harold Clurman’s legacy is in danger of being lost because he established no heir. No studio or training program bears his name, and though he influenced and touched many, no one individual or set of individuals were selected to carry his ideas and legacy into the future.

2. Despite the wealth of material written by Clurman, his many books and essays rarely appear on class syllabi. Unfortunately, classes and lectures on Clurman and The Group Theatre are all too frequently absent from traditional theatre curriculum.

3. Ours is a society that tends to neglect our own history. Young theatre artists are not well connected to the American theatre tradition because many academic and independent training programs focus exclusively on practical tools to the exclusion of cultural transmission.

4. As a leader in the American theatre, Clurman stands unparalleled. Today’s theatre students lack a contemporary figure to which Clurman compares. No subsequent leader has developed a technique and artistic Idea that responds to the realities of today’s society, as Clurman did in response to life in the 1930’s.

We remain a country with a tradition that still begs to be inherited with each passing generation. Unfortunately, most American students find themselves unable to identify with the tradition of theatrical leadership initiated by Clurman.

5. However:

a. Some schools do assign The Fervent Years as required reading.

b. In 1979, The Harold Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row in New York City was named to honor his legacy. Clurman was also the recipient of a number of important awards; he was elected a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and won the first George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism.

c. The Group! and Clurman, two plays by Ronald Rand celebrating The Group Theatre and Harold Clurman, are being performed in New York City and around the country.

d. Anne Bogart’s SITI Company is creating a new piece about The Group Theatre, based on Helen Krich Chinoy’s book Reunion.

| To Additional Materials |

| Part I & II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Additional Materials | Student & Teacher Feedback |

 

 

 

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