Simanaitis Says

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THOUGHTS ON THEATER—1928 PART 1

IT WAS MAY 26, 1929, when The New York Times reviewed Clarence Stratton’s Theatron with “Our Growing Interest in Little Theatre Groups.” Some 70 years later, I was in a secondhand bookstore in Butte, Montana, and found a copy of Theatron. It was ex-library, but with nary an inscription on its Butte High School text/loaned stamp.

Today and tomorrow, in Parts 1 and 2, SimanaitisSays remedies this lamentable oversight on the part of an earlier time’s Butte high school kids. In particular, Stratton had fascinating insights on theater, especially that era’s burgeoning Little Theater movement. He also included a wealth of set design photos.

Theatron: An illustrated record, by Clarence Stratton, Henry Holt, 1928.

The Play as a Spoken Musical Score. Stratton wrote of “thousands of cultured persons who believe with Mr. Gillette [of Sherlock Holmes fame] that a printed version is not a play at all, but only the directions of a drama.”

“Few persons are satisfied with scanning the printed pages of a musical composition,” he noted. “They wish to hear the notes from the instruments; the words from the singer.”

Stratton continued, “No one denies the intellectual exercise derived from reading plays. On the other hand, no one should deny the better effect that comes from seeing a worthy drama adequately performed.”

Hippolytus, 428 B.C., by Euripides. Bennett School, Millbrook, New York. This and other images from Theatron.

Theatrical Venues. Stratton’s review of theater history is concise: “Sloping hillsides determined the form and structure of ancient Greek and Roman theaters. Medieval Christian churches fixed certain stage devices and conventions found in later drama of all western Europe. Inn yards made the Elizabethan and later English theaters what they were and are now. Tennis courts and banquet halls stamped their forms and furniture upon continental playhouses.”

Ralph Roister Doister, c. 1550s, by Nicholas Udall. Western Reserve University. Directed by Mildred I. Thorne. “This historically important play,” Stratton observed, “is more often talked about than produced.”

Auditorium Design. Equally concise is Stratton’s advice to designers of 20th-century auditoriums: “The person who designs and builds auditoriums has in reality only two problems:—1. To get the audience most comfortably into the building and into the seats and from the seats and out of the building. 2. to make it possible to see and hear everything on the stage.”

Henry IV, c. 1600, by William Shakespeare. Boar’s Head Tavern. North Shore Theater Guild. Designed by Aleyn Burtis. Writes Stratton, “With the use of the Elizabethan fore and inner stages to allow for the hanging of tapestries and furniture, the scenes move in rapid succession. The plaster and timber walls of Tudor architecture serve as interiors and exteriors.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll learn about an oddly shaped theater, trodding the boards, and Stratton’s view on why these boards are essential. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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