In all verse drama, meaning is conveyed through sound, through patterns of rhythms, of tones, of phrasing. A dramatist writes in verse because he has meanings to communicate above that which prose can convey. He plays upon our minds and hearts through implications and connections above and beyond the literal meaning of words. The people in verse drama are real, their emotions are real, the situations are real, but they are cast in a framework of sound, a melodic structure which evokes a super-meaning, more real that life -- the dramatist’s interpretation of life, the meaning of life as he sees it. Violate this verse structure and meaning is destroyed as a symphony can be mutilated by instruments that do not play together.
The actor who plays in verse drama must have sensibilities that are like a musician’s, tuned to vibrations of sound, of melody, of theme variations. His job may be more difficult than a musician’s for the sounds he speaks can not be scored as is a musical composition. He must have an innate -- or a cultivated -- sense of the time and tone values of the sound of words. As a musician reads half-notes, quarter notes, grace notes, etc. . . . as he plays them accurately on his instrument, so an actor must recognize and sense the true tone and combinations, for these are the basis of verse construction. Then he must have the musician’s sense of phrasing; the dramatist achieves this through his line-length structure; varied by caesuras, stops, half-stops, over-run lines, cadences that result from these subtleties of phrasing. And then, the actor must possess the instrument which will play these values truly. He may not be a piccolo when a bass viol is scored. The actor must be sharper than the musician because his ear, his musical sense, must tell him what is needed to balance sounds to make a perfect orchestration. This is why it was put in verse: to remove it from reality, to give it meaning above reality, aesthetic distance which makes it endurable for it is art. It has a living pulse beat which makes it something only verse and music can capture -- yet it soars above reality to the meaning of life.
Form is more real than reality. We achieved this admirably -- the agony, the torture, no matter how well played might have gripped and shocked the audience; it was, however, the music of the whole that kept those audiences silent and motionless. The company as a whole played as an orchestra. People who are particularly responsive to spoken music are Foral, McAndrew, Jefferis and Emery. The woman’s chorus did a fine piece of choral orchestration -- Kate seemed, with Tucker, to set the pace, rhythm and intensity. Those choral interludes, for all their vulgarity and harshness, were welcome releases, giving time to adjust, time to think. those who need to concentrate further on verse, on sound values, on sensitivity to variations on a theme are Chew, Pomerantz, Frankel in particular, and the Comforters, while they achieved eventually the blending and rhythm needed for their scene, need to make themselves more aware of basic rhythms. Learn to hear it when you read a scene. Become aware of vowel values and consonantal effects that set up the melody. Learn to hear the cadences set up the length of lines and the sounds which terminate lines. Then: develop voices.
Chew has made a slight beginning in that he can open up some good tones. Reimond has a basically good voice. Pomerantz, Frankel, Striglos, and Tavonatti need much more work -- basic voice exercise. Pomerantz and Frankel need ear training, too. They apparently cannot distinguish between major and minor notes, direct and indirect tones. All have made progress: learning economy, for one thing, is an advance. Pomerantz must learn to hear his monotone and hollow note. Then learn to listen to the speech of others: all qualities, all times and reproduce them. Frankel msut learn to receive from others and to return something to them. He had worked out very well exactly what he wanted to do, to say and how. And he was able to reproduce it consistently. Good! So far! There will be more spark in what he does if he did all this in response to the moment. His directing will improve, too, when he can touch off in actors the by-play that makes good theatre. The messenger scenes became very effective. Now work for the inner and outer technique that will make your next acting job easier.
Foral’s work grew steadily. It was good at N.U.; here it was superb. The role became his totally: assimilation of traits and of thinking was complete. He could be J.B. now in any circumstances. Further, it had grown in depth of comprehension. “Those actors knew what they were talking about: they understood,” said a university professor. “He was right,” another said. “MacLeish feels deeply on this subject, doesn’t he? He must have been compelled to write this.” Which means that we achieved the fourth dimension: the author’s concern. Tom has become a real actor: he should be able to take on any role fearlessly. He knows how to work, he has sensed what it means to identify: to give himself to the role and to the play without forcing the outcome.
Marianne’s work was beautiful. I can ask for nothing more: music, poetry, depth, significance -- all were there. Occasionally on the last two nights, a pause, a reaction. was played a fraction too long. You all must guard against becoming too relaxed. Sustain the dramatic pulse which is not merely life, but theatre. Fortunately, the play was so securely formed that the little lapses scarely marred it. But if you ever get in a long run, check on the length and vibrancy of your reactions.
Vance’s work gained in subtleties in undercurrents. He achieved durability of character: Nickles the actor and Satan both became comprehensible: disillusioned man and seeing-god became one. In N.Y. I often resented the triviality of the Satan scenes. They didn’t tie up. Vances does a splendid job of closing a scene in such a way that it says: “You wait. It’s not over. I’m not through.” Here I found the audience not only waiting for Satan’s response, but wanting it, needing it. He released one tension -- an emotional tension -- and set minds going, realizing. I believe he, with the rest of you, created a drama, not merely to feel about, but to think about and talk about.
The Thanksgiving scene stays in the memory -- as it should. Thanks to all participants. Special mention must be made of Ellen’s brilliant consistent playing of the Girl: hard, clear, packed with meaning. Brilliant playing against the emotion. Many of you can use this as a model for effective communication through a hard, metallic attack. You will all need it someday. Learn it now. The drama was made of moments like this, beautifully knit together.