when i started In-Stage about three years ago, the intention was to create a permanent company of actors which would train together, play together and develop together. A company that would deliberately “experiment” for the best reason of all: to see what happens. A company that might uncover some new plays, and some new kinds of plays.
Like most Americans born in the early Thirties, I had been brought up to revere the shattering achievement of the American Group Theatre. It is important to understand what the Group means to present-day American producers. In understanding that, one begins to understand why some of us knock ourselves out the way we do.
The awe-inspiring fact about the Group Theatre was that it began with practically nothing (a 1,000-dollar grant from the Theatre Guild) and soon developed a glittering ensemble studded with players like Franchot Tone, John Garfield, Lee J. Cobb, Stella Adler and Elia Kazan; and animated by the efforts of Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman, the former being perhaps the greatest teacher of our time, and the latter one of the best (accidental) directors to come out of America. Given such an aggregation, it was inevitable that the company would revolutionise the theatre of the Thirties and condition the American theatre forever after. (The leading lights of the Actor’s Studio today are mostly Group alumni.) Just as it was to be expected that a company of such proportions would spawn writing talents the calibre of Clifford Odets, William Saroyan, Sidney Howard and Maxwell Anderson.
This was part of the Group legend, the part that blinded as it inspired the young Americans of the forties and fifties. The other part of the story was that the Group had been riddled by internal conflicts and relentless outside pressures, betrayed by many of its members, and forsaken by its best. And that, far from being a consistent permanent company, it was an erratic, economically-hounded aggregation of changing individuals and conflicting ideas.
In my hind-sighted diagnosis, I believe two things killed the Group Theatre. One was selfinterest on the part of the more celebrated members, and the other, lack of foresight on the part of the economic rulers of the American theatre (which at that time, included the Democratic administration). Given comprehensive government-subsidy and encouragement, the Lincoln Centre (now going up in New York) could have been in operation three decades ago, and the Group Theatre could today be the modern equivalent of the Comedie Francaise of the latter 17th century. But that is another story altogether.