Phoenix Theatre: BackstagePASS
|February 2014 • Act 7 Scene 5|
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What does it mean to leave your home town in hopes of making something of yourself? Each new generation does it. You probably did it. Many of our current theatre students have left home to come to study here. The nature of theatre often means moving to a big city to start your career. In this issue of BackstagePASS we hear the amazing and sad life story of one of America's greatest playwrights William Inge, his friendship with another American theatre icon Tennessee Williams, and our own graduates' stories of starting their careers. Read on.
by Emily Beaudoin
"I've often wondered how people raised in our great cities ever develop any knowledge of humankind. People who grow up in small towns get to know each other so much more closely than they do in cities."
Friendship. For many of us, it is one of the most important parts of our lives, creating joy, support, and trust between ourselves and others. Yet friendship can also morph intosomething strange, nebulous andteetering at times.
So it was between two of the great playwrights of America, William Inge (shown above) and Tennessee Williams (shown below).They becameaquainted when Inge was a drama criticfor the St. Louis Star-Times. Inge accompanied Williams to a performance of The Glass Menageriein Chicago and was spellbound."I was terrifically moved by the play," said Inge. "I thought it was the finest I had seen in many years." (Note that The Glass Menagerie is being presented by Blue Bridge Theatre in Victoria at the same time as Picnic runs at UVic. See below for details.)
Inge later spoke to Williams about how unhappy he was with his current job, saying: “I’ve gone to so many plays and walked out thinking that I could write a better play than that.” Williams responded with a life changing answer: “Well, why don’t you?” It was that moment that set Inge’s future in motion.
Williams played a crucial role in starting Inge’s career as a playwright: it was he who supported and believed in Inge when his career was just in its infancy. Williams introduced his agent Audrey Wood to Inge and they also began began working together. Inge's first play, Farther Off from Heaven, was mounted at a friend of Williams' theatre company in Dallas and the two playwrights set about trying to produce Inge's play Come Back, Little Sheba on Broadway. His play Picnic went on to be a huge hit and won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize. In 1955 was released as a Hollywood movie. His 1955 play Bus Stop was also made into a movie the next year featuring Marilyn Munroe. Inge was at the height of his fame. Yet as Inge’s popularity and success blossomed, surpassing that of Williams, Williams grew to be jealous and resentful of Inge. In one of his letters to the drama reviewer Brooks Atkinson, Williams admitted, “I was consumed with envy of his play’s success...hideous competitiveness which I never had in me before!”
But as conflicted as Williams may have felt towards Inge’s mounting success, Inge himself was caught in a turmoil of self-doubt and criticism. It is well known that both Inge and Williams were homosexuals, and while Williams seemed to embrace this part of himself, Inge was constantly tortured by it. He was an extremely shy man. He repressed himself both sexually and creatively, at times agonizing over whether or not audiences would approve of his work. He was constantly trying to cater to what he thought they would enjoy. As an alcoholic, he was in and out of rehab frequently in his later years.
Interestingly enough, Inge wrote an alternate version of Picnic, titled Summer Brave, in which Madge chooses not to follow Hal and leave town at the end of the play. Instead, staying in her small town, this version of Madge must live with the repercussions of her decision and a tarnished reputation. Inge actually preferred this version, but was so desperate to write a hit and have it viewed favourably that in the end he conceded, saying “Okay, let it end the way everyone seems to want it to end.” Inge did not have the self-confidence to push for what he really wanted and would become completely distraught over any sort of criticism, be it from producers, the press, or audiences in general.
The first big blow to Inge’s creative confidence came in the form of Robert Brustein’s article titled “The Men-Taming Women of William Inge,” which single-handedly desecrated all of his works to date. It was then that the true strength of Williams and Inge’s friendship showed. Even though they were on tenuous terms, it was Williams whom he called for solace. Williams was there to support him, coaxing him out of the crippling depression that the article had triggered.
Criticism of his work continued to intensify. Wanting to appease concerns, Inge attempted to "modernize" his writing, abandoning the small-town characters and settings he knew in favour of more sensational, urban subject matter, and his plays lost their sense of authenticity. Eventually the criticism became too much for Inge; even though he had won numerous awards and recognitions for his work, he could only focus on the negative responses. He taught for a short time at the University of California, but his depression was increasingly affecting his lifestyle and he quit in 1970. He returned to his Hollywood home where he lived with his sister, Helene.
On June 10, 1973, one of America’s greatest playwrights was lost as Inge walked into his closed garage, got into the driver’s seat of his brand new Mercedes and turned on the engine. He was 60 years old. Buried in his hometown of Independence, Kansas, his headstone stands as a mark of his quiet greatness, reading only: “Playwright.”
"Death makes us all innocent," wrote Inge "and weaves all our private hurts and griefs and wrongs into the fabric of time, and makes them a part of eternity."
For more information visit:
February 13 - 22, 2014
Experience an American classic of young love, lost aspirations and the heart’s yearning to chase your dreams. On the last day of a scorching hot summer in smalltown Kansas, a worldly and handsome young drifter arrives in town stirring up relationships and sending everyone reeling. Nothing would ever be the same.
Box Office now open for single tickets.
Friday February 14 @ 7pm
Saturday Feburary 22@ 2pm Matinee*
We're pleased to offer sign language interpretation for our Deaf and Hard of Hearing community at the matinee performance of Picnic, with interpretation by Deaf interpreter Nigel Howard and Hearing interpreter Jen Ferris. Advanced tickets are available through the box office or by submitting this order form.
March 3-8, 2014
The University of Victoria's VP of Research office is presenting their third annual idea conference with FREE lectures on subjects from technology use, music to social justice... explore over 50 ideas worth celebrating! Within this festival, the Department of Theatre is presenting:
A Props Master Out of His Depth
In this slide lecture, master props artist Bryn Finer addresses how his theatre experiences translated to the development of sculptures and dioramas for the Kwisitis Visitor Centre at Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino.
March 13 - 22, 2014
A intensely human and darkly comic portrayal of a forgotten chapter in Canadian history, this Governor General Award-winner chronicles the effects of the 1918 global pandemic on the isolated town of Unity, Saskatchewan as its citizens realize what it means to be truly alive.
Check out other events at the UVic Fine Arts Faculty.
As mentioned above, Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre is presenting Tennessee Williams classic play The Glass Menagerie in February, so audiences can experience the play that inspired Inge to start writing. Our graduates make up a vast majority of the team working on this production with Victor Dolhai (BFA’07), Sarah Pelzer (BFA’09) and Matthew Coulson (BFA’10) in the four-person cast, as well as alumni Patricia Reilly (BFA’11) and Bryan Kenney (MFA’12), professor emeritus Dr. Giles Hogya, and current professor Brian Richmond working on the creative team. If that wasn’t enough, alumni Chelsea Haberlin (BFA'07), Sebastien Archibald (BFA'07) and Colby Wilson (BFA’07) of ITSAZOO Productions will be presenting their hilarious and heart-wrenching drama The Flick at their Roxy Theatre in March. Thanks for creating great opportunities for our grads. It's wonderful to have so many back in town.
Also in February, the Belfry Theatre’s current production of Proud is featuring two Phoenixers! The new comedy about Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be featuring graduate Celine Stubel (BFA’02) and current student Kieran Wilson (shown right). Break a leg you two!
Chris Adams (BFA’10) has conceived and arranged a new and exciting play at Granville Island this spring. Entitled Magic To Do: A Stephen Schwartz Songbook, Chris' compilation will take audiences through most of the Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer’s career, covering almost every song from each Schwartz musical (Godspell, Pippin and Wicked, to name a few) in a 90 minute cabaret-style show.
After spending the summer of 2013 in Italy studying at the Centre for Opera Studies, alumnus Chris Sibbald (BFA’10) returned to Victoria earlier in the fall to work at Pacific Opera Victoria on their production of Falstaff. Now, he is once again off to the Stratford Festival to work on Christina the Girl King and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Actor, comedy writer and storyteller Sam Mullins (BFA'08) has been heard on the air waves across North America. Here in Canada, he is on the writing team of CBC The Irrelevant Show (with co-alum Chris Wilson (BFA'08)). In the last few months he has had two stories broadcast on National Public Radio, including Tinfoil Dinosaur on The Moth Radio Hour and Long Walk on a Short Pier on This American Life. Sam will be returning to Victoria for Intrepid Theatre's UNO Fest in May with his one-man play, Weaksauce.
The Department of Theatre also has some interesting international exchanges happening right now. Production students Imogen Wilson and Breanna Wise are studying across the world in Bangkok University’s Production and Design program as part of an international exchange between this university and UVic. As part of their studies, the students have been designing shows and working on a variety of production aspects.
Thanks to those that contributed last fall to the Department of Theatre's field trip to India and helped us raise over $3,000! Fourteen applied theatre students will be leaving in October for an exciting field course in the village of Tamil Nadu where they will be helping the local residents and youth create an intergenerational theatre company. This spring the students are going to special planning sessions for the fall field trip. Monies raised will help offset the cost of the trip and their accommodations in Tamil Nadu.
And how – you ask – do we get all these fantastic stories for our Phoenix Phacts? From YOU - our alumni who stay in touch with us. And now it's easy. Just fill in this quick theatre alumni survey and tell us what you've been up to! (It's also a way to give your input into our 50th Anniversary planning ideas for 2016/17!)
You could win two tickets to Blue Bridge's production of The Glass Menagerie by answering the following question:
Correct answers will be entered into a draw for a pair of tickets! Email your answer before February 14 at Noon to win!
The Phoenix Theatre would like to thank our individual donors and community sponsors for their support of our programs and talented students! Thank you!
Phoenix eNews is a regular email magazine for those interested in the Phoenix Theatre, the not-for-profit productions at the University of Victoria's Department of Theatre. Do you know someone who would love to know more about us? Please feel free to forward this message to a friend!
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