Hello, dear readers. I've had quite a few requests for the material in the lobby display for "Ballad." So, I figured I'd just post it here and make it easier for everyone (re: me). For those that haven't dropped by to see our little show, perhaps this will inspire you to the box office. Buy your tickets now, folks, before it's too late!
Your humble dramaturg,
ALBEE ON BALLAD
I have stayed out of contact with [McCullers] once the Ballad deal was set…for simple reasons that I cannot work when someone looks at every page, every day. It was enough to convince her that the piece should not be a musical…with chorus line and all.
[McCullers’ is] a curious magician. Examine this: she is both child and sage; pain and joy. She has mastered the card tricks of both art and life, and she has seen equally and clearly the sleight of hand of reality and the truth which resides in legerdemain. She is kind enough to call me her friend.
I wouldn’t like to have had [Carson] as an enemy. She could be vicious and terribly selfish, but she was very bright and a good friend. I enjoyed her company.
You’re good actors. Alan’s a good director. Ben’s built a nice set. So if the play’s lousy, it’s my fault. And that’s why the first day of rehearsal is depressing to me.
--to his actors on the first day of rehearsal
It will be a great shame when the play goes away, for I am as fond of it as you are, as fond as anyone can be of a lovely child who has leukemia, or something. Silly audiences, they should want to go to it. Their loss.
--to William Flanagan, composer of the score for Ballad
For the film to succeed to McCuller’s intentions it must bring a mythic quality to the relationship. It is not the story of a shy, sexually repressed woman set on by a brutish punk. It is the story of two people who however unclearly to themselves they may comprehend it, are engaged in a bizarre ‘grand passion’—the real one chance in their lives for something very special—the one opportunity for them both to fully realize themselves. It is this quality, this awareness which reaches towards the mythic, and makes what happens when Marvin Macy comes back so poignant, so inevitable, and the stuff of true tragedy.
--to Simon Callow, the director of the film version
...two reasons really…one of them is that I am interested in finding out what happens when people do adaptations of novels for the stage. Usually there is a tendency to cheapen—to lessen the work that’s adapted, but then again, I can’t think of very many good playwrights that have ever done adaptations. They’re usually second rate people who do adaptations. I’m not suggesting here that I’m a first-rate person, but I am interested in finding out if it’s possible to do an adaptation of somebody else’s work—to move it from the pages of the novel to the life of the stage—without cheapening or lessening the work. And then again, ten years ago—is it ten? Yes, probably eleven years now…when I first read ‘Ballad of the Sad Café,’ I said to myself, ‘If I ever start writing plays I’d have to make this into a play.’
My responsibility, of course, in putting Carson McCullers’ novel on the stage is to make it seem as if Carson McCullers had written it for the stage. So I must indeed become Carson McCullers. I must think like Carson McCullers. The novella ‘Ballad of the Sad Café’ had two lines of dialogue. That’s all in the entire one hundred and ten page book. A play must be mostly dialogue. It’s my intention (and I hope I succeed in doing it) to turn all of that narration into dialogue, which should sound as though it were written by Carson McCullers. That’s my particular function in that particular item. It’s involving to do that, but involving in a different way…but in doing an adaptation, I must think that things are moving, involving, funny or whatever on Carson McCullers’ terms. It is a rather eerie experience. I think that ‘eerie’ is the word that Carson would use.
I am using whatever craft I have to make the piece completely Carson McCullers. No one should realize where she stops and I begin.
I seem to lose my mind about every fifth play and do an adaptation.
I’m relieved it’s over. The show went well, the actors remembered their lines, and the scenery did not fall down. Carson was not amused when the play closed after some one hundred performances, but then, neither was I.
ALBEE ON WRITING
It seems to me that a playwright has a responsibility in his society not to aid it, or comfort it, but to comment and criticize it. A playwright has the responsibility of artistic integrity.
I write for me. For the audience of me. If other people come along for the ride it’s great….but you have two alternatives; you either affect people or you leave them indifferent and I would loathe to leave an audience indifferent. I don’t care whether they love it or hate it, so long as they’re not indifferent.
…anybody that says that he can teach playwriting is either a charlatan, a liar or a fool…there is only one rule, which is: you can do anything in the world that you like as long as you make it work. There is only one length for a play and that is the play’s proper length. There are no rules except for the rule of a successful work of art.
I am suggesting that people write only through social maladjustment. They are not adjusted to society as it is. That is the only reason that people write—the predominate reason that people write.
When I was six year old I decided not that I was going to be a writer, but with my usual modesty, that I was a writer. So I started writing poetry when I was six and stopped when I was twenty-six because it was getting a little better, but not terribly much. When I was fifteen, I wrote seven hundred pages of an incredibly bad novel—it’s a very funny book that I still like a lot. Then, when I was nineteen I wrote a couple hundred pages of another novel, which wasn’t very good either. I was still determined to be a writer and since I was a writer, and here I was twenty-nine years old and I wasn’t a very good poet and I wasn’t a very good novelist, I thought I should try writing a play, which seems to have worked out a little better.
The responsibility of the writer is to be a sort of demonic critic—to present the world and people in it as he sees it and say ‘Do you like it? If you don’t like it, change it.’ Too many people go to the theatre wanting to be taken out of themselves, to be given an unreal experience. The theatre must always be entertaining, but I think that ‘Oedipus’ is entertaining.
If a play can be described in one sentence, that should be its length.
Usually the way I write is to sit down at the typewriter after a year or so of what passes for thinking, and I write a first draft quite rapidly. Read it over. Make a few pencil corrections, where I think I’ve got the rhythms wrong in the speeches, for example. And I retype the whole thing, and in the retyping, discover that maybe one or two more speeches will come in. One or two more things will happen, but not much. Usually, what I put down first is what we go into rehearsal with.
It’s like a dog before it craps, wanders around in circles—a piece of earth, an area of grass, circles it a long time before it squats. It’s like that—figuratively circling the typewriter, getting ready to write, and then finally one sits down.
Writing has got to be an act of discovery. To a certain extent, I imagine a play is completely finished in my mind without my knowing it, before I sit down to write. So in that sense, I suppose, writing a play is finding out what the play is.
A curious thing happens. Within a year after I write a play I forget the experience of having written it. And I couldn’t revise it or rewrite it if I wanted to.
ABLEE ON ALBEE
The women in my plays are stronger and more able to deal with life than the men are…the only people who have perpetuated this fiction about women in my plays being unpleasant are people who themselves can’t accept women as being strong and vital and vocal people.
I dismiss all labels. Theatre of the Absurd. Angry young man. Playwright of Protest. Labels are so facile, and they’re a substitute for conscientious analysis so much of the time. I’d like to think that my plays are out to change people, out to make them more aware of themselves and to point out misuse of consciousness, I suppose as much as anything.
I hope I put them in contact with areas of their feelings they may have gotten out of contact with. Or maybe make them see things from a different point of view. To think about things they haven’t thought about, think about them differently. Affect them in some way that they’ll have to react differently in the future to things.
ALBEE ON INFLUENCES
There are between five hundred and one thousand good plays and I’d have to go back to the Greeks and work my way right up. It’s been an assimilative process. Of my contemporaries, after Brecht, I admire Beckett, Jean Genet, Tennessee Williams and Harold Pinter.
I made a list about a year and a half ago, of the number of playwrights, according to the critics that I had been influenced by and it got to be a drag after I had listed twenty-six. And this list of twenty-six included three playwrights whom I had not read nor seen. So I made a point of reading these playwrights and found that I had indeed been influenced by them.
The one living playwright I admire without reservation whatsoever is Samuel Beckett. I have funny feelings about almost all the others.
ALBEE ON MUSIC
Plays are constructed rather the way music is, and also, there is usually, in a well written play, there is a kind of internal music that also relates to music as it goes along—rather the total form of a piece of music.
I wanted to be a composer when I was around twelve and have absolutely no aptitude for it—but I’ve been rather closely involved with music for many years.
Musical composition should be studied by playwrights, I think, because I find play construction and musical composition enormously similar
Along with Beckett and Pinter, we are three playwrights who write, I think, with closest understanding of the relationship between the two structures. And some interesting experiments could be done here. Once should go so far as to listen to the works, examine the sound in relation to the silences, the specific rhythms, the speed of speeches, the fast and slow and the cyclic returning of themes. And you’ll find, I know in my own work, you’ll find a very profound relationship between dramatic structure and musical form.
...musical notation and play notation can and should be quite similar. a composer can notate, can take a note and equate that to a word...he has tempo markings he can put down--for a violinist he has bowing markings--a musician can be terribly precise just by little marks that he puts on a page of music and a playwright can be exactly that precise since it's an imperfect craft at best, since one must deal with actors and directors, who also pretend to be human beings...the playwright should be able to write a line and notate it in such a way that it's impossible for an actor to say the line incorrectly. It can be just as precise as musical notation. Look at Samuel Beckett for example.
ALBEE ON THEATRE
There’s something very nice about the magic and immediacy of theatre. It’s not passive the way a novel is; it’s not synthetic the way film is. There’s something very real and dangerous about the theatre that I like.
Reality isn’t as simple as it used to be and I suspect that the theatre, the adventurous, the new, if you will, the new theatre in the United States, is going to concern itself with the re-evaluation of the nature of reality and therefore, it’s going to move away from the naturalistic tradition.
We are the only animal who consciously creates art. We are the only animal who attempts metaphor. It is our distinguishing mark. If we turn out to be the kind of society that is unwilling to use the metaphor, unwilling to use art to instruct ourselves, then we are this curious kind of society which is on its way downhill without ever having reached the top. And indeed, if we are unwise enough not to be instructed by the arts, then perhaps we do lack the will and the wisdom—the courage—to support a free society.
MCCULLERS ON WRITING
Writing, for me, is a search for God.
The writer by nature of his profession is a dreamer and a conscious dreamer. He must imagine, and imagination takes humility, love and great courage. How can you create a character without love and the struggle that goes with love?
I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.
What are the sources of an illumination? To me, they come after hours of searching and keeping my soul ready. Yet they come in a flash, as a religious phenomenon.
This fear is one of the horrors of an author's life. Where does work come from? What chance, what small episode will start the chain of creation? I once wrote a story about a writer who could not write anymore, and my friend Tennessee Williams said, "How could you dare write that story, it's the most frightening work I have ever read.' I was pretty well sunk while I was writing it.
I want to be able to write whether in sickness or in health, for indeed, my health depends almost completely on my writing.
MCCULLERS ON INFLUENCES
...one of the strongest influences on my reading life is [Dostoevsky]--Tolstoy, of course, if at the top...Tolstoy is considered by almost everyone as the greatest novelist that ever lived, and I can only say, me too. From his first beautiful book on [war] and [Sebastopol,] all through his long and marvelously productive life he stands alone as a writer.
[Edwin Peacock and John Zeigler] insisted that I read a book called [Out of Africa] and since I thought it was about big game hunting, I insisted just as firmly I didn’t want to read it. In the end, they got their way, for when Reeves and I were in the car on our way to Fayetteville, they slipped two books in my lap; they were [Out of Africa] and [Seven Gothic Tales.] I started [Out of Africa] in the car and read until sundown. Never had I felt such enchantment. After years of reading this book , and I have read it many times, I still have a sense of both solace and freedom whenever I start it again.
Whenever I think of artists having a hard time I think of James Joyce. He had one hell of a time to earn a living for himself and his family.
MCCULLERS ON BALLAD
I believe this adaptation will be interesting and compelling and add a new and beautiful dimension to an already beautiful work.
It was at a bar in [Sand] Street, in the company of W.H. Auden and George Davis that I saw and was fascinated by a remarkable couple. Among the customers there was a woman who was tall and strong as a giantess, and at her heels she had a little hunchback. I just observed them once, and it was not until some weeks later that the illumination of ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café’ struck me.
I was still working on ‘Member of the Wedding’ when with a sudden voltage I remembered the hunchback and the giantess. There was a strong impulse to write that story, suspending ‘Member of the Wedding,’ so I went back to Georgia to write ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café.’ It was a torrid summer and I remember the sweat pouring off my face as I typed, worried that I’d broken faith with ‘Member of the Wedding,’ to write this short novel. When I finished the story I jerked it out of the typewriter and handed it to my parents. I walked for several miles while they read, and when I’d come back I could see from their faces that they’d liked it. It was always my father’s favorite work.
Darling, ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café’ is for you.
--to David Diamond, the third person in her and her husband’s love triangle
This play, as luminous as its stars, is about the destruction of a dream. It has the passion of a Greek drama although the setting is in an eastern town. It shows malicious humiliation and love and tenderness and bitterness. It has in it compassion, the wildest humor and the dark brilliance that to me, is peculiar to the genius of Edward Albee.
Thank you for the sun, the hay, the suntan, not to mention the Virginia Woffe (sic) and all the fun, Happy Days, and our Ballad.
--in a letter to Albee after spending part of the summer together, which included evening readings of Beckett and ‘Ballad’
Edward Albee was very young when he came to me to ask permission to adapt my ‘Ballad of the Sad Cafe.’ He rented a small cabin with no electricity on Water Island and I sat up all night on the beach while he read it to me. However, when I saw it on Broadway I was disappointed. Edward has his own genius and I thought he was just cooling his heels working on something of mine. He should’ve been working on his own plays. There was no dialogue and no action in my novella and I told him it could not be done. I don’t know how he feels but I still think I was right.