Notes on Theater

I found this 2007 interview with Peter O’Toole enlightening as regards the state of the modern stage. He laments the decline of repertory companies from the point of view of an actor:

When my colleagues and I left the RADA after two years there wasn’t one of us who didn’t have a job. Why? Because in England then there were eighty repertory companies. Then there was Scotland. Then there was Wales. Then there was Ireland. You could even buy a job: “Wanted gentleman beginner improver.” And if you paid them a few shillings a week they would let you be on the stage and you could put it on your c.v. We trained for theater, theater, theater. The advent of cinema and television and wireless had only affected our older colleagues twenty years ago. So the tradition we were in was complete theater…Theater is going away. There are no repertory companies now in England. Not one…So the great link we had with theater is gone.

The loss of repertory companies must certainly deprive young actors of the benefits of apprenticeship, by which they might learn their craft working with older actors, who had done the same in turn. I am reminded of Simon Callow’s description of Micheál mac Liammóir whom he had known in the 1960s:

He carried so much with him, so much history: in terms of theatre alone, the fact that he had played Oliver Twist to Beerbohm Tree’s Fagin, that he had been at the legendary pre-war London performances of the Ballets Russes, that he had seen and met Sarah Bernhardt, gave him a link to a mythic theatrical past. His vocal technique itself belonged to the Victorian theatre: even in his lifetime, Tree was thought to be a throwback, and he had been Michael’s first teacher.

I am not at all sure that drama school can compensate for the lost education that came with being part of a multigenerational lineage stretching back who knows how far? To Garrick?


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