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The Group Theater Essay, Research Paper

The Group Theatre began as a small company that provided actors and actresses with a means and a location to practice plays. Three people, Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, and Cheryl Crawford formed The Group Theatre. The Group Theatre escalated in 1931 and ended abruptly in 1941 ? prevailing through the years there were hits, periods of flops, financial straits, depressing inactivity, and spiraling to as glittering of a success as any on Broadway. This story however is also the story of growth and development throughout American cultural life in the thirties.

The year is 1928, and the tedious beginning of The Group Theatre began when Harold Clurman answered the call of a real estate man, Sidney Ross, who was thinking of going into theatrical production and was seeking an aide of some kind. Clurman then contacted his friend, Strasberg, and the two of them outlined their ideas. The proposal was quite simple, they wanted to work on a play that had no formal production plans, but the work would be instructive to the actors, and a new theatre might be born of their modest efforts. After many weeks of rehearsals their play was viewed by an exclusive audience, and Waldo Frank, who had written the play advised Ross that the play should be run, the members reviewed the idea and came up with their own proposal?they would rehearse another play, and if the outcome was the same response they would head to New York. After six weeks they performed the play to about 100 people, and got the same response, however nothing happened, and the experiment was finished.

Cheryl Crawford urged Clurman to prepare for future by finding actors for their more permanent company. Some actors that were considered were Franchot Tone, Morris Carnovsky, Meisner, and others. Since The Group Theatre had no money, no plays, the meetings of the actors were to be entirely unofficial. The new idea of The Group Theatre was to establish a theatre in which the philosophy of life might be translated into a philosophy of the theatre. Also there were to be no stars in this theatre, not for the negative purpose of avoiding distinction, but because all distinction was to be personified in the production as a whole. Word got around that The Group Theatre was meeting and that it was a ?revolt? against The Theatre Guild and Clurman was questioned. When he explained the situation to Miss Helburn, the confrontation ended?as it turned out, the Guild agreed that The Group Theatre could rehearse The House of Connelly, and have one thousand dollars. Another contributor was Maxwell Anderson, who gave The Group Theatre one thousand five hundred dollars, more later, and Edna Ferber, who contributed five hundred dollars as long as her niece Janet Fox could join the summer work. Fox lost her ambition, but Ferber gave The Group Theatre the money anyways. The Group Theatre found a location in Brookfield Center, Connecticut to rehearse, and all actors were given a notice that they were leaving in a few weeks ? it was the only contract anyone had, but no one ever asked for another. On June 8, 1931, twenty-eight actors, some wives, two children, and three directors left The Theatre Guild building for Brookfield Center, Connecticut.

That first summer was a time of learning, there were tiffs between actors, especially with Franchot Tone, who was a well known actor on Broadway, the type of living style each actor had established over time, and with the mental state at which all actors were in. One example of a time when the mental state was profusely questioned was when the actors had gone to visit a nearby farmhouse and when they returned they were told that they would not rehearse because they were too relaxed to rehearse. None of the actors soon forgot that day. The Group Theatre didn?t actually get the name The Group Theatre until August of 1931, when they returned to New York, when the three directors decided that that should be their name, since that is what they had always referred to it as.

Their first production opening took place on the evening of September 23, 1931, at the Martin Beck Theatre, New York City. By two am there were reviews already appearing, and they were qualified raves. Later, Clurman came to realize that their first production was not all that well produced. The actors could have been louder, the larger roles could have been performed better, the set and lighting could have been better ? etc. In December The Group Theatre performed their second production, 1931, and after rehearsing for eight weeks, the play closed in nine days. The next play performed was Night over Taos, what closed The Group Theatre?s first season. After the end of their first season, some actors dropped out of The Group Theatre. One of their first successes was Men in White, which was performed in The Group Theatre?s third season ? after struggles and struggles; they were beginning to get somewhere. Other hits included Awake and Sing, and Waiting for Lefty, which came later in their active years.

The Group Theatre began to meet hardships, after several flops, the loss of actors, the small reception for the actors, and the loss of funding. Actors were being asked to take pay cuts, and they in turn were leaving The Group. While performing Waiting for Lefty, there was a line in the play which offended some viewers, The Group Theatre then had to backtrack, and write a letter saying that that was the line of the playwright not them, and that they were not responsible for what the playwright says. When adding up the problems and failures that The Group Theatre faced it was amazing that they were still open.

Soon the remaining members and new members were feeling a strain on their productions, they awoke sleepily, practiced hard, and managed to continue to open plays. One play that they really enjoyed working on turned out to be a flop, and even though the company was fighting to keep the play open, there was a larger fight going on inside of the company. The relations between Clurman and Strasberg had grown increasingly strained?with no single reason for its blame. Clifford Odets, who The Group Theatre bought playwrights from, was postponing rewrites, and revisions, causing a strain on the production numbers. At some point The Group felt that there was no organization in their association. Stella Adler, a major actress in The Group had gotten fed up and went to the coast. Soon Clurman left New York and went to Hollywood, where he was engaged by Walter Wanger to assist in the making of a picture that Clifford Odets was writing. Shortly after, Wanger put most of The Group Theatre under contracts, except Stella Adler, who was put under contract to Paramount. Work went well in the studio, until Odets lost interest in the script. In April of 1937, Cheryl Crawford resigned. Shortly following Cheryl Crawford?s lead, Lee Strasberg also resigned. Strasberg and Crawford began their own production company, with some of the actors from The Group Theatre joining the Crawford-Strasberg Theatre. Their Theatre never got much further than making their announcement. Clurman drudged ahead with another summer session. Odets and Luther Adler left for New York in early July, and in August Clurman also returned to New York. Two acts of Odets new play, Golden Boy, was waiting Clurman in New York. Although the play went into rehearsal there was no money for the play to be produced. Clurman returned to Hollywood to visit Stella Adler, making The Group believe that Adler and Clurman were going on to produce Golden Boy without them. This was not true, and the Group Theater?s production of Golden Boy turned out to be a success and restored Franchot Tone?s faith in The Group.

After two hundred and forty eight performances of Golden Boy, Odets again was losing interest and was having confrontations with members of The Group Theatre. After the production of Night Music, The Group was falling to pieces, as was Clurman. Clurman believed in The Group Theatre, and their continued life was not much of an option. The fundamental economic instability of The Group accounts for much of its chaotic inner life and explains more about its real deficiencies than any analysis of personal traits of its individual members.

The Group Theatre was destined to fail because its premise went against the American grain. The Group Theatre aimed to develop the individual through a collective discipline and a collective approach to the individual?s problems; and America?s culture is fundamentally individualistic. The young people of the thirties were seeking ?the good life? ?They were eager not only to find it but also to fight for it. The artists in the thirties like the artists in all times were driven by the hope and desire for a fulfilled life. In the struggle of The Group Theatre, the struggle itself was for the moral and material world?to carry on in such a way that the sense of The Group at its finest and strongest could be transformed to the uses of their own lives.

Clurman, Harold. The Fervent Years. Hearst Magazines, Inc. 1945

Kingsley, Sidney. Ed Nena Couch. Introduction. Five Prizewinning Plays.

Ohio State University Press, 1995

?Odets, Clifford.? Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica


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