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Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958

By Laurence G. Avery; Maxwell Anderson | Go to book overview

58. TO RAY LYMAN WILBUR 1

New City
December 9, 1937

Dear Dr. Wilbur:

Stated briefly as possible, my suggestions for the use of the open air theatre at Stanford are these:

That Stanford University establish a national theatre festival, possibly to be called the Festival of Dionysius, after the Greek fashion; that the University offer three prizes of $1,000 each for three poetic tragedies, with no restriction on style or subject or author save that the author be a resident of the United States; that these three tragedies be performed on successive days by Stanford students under the supervision of the Dramatic Department, and an additional reward of $500 be given to the author of that tragedy which wins most votes from members of the audience who have seen all three plays; that on the fourth day the program should consist of three one-act satyr plays written by students of Stanford University and burlesquing either one of the three tragedies previously given or any tragedy well-known to the audience, and that a small cash prize be voted by the audience to the winning play. In these last plays I should personally wish to encourage the use of the animal chorus and the traditional burlesque trappings with which the Greeks took off their own tragedies.

These suggestions make a radical departure from what is customary in the modern use of the outdoor theatre, especially in the emphasis on poetic tragedy, in leaving out revivals altogether, in providing for large cash prizes and in the national scope of the competition. I think these departures are all justified. Poetic tragedy has always been the highest aim of the theatre and the young men and women who are now attacking dramatic writing have begun to make attempts in that direction which, if encouraged, may lead to the production of a national drama worthy of a great nation. Mr. Titterton of the National Broadcasting Company and Miss Helburn with her Bureau of New Plays both assure me that a large proportion of the manuscripts they now receive are in verse and not bad verse at that. It seems to me much more important to emphasize this tendency than to draw on the ancients for the usual program of revivals. It is worth noting also that good prose plays are fairly certain of a hearing on Broadway whereas a play in verse is so far a bad commercial risk. I

-64-

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