AUGUST 7, 1950
HYDE PARK, Sunday—I have just received some interesting information from a traveling entertainment organization called the Carnival Caravan, of Wellsville, New York. Through its unusual program idea, this group is attacking our American habit, on the cultural level, of sitting back and being an observer and never taking part unless whatever we do is first-class.
In this respect I can remember my mother-in-law saying that one of the troubles with Americans was that they never contributed what little they had to give in the same un-self-conscious way in which an Englishman or Frenchman or an Italian would use his or her talent for the entertainment of family and friends. My mother-in-law belonged to a large family of children, and some of the girls had more gifts artistically than others. But all of them were required by their mother and father to contribute what they could and no one laughed at them if they made a mistake here and there, because no one expected perfection. They were frankly amateurs, as most of us are.
I can remember a very charming aunt, one of my mother's sisters, whom I used to think might have become a professional if she had had to earn her living, either as a pianist or a painter. I used to spend hours as a child watching her paint, or lying on my tummy on the big sofa in the New York City living room just before my bedtime when she would play and play, and I would live in another world. These were amateurs; but they helped many a professional by their accompaniments and they trained many a youngster in the power of appreciation, which is one of the rare gifts that makes all of life more interesting.
Now along comes this Carnival Caravan, which travels on special trucks and can be set up in any town of 5000 people just as a circus is set up. They give local people an opportunity to see things done, but also to do the things if they will accept the urging of the caravan's instructors. You may set type at a printing press. You may watch how books are bound and look at the fine book bindings that are on exhibition. There will be story hours for children. There will be authors talking about their own works, reviews of current books. You can watch a play—but you can also act in short skits and charades and you can actually make up stories and dramatize them in what is called the Playhouse Story Book. You can dance, sing, debate, give recitals, as well as watch professionals do all these things. You can hear concerts in the music hall that the caravan sets up, see fine exhibits of arts, crafts and industrial design—but you can also take part, if you like, and have your own productions and exhibits. If you get tired of carting your child around all day, there is a place provided for its entertainment.
This caravan is especially designed to bring to the country areas some of the advantages which the city person accepts without much thought. I remember quite well Judith Anderson telling me that when she and Maurice Evans played Macbeth for our soldiers in Hawaii, many of them told her this was the first time they had ever seen real players on the stage.
The first tryout of the Carnival Caravan took place one day last year at Chatauqua. This year they are trying it on a broader scale, and if you can get it into your community you will find it most enjoyable.