FEBRUARY 14, 1962
PARIS—During this winter, as many of you know, there has been a continuing tour throughout the United States by a group called the National Repertory Theatre. This has been its inaugural season and it is playing "Elizabeth, the Queen" by Maxwell Anderson and "Mary Stuart" by Friedrich Schiller.
To the great gratification of everyone who really cares about the living theatre these performers have been received throughout the country with extraordinary warmth and appreciation. This, of course, is partly due to the extremely good cast of actors and actresses, and also to the fact that our country is really hungry for good theatre.
Outside of a few big cities very few people see much in the way of live theatre and there are many areas of the country where people have never seen a top-flight actor perform. This was brought home to me during the war when Miss Judith Anderson told me how some of our soldiers would come backstage after the show and say, "We would like to come again tomorrow night. Who is this guy Shakespeare, anyway?"
The National Repertory Theatre Foundation was organized to back this undertaking, and I am sure this has been Miss Eva Le Gallienne's dream for many years. Michael Dewell, who is one of the producers, tells me that when casting was announced last spring there were 4,000 applications from actors. Over a period of three months every actor was interviewed, and 20 were selected for the company. The whole unit consists of these 20 actors, 10 stagehands, two managers, three wardrobe women, two truck drivers, two press agents, one manager and five dogs. The two trucks that carry the sets are the largest in the world, and when the winter tour is concluded in April the group will have traveled some 30,000 miles by plane, bus, station wagon and train.
Both productions require period costumes, naturally, and there are 47 in all. Miss Le Gallienne's eight costumes are authentic reproductions in heavy velvet and gold brocade and many jewels.
The National Repertory Theatre to date has been extremely popular—sometimes to its own surprise—and the kind of enthusiasm manifested after performances can be compared to that usually reserved for ballet and opera companies. It is such warmth that keeps actors and actresses on the road giving fine performances and thrilling audiences.
Stage people are sensitive people, and they respond perhaps more quickly than most audiences realize. I know Faye Emerson well, and when she, in the title role of "Mary Stuart," gives an outstanding performance I am sure that the sense of having given her best and receiving a standing ovation for it means far more than any kind of monetary remuneration.
The foundation has met 80 percent of the cost of its winter tour by the sale of tickets and 20 percent has come by gifts from individuals. It needs help from all over the country and it believes the whole country will help, and because contributions are tax deductible it feels that the government is really helping them to make this cultural effort.
The National Repertory Theatre wants to be to the U.S. what the Old Vic is to England and the Comedie Francaise is to France. But for our national company there will be one difference—it will always tour and be available to cities large and small. This season it will have covered 60 cities, but it hopes to reach 200 every year in the future. For this goal it is asking help from foundations and from people who love the theatre and appreciate what it can mean to the cultural life of a country.
This is a national undertaking, and a few years ago I do not know that I would have hoped that as a nation we would rise to this opportunity. But one of the good things that came to us out of the depression was the theatre project that introduced many audiences to live acting and created the desire which I think lies back of the present effort of the National Repertory Theatre Foundation.
The day will come, I think, when not only will we be receiving in our country companies from great theatres of foreign lands but we will also be sending some really good exchange groups from our theatre to tour abroad. Through our State Department a few such exchanges have been carried out in the past few years. But I hope in the future it will become as usual an exchange as any other kind of trade carried on between nations. The big difference will be that such a theatre exchange will have intellectual and spiritual value and do far more for real understanding between peoples than our business and industrial enterprises can ever do.