Tuesday, May 23, 2006

givin' it up for the guthrie

guthinterior2.jpgDocomomo sent an email petition around this afternoon to save the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. The theatre company has moved out, and the new owner plans to tear down the Ralph Rapson structure this summer.

If you have an interest in these things you may want to take a minute to add your name to the SAVE THE GUTHRIE petition (I’m #884), and while you’re visiting savetheguthrie.org you might want to give a read to the history of how the Guthrie came to be. It’s full of gems like these:

There was a strong sentiment among the design committee members for having Rapson plan a flexible theater that could accommodate both the classical types of production Guthrie championed and the more profitable Broadway productions that local booking agencies wished to attract.

The very idea of a house that was equipped to handle both types of productions infuriated Guthrie. He had eschewed New York in favor of Minneapolis in order to get away from the large Broadway production mentality. "He didn't want a house designed to accommodate Bob Hope's touring show. He thought an all-purpose theater was a no-purpose theater."

Guthrie argued that many of the plays he intended to mount -- ones written before the mid-seventeenth century -- had been written for the open stage. This suggested that the theater could be "considerably more flexible than might appear to the lay mind." Further, he contended, "more people can be got into the same amount of cubic space if they are seated around an open stage, rather than facing a proscenium." But this did not mean he wanted a theater-in-the-round, preferring instead to give his actors one wall against which to play.

Most important to Guthrie was the option of seating as many people as close to the action as possible, creating an intimacy that would help audiences "participate" in the production. Comfort was of secondary value. He even suggested that Rapson design the seats to tilt forward so that people would be on edge, alert. At another point, for the same reason, he proposed that the seats be little more than wooden benches.

Rapson was able to jettison both the tilted-seat and wooden-bench ideas, but he struggled more seriously with Guthrie about the spacing of rows. Rapson proposed that the distance between the seat-back in front of a viewer and that viewer's own seat-back be thirty-four inches, the prevailing standard. Guthrie balked: "How about thirty? People need to be packed together, just uncomfortable enough to pay attention." Rapson rejoined that when he and Guthrie attended performances together something Guthrie had suggested as a way of exposing the architect to different types of productions Guthrie always positioned himself on the aisle so he could stretch his legs. Guthrie grumbled but eventually agreed to thirty-two inches.
And if reading up on our man Guthrie makes you want to run right out and pick up a copy of his Life in the Theatre don’t bother with Amazon – it’s out of print. But Abebooks’ll do ya just fine – you might even be able to find a gently used first edition, like I did, for under $10. (And that includes shipping.) »

1 comment:

litwit said...

Tragic -- I saw "The Tempest" and "The Winter's Tale" there when I was in college -- the best Shakespeare productions I've seen.

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