Reading List for GHP Students

I should sub-title this “the making and breaking of a love-hate romance.” And since it’s unavoidably autobiographical, it’s a list that’s already out of date and should be super-ceded by some respectable bibliography from a textbook you might find at any one of your schools.

My drama experiences in high school were limited to reading Shakespeare in and out of the classroom. Period. See, told you it would be irrelevant. Maybe you will be one of the next generation of advertising’s “bright young things” who figures out a way to use Shakespeare to sell designer fragrances. But other than that, not much useful there. I cling, nonetheless, to the belief that Shakespeare is the seed bed for any and all English-language dramatic experience; how sad that I am stuck with that fixation and will die with it. Contingencies. Chance encounters stamp us. I acquired all my indelible tatts early; no need for additional pretty pictures.

I was involved with youth theatre my last two years of high school. I can count up the authors I encountered there quickly: Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Uta Hagen, Anton Chekov, Moliere, John Arden, Georges Feydeau, Tom Stoppard. Not a bad working list. I was lucky.

Use the list of names in your 20th Century Theatre history project description as an excellent supplement.

I went through a period in my undergrad years where I was interested in Sam Shepard and David Mamet just like fifty million other earnest theatre students. Later I was enthused by other American playwrights: Marie Irene Fornes, Eric Overmeyer, Mac Wellman, Constance Congdon. And now they’re no longer au courant. At a certain point over ten years ago, trying to stay current in the theatre game became exhausting and I just stopped. The next important voice or vision is always right there waiting in the wings and at times you have to feel like you are in touch with the new to be truly vital in the art. Good luck staying immersed.

In addition, Peter Brooks’ The Empty Space may be inspiring. He’s one of the visionary old farts from the Sixties. Herbert Blau is a guiding Father for me, of course. But can I really recommend reading him? His mission in his theatre work and writing was to bring a European post-war (WWII) political and philosophical seriousness into the American theatrical landscape. So if you have jingoistic tendencies, Blau’s not for you. We all have different ways of searching for inspiration. I willed myself into the post-structuralist and postmodern delirium like many folks in the Eighties. Blau was there, too. To situate Blau, you have to read a great deal: Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Husserl, various Continental existentialists, Adorno, Saussure, Lacan, Althusser, Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and Guatteri, Zizek.

As far as other reading pleasures go, I try to balance a need for “difficult” pleasures with a love of horror literature (though not King so much–who spends just a bit too much time talking about what it means to be a writer for my taste). That way I can be precieuse and primatif (and pretentious, too, if I’m getting the French right) at once. I can’t get away from the “hard” American postmodernists writing in the “Wake” of Joyce (and Beckett), like Pynchon, D. Barthelme, Gass, Gaddis, Coover, Ducoret, etc. Two good scary writers are Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman.

I’m also a big believer in poetic experience and its impact on theatre artists (in other words, read poetry; Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, all good starts for good stretches) . Robert Graves’ The White Goddess had a big impact on me early on. Sure, it’s a very Romantic conception of the purpose of poetry, but it also has something to say, I think, about even more mundane issues connected with the use of language and image.

I’ll try to add to this when thought resumes its flow.

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