CENTENNIAL COUNTDOWN: RESULTS OF THE MAY PRECONFERENCE
The centennial of O'Neill's birth--on Sunday, October 16, 1988--is fast approaching. In terms of planning time, given the vast amount of preparation and coordination that is required for even the tiniest venture, very little actually remains already; and any individual or group that hopes to be an integral part of the festivities had better throw her/his/its hat in the communal ring posthaste. Since publishers and theatre companies have probably all completed the schedules and committed the available resources for their 1986-1987 seasons, it is unlikely that any new ideas with target dates before the fall of 1987 can be realized. We can be grateful that O'Neill chose to be born when he did, since celebrations can be divided between the second half of the 1987-1988 theatrical and academic year and the first half of the next one! But even the fall of 1988 is not really that distant.
It is therefore fortunate that the first day of the O'Neill conference at Suffolk University last May was devoted to brainstorming sessions at which O'Neillians in the theatrical, scholarly and academic worlds could share their centenary ideas and begin to achieve some coordination that would help their achievement and avoid duplications of effort. The scholarly group was led by Jackson R. Bryer of the University of Maryland, the theatrical contingent by Paul D. Voelker of the University of Wisconsin Center in Richland. The groups met separately and together, and the results were rich, varied, and extremely promising. Two days after the meetings, Professors Bryer and Voelker presented a list of the decisions and proposals that, in their opinions, loomed largest during the day of discussion. That list is reprinted below. Two facts should be borne in mind when reading it. First, the list is extremely tentative. None of the "X will be done" statements, for all their boldness and rightness, is anything but verbalized dream until someone (e.g. you, dear reader) steps forward and commits him/herself to doing it. And secondly, the list does not claim to be exhaustive. Many other possibilities will doubtless present themselves--probably as many as there are readers.
In short, the success or failure of the O'Neill centennial depends on all of us. If you would like to participate in one of the scholarly activities on the list, or if you have an additional one to propose, write to Jackson R. Bryer, Department of English, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742 (tel. 301-454-6957). If you wish to engage in any of the theatrical activities, or to propose others, write to Paul D. Voelker, Rt. 4, Box 258, Richland Center, WI 53581 (tel. 608-647-6215). If you would like to join the Centenary Committee, or have an interest that spans the two realms, contact Professor Voelker, who has been appointed O'Neill Society liaison for centennial activities. And if you wish to share your ideas and proposals quickly with fellow O'Neillians around the world, send them to the Newsletter editor, Frederick C. Wilkins, Department of English, Suffolk University, Boston, MA 02114 (tel. 617-723-4700, ext. 272). Together, we can see that O'Neill will have the centennial he deserves. Without us, he will not. --FCW.
1. Efforts will be made throughout the country--starting immediately--to get as many professional, regional, community, high school, college and university theatres as possible to schedule O'Neill productions in 1988--and to attempt to have such productions cover the full range of the O'Neill canon.
2. A centenary volume will be published. It will integrate critical-scholarly essays on O'Neill plays with essays on those plays by theatre practitioners and interviews with theatre practitioners conducted on assignment by O'Neill experts. The scholarly and theatre pieces, insofar as is possible, will be arranged so that they complement each other and deal with the same play or plays.
3. A contest will be held to find the best play about O'Neill. The winning play will be guaranteed a staged reading at the Circle in the Square in New York City. Additional theatres will also be sought to guarantee readings of the winning play in other parts of the country.
4. At a predetermined time on Sunday, October 16, 1988 (the centenary of O'Neill's birth), readings or performances of all of O'Neill's plays will be given throughout the United States and the world--in professional and community theatres and high schools and universities: an "O'Neillathon." Possibly certificates of recognition can be awarded to all organizations which participate and which inform the Centenary Committee in advance of their participation.
5. Using as a model the gathering to be held in September 1986 at Tao House by Travis Bogard of West Coast artistic directors of regional theatres regarding plans for O'Neill Centennial productions and possible cooperative ventures, similar gatherings will be organized in other parts of the U.S.--e.g., in the Midwest (Voelker?) and in the East (possibly at the O'Neill Center or in New York City?).
6 Efforts will be made to see that O'Neill sessions will be held at scholarly meetings--regional MLAs, speech & theatre organizations, etc.--especially in 1988, but in an ongoing way beginning immediately. Specifically, the O'Neill Society will seek to have a special double O'Neill session at the 1988 Convention. These sessions may be devoted, respectively, (1) to O'Neill as a descendant of earlier American drama, and (2) O'Neill and his descendants.
In addition, efforts will be made by Normand Berlin to promote the O'Neill Centennial at the 1986 meeting of the Theatre Communications Group at the University of Massachusetts in June.
Foreign scholars will attempt to organize O'Neill conferences abroad and, if desirable, to request funds from USIS to defray costs of inviting American scholars to give presentations at such conferences.
7. Contacts will be made with the media: with educational television in an effort to get "Theatre in America" to do broadcasts of live O'Neill productions in 1988; with PBS to do O'Neill segments on "All Things Considered"; with "60 Minutes" and "20/20"; and with the New York Times to do a story on centennial activities.
8. UMI Research Press will be encouraged to inaugurate in 1988 a monograph series on O'Neill in their Modern Literature Monograph series, with three or four books a year to appear in such a series.
9. An effort will be made to seek NEH and/or NEA funding for O'Neill Centenary activities. Among the possibilities are funds to support humanists participating in pre- or post-play discussions or seminars regarding O'Neill productions at regional, community or professional theatres; and an "O'Neill Speakers Bank," a listing of panels (made up of scholars and theatre practitioners) or individuals available to theatres, civic groups, libraries, etc., during the centennial year to discuss O'Neill and his works from a variety of vantage points. The inviting group would match NEH funds on such occasions.
10. The O'Neill Society will make available to theatres contemplating O'Neill productions a directory of O'Neill experts and scholars--by geographical areas--who would be available to act as consultants to such productions. The Society would similarly provide such theatres with annotated bibliographies or a resource book which would include materials on each play.
11. MLA will be approached and urged to do a book on O'Neill in their "Approaches to Teaching...." series, hopefully in time for the 1988 centennial.
12. Jackson Bryer will contact the program head of the American College Theatre Festival, to see whether a special O'Neill emphasis can be given to the program in 1988.
13. A Centenary Committee will be established. Such Committee will be composed of persons from the various constituencies which the centennial will try to reach--the scholarly and academic community, the theatre community, the media, and the foundation world.
Possible Committee Members:
House of Committee Activities:
Other Possible Members:
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