I Become Involved in Producing a Play

Program of Premiere of Ubu Roi, 1896

While at Brooklyn College I had developed an interest in the literary theater.  This meant I was not particularly interested in performing or performances, but in the reading, interpretation and appreciation of plays.  I believe I took every course and read every play offered in these courses, starting with the Greek tragedies and comedies (I was methodical), moving on to Terence and Plautus, Shakespeare and his colleagues, 17th and 18th century theater in England and France, the 19th Century in Germany, and finally the modern and experimental theater of the 20th century wherever it occurred, but I was particularly interested in the experimental work of Irwin Piscator and Bertholt Brecht.  Brecht in particular impressed me, possibly because of his critical outlook on bourgeois society.  So, I felt I knew a little something about plays and theater. I had no idea that William (whose family name I can’t remember and Sam Praeger’s friend) was also interested in theater, although I knew he taught some form of design at Cooper Union.  He proposed that the three of us should produce a play together.  I thought he was a bit nuts, but the proposition sounded interesting.  Almost anything sounded possible in those days, and so why not?  The play he proposed to do was one that had never been done in this country before.  Indeed it had been written by Alfred Jarry and, to my knowledge, had never been produced anywhere before since its abbreviated first performance, in Paris, in 1896, when it had been booed off the stage after its first two words (in French, of course) of “Shit! Murder!”  This was the play William now proposed we produce in New York.  Of course, there was no thought of bringing it to Broadway, but there were plenty of coffee houses that might be willing to host it.  The play was “Ubu, King” or again in French, “Ubu, roi.” I pointed out to William that I had limited time available because I was in my last semester at Brooklyn and was still working part-time at Café Figaro, but William made me assistant production manager anyway, with Sam as set designer, and himself as director.  And it was off we went, the first step for me being a reading of the play itself, which in spite of all my previous reading, I had never heard of and knew nothing about.  It was absurdist theater and I loved it! Philosophically, it also introduced me to the concept of pataphysics, the science and study of the exceptions (the modern concepts of the “black swan”?), or what came beyond or after metaphysics, usually rendered in nonsense language. The next step was finding a home for our play, and we found one at the Cock ‘n Bull, on Bleecker Street (I believe this was also were Peter, Paul and Mary got their start).  After that it was the normal process of try-outs (we wound up having both Equity and non-Equity working in the production, which did cause some problems), set construction, lights, rehearsals, personalities and little vanities, and all the other things that go with putting together an Off-Broadway show a long time before there was an Off-Broadway.  My job was getting whatever was necessary when it was needed to the people who needed it. To make a long story short, the play opened to rave reviews and ran for over six months!  By that time I was out of it.  I’d graduated, been fired from Café Figaro (Tom didn’t want any college grads working for him), and was looking for a job.

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
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2 Responses to I Become Involved in Producing a Play

  1. Rick Jones says:

    Did you make any money from the play ?

  2. AlexLevy says:

    Nope, too small an operation. But it was fun!

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