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Orson Welles - Mercury Theater - 1938 Recordings, including Julius Caesar and 4-Minute Video of Voodoo Macbeth

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.369  Tuesday, 26 August 2014

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 26, 2014 at 7:27:45 AM EDT

Subject:    Orson Welles - Mercury Theater - 1938 Recordings, including Julius Caesar and 4-Minute Video of Voodoo Macbeth

 

I learned from Will Sutton of the availability of audio recordings of the Mercury Theater, which may be downloaded or streamed from the Internet Archive:

 

https://archive.org/details/OrsonWelles-MercuryTheater-1938Recordings

 

These include Julius Caesar.

 

1914 Film from Folger Shakespeare Theater Digital Image Collection 

 

Mercury Theater’s radio programmes - 17 from 1938 (July-November) and 2 from 1946
 

BONUS: 1988 Special Programme - Mercury Theater Remembered with appearances and voices of those who worked in those programmes and still remember how Welles used to work.
 

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In 1937, Welles and the Mercury company earned a reputation for their inventive adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar set in contemporary Fascist Italy. They moved on to productions of The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Heartbreak House, Too Much Johnson and Danton’s Death in 1938. In 1939 Five Kings was produced along with The Green Goddess. The last theatrical production of the company was Native Son in 1941. 

 

Welles had already worked extensively in radio drama, playing the title character in The Shadow for a year and directing a seven-part adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, both for the Mutual Broadcasting System. In 1938, he was offered a chance to direct his own weekly, hour-long radio series, initially promoted as First Person Singular. However, this title was never announced on the air. Radio Guide initially mentioned the series’ debut as Mercury Theatre before later listing it as The Mercury Theatre on the Air.
 

Welles insisted his Mercury company — actors and crew — be involved in the radio series. This was an unprecedented and expensive request, especially for one so young as Welles. Most episodes dramatized works of classic and contemporary literature. It remains perhaps the most highly regarded radio drama anthology series ever broadcast, most likely due to the creativity of Orson Welles.

 

The Mercury Theatre on the Air was an hour-long dramatic radio program which began in the summer of 1938 on the CBS radio network. Paul Holler, writing in Critique, described the program’s origin: Radio, with its power to excite the imagination and actually involve the audience in the creative process, had huge potential as a medium for serious drama. It seemed inevitable that the day would come when this medium, which had made Orson Welles a household name across the country, would become a part of his serious theater ambitions. That day came in 1938.
 

It was in that year that CBS, remembering Welles’ work on Les Misérables the year before, approached him and Houseman about a series of radio dramas for its summer schedule. The idea was conceived as a series of narratives under the title First Person Singular. But the series would be best remembered by the name it assumed with its second production, The Mercury Theatre on the Air.
 

As with Les Misérables the previous year, Welles was given complete creative control by CBS over the new series. The choices he made in developing the series were informed by what he had learned in previous years in other radio dramas. Chief among those choices was to create dramas specifically for the radio and not to simply adapt dramas in production at the Mercury Theatre for broadcast. In close collaboration with John Houseman and other writers, Welles wrote, directed and performed in the productions. The end result was a series of dramas based on literary, rather than dramatic, works. There were exceptions, most notably Our Town by Welles’ early mentor Thornton Wilder. But it was clear to Welles and Houseman that the medium of radio suited the telling of a story far better than the dramatization of it. As a result, some of the most memorable Mercury Theatre on the Air productions were adaptations of great novels. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Tale of Two Cities, The Magnificent Ambersons, Heart of Darkness and other major literary works were offered to radio audiences during the Mercury Theatre on the Air’s run. 

 

Houseman wrote the early scripts for the series, turning the job over to Howard Koch at the beginning of October. Music for the program was conducted by Bernard Herrmann. Their first radio production was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with Welles playing both Count Dracula and Doctor Seward. Other adaptations included Treasure Island, The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Man Who Was Thursday and The Count of Monte Cristo.
 

Originally scheduled for nine weeks, the network extended the run into the autumn, moving the show from its Monday night slot, where it was the summer substitute for the Lux Radio Theater, to a Sunday night slot opposite Edgar Bergen’s popular variety show.
 

The early dramas in the series were praised by critics, but ratings were low. A single broadcast changed the program’s ratings: the October 30, 1938 adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds.

 

Possibly thousands of listeners thought Martians were in fact invading the earth, due to the faux-news quality of most of the broadcast. Significant publicity was generated, and The Mercury Theatre on the Air quickly became one of radio’s top-rated shows.
 

The War of the Worlds notoriety had a welcome side effect of netting the show the sponsorship of Campbell’s Soup, guaranteeing its survival for a period, and beginning on December 9, 1938, the show was retitled The Campbell Playhouse. The company moved to Hollywood for their second season, and continued briefly after Welles’ final performance in March 1940. Welles revived the Mercury Theatre title for a short series in the summer of 1946.

Welles used the banner “Mercury Productions” on many of his films, and several of the actors from his Mercury Theatre Company appeared in them, notably in Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and Macbeth.

 

[ . . . ]

 

After posting Will’s link to The Mercury Theater recordings on Facebook,  I learned from Bob Sawyer of a 4-minute video of the Voodoo Macbeth

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xa9Mjfr5foY

 

Orson Welles & the Federal Theatre Project’s 1936 “Voodoo” Macbeth (with Annotations)

 

 
 
Globe King Lear at Folger Library and Others

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.368  Tuesday, 26 August 2014

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 26, 2014 at 10:12:12 AM EDT

Subject:    Globe King Lear at Folger Library and Others

 

[Editor’s Note: The final performance I saw at The Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London was King Lear with Joseph Marcell as Lear. This was an eight-actor Lear (two supernumeraries) with an ingenious doubling technique. At the back of the stage was a rack with various costumes hanging from it. As the as an actor changed roles, he or she would doff a different costume from the rack. I though it was highly effective. I also thought Marcell was adept at displaying the various personality changes that Lear goes through during the play. The production was only at the Globe for a handful of performances before going on tour.This  Shakespeare’s Globe production of “King Lear” is coming to Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. from September 5 -21. It also plays Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond N. Yorkshire, 27-30 August; NYU Skirball, New York, 30 September - 12 October; Arts Emerson, Boston, 15-23 OctoberLensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 30 October; The Broad Stage, Santa Monica, 4-16 November; Calpoly Arts, San Luis Obispo,18 NovemberUniversity of California, Santa Barbara, November 21; The Moore Theatre, Seattle, 25 & 26 November; Arts Centre, Arcata, CA, 30 November. I highly recommend it. –Hardy]

 

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater_dance/here-a-lear-there-a-lear/2014/08/21/979c29f0-26d2-11e4-8b10-7db129976abb_story.html

Here a ‘Lear,’ There a ‘Lear’

By Peter Marks 

August 23

 

All over the place, foolish fond old monarchs are dropping like anguished flies. In Chicago and New York, in London and Toronto and Washington, actors in shredded costumes are raging on tempest-tossed sets as stories unfold around them of woebegone fathers and callous children and realms ankle deep in stage blood.

 

The theater world, in short, is having a “King Lear” moment — well, actually, a whole bunch of “King Lear” moments. The supply of tragic, fulminating royals, in fact, appears inexhaustible. On the heels of the recent Lears of Derek Jacobi and Frank Langella, Stacy Keach and Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington, other Lears line up to hit their marks. Simon Russell Beale just completed a regal tour of duty, in a “Lear” at Britain’s National Theatre. John Lithgow did the same this month in New York’s Central Park. With other Lears on the boards of late from Oregon to Ontario, and still others on the near horizon, no one should be surprised to discover Washington’s Folger Theatre is joining the somber processional, with a “King Lear” arriving from Shakespeare’s Globe in London that begins performances Sept. 5.

 

The Globe “Lear,” featuring Joseph Marcell as the ruler who, in relinquishing his kingdom, loses his sanity and ultimately his life, will be the fifth major staging of the tragedy in this region in the last nine years — more evidence of just how intense is the fascination these days with what is to many Shakespeare’s bleakest play. Except for the comparatively more exuberant “Hamlet,” there have been more productions of “Lear” here during this period than of any other play or musical. And one is compelled to consider why.

 

This is not, of course, to cast aspersions on the piece itself, as sprawling and enigmatic as any in the canon: The nature of Lear’s madness is a transfixing, sleep-disturbing riddle for the ages. But why is it that “King Lear,” a play so resistant to our culture’s knee-jerk predilections for entertaining uplift and easy explanations, is also one to which we return, not just in rare instances, but again and again? And one that by dint of its challenges — exhausting length, an unwieldy knitting of parallel plots — theater companies find especially hard to get right.

 

I ask as one who, having seen two shaky “Lears” already this summer, the stagings with Beale in London and Lithgow in New York, approaches each new incarnation with both curiosity and a residual trepidation. I have lost count of the number of “Lears” I’ve attended, going back to an old-school production in the mid-1970s, starring the late Morris Carnovsky, at the now-defunct American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn. The cumulative experience over all these occasions has been discouraging; the play comes together truly meaningfully on only the most remarkable of evenings. It takes some extraordinary level of skill and alchemy to wrangle the disparate, discordant parts of the play, channeled most crucially through an actor who is capable of integrating the various aspects of Lear — prideful king, wounded madman, heartbroken victim — into a captivating whole.

 

Awful goings hence and comings hither’

 

Perhaps a factor in its ubiquity is a belief that “Lear” is supposed to be good for you, that audiences see it as a test for them as well as the actors — the theater’s equivalent of a decathlon. A case can certainly be made for it as the jewel in an accomplished actor’s crown, the ultimate showcase for technical and interpretive abilities honed over a career. (Previous Lears have run an esteemed gamut from John Gielgud to James Earl Jones.) And maybe, too, the drama has a hold on us because it suggests it knows a scary truth: that where the plight of human beings is concerned, the universe doesn’t give a hoot. At a time when menace seems so present in the world, a story in which the virtuous suffer and die indiscriminately right along with the wicked may seem jarringly apt.

 

[ . . . ]

 

 

From The Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection

 
 
Anniversary of Death of Richard III

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.367  Friday, 22 August 2014

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         Friday, August 22, 2014

Subject:    Anniversary of Death of Richard III

 

Kirk McElhearn reminded me on Facebook thatOn this day in 1485, the Battle of Bosworth sent #‎RichardIII to a car park to rest for more than 600 years.”

 

The opportunity provides me the excuse to use one of my favorite images from the past  and one I downloaded from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Digital Image Collection 

 
 
PBS Shakespeare Uncovered

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.366  Friday, 22 August 2014

 

From:        Al Magary < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 21, 2014 at 4:20:07 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Uncovered

 

I’m averse to Apple but in any case would rather watch the PBS “Shakespeare Uncovered” series for free:  http://video.pbs.org/program/shakespeare-uncovered/

 

Cheers,

Al Magary

 

[Editor’s Note: The RSC HAMLET with David Tennent as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius can also be streamed from PBS: http://video.pbs.org/video/1473795626/

 
 
Help for Suffering Editor

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.365  Friday, 22 August 2014

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         Friday, August 22, 2014

Subject:    Help for Suffering Editor

 

Dear Subscribers:

 

Perhaps because I was told by my high school English teacher not to go to college because she thought I could not pass freshman composition and perhaps because spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage did not come easy to me, I tend to be rather OCD about editing SHAKSPER postings. 

 

Two spaces after a period is, as my older daughter Melissa says, an artifact from the typewriter and has no place in the electronic world.

 

In fact, having two spaces after a period creates problems when text is wrapped to fit the size of Internet browsers. If the wrapping occurs at the end of a sentence with a period, then the following line begins with an indentation from that second space. 

 

For these reasons, I strive to remove extraneous spaces after periods, a time-consuming task. 

 

I ask that in submissions, subscribers use single spaces after end-stopped lines. Below is an article from Slate on the matter.

 

I also have a problem with incorrect ellipses. An ellipsis is not... or ... Rather an ellipsis is spaced periods as thus . . . I would also appreciate it if ellipses were so spaced.

 

Thanks, your OCD editor,

Hardy

 

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.html

 

Space Invaders

Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.

 

By Farhad Manjoo

 

Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

 

And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.*  You’d expect, for instance, that anyone savvy enough to read Slate would know the proper rules of typing, but you’d be wrong; every third email I get from readers includes the two-space error. (In editing letters for “Dear Farhad,” my occasional tech-advice column, I’ve removed enough extra spaces to fill my forthcoming volume of melancholy epic poetry, The Emptiness Within.) The public relations profession is similarly ignorant; I’ve received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces. Some of my best friends are irredeemable two-spacers, too, and even my wife has been known to use an unnecessary extra space every now and then (though she points out that she does so only when writing to other two-spacers, just to make them happy).

 

What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces. Some people admitted to slipping sometimes and using a single space—but when writing something formal, they were always careful to use two. Others explained they mostly used a single space but felt guilty for violating the two-space “rule.” Still others said they used two spaces all the time, and they were thrilled to be so proper. When I pointed out that they were doing it wrong—that, in fact, the correct way to end a sentence is with a period followed by a single, proud, beautiful space—the table balked. “Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know.

 

Typographers, that’s who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually. James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out that the early history of type is one of inconsistent spacing. Hundreds of years ago, some typesetters would end sentences with a double space, others would use a single space, and a few renegades would use three or four spaces. Inconsistency reigned in all facets of written communication; there were few conventions regarding spelling, punctuation, character design, and ways to add emphasis to type. But as typesetting became more widespread, its practitioners began to adopt best practices. Felici writes that typesetters in Europe began to settle on a single space around the early 20th century. America followed soon after.

 

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. (The Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, used widely in the social sciences, allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.) Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do. (Also see the persistence of the dreaded Caps Lock key.)

 

The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. Here’s the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.

 

Type professionals can get amusingly—if justifiably—overworked about spaces. “Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. “When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay,” she told me. “I talk about ‘type crimes’ often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It’s a pure sign of amateur typography.” “A space signals a pause,” says David Jury, the author of About Face: Reviving The Rules of Typography. “If you get a really big pause—a big hole—in the middle of a line, the reader pauses. And you don’t want people to pause all the time. You want the text to flow.”

 

This readability argument is debatable. Typographers can point to no studies or any other evidence proving that single spaces improve readability. When you press them on it, they tend to cite their aesthetic sensibilities. As Jury says, “It’s so bloody ugly.”

 

But I actually think aesthetics are the best argument in favor of one space over two. One space is simpler, cleaner, and more visually pleasing. (It also requires less work, which isn’t nothing.) A page of text with two spaces between every sentence looks riddled with holes; a page of text with an ordinary space looks just as it should.

 

Is this arbitrary? Sure it is. But so are a lot of our conventions for writing. It’s arbitrary that we write shop instead of shoppe, or phone instead of fone, or that we use ! to emphasize a sentence rather than %. We adopted these standards because practitioners of publishing—writers, editors, typographers, and others—settled on them after decades of experience. Among their rules was that we should use one space after a period instead of two—so that’s how we should do it.

 

Besides, the argument in favor of two spaces isn’t any less arbitrary. Samantha Jacobs, a reading and journalism teacher at Norwood High School in Norwood, Colo., told me that she requires her students to use two spaces after a period instead of one, even though she acknowledges that style manuals no longer favor that approach. Why? Because that’s what she’s used to. “Primarily, I base the spacing on the way I learned,” she wrote me in an email glutted with extra spaces.

 

Several other teachers gave me the same explanation for pushing two spaces on their students. But if you think about, that’s a pretty backward approach: The only reason today’s teachers learned to use two spaces is because their teachers were in the grip of old-school technology. We would never accept teachers pushing other outmoded ideas on kids because that’s what was popular back when they were in school. The same should go for typing. So, kids, if your teachers force you to use two spaces, send them a link to this article. Use this as your subject line: “If you type two spaces after a period, you’re doing it wrong.”

 
 
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