A Life Lived in the Art of Theatre | Sunday Observer

A Life Lived in the Art of Theatre

24 November, 2019

The Colombo International Theatre Festival (CIFT), the brainchild of M.Safeer, which has become an annual fixture on the calendar for theatregoers, has over the years, brought some noteworthy, appreciable works of theatre from foreign countries to our shores. Among the foreign productions brought to life on the boards of the Elphinstone theatre in Colombo this year, as the CIFT unfolded, was a solo actor play from the United States, titled “Let It Be Art!”. This single actor performance, which had a duration of about 45 minutes was staged on August 4, and yours truly, seated under the gentle darkness in one of Colombo’s oldest theatres, had the pleasure of experiencing a work that can be called ‘theatre about theatre’.

The performance was delivered by Ronald Rand, a veteran actor of the stage in the US, and narrates a monologue that gives a glimpse into the life of one of the most influential figures in US theatre, the late Harold Clurman. Rand’s performance was narrated engagingly with attention grabbing theatricality, of how Clurman’s life was one that was dedicated to theatre as art and thereby realising the magic of theatre through unreserved passion and commitment.

Rand arrives on stage attired somewhat as a ‘magician’, donned in a black hat and suit and what may be seen as a professorial cloak, carrying a black cane. One cannot help but notice a subtle layer of mystique over the demeanour of the character. The stagecraft surrounding him depicts a setting of an office room cum study. After hanging his hat and cloak, Clurman’s words begin, and thus Rand gives a theatrical embodiment to a soul that seeks to, among other things, give his ethos in theatre credence, in an age where practically all art is being swept up by tides of commercialism.

From his views on the legendary Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski, to reminiscences about colleagues with whom he formed the Group Theatre in New York City, to his philosophy of what theatre is to human history and the progress of civilisation and culture, the character of Clurman embodied by Rand discourses convivially in a most endearing manner. No matter how little one may have as income, going to the theatre at least once a month is an absolute must in Clurman’s book, if one is to be considered ‘cultured’! Perceptions of what is theatre and what it serves within a people’s culture comes out as a very strong opinion in this ‘one man show’.

“Life is a great adventure, and here we are!” Clurman declares to his audience. Theatre being his life and his life being in theatre surely made Clurman see life as a journey with many parts that brings to life the famous words of Shakespeare from his play ‘As You Like It’ –“All the world’s a stage...”. The monologue brings out facets of Clurman’s character as a theatre director, theatre critic, academic and essayist seamlessly meandering between opinions, exclamations, references and reminiscences.

One of the most interesting references to the history of theatre in New York City comes through the reminiscence by Clurman of his first visit to the theatre at the age of six. Thus a small glimpse of Yiddish theatre in New York City as a ‘theatre of immigrants’ is given a moment of life, as a memory, through the recollections of a man whose whole life was dedicated to the magic of the theatre. The narrative has at its heart a call to awaken the conscience of a people about the need for art that is not built on the purpose of profit and commercialisation.

The performance brings to a close the belief that art is a form of magic and what is magic is art. Thus the finale expounds how Clurman saw the purpose of his life as one dedicated to living in art and thereby realising how life itself, can be magic.