Ted Mann: Action and Expression
Tennessee and Theodore (Ted) Mann, 1975.
There must be a kindness and a generosity in the theatre, and yet, ironically, there must also be recklessness, raw ambition, a stunning negation of fact and reason. Very few people manage to contain and share these traits to any satisfaction--the balance is never quite right--but the person who seems to have functioned most bravely and generously with these clashing gifts was Ted Mann.
For the theatre to function and to matter, there must not only be a willing and intrigued audience, there must not only be a pool of actors and writers and directors and designers called to serve and to grow and to challenge--there must also be a history. We look to the history of the theatre to see from where we've come, to determine where we're going. We also need to understand that we are in the process of making history for others: We are living lives and documenting these lives to make a stand and a stamp--not only on the theatre, but on hearts and souls.
When we ultimately think of American theatre from, say, 1950 to now , it will be impossible to not find, front and center in our minds, the Circle-in-the-Square and Ted Mann. Ted reached back into time and found Eugene O'Neill and me and others, and he reached forward and found new and struggling and brilliant and mediocre and challenged writers--all of whom deserved a space in which they could try and fail; try and fly; simply try and try again.
Nothing about Ted made you think he would be a savior, until he fully and grandly served as one. He was one for me: At a time when I was being dismissed and re-evaluated and demoted as a writer, he kept producing my works, seeking my opinions and my company, speaking to me as if I mattered and belonged to the theatre. He is also a man who--at least on a personal level--appears to be without judgment, and let me merely say that he has seen me at my worst and still accords me the greatest respect, as both a friend and a writer in the theatre. I have fallen in exhaustion and despair on Ted Mann's office couch many times, and not a word was spoken. There was no need for words. I had his kindness and his support. There is no need for words when there is action and expression.
I'm afraid that we are losing a line of history in the theatre. We should be able to look at a season--or ten seasons--and discern where we were as a country, where we were looking, what we were hoping for, fearing, avoiding. I don't see this being possible in time: I think we are not reckless and ambitious anymore. I think we want short-term rewards, glitter, a pat on the back. I think we need to take some risks and fail a little more, shake the roof, piss off the gods.
I think we need more Ted Manns in the world--who offer a stage, a bond of friendship, a discerning eye, a gambler's instinct, and a couch you can fall into when it all seems too much.