Uta Hagen: Limited Engagement

Interview with Uta Hagen
Conducted by James Grissom

Nothing is new, of course. Human nature being what it is, we fight the urge to eat ice cream with each meal; to nap every afternoon; to spend our lives with our nose in the cartoons. We discipline ourselves and try to do the right thing. In the theatre, we try not to do things that are detrimental to the play, to us, to our fellow players, to the theatre as a whole, but we often sneak in some cagey business that fattens our part; we think too much about the career and not so much about the art. We get stupid.

Well, we appear to not be fighting terribly hard these days, because I see very little art and I see a lot of career maneuvering. The theatre has become a long, tedious audition for the next part, the next season. This may arise from the fact that there is so little work, and actors are vying--beauty-pageant style--to be seen as cooperative, easy, eager. This is so stupid I don't even think you have the time to take down all the notes I could spew at you.

When the actor is thinking about reviews and awards and payment and what is around the corner or up ahead, all art goes out the proverbial window. The commitment to the work erodes and is soon non-existent: What you are watching on the stage is a vicious distortion of what theatre should--and can--be.

You see a slogan on posters and advertisements all the time: Limited engagement. What they're touting is the limited and supposedly precious resource that this play or musical is. We are only here for a limited, precious amount of time. Well, I see a lot of things now where there is limited engagement on the part of the actors, and soon the audience is also limited in their engagement.

Limited engagements everywhere, and the theatre just goes to hell.

© 2014 James Grissom


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