Samuel Beckett: Small vs. Large Theatres

George Hunka on the size and space of Beckett productions

From George Hunka:
A little poking around reveals that many of Beckett’s early plays had their New York premieres in theatres that, compared to the Harvey, are hopelessly tiny. Endgame and Krapp’s Last Tape both premiered at the 179-seat Cherry Lane Theatre, where they enjoyed substantial if not particularly long runs, and as Kalb points out in his review, when Beckett’s later plays were premiered at Lincoln Center they ran in the 299-seat Newhouse (then the Forum) Theatre instead of the far more cavernous (but more comparable to the Harvey) 1,200-seat Beaumont.

Putting these intense but contemplative miniatures in large houses with star casts for limited runs tends to render these Beckett productions exclusive, expensive, and somewhat elitist (in a bad way) Cultural Events (caps sic) rather than theatrical revivals. This may work for Waiting for Godot (the recent Broadway Stewart/McKellen revival, for example), but because Beckett’s vision intensified in the following years, suggesting more of a premium on intimacy, this puts upon these plays a burden of celebrity, including Beckett’s own, that they may not be able to sustain. It’s also no surprise that as this dramatic and theatrical vision became more sharply focused, Beckett made his first forays into television plays. Setting aside the Beckett on Film project, these television plays such as Nacht und Traume and … but the clouds … take advantage of the television medium to create a one-on-one precise, concise intimacy between spectator and expression, permitting an attention to detail through close-ups and to perspective through mise-en-scene well-nigh impossible even in a 99-seat theatre. Even though in theory these television plays were viewed by thousands of people simultaneously, in practice the viewer was alone in a small room while experiencing these plays. The spectatorial experience was more acute, far more intimate than that of a theatre. [Read More]

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