Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Quote of the Day: Moss Hart, Part I

Not that I'm remotely alone in saying this, but I have always found Act One, Moss Hart's simply extraordinary memoir, to be one of the most inspiring books ever written. Especially for those of us afflicted and infected with the drive and the soul of the theatre. A few years before I was able to interview her, I had occasion to telephone Kitty Carlisle Hart -- I was organizing an awards ceremony and we were asking her to be a presenter. I couldn't figure out how to talk to her and all I could blurt out was, "I read Act One six times." Kitty reached out, gently touched my arm, and said, "Aren't you a dear?" in just the kindest, sweetest way. So in tribute to Moss and Kitty, the first of two quotes from Act One. The first quote is from way in the beginning of the book, as Moss recounts the unrelieved "dark brown taste of being poor" and surviving an especially hard and dispiriting childhood. In this quote, he writes about what discovering the theatre means to such a youngster:

"....But certainly the first retreat a child makes to alleviate his unhappiness is to contrive a world of his own, and it is but a small step out of his private world into the fantasy world of the theatre. We have all seen children create imaginary companions or even imaginary parents. The daydream of attending our own funeral and savoring the abiding satisfaction of having our contrite and conscience-stricken parents stand weeping over our coffin is so usual a fantasy of childhood as to be almost obligatory, and it disappears with the other flights and fancies of childhood. But to the deeply disturbed child caught in a situation that he cannot resolve, the first wonder of the theatre comes as a revelation and a resolution of his unconscious difficulties. Here on a brightly lit stage, before a hushed and admiring audience, are people doing the very things he has played out in his own fantasies: assuming heroic or villainous guises, bathing in the applause and love of a hitherto hostile world. Suddenly he perceives that his secret goal is attainable -- to be himself and yet be somebody else, and in the very act of doing so, to be loved and admired; to stand gloriously in a spotlight undimmed by the rivalry of brothers or sisters and to be relieved of his sense of guilt by the waves of applause that roll over the footlights to those wonderful creatures on the stage. After all, is not the essence of acting the art of being somebody else? Is not the craft of the playwright the ability to make a fantasy of his own creation so true to the lives of the characters he is depicting that the audience accepts it as reality? And what is any play but the expression of its author's conscious fantasy at that particular moment? I would hazard a guess that no play idea is ever completely accidental, and I would hazard a further guess that the temperament, the tantrums and the utter childishness of theatre people in general is neither accidental nor a necessary weapon of their profession. It has nothing to do with so-called 'artistic temperament.' The explanation, I think, is a far simpler one. For the most part, they are impaled in childhood like a fly in amber."

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