Wednesday, March 20, 2019

David Shepherd's Journals by Michael Golding

David Shepherd (October 10, 1924 – December 17, 2018) the co-founder of Playwrights Theatre Club, Compass (forerunner of Second City), the Improv Olympics and Canadian Improv Games, left behind a library of personal journals. David was diligent about making daily entries, a practice he started at thirteen, inspired by his father William Edgar Shepherd, an architect, and continued into his nineties. The journals are replete with designs for new forms of theatre and outlines for potential books. I am including two brief excerpts.  David’s journals, along with his archives, were donated to Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections in 2016 and are currently being processed. 

Paris 1949 

The NFT should be small at first. The connection between actor and audience has been lost in the coy hypocrisy of the realistic theatre but can be found again by testing effects at close range. To counteract the sloppy diffusion of the modern sensibility, the NFT will be, if nothing else, vigorous and disciplined. Discipline is necessary both for conciseness and for style. In modern acting efficiency is lost in movement and speech; both are diffuse and meaningless since both copy natural life, which is almost always diffuse and meaningless. 
A play cannot be a novel because a play has only an hour or two to make its mark. The single exception in this rule is Chekhov. Great craftsmen of today (Picasso, Rouault, Pound, Thomas, Stravinsky, Hindemith) either set out to work in any style or else limit themselves severely to one. Great drama is not written today because playwrights have cut themselves not only from the roots of drama but also from the understanding use of styles.  We need both eclectic genius and the craftsman with a single tool and single sheet of metal.
The vigorous roots of drama are song and dance, which must be brought back, if not outright, then in precise and suggestive speech and movement.
Since a play is the most clearly social of all art forms, the NFT must assure directness and simplicity in its productions. Whatever conventions it adopts must be quickly understandable.

Journal entry

August 1952

The first purpose of this book is to advertise a theatre movement.
We are working to build a body of good American plays on the assumption that a great play has yet to come out of America, that the theatre of the future will be the “popular” theatre, and that we have discovered some of the ways of writing better plays than the current crop offers. We need partners to help us.

David Shepherd

We believe the easiest way to get the good plays we need is by attending to style; you will find exercises in this book which show what we mean by style. We believe that plays can be written on any subject, in any style and to any length: in this book you will find copies of the styles of some major dramatists today. In other words, we believe plays are logical statements, not bursts of inspiration.

Just as style is an exploitation of the word, so the choice of the action or subject matter of a play is an exploitation of the world of the dramatist. We deplore the fact that whereas the world of the dramatist today is so broad, his plays are so narrow. We give reasons in this book for such a paradox, and we explain what our second problem is after style: to broaden the frame and focus the thought of our plays. We suggest some dramatic forms by which that can be done, although we doubt that bourgeois writers will want to use them.

Journal entry

Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube).  His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.