Several members of the cast of The Theater for the Deaf discuss their production ; Couples with a brief interview with John Cage and "Music for Carillon" is played.
BROADCAST: Apr. 23, 1968 | DURATION: 00:54:02
Rilla Bergman, Lou Fant, and Bill Reese converse with Studs about The National Theater for the Deaf and the production they are presenting. Two of the actors Ms. Bergman and Mr. Reese discuss what it took to learn, as hearing people, the best ways to express themselves with sign language. They all talk about how much more expressive the actors in the Deaf Theater have to be to convey the message of the piece they are presenting. (plus a postscript by John Cage with excerpts from 1965 interview tapes T3075A,B) John Cage talks of his love of mushrooms, he started the New York Mycological Society and speaks of their yearly celebration. He then discusses storytelling and talks about life, and music and the enjoyment of life.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel I sneaked into a rehearsal, the last part of a rehearsal of "Gianni Schicchi" to the [basis?] of Puccini's opera but no Commedia dell'arte piece of writing, a performance by the Theater of the Deaf, and one of the most moving experiences I've had in years. And [they're sneaked?], are seated here, after the rehearsals, before the performance on this Saturday at the University of Chicago with Rilla Bergman, who is the company manager, stage manager, all around everything. And Lou Fant, who is also that. Lou Fant is one of the very few speaking actors of this company of the deaf. And Bill Rhys. Now where do we begin? Lou and Rilla, I was just watching something and I just, I say I sneaked in, I was terribly moved because I saw theater, really.
Lou Fant Well, yes. That's what we think it's, we think it's a very unique theater and, because of the sign language that deaf people use, their method of communication that so many of them use, has a certain exciting, excitement about it and is a beautiful way of expressing feelings and thoughts. And we think it makes very interesting theater.
Studs Terkel It's almost--we'll keep this easy and interrupt [unintelligible]. It's almost as though I was watching mime [in action?], watching a good performance of Marcel Marceau, but of about ten Marcel Marceaus. Rilla, you were, you were directing it and through, sometimes through Billy, or sometimes through Lou, and yet they seemed to know almost everything you were saying even though sign language were not being used.
Rilla Bergman Well, you can show a lot which is the adv--to reverse it, it's the advantage of our deaf actors; they show so much, not just in their language that they're signing, but with their bodies, with their faces. So part of my communication, when it's not through an interpreter, is by what I'm doing or how I'm looking.
Studs Terkel You were down [below?]. You know, Marcel Marceau made a crack: is you can lie with words--you can lie with words but you can't lie in mime.
Studs Terkel Billy.
William Rhys You can't really lie with sign language either because so much of the sign language has to come out from the inside of the person; his emotions and all are expressed. It's right there on the surface and it's very, very difficult to lie. Even, we are using words, we're using words, in sign language, but you can't lie with it because so much of how it is expressed comes from the inside. It's not a mere word just thrown, it's a whole body, it's a whole being offering a word.
Studs Terkel Now, before I ask about the deaf actors themselves, how they were recruited and how the training, how they came to be. Just this point that Bill--you, yourself--Bill is a member of the company and Lou, are two of the few, as well as Joyce--
Studs Terkel You're the three speaking actors. How'd you come to learn sign language, Bill?
William Rhys Well, I learned--well, I began to learn sign language last summer at the O'Neill Theater in Waterford, Connecticut. I was employed to teach tumbling to the actors during a summer school theater school that we had in--
Studs Terkel This O'Neill [Theater school?]--these were the deaf actors only? [unintelligible]
William Rhys Yes. This was the last thing that the O'Neill Foundation did that summer, was the school. And then the rehearsal period. And I just, I picked it up because I wanted to be able to teach without using an interpreter; and to do that I had to know sign language. And then I just became more and more interested with the company and just kept asking and begging for more help, and more signing, and so forth. And it's because of my constant involvement with the language that I think I've picked it up so, well, relatively quickly.
Studs Terkel This is a personal question: do you feel that your picking up sign language has helped you also as a speaking actor?
William Rhys Well, let--well, I had a very selfish reason. One of the reasons that I wanted to join the company was because I thought that they could help me as a speaking actor very much. It was, that was one of the selfish reasons that I had, and they have. It's, again it's the, it's the emphasis on really telling what you have to say; so many hearing, speaking actors, they just sit back and rely on words and it's just so many words: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. But you can't do that with sign language. And once you've experienced the feeling of, well, especially when you're first learning sign language, of the utter effort to try and say what you have to say. You know what speaking, you know what using words and communicating between people really is. And that's what's so, it's really, it's moving. It is moving.
Studs Terkel [I say?] it must be doubly so to be a participant. I was a spectator. Rilla, just a--Lou, as Rilla a moment ago was demonstrating, you know, even though, you were interpreting for her, as well as Bill--
Lou Fant Yeah.
Studs Terkel The fact is she had to do, just as Bill was just saying, she had to go over and beyond words. Weren't you? Without realizing it.
Lou Fant That's right. Yes. And I might, I'd like to add, too, that Bill--as a former teacher of sign language myself--I think Bill is one of the best students I've seen. He just seemed to take to it very naturally and picked it up quite--and does beautifully with it, too.
Studs Terkel Before we come to Rilla Bergman, her work, her role here. You, Lou Fant, you, yourself. How did you come to this world?
Lou Fant Well, my parents are deaf and I've learned, I learned sign language as a boy and I've spoken it all my life. And then I decided to become a teacher of the deaf and I taught for 13 years. Then last summer when the National Theater of the Deaf came into being I got bit by the bug to act and this looked like a nice way to continue--to start acting without sacrificing too much for my four children. So I became an actor with the company.
Studs Terkel It's interesting, you and Bill, then, came from two different worlds.
Lou Fant Very different.
Studs Terkel He was the actor who wanted to learn even more acting in doing this, whereas you knew sign language because of your parentage, you knew sign language. And often this is the case, by the way, we should point out to the audience, this is, very often the children of deaf parents are, of course, sighted--
Studs Terkel And can talk and can hear.
Studs Terkel And so you came to acting recently, then?
Studs Terkel Rilla Bergman, what's your story?
Rilla Bergman Well, my story. Well, actually the O'Neill Foundation had a number of projects last summer and I didn't start as early as Billy, who was there all summer, but they had a playwright's conference before the deaf school and I was stage managing for that and met David Hays and--
Studs Terkel Hays, the designer?
Rilla Bergman Yes. Who is our leader, our father. And I met a few of the deaf people who were arriving and I saw a showing of their film and I went away. David spoke to me about the possibility of working with the company and towards the end of the school he called me up and he said would you like to go out with the company and I said, yeah, sure! And here I am, ever since. I'm retarded in signing but they're very patient with me. And, so, here we are.
Studs Terkel Obviously there's an incredible rapport that goes on between Rilla, and Lou, and Billy, and the deaf actors. [Completely, you see?] [Sometimes?] I noticed tapping, as Rilla was tapping with her hand, and you with your foot. So there's a vibration involved here?
Lou Fant To get their attention. Right. To get a deaf person's attention you have to either visually do something to catch his eye or else do something that will tactually stimulate him so he'll turn and look at you and see what it is you want.
Studs Terkel I want to ask you about the music, about the instruments used. Before I ask about that, the repertoire itself we just--now, I saw part of the rehearsal of "Gianni Schicchi" which is, seems to be a natural, does it not, for mime? This is for the company of deaf since it's--
Studs Terkel Commedia dell'arte.
Lou Fant Yes, it does. It works beautifully in sign language and because so much of, so many of the gags in it are actually sight gags it comes off very nice in sign language.
Studs Terkel So what else do we have? What's, let's interrupt anytime, you know, just call for the mic, as you would with sign language.
Lou Fant Well, we have Chekhov's comic monologue, "The Harmfulness of Tobacco," in which sometimes I do it, and when I do it then Billy speaks my part. So I'm as if I'm a deaf person out there. And then sometimes Howard Palmer does it and I speak his part. And what else do we do, Bill?
William Rhys We have a Japanese Noh play, kabuki. It's actually a combination of both, I think, that was direct--well, it's called "The Tale of Kasane." And it's just a small segment of them because kabuki theater is so complicated and involved and they last all night. This is just a segment of it and it was directed by Yoshio Aoyama, who came over from Japan. And you talk about people learning sign language, last summer we really had a potpourri of different abilities to use sign language. Mr. Aoyama, who came over here, knew no English, or very little English. So we had an interpretation--or an interpreter--interpret for Mr. Aoyama into English. And then Lou interpreting from the person in, the English, into sign language. But what we found very fascinating about the whole experience with Mr. Aoyama is that it is the interpreter--yes, necessary sometimes--but because of the rapport, the way that the deaf actors and the directors can really get together with one another, Mr. Aoyama was able to direct that play with a minimum of words. A minimum of interpreted words. There was some, there was a connection between the actor and director that you don't see too often.
Studs Terkel This is fantastic, what Bill's talking about here. Here you had a foreign language, a whole different culture, yet the deaf people understood him because in each case, [as Billy said earlier?], an effort over and beyond a word was being made. The body was used, every part.
Rilla Bergman Quite right. Not only that, before he left, Mr. Aoyama not only knew more English, he also knew quite a bit of signing. [laughter] Which was--
Lou Fant And we also have a poetry section that we call "Tyger! Tyger! And other Burnings" and this includes some familiar ones, like "Tyger!," and "How Do I Love Thee," and "Jabberwocky," which is fascinating in sign language, just utterly unbelievable. And this was directed for us by John Hirsch, who works at Lincoln Center and at Stratford. Then the "Gianni Schicchi," the one that you saw.
Studs Terkel But this, what comes to my mind, just from that bit I saw, and I'm thinking now about the Noh play, about the poetry, about the Chekhov monologue; something else happens. Another dimension is added. Now, you said, Chekhov monologue. Yet, because it's sign language, and because it's also mime, it becomes over and beyond the monologue, doesn't it?
Lou Fant Yes, it does. Actually, it becomes a two-character play because the speaker, whether it's Bill or whether it's me, gets involved with the poor, old soul giving the monologue and who keeps wandering off the subject. And, so, there is a [little?] play going on there between these two. What makes it really unique is when I'm doing it, actually, or I mean, when I'm speaking and Howard Palmer's doing the monologue, or whether I'm doing it and Bill's speaking for me, is that, as far as I know, this is the first time we have involved the speaker so directly in the play as a character. In other words, he has to speak my lines with some of my feeling, but his body and his face must show a different kind of feeling.
William Rhys It's this macabre thing.
Lou Fant Yes. It's very funny.
William Rhys It's this macabre thing where you, you know, you've been hired for a job. Well, this is the feeling, but you have to interpret for this man who's come in and he doesn't want to do what he's supposed to do. But you have to do it. You just get caught up with him and it's a--very, very interesting acting.
Studs Terkel I noticed one thing, Rilla, with Bill and Joyce Flynn, as they were doing the talking, they--also, something happened to their bodies, too. They were part of the action, too, weren't they?
Rilla Bergman True, very true. And in the four sections that we do, the readers, or whatever you want to call them, Bill and Joyce, are used very differently in each of the four pieces. In "Tobacco," as Lou pointed out, it's a whole different character. In "Gianni Schicchi" they're characters but they're not differentiated from the whole group and they're racing all over the stage. In "Kasane" they sit quietly by the side and do the lines and are not directly involved.
Studs Terkel That would be as though they were Japanese?
Rilla Bergman Yes. And in the poetry section it's all two-character things and sometimes they speak along with the signing, sometimes they speak and then the poem is signed, and it's a totally different kind of use of them.
William Rhys When it's done very well, when--actually, when the speaker is doing his job you get word and sign combined into one element, one little moment. And so what we have is we have--it's a very interesting fact, we have many, many times people say, "I never understood 'Jabberwocky' before," or "I never saw 'Tyger! Tyger!,' I never understood it, but--and we didn't need, I didn't need the readers, I didn't want the readers in there. I understood it." But the fact still remains, that probably, if they were not, if it was not read at the same time they wouldn't understand it. So, actually, that's when the speaker has done his job, is when he's molded the word and the sign into one thing and the audience gets it and they forget the voice and it's gorgeous.
Studs Terkel This is what happens, then; the voice becomes almost disembodied from the body, is it? At the same time, he's there without being intrusive.
William Rhys Obtrusive. Exactly.
Studs Terkel Obtrusive. Yes. So, just, we haven't talked about the people who aren't on this program because of the nature of this medium, which is sound. The deaf actors, the company, the main portion of the company, quite remarkably--how did this company come to be?
Lou Fant Well, there was a grant made to the O'Neill Foundation from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. And, excuse me, it's a three-year grant and David Hays was appointed as the director of the project.
Studs Terkel We should point out he's an eminent scene designer.
Lou Fant Right. He designed many scenes on Broadway and it was, as a matter of fact, it was when he was designing the set for "Miracle Worker," which was about Helen Keller's life that he first got interested in the possibility of The Theater of the Deaf. And, so, David then contacted several people, one of whom, including myself, and we started contacting other deaf people and asking them to submit names of people that they knew that they thought were talented at actor--that could act. And, so, from this we finally narrowed it down to the 13 people who are now in the company.
Studs Terkel They're pros. They're pros, aren't they?
Lou Fant Well, we are now but we weren't then. There's, there was no opportunity, you see, for a deaf person to get any professional experience prior to the National Theater of the Deaf. So all of us were amateurs without any professional training at all.
Studs Terkel That's--could we dwell a bit on this? The beginnings of this company. They were, here were amateurs who were deaf people. They heard of this project, is that it?
Rilla Bergman Right. Well, of course, Bernard, I suppose, is the most--Bernard Bragg--professional in experience. He's a professional mime.
Studs Terkel He was doing "Gianni Schicchi" during the rehearsal I saw.
Rilla Bergman Yes, yes. And Gilbert is--is, Gilbert's head of the department, isn't he? At Gallaudet?
Studs Terkel What's Gallaudet?
Rilla Bergman Ah, explain Gallaudet.
Studs Terkel Bill?
William Rhys Well, Gallaudet is, as of now, the world's only college for the deaf, in Washington, D.C. and Gilbert Eastman is the head of the Drama Department. Many, many of the actors in the company went--
Studs Terkel He's one of the performers I saw, [wasn't he?]?
William Rhys Exactly. Went to Gallaudet and got a great deal of experience acting at Gallaudet first before moving on to amateur theater groups across the country, ours, Bernard did, going into mime and even some TV work.
Lou Fant Right.
Studs Terkel Oh, I thought you were going to add to that?
Studs Terkel So this is, here's a University for the deaf, Gallaudet, and, so, drama is taught through sign language, could be Shakespeare, or Molière, or whatever it is.
Lou Fant Yes. Everything.
Lou Fant As a matter of fact, Bill just directed "Waiting for Godot" there, not too long before we started on the tour, which--
Studs Terkel Oh, "Waiting for Godot" should be terrific, I think?
William Rhys It is amazing in sign la--just to digress just a moment--it's amazing in sign language because so much--one of the things that I find about "Godot" that are fascinating are Beckett's silences. And you have silences when hearing actors stop speaking, but a silence when deaf actors are working is a complete lack of movement, and sound, and everything, and that stage is dead. And you know it. That's--it's great. So we can do most any play. That's a dialogue play. It's a dialogue play, back, back, back and forth and it doesn't, you don't rely on a great deal of flamboyant moving around as we do in "Gianni Schicchi" or the conventionals, the stylized thing, or the kabuki. It works towards what the monologue is: it's a straight--someone out there, a deaf man, signing. And it's being translated, and he's a character, and it's theater.
Studs Terkel I want to come back to the kabuki in a moment, or the Noh. I know there's a slight difference, I'm not up--I understand Noh is more sophisticated, more [unintelligible] than kabu--we're going--before that, have--has the project, has a thought, is it possible to do a play without spoken word? Has that been thought of or is it impossible?
Lou Fant Well, you don't mean pantomime? You mean, just a play without words?
Studs Terkel A play. I don't know. I mean, in the [research?].
William Rhys In sign language?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
William Rhys In sign language without translation?
Studs Terkel With a non-sign language audience, of course. With a non-deaf audience. I'm thinking, has that--
Lou Fant I haven't thought about it. I don't know.
William Rhys I think, I think some people have thought about it. I'm not convinced that it can be done. Because yes, used--well, what sign language does is it makes the script visible, it makes it visual, it makes it more alive. But, again, we are using a language. We're not using all just mime, and we are using a language so that it does demand an interpreter. Perhaps, as we move along, we may be able to use less, and less, and less voice. But I'm not sure; unless you do something like Beckett's mime plays, or he calls them acts without words, I don't think so. I'm not sure. I don't think so.
Lou Fant I don't see how we could have it in sign language without readers, speakers.
Studs Terkel Of course, the fact is sign language is a language.
Studs Terkel It's a language is the point. It's not mime, then, it's a language.
Lou Fant That's right. It's different. It's different.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Now, I was thinking, suppose--no, I guess you're right. I was thinking, of course, of something very, very, very familiar. A play that's--well, let's say "Hamlet" or something. Where the Hamlet--but with an audience that knows "Hamlet," that's seen it at one time or another, where that would--still, as you say, it's, it's a language and not mime.
Rilla Bergman True. It would--to do a thing like that you would have to select very carefully what you were doing, either because it was so familiar, like the variations on the Greek myths to the Greeks, or because it was so clear, the action of the play, even though the specific words might not be understood in signing. It's an interesting thought.
Studs Terkel But back to the whole idea of this kind of theater. And all three of you are talking, all three of you speak and hear. But the fact is, you're probably more conscious, if anything--are you more conscious of words since you've worked with deaf actors then you were? I'm just curious.
Lou Fant Let them answer. Because I've been around deaf people all my life.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Lou, of course, has been raised with deaf--
William Rhys Well, gee, I really don't know. I think I'm a little more aware now of the power of words than I was before. What, what's--not what's in a word, but I've never been aware of what actually, not never, but less aware of what communication really is. The contact that happens between people when they are really communicating. This is all very vague and, but--
Lou Fant I think, Bill, what you may be talking about is nonverbal cues in communication. That you become far more aware of the non, the unspoken things that people do that have so much meaning. The nonverbal cues; the lift of an eyebrow becomes a much more significant than it ever was before.
Studs Terkel What are your thoughts on that, Rilla?
Rilla Bergman Well, as far as being more aware of words, I, in a way, am more aware of finding the word that I know the sign for and applying the right one to that. And, again, it's the non-verbal thing of the lift of, and the gesture, and the whatever that goes along with a word.
Studs Terkel You know something? Yeah?
Rilla Bergman It's affects, It affects my speech tremendously.
Studs Terkel It affects your speech, you're more conscious of something. Something just happened, didn't it? Bill had to go and close the door because the squawk box was going at this moment, and we know that people who hear, [hear? here?] more than ever. Whether it's the transistor radios on the streets, [trees?] sprouting out all over, whether it's Muzak and the elevator. And something is happening to us. We're becoming more and more things as things are fed to us. Whereas what's happening to you three, thanks to your rapport with deaf actors, is your effort--you're becoming more the participant than a spectator. You follow?
Rilla Bergman Yes.
Rilla Bergman Well, wouldn't you say, Billy maybe, that this kind of thing, I think that you're talking about, is one of the things that you thought working with the company would do for you. Because it does make you more physically free, and physically expressive of what you're communicating rather than just blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
William Rhys Well, exactly. And, also, it's, I think I've become more vocally expressive also; not only physically expressive but vocally expressive.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] [You're more aware of words?]?
William Rhys Yes. I'm more aware of what they can do and how they can be used.
Studs Terkel And you know what else is happening? This is radio but at this moment, as we're talking, particularly with Rilla and with Billy, not so much in the case of Lou because Lou has been raised with deaf people, both of you right now are expressing yourself with your bodies, your eyes. As someone who was not associated with deaf performers, you know, would not be doing. You see?
William Rhys Perhaps. I sometimes think I tend to overdo it. This is what happens when you're still, especially when you're still learning sign language, is that you tend to overdo everything in your extreme effort. And I think it's, there's, I think it sometimes interferes with what you're trying to say.
Studs Terkel [I begin to think about?] other developments, we realize sign language, there was a time about 15 years ago, Lou, you know, 20, when more and more talk of lip reading was coming into being.
Lou Fant Oh. Well, we--lip reading and speech are very important skills and are still taught in all our schools for the deaf and we are very much in favor of all deaf people learning to read lips and speak. What we use, the kind of sign language we used, is the kind that's used among the adults who communicate among themselves. And, as a rule, deaf people do not speak and read each other's lips, you see, when they're communicating but they do when they interact with hearing people. So we're taking this sign language that is used among the adults, and among the older children in schools, and at Gallaudet college, too. And this is the thing we're focusing on. Lip reading and speech is still taught and we, and most of the people in our company can speak and read lips; some very well and some fair.
Studs Terkel However, the sign language, of course, is so dramatic and so theatrical, of course. This is the point we're coming to.
Lou Fant That's it. That's right. This, it has the power and that's what we're capitalizing on.
Studs Terkel In several cases I was watching the rehearsal, there were some of the deaf actors, a sound came out to get attention, almost words; in the case of one girl, hap--I think she heard--I heard her. So there is the forming of the vowels of the words, isn't there?
Rilla Bergman Oh, yes. And as Lou says, some of the company are quite clear in speech. It may be a slight adjustment from, say, a normal hearing person, but they're very easily understood. Others are more difficult to understand and will normally just use the sound if they must attract your attention and can't do it any other way.
William Rhys It's just always shown to me that speaking, and sounds are very normal and natural thing for anybody to do whether it's, whether you're deaf or whether you're hearing. It's--
Lou Fant Yeah. That's right. I mean, they try to speak just as we try to speak but, of course, their voices are different. But much depends on when they lost their hearing, you see.
Studs Terkel Yeah. In the case of you, then, you were raised with sign language.
Studs Terkel So sign language come to you as your second--
Lou Fant I don't ever remember not knowing it.
Studs Terkel So, as though you were, say, a German kid coming [from?] Germany, or an Italian kid learning a second language. [That would have been it?] This?
Lou Fant Right. And I learned to speak from relatives; we always lived close to relatives. And neighbors and playmates. So I never had any problem learning to speak either.
Studs Terkel Now we come to another aspect: the matter of the vibrations, the music. Something is heard, isn't it? Or felt. Is that it, now? There's, the music that is used here, there's a huge, aluminum phenomenon.
Lou Fant We have several of them. [crosstalk]
William Rhys Keep explaining!
William Rhys No, you continue, try to explain.
Lou Fant The way we try to describe it is that you can either call it musical sculpture, or a sculpture that plays music, or instruments that look like sculpture. And they were commissioned for, we commissioned them. Francois Basçhet made them for us and they were, and he had deaf children help him build them. And they are very good, in terms of sending out very strong vibrations, but they're not helpful as far as keeping our actors on cue because they're moving around too much, there's too many vibrations coming to them from other sources. But they are interesting to look at, too. And we wanted them to be visually interesting, as well as audibly interesting, so that deaf people would enjoy looking at them as well as hearing people would enjoy the sounds that they make.
Studs Terkel So, basically it's there theatrically, it's for the audience, that is watching it?
William Rhys Exactly.
Studs Terkel And hearing it, rather than for the actors?
Lou Fant That's right. It provides a background, the sound effects, and sometimes music.
Studs Terkel It's very dramatic. I remember toward the end there, it had a certain--and also a punctuation, a punctuation to it. Well, what, perhaps, I know you have to rest up, you, this is, by the way, we should point out the Illinois Arts Council sponsored the Theater of the Deaf, with my three colleagues here and there, and their colleagues, traveling mostly by bus, various parts of the country.
Studs Terkel And this conversation taking place at Mandell Hall, Reynolds Club where they performed under the auspices of the University of Chicago. The audience's reactions? We could talk a bit about this. You can become anecdotal, if you wish; also about the performers and that. What have you found thus far?
Lou Fant Well, they've all been very enthusiastic. The hearing people and deaf people both come back stage after the show and tell us how much they enjoyed it. And many times professional actors come back and say how exciting it was. One of the greatest experiences we had was in Minneapolis at the Guthrie Theater and the company saw it, their resident company saw us perform and then the next day we had a master class with them and we taught them how to do poems in sign language as well as had a discussion. And they were, just couldn't seem to express enough their enthusiasm about it. When we pulled away in the bus they all piled out on the steps and waved goodbye to us. It was quite a scene.
Studs Terkel Well, actors, I'm sure. Actors, of course, would go crazy over Theater of the Deaf. I'm sure.
William Rhys I was lucky there because I got into the company. I'm sure it's the same kind of, it's the same kind of feeling. The possibilities of this, of using this language.
Studs Terkel We haven't talked about audience, if we can; one other--you mentioned deaf people in the audience. Great many deaf people attend performances?
Rilla Bergman Yes. Especially, it seems to me, this tour more so even than last. And they are very excited to see their people performing and very pleased, I think. And I think the aim of the whole National Theater of the Deaf is, however, to get a mixed audience. I think that's our best audience. But sometimes there's a problem in convincing the hearing audience that National Theater of the Deaf doesn't mean National Theater for the Deaf. And to get them to come; mostly when they come they're amazed and pleased.
Studs Terkel These are the deaf people? The deaf members of the audience?
Rilla Bergman Well, and the hearing members. They just are so surprised at it all. I was, felt we had gotten a great compliment when we were in Detroit; to bring in personalities, my brother-in-law, who's not much of a theater buff, came and when I saw him afterwards he said, "That was very interesting." And he really seemed, you know, he hadn't gone to sleep or anything.
Studs Terkel You know, I realize, as she's talking about her brother-in-law who is not a theater buff, probably seen movies and TV, I'm just guessing--
Rilla Bergman And he goes to plays sometimes.
Studs Terkel Goes to plays. But what is it? It's as though somebody is seeing theater for the first time. In WPA days, Federal Theatre days, [Hallie Flanagan?] wrote of people in small towns seeing theater, it was astonishment. I imagine the same kind of feeling is evoked now.
Lou Fant Yes. We, I think we get somewhat that same excitement from the people. For example, and also I'd like to use one more illustration of, which I think is the finest compliment we ever received, was the compliment that I forgot that they were deaf and just thought they were actors using a new art form. Which to me is the nicest compliment.
William Rhys I had another compliment like that from a very good friend of mine when we played Brandeis University last fall, who said about the other things, he said, I did not think of them as deaf actors. I just thought of them as actors who chose not to speak.
Studs Terkel Well, in a way, I thought of, and my reaction, again from, as I say, seeing just the snippet of a rehearsal with Rilla, and just great. I couldn't help but get a tremendous kick out of Rilla directing down below, and you, Lou, and Bill on occasion, interpreting, and suddenly it's as though there were a parable here. I'm watching two things happening. As Rilla was saying, it's good you have a mixed audience; we have a mixed cast, too. There's all sorts of implications, doesn't it?
Lou Fant Many. And lots of things to explore, too. We've got many ways we can go with this theater.
Studs Terkel Of course, basically, what we're talking about it when we get around to it is communication, isn't it? When it comes right down to it.
William Rhys You're talking about, you're talking about theater.
Studs Terkel Talking about theater, communication--
Lou Fant The sign language offers a means of communication which is not just a means of communication but is also so theatrical, and so dramatic in its very essence. And when you put that on the stage and expand it and embellish it you've got, really, as David Hays says, you've got a new art form. And we're exploring it now.
Studs Terkel We should point out that by the time the audience hears this The Theater of the Deaf will have moved elsewhere. But we hope, that with the schedule being set up, [unintelligible] [I'll probably play this several times?], that we can alert the audience to be aware of its presence here in this area soon. It's interesting: the Japanese Noh play, Chekhov's comic monologue that's now a dialogue, "Harmful Uses of Tobacco," the "Gianni Schicchi". I wonder if someday they could--music can't be heard--if the Puccini score, what would happen? It can't be done, can it?
Lou Fant Well, I don't know. Not in the one-act version, I don't think.
Studs Terkel I don't mean doing it. I mean, if the actors could--they're aware that Puccini put it to music?
William Rhys Oh, yes. Well, we've, they've done musicals. I mean, we did, last year at Gallaudet, did "Threepenny Opera" with an orchestra. There were a great many problems and difficulties but it can be done. And as we explore maybe we'll expand into this through this medium. We're not sure.
Studs Terkel The poetry and the poetry that was done.
Studs Terkel And, perhaps just, is there any other thoughts? Not final thoughts, thoughts that you have in mind? Rilla Bergman, and Lou Fant, and Bill Rhys. Any other thoughts come to your mind, and experiences traveling with this company? Any other wise, profound thing that may come to you? Or non-profound? I think, just, I could say, just, thank you very much. You know, perhaps Lou could demonstrate and I could speak it, or Bill can, certain little way that we say goodbye? Now the word, or love. Love is quite beaut--how is love now?
Lou Fant Well, love--you take your hands and you cross your arms across your heart, your breast, and you pull towards you as if you were hugging yourself, in a ways, and that's love.
Studs Terkel That's love. And man? Man is what?
Lou Fant Man looks as if you might be tipping your hat and your hand comes up to your brow and then moves out. So this is man, and it originally got started from the tipping of the hat.
Studs Terkel Rubbing the cheek?
Lou Fant A girl is like this--
Studs Terkel Stroking.
Lou Fant Which originally indicated bonnet strings coming down underneath the chin, the thumb glides down the side of the cheek and that's girl.
Studs Terkel So, it's interesting, the word for man and the words really come from old mores, and costumes, or customs.
Lou Fant That's right. Many customs that, yeah. For example, tobacco is this. And because of the big--
Studs Terkel Lou is pointing to--
Studs Terkel The middle of his cheek there, like there's a wad of tobacco he's chewing.
Lou Fant Yeah, yeah, big wad there and, but nowadays, you see, nobody chews like that anymore so we can't sign tobacco like this and, rather, we use this sign here which looks as if you're smoking a cigarette because the customs have changed, and things have changed.
Studs Terkel Human race? When I--I meant man, human. Human, I suppose.
Lou Fant Well, see, this sign as we do it, that's--
Studs Terkel That's the hat sign.
Lou Fant That would be boy. But if you want to do mankind you would extend it and bring it out and make it mankind. Yeah. That's right.
Studs Terkel So it's extended, as Lou Fant just did. And, so, to Lou Fant, and to Rilla Bergman, and to Bill Rhys, thank you very much. Thank you in sign language. And we'll say--
Lou Fant Thank you. It looks as though you're blowing a kiss.
Studs Terkel As though blowing a kiss, what a perfect way. Thank you.
Studs Terkel Very much, indeed. [pause in recording] Three members of the Theater of the Deaf appeared in Chicago some time ago. [pause in recording] And this was a conversation that took place some, oh, about a year ago and he was speaking about a variety of subjects. We hear examples of his music as well. And mushrooms, mushroom collecting is one of his favorite themes and so here then, John Cage. [pause in recording] You spoke of mushroom collecting. There are so many legends and myths as well as realities connected with the mushroom. The mystic aspects of it. This has always involved you, hasn't it?
John Cage Well, it did during the Depression when I had absolutely no money in Carmel. I saw mushrooms growing all over the place. I went into the library, satisfied myself that they were edible and I lived on them for a week. The end of the week I was given--I'd met some people, meanwhile, and I was invited to lunch down at the Point, about a mile from where I was staying. I didn't have the strength to get there. In other words, mushrooms have about the food value of cabbage. And though they're very delicious, the proteins that they include are arranged in such a way that we may not, we cannot, digest them. Well, mostly I lived in cities but in 1954 I left New York and moved to Stony Point. And it was the month of August and I took to walking in the words and the, at that time the fungi are, so to speak, the flowers on the forest floor and the various colors took my eye just as they would those of a child and I remembered having eaten them during the Depression and I decided to study the whole subject. Now I have a library of some 300 books on mushrooms. And with friends I've helped start the New York Mycological Society. And on the 12th of December we'll have our annual banquet.
Studs Terkel Of mushrooms?
John Cage Not entirely. We have very good French cooking. But I hope that we're going to have the Matsutake. Just before coming to Chicago I was in Eureka, in Northern California, and I met some lovely people who live on Pine Barren between a lagoon and the ocean and their land is absolutely covered with mushrooms. I was taken for an amazing walk that began with, Boletus edulis, which is the sap of French cooking, and gathered that. Then the Lactarius deliciosis, which is a mushroom with orange, with orange milk. Then the Tricholoma equestre, which is yellow and has black fibrils on the top. And then, finally, the Matsutake, which is the pine mushroom of Japanese cooking. And so I asked the lady who had taken me on the walk if she could provide us with, say, 150 Matsutake. And she promised that she would if they grew and if the rabbits didn't get them.
Studs Terkel As John Cage is talking about one of his other interests, mushrooms. I must ask about your timing as, now, as a performer. There's John Cage, the composer; your stories and your pauses are those of--
Studs Terkel I think, a fine performer.
John Cage Well, the thing simply arises from the decision to tell one story a minute and if it's a short story then I have to spread it out. And if it's a long story I have to speak very rapidly.
Studs Terkel But aren't you, why do you, why are the stories one minute? Is this an arbitrary decision?
John Cage At that time I was still involved with the notion of structure. That is, say, dividing something into parts. And that division was a modular one like the division, say, of the repetitions of the tomato cans in Andy Warhol's paintings.
Studs Terkel Your story a minute. Could we, I know it's on the recording, "Indeterminacy," there's one of my favorites. As is one you told, too, as Merce Cunningham and his colleagues were dancing.
John Cage "The Vaccination"?
Studs Terkel "The Vaccination." Now this is a minute. How does that, was this, are these actual experiences of yours? [Would you retell?]
John Cage Yes. That was. It was in 1949 and I was on my way from Syracuse to Tunis. I'd taken the cheapest passage on an English boat. When I got on discovered that no food was served in my class and that I was put in the lowest part of the boat. Most of the people there were seasick. There was quite a storm at the sea so I wrote to the captain and asked whether I might change my class. And he wrote back and said that I couldn't change my class. And then he inquired in his note whether I'd been vaccinated. And I was angry that I couldn't change the class so I wrote back and said I hadn't been vaccinated and I didn't intend to be vaccinated. And he wrote back and said that if I wasn't vaccinated he wouldn't let me off the boat at Tunis. And I said, I wrote back that I refuse to be vaccinated and that I was not only going to get off the boat at Tunis but I was going to get off before if possible. And the storm had increased by this time and you couldn't walk on the deck, the waves were going right over the boat. And we corresponded a bit more, and more or less in deadlock. And finally the captain sent me a note saying that I had been vaccinated and he sent along a certificate with his signature proving it.
Studs Terkel And as you were telling the story, as you were telling this story Cunningham and the group were doing some dance, what? Reflecting--what--did you and Cunningham work tog--when he choreographed this?
John Cage No, no. The choreography is quite independent. There was an excellent review of the program, I'm sorry I don't remember the reviewer's name. But following the first performance here at the Harper Theater, the reviewer began something like this, saying that the dance had been danced to my stories and then said that isn't quite accurate. The dancers danced to the dance. The stories were told to the stories. Two things went on at the same time. And the, this brings this--do you know Marshall McLuhan?
Studs Terkel Ah, the Canadian?
John Cage Yeah. Well, he points out that we're living in a period now, not where things support one another, but where everything happens at once. And this particular piece of theater, the stories and the dance, are an example of at least two things going on at once. And it's this experience, of everything happening at once, that is what we're living now. And I think that more and more our arts will bring it, bring us to the point of enjoying the complexity and unpredictability of modern life.
Studs Terkel So there are, you say, of course, if it's unpredictable this raises another point, doesn't it? Outside the realm of the arts and yet connected. If it's unpredictable, doesn't this mean man, then, would--man is impotent? That is, as far as control of his life?
John Cage No, no. He, well, that's why we're involved with chance, you see. Man is not less potent than ever. But it takes an other, another kind of power. That is to say, not the power to alter but the power to accept. We have so many examples now of the effects of man's control of life. For instance, the devastation of the redwoods in Northern California or the devastation of people's lives by their desire to control one another. And we have learned, have we not, from, not only from Zen Buddhism but from psychoanalysis, that this business of accepting other people and other things is ultimately to our own selfish advantages.
Studs Terkel So, it's interesting how you connect the two, the destruction of redwood trees, what's happening to us and nature. And then man to man, on the destruction. Of course, one seeks to control the other. And you are saying, accepting the variety, then, of all the species, the flora, the fauna, and homo sap himself--sapien himself.
John Cage There's one person who's doing marvelous work nowadays I'd like to mention before we stop and that's Buckminster Fuller.
Studs Terkel As you were talking--this is a strange thing--as you were talking I was thinking of Buckminster Fuller. I don't know why because--
John Cage Well, I'm so glad that you were.
Studs Terkel He said that time make--you talk. Go ahead.
John Cage Well, he, a magnificent statement of his that I read recently is that as long as one person on earth is hungry, the whole human race is hungry. And I think we're working toward a better world and that the evils of the present time, the wars, etcetera, are things which are dying out. And that what is coming into being is in line with Bucky's notions of a global village; a place where ultimately the whole world will enjoy the same services. And so we'll find war and hatred on the national, or group level, inconceivable. People will still be permitted to hate one another as individuals and even to murder one another. But war and such things will simply be out of the question. Let me give you an instance of how those world services can affect society. On the island of Oahu, in Hawaii, formerly the people to the south of the dividing mountain range fought with the people to the north using poisoned arrows and they crenelated the top of the mountain range to protect themselves as they sent these arrows down on the north. Now that same mountain range is tunneled. Both sides benefit from electricity, telephones, etcetera; all the services. When the world totally enjoys the same utilities and services and has, if they have a blackout, have it all over the whole world, then war will be out of the question.
Studs Terkel So you see this? You see this, John Cage, also in connection with the music that you write, too, don't you? That there is acceptance of every aspect of life [so to speak?].
John Cage Right. And music is not separate from the other activities; not separate from the sciences, not separate from the other arts. The purpose of one is the purpose of the other. And if we want to speak of purpose at all we have to speak of, well, the enjoyment of life.
Studs Terkel The enjoyment of life. Well, of course, obviously, if I could return to this concert of both John Cage and Merce Cunningham when they--there was a great deal of enjoyment there; at least I felt a great deal of enjoyment. Not looking for mysteries, not looking for great, you know, profundities that may or may not be there, but rather the enjoyment of what was happening at that moment. This accepting that you're talking about.
John Cage Right. And not, let me emphasize, not the enjoyment of art.
Studs Terkel With a capital A.
John Cage Or even with a little a, but the enjoyment of life. After all, we're only definitely sure of being alive this time.
Studs Terkel Yeah. This time. As far as the, as far as the composer, though, since we live in the mid-20th century where so much is happening, so many inventions, you will use those very artifacts and inventions, too.
Studs Terkel Whether it's tape recorder, or whether it's the turbine--
John Cage Right.
Studs Terkel Whether it's a mixer.
John Cage And especially introduce the music to the noises.
John Cage To all the things that have been excluded.
Studs Terkel Just to show that John Cage can compose for a conventional instrument, in the carillon, and though it is a rarely played one, and nonetheless is conventional. Daniel Robins at Rockefeller Center, I know has played some of your pieces.
John Cage Right.
Studs Terkel This is, as part of the retrospective concert at Town Hall.
Studs Terkel And this is, what, "Music for"?
John Cage "Carillon." In this case it's played by an electronic carillon--on an electronic carillon by David Tudor. [Music]
Studs Terkel And thus we have, how shall we, what should we call that? The conventional Cage?
John Cage "Bells."
Studs Terkel "Bells." We come back to what you were saying earlier about--Cage, of course, is very often criticized and some say, well, John Cage is really putting us on. You hear this often said about you, don't you? He's putting us on.
John Cage Charlatan, etcetera.
Studs Terkel What's your comment when you hear this?
John Cage I've had to just be indifferent. Not only to whether people objected to what I was doing, but whether people liked what I was doing. It's not that I dislike people, but rather that I want each person to be free to have his own point of view. If I do that then I have the right to have my own. Don't you think?
Studs Terkel Of course, I'd agree. So, it doesn't matter then. This is something you've, I suppose, experienced from the very beginning. Yet, there are equal number that, indeed, critics who take the music, or the approach, certainly, of John Cage very seriously. You were saying, then you would say that your approach to music is equivalent, say, to Buckminster Fuller's approach to sciences, say?
John Cage Well, I feel very close to Bucky and it's, and I believe he does to me. And it's interesting because I'm involved with chance and indeterminacy whereas he is involved with comprehensive design science. It would look as though the total organization that he advocates could not go with this chaos and anarchy which I advocate. However, I think those opposites are not different from one another.
Studs Terkel So here's the, here the similarity; isn't this one of the themes throughout of science, that leap, what someone calls the leap of the imagination. Seeing similarities in seeming opposites.
John Cage In the opposites.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
John Cage Suzuki made this very clear in another lecture in translating Indian texts. The Chinese were obliged to alter the Chinese language. They had no words for essences like fluidity and solidity. So to translate fluidity they said spring weather, spring weather; repeated it. For solidity they translated it mountain, mountain. Now you see that you can't have a mountain without having spring weather. [pause in recording]
Studs Terkel And thus a part, fragment of a conversation as you probably guessed, a couple of years ago, three years ago it was, I think, with John Cage.