New York, 1970s
Looking Back, Growing Forward
by Catherine Ann Jones
We learn from all those mentors who go before. The debt is large and the only way to re-pay this debt is to pay it forward in our work and teaching.
While researching through my papers for a book I’m currently writing, a kind of memoir, I came across an interview I gave in 1978 and the photo above. My first long play was being produced, directed by Broadway theatre legend, Harold Clurman. This giant had somehow sustained a youthful enthusiasm for the theatre until he passed away two years after directing my play, On the Edge: the final years of Virginia Woolf.
Harold Clurman (1901 – 1980)
In the interview, I was asked ‘Why do I write plays?’ Here was my response which I still hold with today whether writing plays, films, television, or books. I am glad to see that the values I held dear ‘way back when’ remain.
Excerpt from interview recorded and published in 1978:
Q: Why do you write plays?
I concentrated on acting for ten years between writing my first two plays andVirginia (later changed to On the Edge). One of the big things that pushed me from acting back to the typewriter (this dates me!) was the caliber of plays I was seeing as a member of the audience or auditioning for as an actor. I was getting sick of vulgarity; I was tired of plays about prostitutes and pimps; and tired of a certain superficiality inspired by situation comedy on television. And by plays badly written, no matter what the genre. I wished to write the kinds of plays I would like to see: plays about individuals who are intelligent, who have visions, who may have difficult times but who tried to rise above them. Plays about people who were productive, who created something of beauty. I know that today things are terrible in many ways. There are awful things wrong with our lives, the world’s a mess, but I want someone to stand up and say, “here’s how we can rise above it, how we can make something of ourselves, make one little image of beauty.”
It’s too easy to put everything down. The cynicism rampant today is the easy way. We must go to the next step. OK, that’s the way it is, but then what? Let’s add something, not just complain.
At the end of my play, after Virginia Woolf kills herself, she appears again in a flashback to say “There must be something else, we have so little time here, and we’re only just beginning to understand.” Virginia Woolf lives on today, probably more than you or I will in a hundred years. She left so much of herself behind. When I say something that lifts you up, it may be a tragedy. It need not be a happy, sentimental ending, but rather a triumph over death and despair. Remember in this play, Virginia finds joy in baking bread while Hitler is ranting on the radio. (End of Interview)
On the Edge: the Final Years of Virginia Woolf by Catherine Ann Jones
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
What are your values as a writer? Dare to avoid compromise, discover the integrity of your vision. Hold to that vision as if your life depended on it. It does. – Catherine Ann Jones