Before a standing-room-only audience in Given Auditorium in November, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner did talk about the creative process, his work, and the path that led the self-described "lapsed poet and failed novelist" to become one of the most important playwrights of our time.
Playwright Edward Albee with Mindy Favreau '07 and Rishi Chatrath '08 at a president's house reception.
Photo by Fred Field
Photo by Fred Field
Albee was 28 and working as a Western Union messenger when his first serious play, The Zoo Story, was produced in West Berlin. He went on to write many award-winning, long-running, and critically acclaimed plays, including Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Sandbox. All of his works involve characters that are three-dimensional. They "have a past and, unless you kill them off, a future," Albee said.
"By the time I become aware that I have been thinking about a play, I'm aware of the characters," he said, "I'm aware of the situation that they're in. Not what the play means, the metaphor, the symbolism"I try to stay away from that stuff"but who these people are and why they are occupying that space in my mind."
Albee engaged in a short improvisation session, assuming the voices of characters assembled from traits tossed out by the audience. While the exercise got the audience laughing, it did have a substantive subtext. "The creative act is the translation in the mind from the unconscious to the conscious mind to either the page or the canvas or whatever," Albee said...."If somebody is good at it, you can't stop them."
At 78, he has not stopped writing and is currently working on a play called Me, Myself, and I, about identical twins, he said. Albee said some of his best plays have been the most unpopular, "but that is the nature of our culture. Our culture is not based on the virtue of excellence but on the virtue of popularity."
He warned of the stultifying effect of "the dead hand of commerce" on creative arts. Most theatergoers now are middle-aged and older white people"audiences that do not reflect the people of the United States. "Most of the people who can afford to go to the theater have already made up their minds about what they are going to think about just about everything," he said.