This I Believe

Clurman, Harold


  • Harold Clurman describes how difficult the theater field was during the Great Depression, but expresses his love and motivations for being in theater and his desire to serve others.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Harold Clurman is a major figure in the development of the American theater. His book “The Fervent Years” is a classic in theater history. It’s about the group theater, which he organized and guided. Today he is a director, producer and drama critic. He is a quiet director as the casts of such recent plays as “Member of the Wedding” and “Desire Under the Elms” will tell you. Here now is Harold Clurman.
I work in a highly competitive field, the theater. The theater’s competitiveness is peculiarly acute because failure in the theater, nowadays, not only entails material hardship but terrible loss of prestige in one’s own eyes. The man who fails in the theater suffers a sharp loss of self-esteem, a sense of being unwanted, unnecessary. The theater man’s ego in hard times is wounded beyond the capacity of ordinary common sense to repair it.
I had not been long in the theater when I realized I too was falling victim to this disease, which is never named but always recognized by members of the profession. At one dark moment during the dismal Depression days of the early ‘30s, I realized that what I was suffering was not entirely a personal disease.
Members of my theatrical company, and even producers who had received bad notices for works sincerely done, quit the theater just as honest businessmen, who had failed in their enterprises, felt driven to suicide.
I was on the verge of destroying myself spiritually, not because of a lack I felt in myself but because of a lack I imagined society—through the gossip of press, colleagues, and of commiserating friends—found in me. I was punishing myself inwardly because of a judgment society seemed to have pronounced against me. Then I became aware that I had in no way changed from my best days to what seemed my worst.
I still felt the same eagerness and enthusiasm for my work and the same need to continue it—not because of the rewards it might bring me, but because it had a value in itself; a value which exceeded, by far, my own ability or fortune; a value that I took pleasure in serving, no matter what the immediate outcome in profit or acclaim.
I became dedicated within myself to that part of myself which I knew I shared with thousands of others. My worth was derived from something I felt in common, and treasured, with a whole world of men and women. What was valuable in me corresponded to what was valuable in my fellows: the love that had founded its expression in artistic work, which is simply one facet of the love of life.
Love of life is universal appetite. When, for one reason or another, this love diminishes, we grow sick. Love of life is not a selfish impulse. For me, to love life is to recognize my kinship with my fellow man—in my family, my profession, in the country I live in, and, ultimately, in the world.
The extension of myself in the universe, my deep desire and need to embrace all that is beyond myself, enable me to respect myself as part of a great pattern in which each of us shares a small but inviolable place. To that pattern, one may always give oneself, no matter what our individual talents, and make, each, our own contribution. Thinking of life in this way and my place within the great all, I see there can be no failure as long as I keep constant in my determination to serve.
I am a stage director. The job of preserving a balance between all
the factors—or to be blunt about it, the egos—involved in a theatrical production so that the best of each person is used in behalf of the play as seen by the audience, is part of a discipline that is not only technical but, broadly speaking, moral. Each individual must dedicate himself to the greater pattern of his existence. In my case, I must serve the theatrical creation as a whole in order to survive and to mean something. What I believe, then, acts as a guide to the way I function in all phases of my life. Added to this, I believe with the ancient seer, “It is not within thy power to finish the task, nor is it by liberty to abandon it.”
That was director/producer Harold Clurman whose life is Broadway in the heart of his native New York.