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Being a Female Dramaturg Was Not Always a Picnic

A Tale of Two Women

Actor Heidi Schreck, Dramaturg Sarah Lunni working on the Broadway hit What the Constitution Means to Me.

At the end of this blog I am going to give you a link to a terrific article about dramaturg, Sarah Lunni - “I think about my role as that of a collaborative editor," she explains. Lunni has helped bring plays to Broadway with an impressive combination of experience, knowledge of theatre history, and an astute instinct.

But before you read the article I want to give you a startling appetizer of an anecdote from The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan. Tynan was a legendary British theatre critic. Here he recounts his experience of witnessing the wild dramaturgical trip to get William Inge’s Picnic to Broadway.

“I call on my dim memories of the [Josh] Logan machine in action, after the Boston opening night of William Inge’s Picnic in 1953. (Josh directed and co-produced it.) Josh invited me to have a drink with him after the show in his suite at the Ritz-Carlton. I went expecting a quiet chat, a little mutual congratulation between author and director, perhaps some talk of a lighting rehearsal the next afternoon. Was I (as they say) ever wrong.

At the Ritz-Carlton that night I learned what it felt like to be among a group of nuclear physicists working against the clock to beat Hitler to his atom bomb. S.N. Behrman (playwright) was in one bedroom putting laughs into Act I. Tennessee Williams was in another bedroom, taking laughs out of Act II. Josh took me into the bathroom and said: ‘Ken - what’s wrong with Act III?’ I said it somehow seemed to belong to another play. Josh thought for a while and then said: ‘There may be a reason for that. You see, I wrote Act III.’ (He nowadays denies saying that; and no doubt he was exaggerating.)

In the living-room, Lawrence Langer (producer) of the Theatre Guild was addressing an empty piano stool on the dangers of trusting audience reaction in New England. The phone rang. It was Leland Hayward (Hollywood agent and film producer) calling from California. He proceeded to give a detailed critique of the Boston opening, totally undeterred by the fact that he had not seen it.

Meanwhile a young woman in blue was making some extremely intelligent suggestion for improvements, many of which were subsequently incorporated into the text. Nobody knew who had brought her, and she left without giving her name.

(Pattie note: No one thought to ask?!)

I suddenly realised that there was one notable absentee. ‘Josh,’ I said. ‘Where is the author?’ ‘Oh, Bill,’ said Josh. ‘He’s in Palm Springs, I think.’

After we had all worked for an hour or so, the first review arrived. It was a rave. Work stopped, corks popped. Half an hour later I recall seeing Josh entering the suite with a crushed newspaper in his right fist and his face the colour of an oyster. He had just read the second overnight review, by Elliot Norton, and it was a stinker. Within a minute everyone was back at work. The extraordinary thing is that out of this madhouse there emerged a play which (though I never particularly like it) ran for 476 performances, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Critics Award for the Best Play of the Year. The chaos of the Ritz-Carlton that night taught me more about broadway than I could have learned in a decade of drama criticism."

Here’s that link to the article about a woman Broadway won’t overlook:

Tynan quote source: The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, edited by John Lahr. Published by Bloomsbury 2002.

It has been wet these past few days in Chimacum, Washingont but our white cherry blossoms are making their entrance. All these flowers. It's like opening night around here.

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