Looking Back to Move Forward: The Importance of Classical Drama in a Modern World

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Woman gesturing to actors on stage.

Carey Perloff, artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater (ACT). Photo by Kevin Berne

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Audio Tabs

Carey Perloff is someone who has thought long and hard about the challenges facing 21st-century theater in America. For 23 years, Perloff has been the artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco. ACT is a nonprofit that produces plays of all stripes at both of its theaters, the Geary and the Strand. Nearing the half-century mark, ACT was created with the idea that artists should be in lifelong learning and in lifelong engagement with their community. To that end, ACT runs both a conservatory for professionals that grants MFAs in acting and a robust education program that reaches into many parts of the Bay Area community. Clearly, Perloff has her finger on pulse of the theater and keeps a firm eye on the future.

But sometimes it requires looking back to move into the future. Perloff offers an impassioned argument, articulated in her memoir Beautiful Chaos, A Life in the Theater, that the lack of classical drama productions actually creates a more insular theatrical experience, one that doesn’t engage with the audiences as much.

Perloff discusses her thoughts on the importance of classical drama and how it applies to modern society and why theaters should be performing more of the classical plays. 

Audio Credits:

Excerpt from Ajax, by Sophocles. Adam Driver as Ajax, courtesy of Theater of War, Bryan Dorries, artistic director.

Excerpt from Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Harold Pierce as Dr. Faustus, Stanley Spenger as Mephistopheles, directed by Jeremy Cole. Courtesy of the Actors’ Ensemble of Berkeley.