By Sheilagh Lichtenfels
Belgium-based actor and director Harvey Grossman spoke to Brooklyn College MFA Theater students about the life and theatrical philosophies of Edward Gordon Craig this Tuesday in the Woody Tanger Auditorium.
Grossman is the last living pupil of Craig, a set designer and director who passed away in 1966.
“Craig laid the groundwork for almost everything we know of modern theater,” he said.
Grossman became Craig’s student at 18 years old, while Craig was over 80, and studied set design, directing, and acting. Grossman also called Craig’s work an “obscure revolution” in its treatment of set design and performance.
Craig typically used no props, but rather light-catching screens to convey emotion and give the audience the illusion of depth. For his actors, he believed movement was the ultimate storyteller. Craig used the metaphor of an “uber-marionette,” or human puppet, to describe his ideal style of motion. He felt that actors should make only necessary motions on stage, using pure impulse to guide their performance.
Vasile Falutur, a second year acting MFA student, found Grossman’s presentation enlightening.
“It gave me a lot to think about,” he said. “What I take from theater is definitely influenced by Craig.”
Grossman later explained his incorporation of Craig’s theories into his own work. He described a production of Hamlet wherein he used puppets and screens in the set design. The puppets served as homage to Craig’s idea of the uber-marionette, and his work with the actors was directly influenced by Craig.
“I didn’t want anything that didn’t come from impulse,” Grossman adds.
During his life, Craig traveled in elite theatrical circles, keeping the company of figures such as legendary Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavski. Grossman described their relationship as unlikely.
“As different as their ideas were, if there was one person who really understood Craig, it was Stanislavski,” he said.
The two were in contact throughout their careers, and in 1912, they collaborated on a production of Hamlet at the Moscow Art Theater in Russia.
Freshman acting major Sara Brown was impressed by the stories of Craig’s life.
“It was interesting to hear directly from a person who knew someone who has so much power in the acting world,” she said.