NAHA Header

NAHA Logo

Ibsen in Seattle
    by Sverre Arestad (Volume 25: Page 176)

The purpose of this article is to present some background for the interest shown in Ibsen by Norwegian Americans and others in Seattle, to record as accurately as available sources permit the statistical data on performances of his plays, to assess Ibsen’s impact on theater-goers, to evaluate in general the presentation of his dramas, to discuss in detail the Seattle Repertory Playhouse production of Peer Gynt, and, finally, to give some indication of the continuing interest in Ibsen in the area.

I

Some statistics concerning the performances of Ibsen’s plays in Seattle will be given later, but let us begin with three Peer Gynt productions during the period 1931-1965. In the 1930’s, the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, under the direction of Florence Bean and Burton James, gave 92 presentations of Peer Gynt before more than 29,000 spectators. The University of Washington Showboat Theatre, under the direction of Drama Professor Donald Harrington, staged the play 33 times for audiences totaling 6,600 in the spring of 1951. In June, 1965, the late John Rustad, associate professor of humanistic-social studies at the University of Washington, assisted by Ralph Rosinbum, associate professor of music, directed and acted the leading role in a spectacular staging of the drama. Four [168] performances attracted 12,000 spectators to the outdoor Aqua Theatre. Thus in three decades there have been 129 performances of Peer Gynt before more than 48,000 people. How does one account for this popularity?

Many factors contributed to the initial reception accorded Peer Gynt in Seattle. One might suggest that the deep depression of the 1930’s, and the ugly unrest in many areas of the world during the same period — not least of all in Europe — may well have helped to create a climate receptive to the charms of this play. These specific factors, however, would not have been operative in 1951 or in 1965, although other external circumstances, equally valid, could be advanced to account for its success in later years. No doubt the intrinsic appeal of Peer Gynt, as good theater, to widely disparate audiences and the local orientation toward Ibsen, which I shall develop below, really account for the play’s overwhelmingly favorable reception.

I shall concentrate, as far as theater performances are concerned, on the production by the Seattle Repertory Playhouse (hereafter referred to as the Playhouse). I do not thereby disparage the fine presentation of Peer Gynt by the Showboat Theatre or its enthusiastic acceptance by the large Aqua Theatre audiences. Nor do I slight the numerous other successful performances of Ibsen’s plays both in commercial and noncommercial Seattle theaters. A detailed consideration of other notable showings of the great playwright’s works would be repetitive and beyond the scope of this article.

Founded in 1929 by Florence Bean and Burton James, who had been members of the drama faculty at the University of Washington, the Playhouse contributed substantially for more than a decade to the theater and the general cultural life of the city. To my knowledge, no theater outside Norway had performed Peer Gynt as often as the Playhouse. Although a number of years have passed since this achievement, it is worthwhile to record it as an unusual contribution to the Ibsen tradition. [169]

After the thirty-ninth presentation of Peer Gynt, Mrs. Florence Bean James remarked to Washington-Posten (now Western Viking), Seattle Norwegian-language weekly, that the Norwegians in Seattle and on the Pacific coast had contributed substantially to the success of the play through attendance and in other ways. Her statement may well contain an element of truth —12,000 people had attended the 39 performances — but Peer Gynt was revived by the Playhouse and shown before an additional 17,000 spectators. The total figure of 29,000 far exceeds the number of Norwegians in the area. It follows, therefore, that not only members of this ethnic group, but others as well — indeed, in larger numbers — supported the ambitious undertaking.

It can be assumed that Peer Gynt was familiar to most Norwegians in the region, and it can be demonstrated that Ibsen had been known to the general public for several decades through performances in Seattle and in other cities. Ibsen had been offered to the public not only by the theater, but also by schools, colleges, and universities. For two decades or more, these institutions in the state had taught Ibsen in English translation. The late Professor E. J. Vickner of the Scandinavian department at the University of Washington had given well-attended courses dealing specifically with the author each year since 1911. His colleagues at the university, the late Professor Joseph B. Harrison and Professor Emeritus Sophus K. Winther, both of the English department, had also introduced the dramatist to many students through their courses in modern European literature. Lesser, but nevertheless substantial, examples of a similar nature can be recorded for the smaller colleges of the state. In its proper place, the role of the departments of drama in the various schools will be assessed.

Norwegians had settled in sizable numbers in Seattle and throughout the immediate area barely forty years before Peer Gynt made its historical debut. The question arises whether the Norwegians, who in such large numbers attended performances of the play, came to the Puget Sound area with a [170] knowledge of Ibsen and an abiding interest in his dramas — or whether they may have been drawn to the theater by the author’s general appeal after their arrival. There is no ready answer to this socio-literary question, and it need not be resolved here. It is interesting, nevertheless, to speculate that, for many, the theatrical climate in their adopted home may well have stimulated an interest that had been lacking. Seattle offered greater opportunity for seeing Ibsen performed than had been possible in the isolated communities from which the immigrants had come.

This generalization would not apply to present-day Norway, with its traveling theater and television, but the situation there was quite different half a century ago. Paradoxically, the cultural opportunities for many Norwegians, at least in the Seattle area, have been enriching rather than impoverishing. It should be noted, however, that a number of immigrants who settled there and became the cultural leaders of the Norwegian community had been educated in Norway; they were thus thoroughly familiar with the literature, art, music, and theater of the homeland. However, it is axiomatic that at the turn of the century the Norwegians found in Seattle a milieu congenial to Ibsen, as was the case throughout the rest of the country. Indeed they had discovered a theater tradition, admittedly one of not too great antiquity, upon their first arrival. All that we can be sure of, however, is that they used the theater as a means of popular and patriotic expression.

When the Norwegians first came to Seattle, they found a pioneer community — but one that did have theater. It was characteristic of such settlements throughout the western part of the United States before 1900 — and in many instances after — to give generous support to theatrical productions of one kind or another. The term "generous support" is used advisedly because much of what was offered the patrons of the frontier theater was of appallingly low quality. As sources of entertainment were limited and standards of comparison almost wholly lacking — and the people’s need for diversion of [171] whatever kind was great — the "theater" flourished. But some communities grew and prospered and were able in time to attract better talent. By the time the Norwegians began to arrive in Seattle, the city’s theater tradition was at least two decades old, having emerged from an earlier itinerant, minstrel background. Because the theater, however inadequate by present-day standards, was the principal source of diversion, it is not unreasonable to assume that the first immigrants were influenced to some extent by the general cultural pattern of the locality to use the theater as a means of self-expression and the exploitation of ties with the homeland. This, at any rate, is what they did. It bears repeating that a number of the Norwegians were quite knowledgeable in a nonacademic sense about the theater and the dramatic literature of Norway.

II

To ascertain the total involvement of the people of Washington in Scandinavian drama, a number of years ago I sent out a questionnaire to the critics of the leading newspapers of the state, to the drama departments of all colleges, and to the various Scandinavian social and cultural organizations in the principal cities. I requested information concerning the presentation of Scandinavian plays from as far back as their records went. For Seattle, I made my own study on the basis of old theater materials, newspaper files, and interviews. The results were, on the whole, gratifying. Although no definitive conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the data accumulated, some general observations, pertinent to our inquiry, can be made.

The questionnaire revealed that of the five leading Scandinavian dramatists — Holberg, Oehlenschlager, Ibsen, Bjørnson, and Strindberg — only Ibsen had been played before World War II in the commercial theaters of the state (except for one Oehlenschlager performance in Seattle in 1895). All, except Oehlenschlager, had been staged in private theaters and by drama departments of institutions of higher learning. [172]

The organizations, playing in their own languages to their own people, concentrated almost exclusively on the lighter theatrical fare: vaudeville, farce, and comedy. One exception to this general rule has been Holberg, who was often performed by both Danish and Norwegian groups in Seattle. An occasional Ibsen play has also been presented by Norwegian societies. Although the commercial theater in Seattle has presented a number of Ibsen dramas over a period of several decades, it outdid even the ethnic groups in the lighter field around the turn of the century by booking such national favorites as Ole Olson and Yon Yonson. A refrain from the latter reads:

My name is Yon Yonson.

I come from Wisconsin.

I worked in the lumber camps der.

For the past several decades, there have been about an equal number of Norwegians and Swedes in Seattle. Each group included a maximum of roughly 10,000 born in the homeland. There were about a third as many Danes and, in addition, several hundred Icelanders. The Scandinavians developed similar socio-cultural organizations: churches and societies — fraternal, singing, dramatic, debating, and the like — through which they preserved their native cultural heritages. A comment on the Danish "theater" endeavor in Seattle throws a clear light on the activities of all of them.

Of all the Scandinavian groups in Seattle, the Danes have the most impressive record of performances in drama. Since World War II, this activity has almost entirely ceased, but from 1895, when the Danes produced Den Tredie on November 1, until the early 1940’s, there was uninterrupted theater activity within the Danish community. There were also similar intermittent productions in Tacoma, and in other cities and towns of the state. Several groups were responsible for offering these theatrical presentations. Notable was the society Harmonien, which was organized on September 8, 1911, and celebrated its twenty-fifth jubilee with a musical program [173] and the one-act vaudeville skit, En Søndag paa Amager. This was their 70th performance in twenty-five years of drama production, which had included works by Holberg, Heiberg, and Drachmann, and revues and concerts.

Most of the repertoire of the various Norwegian theater societies in Seattle has consisted of light fare, but occasionally it included more ambitious undertakings. Andrew Nerland, later a prominent citizen of Fairbanks, Alaska, was in Seattle from 1890 to 1893. He was a charter member of the short-lived but vigorous Norwegian Workingmen’s Society, which, despite its name, actually was a cultural and dramatic organization. Nerland recently informed the writer that in the early 1890’s this society put on numerous plays, including Holberg’s Jeppe on the Hill and Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. This production of Peer Gynt is, as far as is known, the first performance of an Ibsen drama in Seattle and one of the very first in the United States.

An original drama by a Norwegian in Seattle may well be of interest here. It is by no means unique, for there was considerable writing of "drama" by Norwegian settlers in the western United States during the early years of settlement. In 1910, C. M. Thuland published Leif Erikson, with a text of about fifty pages, half of which consisted of songs. The title page, which bears either the overly ambitious or inadvertently humorous Første Oplag (First Edition), follows:

C. M. Thuland

LEIF ERIKSON

Historisk drama i tre handlinger

FØRSTE OPLAG

Washington Ptg. Co., Erikson Bldg.

Seattle, Wash.

The Forord (Foreword) emphasizes the didactic nature of much of this writing and the desire to exploit ties with the homeland.

The rather extensive theatrical activity pursued by the Scandinavians in their organizations for the entertainment of [174] their own people consisted thus of light comedy, farce, and vaudeville, most of which was imported from abroad. There were also similar programs of local origin. In addition, their concerts and musicals consisted almost exclusively of Scandinavian material, although free adaptations were made on the local level. This tradition, incidentally, persists among the Norwegians of Seattle even to this day. For two decades or more, for example, the Norwegian Ladies Chorus of Seattle, under the direction of August Werner, has presented original vaudeville sketches annually at a "Gay Nineties" party. And in recent years several Norwegian organizations have produced theatrical events in the vaudeville-minstrel tradition on St. Hans Aften (Midsummer Eve).

The obvious reason why the Scandinavian organizations eschewed the serious drama is that the producers and actors were amateurs. Performances of Ibsen or Strindberg, for example, would have required, if not professional personnel, at least more time for concentrated study and rehearsal than normally would have been at the disposal of those for whom acting was a pastime, or at best an avocation. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing, however, is that theater in its broadest sense has been an integral part of the life of the Norwegians in the Seattle community since the close of the last century.

Norwegian organizations in other cities, notably Tacoma and Spokane, have followed much the same pattern of cultural development as the Seattle group, showing clear evidence of interest in Norwegian culture, a good deal of which has been associated with the theater. There have been colleges with drama departments in or near these cities, and each has long had a commercial theater. The inquiry concerning interest in Scandinavian drama among people from these localities showed, not surprisingly, much the same condition obtaining as in Seattle, although on a smaller scale. I shall use the Spokane area as an example.

On February 6, 1942, Maynard Lee Daggy, head of the [175] department of speech at Washington State College (now University) at Pullman, wrote: "Within the last six or seven years we have done two performances of A Doll’s House; four performances of Ghosts; two performances of Hedda Gabler; and one performance of The Wild Duck. I have had it in the back of my mind for some years that the first collegiate production of A Doll’s House in the Northwest was at the State College more than thirty years ago, and I am trying to follow that up. I believe that the first production of A Doll’s House west of the Mississippi was at Portland, Oregon."

Not all of the attempts by collegiate groups to perform Ibsen met with unqualified success. On January 22, 1942, Russell W. Lembke, drama division, Central Washington State Normal School (now College) at Ellensburg, stated: "We have produced only one play by a Scandinavian playwright and that was a rather unsatisfactory cutting of Hedda Gabler." This was in 1939.

W. W. Hindley, Sunday editor of the Spokesman Review, Spokane, set forth in an article on January 28, 1942, a general impression concerning Scandinavian drama in that city. He wrote: "Hedda Gabler seems to have been the favorite in Spokane. Our little theater group, I know, has done it twice — once under the direction of William J. Solby and once under the direction of Grace Douglas Leonard. I have both programs but not the years when produced. Eva Le Gallienne presented Hedda Gabler as a road show at the Fox Theater on January 19, 1940, playing to capacity — 2350. I think local groups have also done The Master Builder and A Doll’s House, but I have no record. I can’t recall that anything of Strindberg has been offered locally in the 30 years or so I have kept an eye on things theatrical."

III

The questionnaire disclosed that the commercial theater was responsible for performances of Scandinavian drama from [176] the turn of the century until after World War I, with some attention paid to Holberg and Ibsen by local Norwegian organizations. In the beginning of the inter-war period, however, the emphasis shifted from the commercial theater presenting road shows to college and university drama departments mounting student productions — and to the noncommercial theater, notably the Seattle Playhouse.

As far as can be determined, Holberg has never been performed in the commercial theater in Seattle, and the only non-Scandinavian presentation of this eighteenth-century Dano-Norwegian writer was of his Jeppe on the Hill and the one-act Sganarel as a twin bill at the University Playhouse (the old Seattle Playhouse). This program was produced by Warren Pepperdine in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the M.A. degree in drama in 1956. Presented with color and enthusiasm, it capitalized on the near-burlesque which Holberg had provided and brought out the subtler elements of comedy and characterization. The only Bjørnson play that has been given in Seattle was Love and Geography, offered by the Playhouse in 1935. This production in every way met the exacting standards of the Playhouse, thus making of this serious comedy a pure delight on the stage.

Although most of Bjørnson is too didactic to appeal to contemporary audiences, his very best dramas make for excellent theater, especially because of his flair for engaging dialogue. It is unfortunate that in other respects he is so out of fashion. Strindberg has been more popular in Seattle; his early reputation, however, was built entirely upon performances given either under the direction or supervision of the late Professor Glenn Hughes, for many years head of the school of drama at the University of Washington. His promotion of Strindberg extended over a period of three decades from 1921 to 1950. Interest in Strindberg after 1950 has been maintained by the school of drama at the University of Washington, and by an occasional production in local theaters. [177]

IV

Space prevents a detailed statistical list of performances of Ibsen plays in Seattle, but a brief summary can be given. Both the University of Washington drama department and the Repertory (Playhouse) Theatre have offered more Ibsen dramas than the commercial theater. But because the latter played to capacity houses — attracting eight or more times the number of spectators than the University Playhouse and the theaters — the disparity is not so great in terms of total audiences, except for Peer Gynt. The commercial theater held the field earlier, but presented only three Ibsen works during the 1930’s and after, whereas the noncommercial theaters staged only two plays before 1930. They have been dominant, however, since that time. The Ibsen plays given in Seattle since the first performance of A Doll’s House in 1889 are as follows (with the commercial theaters listed first): A Doll’s House, 7,30; Hedda Gabler, 6,45; Ghosts, 3, 13; Peer Gynt, 1, 132 (92 at the Playhouse); Pillars of Society, 1, 1; Little Eyolf, 1, 0; The Wild Duck, 0, 26; The Vikings at Helgeland, 0, 7; The Lady from the Sea, 0, 24; The Master Builder, 1, 12; An Enemy of the People, 0,5.

After the shift to the noncommercial theater, stock companies only infrequently brought Ibsen to Seattle. Their standards were, by and large, of high quality. One of the most notable performances was by the renowned actress and commentator on Ibsen, Eva Le Gallienne, who played Hedda Gabler in her own production of the play at the Metropolitan in January, 1940.

The foregoing analysis has sought to suggest that during the three decades preceding the production of Peer Gynt at the Playhouse, wide acquaintance with Ibsen had been established through the theater and the schools. In the final analysis, however, the dramatist’s real impact on Seattle audiences has come through the Playhouse and through the several student theaters at the University of Washington. As indicated [178] earlier, I have chosen to concentrate on the Playhouse production of Peer Gynt.

V

For well over two decades, the names of Florence and Burton James were synonymous with the best traditions of the theater in Seattle. Their full repertory ranged from the classics to contemporary drama. Some of the latter, notably Clifford Odet’s Waiting for Lefty, became subjects of more than mild controversy during the depression-ridden 1930’s, and the Playhouse emerged as a vital cultural force in the community. Although the majority of the actors were amateurs, Burton James was an imaginative performer with a wide range — in every sense a professional. Several of the supporting cast, especially Albert Ottenheimer, were versatile and competent by any standard. Florence Bean James was, moreover, a gifted director. Performances of Ibsen by the Jameses were always very good, and those of Peer Gynt were excellent.

By the end of the 1941 season, its thirteenth, the Playhouse had introduced and staged more plays from Norway than from any other country except England and America. The 1,501 performances offered during the thirteen seasons included 103 plays by 97 authors from 14 countries. There were 713 presentations of 56 dramas by 50 American authors, 368 performances of 23 plays by 19 British authors, and 151 presentations of 7 plays by two Norwegian authors — Bjørnson and Ibsen. As only one Bjørnson play, Love and Geography, was given, this means that six Ibsen dramas were produced at the Playhouse (A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, The Wild Duck, The Vikings at Helgeland, The Master Builder, and Peer Gynt) — more than from any other playwright. The 145 performances of Ibsen plays is a record for a single author, and the 92 presentations of Peer Gynt also was the largest number for a play. It is interesting that, in 1931, when Peer Gynt was first produced at the Playhouse, Shaw’s Major Barbara was just setting a new world’s record for this drama at the Playhouse. [179]

VI

The build-up for the opening of Peer Gynt by the Playhouse (the third production in the newly erected theater) was promoted for over three months through every publicity outlet in the Seattle area and in the state and region. Before the play opened, national and even international interest was created in the forthcoming performance, the fourth of this work in the United States. News items appeared on the progress of the preparations for staging, and interviews were published with the actors and actresses. Helga Lund, who played Solveig, had been on a trip to Norway where she had secured a copy of Ibsen’s own prompt book and had been granted an audience with the king. As a result, she talked on "My Day at Court" — which in 1931 had more interest than it has now — to numerous Seattle audiences. Follow-up notes appeared on costuming, sets, and music. The settings were executed in collaboration with the National Theater of Oslo, and a group of women of Norwegian extraction in Seattle helped with the costumes. Local audiences, particularly women’s and service clubs, were saturated with lectures on Peer Gynt by university professors and members of the cast, but particularly by Burton James, who for a time became identified throughout the Seattle area with Ibsen’s hero.

Publicity, involving all the news media, continued until opening day and during the first run; it resumed later when the play was revived. From this extensive comment, I have chosen one by Florence Bean James and another by Albert Ottenheimer. On February 15, 1931, Mrs. James was quoted in the North American Times, a Japanese-language newspaper in Seattle: "Some of our previous productions have met with an outstanding reception at the hands of the public, but never before have we had such an outstandingly complete ‘hit’ as Peer Gynt. The praise and excitement the play has elicited from critics and audience alike exceeds anything we have met with, and from an attendance standpoint, Peer Gynt has [180] drawn greater crowds than any previous play we have shown to houses in which every available seat has been taken at every performance to date."

Mrs. James may well have exaggerated when she stated in another interview, in Washington-Posten of May 8, 1941, that a large part of the audience had come from Norwegian groups on the Pacific coast. After the ninety-second performance of Peer Gynt, Albert Ottenheimer wrote an extensive commentary in the June, 1941, Quarterly Bulletin of the National Theatre Conference (New York), upon which the following remarks are based.

Disregarding Andrew Nerland’s production of Peer Gynt, alluded to earlier, Ottenheimer states that the play had been staged only three times before in the United States, originally by Richard Mansfield, who, theater legend has it, was literally killed by the title role. Later, the Theatre Guild of New York and an amateur group in Santa Barbara, California, performed it. The Playhouse staff would not be expected to know that Nerland’s group, the Norwegian Workingmen’s Society, had performed Peer Gynt in the early 1890’s. It does appear strange, however, that, in recounting earlier commercial theater performances in the United States, no mention was made of the staging at the Moore Theatre in Seattle in October, 1910.

The Playhouse was apprehensive about offering Peer Gynt because of the enormous initial cost and the fact that their most successful production of any play to date had been twelve performances. Assuming that Peer Gynt might run fifteen times, the Playhouse decided to produce it and opened on February 6, 1931. The drama was so successful that several extensions were required, but after the thirty-ninth performance, Ottenheimer wrote, "Its run was finally deliberately choked off." This was done so that the season-ticket holders could see the other plays on the announced program. Peer Gynt was revived the next year, in June and July, 1932, and ran eleven times in the first Annual Summer Drama [181] Festival. It played again fifteen times in 1936, and 27 times in 1941 as the Playhouse’s hundredth production in twelve and a half years. "On every occasion the story had been repeated," Ottenheimer observed, "with capacity, turn-away houses night after night . . . playgoers coming again during the run to see it several times."

Who came to see the Playhouse’s production of Peer Gynt? Ottenheimer is the best source. He says: "Playgoers came from all over the Northwest to see it, many of them driving hundreds of miles (and some of them all night). One woman came a thousand miles from San Francisco. They came from all classes and walks of life — fishermen from up north, lumber jacks from the Grays Harbor region." Ottenheimer differs somewhat from Florence Bean James’s estimate of the proportion of Norwegians who made up the large audiences: "It is significant, too, that Seattle and the Northwest have a large Scandinavian population, mainly Norwegian [sic!], but this is by no means crucial, because the Scandinavians made up only a small percentage of the Peer Gynt audiences. And other plays of Ibsen, while successful enough with us (notably The Wild Duck and The Master Builder) have not achieved records in any way comparable."

Why was Peer Gynt so successful at the Playhouse? This is no idle query because the extended production attracted national attention, and, moreover, posed anew the question of what the small theater could do to remain above water. Ottenheimer goes directly to the problem: "If we could isolate and concretize the formula of its success, we’d be doing ourselves and like theatres in America a utilitarian service. But the worst of it is, we can’t. We’ve studied the matter for ten years now, and we’re not much nearer the solution than we’ve ever been."

I believe that the climate and temper of the times contributed substantially to the success of Peer Gynt at the Playhouse during the 1930’s. It is inconceivable that an equally [182] successful production of Peer Gynt could be mounted in present-day Seattle, even if a repertory theater were to attempt it.

I have sought to provide background on the theater in Seattle, to give as complete a statistical review of Ibsen presentations as possible, and to include some information on other areas in the state of Washington. I have done this in order to make meaningful the claim that Ibsen was generally quite well known — both through the theater and the schools — at the time the Jameses began to produce him and then went on to become, at least for a decade, identified with the dramatist in the Seattle theater. As I have concentrated on Peer Gynt at the Playhouse, thereby terminating my discussion for all practical purposes with 1941, perhaps a few remarks concerning the continued and present interest in Ibsen in this area might not be out of place.

VII

As a literary figure, Ibsen continues to receive sustained attention throughout the country. This fact is indicated by the numerous articles in journals, by dissertations and books, as well as by new translations of his plays, many of which are appearing in paperbacks. Courses in Ibsen in translation are being offered at a number of universities and colleges, and he is often taught in high schools as well. Just how extensively he is being read it is impossible to determine. That he has been at least introduced to large numbers of university students is attested to by Professor William F. Irmscher, director of freshman English at the University of Washington. He notes, in a letter of January 11, 1967, that last year 3,800 students read Hedda Gabler, and continues: "Even though we are not currently reading Ibsen, you may be interested to know that he has been a consistently popular choice here, and the Tables of Contents of Freshman anthologies would suggest that he is equally popular elsewhere. Besides the plays we read last year, the other plays most commonly read are An Enemy of the People and The Wild Duck. I note that Chandler Editions now [183] has Rosmersholm in a single-play edition and will soon publish The Master Builder. Decisions of that kind suggest further that these particular plays are being read widely in Freshman English." In addition, the Scandinavian department, through several courses which have been or are now being taught — both in translation and in the original — has introduced Ibsen annually to scores of students.

In recent years, the playwright has not been performed in Seattle nearly as often as he was twenty-five years ago — not at all in the noncommercial theater and less frequently by the student theaters at the University of Washington. The quality of presentations by the latter, however, is constantly improving. Although overshadowed by the Playhouse offerings of Peer Gynt, the thirty-three Showboat Theatre performances in 1951 were an achievement for a University of Washington student theater, and John Rustad’s open-air production at the Aqua Theatre was commendable.

Other stagings of Ibsen in the area are worthy of mention. In May, 1960, Western Washington State College at Bellingham gave several performances of The Wild Duck, and two years later the University of British Columbia at Vancouver put on Hedda Gabler. In 1969 Western Washington State College staged an unusual and successful production of Peer Gynt. Preceding these performances, the writer had the privilege of taking part in lecture-discussions on these plays with the audiences. In the early 1960’s, thanks to a Ford Foundation grant in the field of the liberal arts, the school of drama at the University of Washington staged Hedda Gabler and toured the state with the production. During this period, also with Ford support, a three-day seminar on Ibsen and Arthur Miller was held at Centralia, Washington. Here three University of Washington professors — Sverre Arestad, Donna Gerstenberger, and Frank Jones — analyzed Hedda Gabler and Death of a Salesman and discussed the two plays with the audiences. Following these seminars, Hedda Gabler [184] was performed by University of Washington drama students and the film of Miller’s play was shown.

In April, 1967, a liberal arts seminar, participated in by three University of Washington professors — Sverre Arestad, Paul Dietrichson, and Otto Reinert — held a three-day lecture-discussion on Ibsen and Kierkegaard, exploring largely the concept of self as set forth by these authors. In the summer of 1961, the late Professor Grant Redford of the English faculty at the University of Washington conducted a playwriting and acting class at Port Townsend, Washington; this culminated in a reading of An Enemy of the People by six local residents, preceded by a lecture on the play by the writer. The entire program was recorded and subsequently broadcast by a Seattle radio station. In the fall of 1962, the Scandinavian department at the University of Washington presented a television program on Scandinavian literature co-ordinated by Professor Arestad, one quarter of which was devoted to Ibsen. This program was replayed on television throughout the state and elsewhere in the United States.

In recent years, three doctoral dissertations on Ibsen have been written at the University of Washington: (1) Main Currents of Ibsen’s Interpretations in England and America (1962), by Ensaf Thune (an Egyptian girl who married a Norwegian engineer) under the direction of Professor Malcolm Brown of the English department; (2) Henrik Ibsen in Japan (1966), by Toshihiko Sato; and (3) Ibsen’s Dramas of Self-Division (1969), by Phillip Bottman. The last two studies were made under the direction of Professor Arestad.

As I conclude these observations on the performances of Ibsen plays in Seattle and elsewhere in the Northwest, I am reminded that during 1970 Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, and Pillars of Society were presented in Seattle by the drama departments of the University of Washington and Seattle University. Other performances are scheduled.

In May, 1971, Radio Station KRAB in Seattle broadcast a performance of Rosmersholm produced by Raymond Jarvi of [185] the Scandinavian department at the University of Washington. It has been re-broadcast and has received very favorable comments. Although it is unlikely that another Ibsen play will enjoy the sustained interest that Peer Gynt did three decades ago, lively concern with Ibsen continues unabated in the theater and in the classroom.

<<   Previous Page   |   Next Page   >>


 
To the Home Page