A LETTER TO DR. LESLIE A. FIEDLER, JULY 17, 1974
Dear Dr. Fiedler:
Something happened this past Monday afternoon which I must tell you about, because it is tied into what we were talking about earlier that same daywhat I had learned, the new insight I had developed, in the course of gathering together my material and writing the essays for my doctoral dissertation: Pardon Me, Your Class is Showing.
In an hour‑long telephone conversation, I summarized what I had written about in my new novel Big Ben Hood and in Pardon Me, Your Class is Showing, a very frank discussion with Joan Allison, director of Arts Development Services, Inc., who had called me for my advice on the best way to get support from organized labor for the voucher plan of her organization. All that I had learned in thinking through and writing both those works armed me to quickly summarize the entire situation, to analyze the role of Arts Development Services Inc., which appears to me to be geared toward thwarting what I feel is the most important ingredient needed to revitalize the artsto bring union and working class life into the arts.
Ms. Allison cited Black theatre and Puerto Rican theatre as examples of working class art to be encouraged by her organization, and I suggested she read Stanley Aronowitz's book, False Promises, in which he cites the concern with ethnic and folk art as the clever ploy of the establishment to keep working people from developing their working class consciousness.
Arts Development Services, Inc. is a new organization in the Buffalo area, formed by Franz Stone, corporation president whose role in blocking my effort to get my working class plays done in this area is documented in Pardon Me, Your Class is Showing. Its declared purpose is to coordinate the activities of all theatre and art groups in this area. It expects funding from the State Council on the Arts and is launching a voucher system similar to that employed by the Theatre Development Fund in New York City, with cut‑rate vouchers to be provided by ADS to theatre patrons, ADS paying the difference between regular ticket prices and cutrate prices to the theatre group involved.
I told Ms. Allison that knowing Franz Stone as I do, I suspect his purpose. However, I favor the plan, hope it will succeed in bringing working people into the theatre, since this will make it easier to get working people to come to theatre productions that do deal with their own experience.
But I added, after giving her the names of some union leaders in the area to whom she might go, that I did not expect her to succeed in getting much reaction from working people: "The theatre material being presented does not dig into their lives sufficiently to get them to come into your theatres," I told her. I told her what I'm trying to do with 593 Writers Workshop and we had a frank exchange about its relationship to both the establishment which is behind Arts Development Services, Inc. and the union establishment, discussing the threat I had discovered that workshop to bein the course of writing the essay: The Threatening Nature of 593 Writers Workshop and she surprised me by quickly stating the same conclusion I had come to, as to what will happen with the writers developed in that workshop. She went further than I did. I thought they might be taken over, but hoped that their writing would retain the mark of their working class background. She did not think that would be soshe thought all I hoped to get out of creating this workshop would go down the drain completely when it is taken over by the establishment.
She expressed surprise at my awareness in the area we were discussing, and I apologized for being able to talk with such facility on the subject, explaining about the work I'd been doing on the doctoral dissertation. She expressed interest in reading it when it is done.
Further, she questioned whether Stone was aware of where he was going with ADS, that he did not, in her opinion, necessarily have any idea of blocking bringing union and working class life into the arts. I told her my experience with Stone, as cited in my dissertation, convinces me that it is a great mistake to assume he is not aware; that on the contrary, my awareness has resulted to a great extent from my becoming aware of his awareness. She did agree with me that much of the purpose of ADS was connected with "the safety valve principle," and we both spoke specifically about the funding of Black theatre for this reason, to drain off into the theatre the excitement in the streets. She agreed with me that it is fine if such exciting material is brought into the theatre, but that it should be brought there to give insight into it in order to promote constructive activity in relation to it, rather than to bleed it off into a sewer, to be forgotten once the excitement and heat in the streets is passed by.
In any case, having given her the names of some labor leaders she might see, I wished her well. She surprised me by snapping back with some resentment in her voice, "Thanks a lot," apparently not liking my expression of my view that what she was trying to do would, in my opinion, not be likely to succeed with labor. However, I then did have an idea on where what she was trying to do might succeed in the labor movement: the teachers unions. I gave her the name of a good friend of mine in the Teachers Federation who, I was sure, would help her. And our conversation ended on a very guarded note, with outer friendliness, but with an impression on my part that I had not made a friend by being honest in expressing my views. But this was not new. Thought this would interest you.
P.S. One added interesting point. I mentioned to Ms. Allison what Allen Sapp said in his letter (a copy included in my doctoral dissertation) which seemed to indicate that he thought there would have to be the kind of excitement and heat in the streets with working people that there had been with the Blacks ("Perhaps you see a wave of change which will make risk, high risk necessary and acceptable," he said, in regard to my suggestions about bringing union and working class life into the arts.) before the establishment would act to bring union and working class life into the arts the same way they had acted to bring Black life into the arts. She said that was probably the case. I said, "Sad, isn't it" She said, "Yes.”
© 1974, 2003 Emanuel Fried. All rights reserved.
SOURCE: Fried, Emanuel. Pardon Me, Your Class Is Showing (Essays and Related Material Concerning Class Structure and the Arts). PhD dissertation. Dept. of English, SUNY/Buffalo, September 1974. iv, 201 pp. This web page: "Preface: A Letter to Dr. Leslie A. Fiedler, July 17, 1974", pp. i-iv.
Pardon Me, Your Class Is Showing
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