Cherished by industry people and theatre students, the seminars, introduced for many years by Wing chair Isabelle Stevenson, offer a window on how the theatre works and are often packed with juicy theatrical anecdotes about the joys, pitfalls, surprises and disappointments about a life in the theatre. (A recent program on designers, for example, revealed that designers sometimes — indeed, often — put their own money into realizing their ideas when their producers' budget falls short.)
Until now, the tapes have been available only on local New York television (CUNY-TV) and at some libraries.
"A remarkable archive of theatrical interviews is now available for free on the internet, a result of the efforts of the American Theatre Wing to share its educational and informational programs with a wider audience," according to the ATW announcement. "Featuring panel discussions with theatre artists, the more than 300 seminar programs feature an array of theatrical talent, from Jessica Tandy and Kim Hunter to Nicole Kidman and Mel Brooks."
The goal is to make 25 years' worth of ATW panels available online.
At americantheatrewing.org, the past 10 years of programs are available on demand as streaming video, with select programs dating back to 1987 also accessible. Work is underway to digitize all of the programs, dating back to 1979. After the 2003 death of ATW chair Stevenson, tapes of the earliest (and thought to be lost) "Working in the Theatre" shows were discovered in her personal archive. They will eventually be seen once more, to be digested by peers, students and fans.
Current programs are added to the archive immediately upon their completion; the newest include a playwrights panel with Edward Albee, Harvey Fierstein, Paula Vogel and John Weidman; performance-oriented panels with Mario Cantone, Richard Easton, Julie Halston, Frances Sternhagen, Michael McKean and Robert Prosky; and two not-for-profit panels with leaders from Atlantic Theatre Company, Lincoln Center Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York Theatre Workshop and Roundabout Theater Company.
"Our longtime leader, Isabelle Stevenson, created the seminar series to offer students and audiences an opportunity to hear artists discuss their work and their experience, and she was very shrewd to get on the cable bandwagon in its earliest days," said Howard Sherman, executive director of the Wing. "In addition to making the programs more generally available, we've been fortunate this year that, thanks to support from The Annenberg Foundation and The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation, we've been able to expand the number of seminars annually from 8 to 12, have moved into a larger venue to accommodate more live audience at the tapings, and have constructed a new set so that our visual environment matches the high level of the conversation."
Also on the website are 13 interviews conducted by ATW in 2001 under the banner "Guide to Careers in the Theatre," video interviews on the various job opportunities and tasks in theatre. Participants include general manager Charlotte Wilcox, orchestrator Luther Henderson and lighting designer Jules Fisher. Expect 17 more of the Career programs to be posted.
Collectively, the ATW site now boasts more than 200 hours of streaming media, with both new and archival material being added regularly.
"Most people know the Theatre Wing as the founders of the Tony Awards, without realizing the depth of oral history and educational material we've created over the years," said Sherman.
The American Theatre Wing is a not-for-profit theatrical service organization dedicated to supporting education and excellence in the theatre. In addition to co-presenting The Tony Awards, ATW produces the seminar series "Working in the Theatre" with CUNY-TV; co-produces "Downstage Center" with XM Satellite Radio; and annually awards more than 50 grants and scholarships to New York not-for-profit theatres and theatre students. ATW's newest programs include "SpringboardNYC," a two-week intensive training session for aspiring theatre professionals moving to New York; and the Theatre Intern Group, a social and professional development network. For access to ATW media, and for more information on the work of the American Theatre Wing, visit www.americantheatrewing.org.