“Into the Woods” — Playwrights and Composers Remember Summers at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

By Yvonne Juris
02 Jun 2014

John Guare
John Guare
Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia

John Guare, Samuel D. Hunter and George C. White share memories of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center with Playbill.com.


It wasn't just the farm house, the retreat from the bustling city streets or the fact that Eugene O'Neill romanced girlfriend Barbara Ashe on those grounds. But according to several panelists in the discussion on the legacy of the O'Neill Theater Center, titled 50 Years Later; the Development Path to Production, it was the ethos that the playwright, and not the play, came first.

"If it had just been to say lets start by picking the play, it would not have existed because nobody knew where the plays were," said Tony winner John Guare during the panel discussion, which was held May 29 at the New York Public Library for Performing Arts. "The obligation that we all had — that we were being trusted to be part of a new world and to know that we would deliver something and the judgement had already been made on us — that was the thrill."

Guare was invited to a playwrights conference in 1965 to discuss what "playwrights need" in the newly created O'Neill center in Waterford, CT, after author Audrey Wood saw a performance of his third-year thesis play at the Yale Drama school. Guare and several other young playwrights, including Sam Shepard and Lanford Wilson, hoped on a bus in Times Square and headed up to George C. White's farmhouse in rural Connecticut. It was there that his Tony Award-winning play, The House of Blue Leaves, came to life.

"We all went up on the bus and we said, 'Is this like the fresh air fund?' We didn't know what is was," Guare said.

The history surrounding that era was murky for aspiring playwrights. Guare described is at as a time where Off-Broadway was "too big a dream" and there was "no theatre to be part of." It was the creation of the O' Neill Center that helped fill the absence of community.

"As a director I think I was so moved by the philosophy at the O'Neill and I think it was in the drinking water," said Lynne Meadow, artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club and director at the National Playwright Conference at the O'Neill. "It was the idea that was imparted to every artist there that the word starts with the playwright... we worshipped the playwright and it was about the playwright."


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