Monday, March 14, 2016

Jonathan Frid throws shade on Shakespeare, U.S. theater scene

Interviews with the cast of DARK SHADOWS conducted during the show's original broadcast can be a little same-y. These interviews were frequently a mismatched duel, with cast members often propping up journalists who knew next to nothing about the series. You can see some of that below, with the writer shrugging off his ignorance by calling Barnabas Collins a phenomenon of the "teenage set." If you read between the lines, the author is clearly telling the reader "I have absolutely not interest in this crap."

To his credit, though, the writer doesn't let this lack of engagement with the subject act as a barrier for either Jonathan Frid or the reader. The guy practically surrenders the entire interview to Frid, who leads us on a merry tour of his passion for theater, literature and the evolving nature of story. It's an interview that's better than it has any right to be.

"Barnabas Says Theater in U.S. Going Downhill”
July 4, 1968
The Ledger, Columbus, Ga.

By Harry Franklin

“The American theater is doing anything to be different," said Jonathan Frid, Canadian born star of the television series "Dark Shadows," in an interview at a local hotel Wednesday.

“Of course the British are much better at it. They know theater much better than the Americans. There's no getting around it, really. American theater is going down from an old standard, but then, of course, the British theater of the last 50 years has gone down tragically since Elizabeth. It has been going down steadily by some standards.

“All of us have been brought up to believe that the greatest literature in the world, the greatest writing in the English language was Shakespeare's, which automatically means that ever since Shakespeare we have been going downhill.

“The restoration writers were no good, but infinitely better than anything we have today. The 17th and 18th century writers even went down another peg, but still were far and above anything we now have.”

Frid is in Columbus to take part in Fourth of July activities today downtown and at Fort Benning. The television “vampire" has become one of the latest rages among the teenage set.

Jonathan Frid visits with nurses at an Augusta, Ga., hospital during a 1968 promotional tour.

Otherwise known as Barnabas, the 175-year-old vampire, he said that he despises the manner in which most people automatically accept every work of Shakespeare as a masterpiece. “I hate this blind acceptance of Shakespeare," he said. "He wrote some terrible stuff. I have been in lots of plays by Shakespeare. Some of his plays were written for Monday night, for deadlines he had to make. I hate to be called a Shakespearean actor for this reason: I have done a lot of Shakespeare, but some of the dullest roles I've ever played have been of Shakespeare.

"I think this blind adoration of Shakespeare drives me up the wall; this blind acceptance of this ‘god.’ He was a bloody good writer, but he's written some dreadful scenes, some awful garbage.

"Elizabethans were simply fascinated with language, and rightly so. His language was the most exciting thing about Shakespeare. But he, on the other hand, indulged in it sometimes.

“We have a very great difficulty in our day and age to really and truly accept Shakespeare. Where I have come from, we have been taught to come right to the point. A great thing about Americans is to come through with the simplest language, to speak what you have to say as briefly as possible. I was always taught that in school. Whenever a person can say something with the least amount of words, the more intelligent he is. This was not true with Elizabethans. Their whole world, their whole life was words. Shakespeare was uninhibited by this rule we have nowadays. He was never ashamed to say what we could say in three words in three pages. He was free to write anything as a result of this. He wrote some beautiful things that modern playwrights don't dare attempt.

“The reason that we don't need so many words today is because we have so much pictorial language: the motion picture, the photograph — a result of the invention of the still camera. We have become sophisticated viewers whereas in Elizabeth's time they were sophisticated listeners. We're no longer listeners, we're viewers. We see these things spelled out pictorially.

“Pictures have tended to take our attention, our values, our focus away from writing.”

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