Considered the greatest success of Samuel Beckett’s career, “Waiting for Godot” premiered on January 5, 1953, at the tiny Theatre de Babylone in Paris. Although critics labeled “Godot” as “the strange little play in which nothing happens,” it gradually became a success through strong word of mouth and eventually ran for 400 performances. Since then, “Godot” has been produced the world over and translated into more than 20 languages. Beckett later won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969.

In the Spark episode “The Art of Interpretation,” the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Paris premiere of “Waiting for Godot” with a new production directed by artistic director Carey Perloff. Abandoning conventional techniques of plot, character, setting and dialogue while distilling life and art to their very essence, “Waiting for Godot,” Perloff believes, is at once an existential vaudeville, an anatomy of a marriage, a plea for resistance and a philosophical meditation on being in the world.

As a former English literature scholar at both Stanford and Oxford, Perloff is well versed in the classics. Her passion for Beckett was sparked by her mother, Marjorie Perloff, who is a renowned Beckett scholar and professor emerita of English at Stanford. Marjorie’s writings on the play expand on Hugh Kenner’s observations that the play resembles Beckett’s experience in the French resistance — part of Beckett’s job was to wait to receive coded messages about German troop movements, translate them, pass them along to a stranger, then continue to wait for the next message.

“The truth is, all of us have spent a good portion of our lives waiting — waiting for something to happen,” says Perloff. “We believe there is a purpose to our existence, but for much of our time on Earth, that true purpose seems mysterious and hidden. The reality that Beckett so brilliantly explores in ‘Godot’ is that while we’re never certain of what is ahead of us at any moment, we go on longing for certainty anyway. That is what it means to be human, and it is what makes the characters in ‘Godot’ so moving: In the bleakest hour in the most desolate landscape, they never give up hope. What better play for this moment in history?”

More about the American Conservatory Theater
Founded in 1965 by William Ball, A.C.T. opened its first San Francisco season at the Geary Theater in 1967. Since then, more than 300 A.C.T. productions have been performed, along the way winning a Tony Award for outstanding theater performance and training. A.C.T.’s conservatory was the first training program in the United States not affiliated with a college or university that is accredited to award a master of fine arts degree. Danny Glover, Annette Bening, Denzel Washington, Benjamin Bratt and Winona Ryder are among the conservatory’s distinguished former students. A.C.T.’s performance, education and outreach programs reach more than 250,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area every year.

A.C.T. and Carey Perloff 5 August,2015Spark

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The Art of Interpretation

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