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Arthur Miller’s The Price

Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: Designer Statements

Posted on: April 3rd, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Set model for Arthur Miller's THE PRICE

DEREK MCLANE — SET DESIGN
The Price takes in the late 1960s and, interestingly, Arthur Miller said that this play was his response to the Vietnam War. The setting is located in an attic apartment in an Upper West Side brownstone that is going to be torn down so that new high rises can be built. It is where the father of Victor and Walter used to live. The house now contains an enormous furniture collection. The furniture collection comes from the early 1900s, and the story of the play centers around the value of this furniture collection, so we have to see it. Victor wants to sell the furniture, and a big chunk of the play is the negotiation for the price of this furniture. What’s interesting about the furniture collection is what the furniture dealer, Solomon, says about it -- that it’s out of date. It’s actually not worth that much. Victor and his wife, Esther, think the furniture is worth a huge amount of money, but in fact it’s outdated because of its scale. It’s too big for most modern apartments. The value of the furniture also speaks to the feeling of an end of era in this play. I wanted to give the audience the sense of the attic being at the very top of the house and how that relates to the surrounding skyline of an older New York City neighborhood. There are no walls to this attic. There’s a roof and a floor and the roof floats over the floor. The audience sees other rooftops from the surrounding buildings as well as the sky. I tried to create an exaggerated sense of height, so the audience will get the feeling of a precipice. I wanted the audience to be aware subliminally that things are about to change. It’s not a literal set at all, but it has all the things that are called for in the text. It has stairs coming up from below, and it has the furniture that’s referred to in the story, but it’s opened up in a way that gives it a larger — and perhaps more poetic — meaning.

SARAH HOLDEN — COSTUME DESIGN

Costume renderings for Arthur Miller's THE PRICE

When I first read The Price, I was struck by the deep and complicated relationships among these four people. Although the play takes place over just a few hours on one day, it is infused with a much larger history—the history between two brothers and between a husband and wife combined with the literal history of a lifetime accumulation of furniture, possessions, and memories. The history that gets in the way of them being able to talk honestly and openly with each other. Even Solomon, the one character who is unknown to the other three, comes in with his own messy and tangled human story. Designing costumes for The Price began with getting to know these four characters. Talking with director Terry Kinney about who they are, how they relate to each other, and what the stakes are for each of them on this day. The next step was diving into the research. Finding their world by reading plenty of magazines from the late ‘60s, searching through catalogues and learning everything I could about the NYPD uniforms circa 1968. For me, the most interesting challenge was making sure these characters onstage simply look like real people wearing real clothes. This involved talking to each actor and beginning that collaboration, which continues through the fitting process and all the way to the costumes onstage. If I did my job well, the audience will forget about the costumes and just see Victor, Esther, Walter, and Solomon, who have met up in an attic apartment on this day bringing with them both their histories and their hopes.

DAVID WEINER — LIGHTING DESIGN
I am completely thrilled to be designing the lighting for Arthur Miller’s The Price. What makes this opportunity so compelling for me is how Miller masterfully renders a landscape of memory within the literal landscape of Victor and Walter’s familial past — their childhood attic, littered with relics that bring painful memories into sharp focus. My challenge is to use the lighting to render a visual world that enhances Miller’s writing with the same sense of dramatic poetry. Derek McLane has designed a stunning deconstructed attic in which the outside world bleeds into the inside. They are both separate and one. We are surrounded by the skyline of late 1960s New York, where the play takes place over a couple of continuous hours one fall evening. By using time of day as a mechanism for delivering light into the space — a giant sculpture comprised of assembled furniture pieces — I hope to illustrate and sharpen the emotional journey that the two brothers make during their reunion after being long estranged. As Miller unravels their relationship in front of us, we will descend through sunset into night penetrating the attic with the light of waning sun and moonlight. Shafts of light will carve up Derek’s attic sculpture, bringing specific relics of Victor and Walter’s past into focus to help illustrate their emotional journey – a harp, their father’s chair, an armoire filled with their mother’s gowns, an old Victrola. The trick will be for the lighting to enhance the storytelling in a subliminal way, so that the audience is never aware that their attention is being directed by the light even though it is.

JESSE TABISH — ORIGINAL MUSIC
I was familiar with other Arthur Miller plays, but, to be honest, I had never heard of The Price. I was immediately engaged and found it deeply human. It's deceiving at first because of the simple, plain talk and domestic setting — but, as the play unfolds, the characters start to unearth themselves as they recall their own versions of the past. A creeping tension builds and builds. There's no big bam ending, which I loved. Real life stuff. The research I did in order to compose music was looking up old interviews of Arthur Miller where he talks about life and his work. I even tried sneaking some of that audio into the music! Not sure if it will make the cut though. Initially I had written several pieces that in retrospect came off as too gloomy/dramatic/ sad. After talking with Terry Kinney, the director, we realized that there was much more love and lightness in the play. So, for me the challenge composing this score became balancing tension and human fragility without coming across too epic or sad. I hope I have achieved this. I'm so honored to be a small part apart of this production with its amazing cast, crew, and director.

ROB MILBURN AND MICHAEL BODEEN — SOUND DESIGN
During discussions with our director, Terry Kinney, he described the aural landscape of The Price as subtle, spare, super real, and dreamlike. The play embraces both the joy and unreliability of memory. There are also two key aural moments in it that are written in the stage directions by Miller and are the first sounds we hear in the play, even before we hear an actor speak. The first one is the plucking of a single harp string by Victor, creating a heavenly, light sound that resonates against all the large old furniture stacked in a dark attic. The second thing we hear is a record on a wind-up Victrola. The needle is dropped onto a slightly scratchy record. The song is an upbeat and happy vaudevillian tune sung in a back and forth manner by two male singers. We immediately have a sense of nostalgia of a happier time. It connects to this attic of memory again in a contrasting way -- light and upbeat versus dark and solemn -- but now there are two voices. The first record is almost immediately replaced by a second, where we hear a trumpet, then a woman laughing, then a man laughing. They laugh hysterically. It's a cacophonous trio. It is a surreal moment, as if in a dream, a memory of past good times but skewed by the strangeness of the voices we hear from the Victrola. Derek McLane's beautiful set includes a skyline of the Upper West Side in the late 1960s that surrounds the attic. The spare sounds of the outside world will reinforce David Weiner's lighting gestures, and the subtle use of composed music by Jesse Tabish will float through the space like a distant memory.


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage


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Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: American Consumerism

Posted on: April 1st, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Photo by Joan Marcus

In The Price, the Franz family is forced to deal with the practical and emotional results of financial decisions made during the Great Depression. The play takes place in 1968, and money dominates the conversation. But the value of money changes over time. Today, the $1200 that Solomon offers Victor for the family’s old furniture isn’t worth what it was in 1968. And in 1968, that $1200 wasn’t worth what it was in the 1920s, when the furniture was new.

  • Let’s break down the relative value of some important numbers in the play.
  • $1 in 1934 would have the purchasing power of $2.60 in 1968, and $17.70 today.
  • The Franz dining room table cost $1200 or $1300 in 1921. That’s the equivalent of spending about $15,900 to $17,200 today. The family was well off back then!
  • Victor asked Walter for $500 to finish his college degree in 1938. In today’s dollars that’s equivalent to $7,100.
  • Solomon offers Victor $1200 for the family’s old furniture. Today, that’s equivalent to $8,170.
  • Walter tells Victor they should donate the furniture, and he’ll write it off on his taxes, then they’ll split the tax savings. That savings—$6000 in 1968—is equivalent to $40,900 today.

The relative value of money isn’t the only thing that has changed in the past 80 years. What Americans spend money on has also changed dramatically. The amount of money available for discretionary spending increased markedly during the twentieth century, both across the nation and in New York City specifically. This opened the door for the rise in consumerism, which helped shift how we, as human beings, assess our purpose and value in society.

Back in 1934, the average NYC family spent 76.2% of their household income on basic necessities: food, clothing, and shelter. Around the time the play takes place, in NYC only 64.2% of income was spent on the basics. In 2003, that number had dropped to 56.7%.

The United States’ early economic system was agrarian, or farm-based. Most of what was consumed--food, cloth, furniture, tools, etc.—was produced on the farm or acquired from other locals through a bartering system. Unnecessary purchases weren’t an option. Thrift, frugality, and efficiency were valued. Religion also played a role in shaping American ideas about consumption: Puritans, Quakers, and others believed that emphasis on luxury or material goods distracted from the proper focus on God, and some even regulated what congregation members could purchase or wear.

Three important things happened in the late nineteenth century that changed American consumer behavior.

  1. Factories, in which goods could be mass produced, were developed.
  2. Millions of people immigrated, creating a large pool of low-cost labor for those factories.
  3. The government invested in transportation infrastructure like railroads, making it easier to move goods across the nation.

Suddenly, there were inexpensive goods available for purchase, and wage-earners, no matter where they came from or their social class, could aspire to own them. Everyone could work towards a lifestyle of security, comfort, and beauty. In many ways mass production was a democratizing force. It also created the current definition of a healthy economy: in order to sustain production and employment, more consumer demand for goods had to be created.

Newspapers and magazines, which became cheap and widely available in the late nineteenth century, put advertisements in front of the American public. The number of advertisements produced annually quadrupled between 1914 and 1929, the years Victor and Walter were growing up. Beginning in 1922, many of these ads ran on the radio, a new invention.

The U.S. became a nation of boundless acquisition of things. People began to measure success through acquisition of material goods, rather than through educational, creative, or professional achievement, civic contributions, or family or community engagement.

The Great Depression and WWII shifted the U.S. away from a focus on economic growth. But after the war U.S. citizens went on a production and consumption binge, eager to shake off years of depression and wartime rationing. Consumer spending, which helped the economy, was considered patriotic. The rise of suburbia, fueled by the G.I. Bill’s home loan program, encouraged purchase of cars and household appliances.

In order to keep the need for consumer goods high, products became, as Solomon puts it, “disposable,” through planned obsolescence or change in fashion. Television became popular in the 1950s, exposing American families to more advertising than ever before—advertising that encouraged them to keep up with changing fashions and new conveniences. By 1968, the United States was the most materially-rich society in world history.


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

 


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage


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Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: Watch, Read, Listen

Posted on: March 21st, 2017 by Rory McGregor

 

Arthur Miller is a playwright who needs no introduction. One of the great American playwrights of the Twentieth Century, his canon, which is stock full of classics, includes All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955). Tony Award nominated Arthur Miller’s The Price which received its premiere in 1968 remains a lesser known play of Miller’s work, but it is a taught and electrifying family drama which blows open our relationship to money and to each other. Our revival at the American Airlines stars Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny Devito. Terry Kinney directs one of Arthur Miller’s most personal plays; a riveting story about the struggle to make peace with the past and create hope for the future. Join us for another installment of To Read/Watch/Listen and delve further into the world of the play.

 

TO WATCH

Arthur Miller on Charlie Rose (1992)

Fancy getting to know one of the great American minds of play writing a little better? You can’t go wrong with this 1992 interview that Miller had with Charlie Rose where the conversation explores the full range of Miller’s work. Delve into Miller’s brain in this truly insightful interview.

Crash Course History

Arthur Miller’s The Price is a play steeped in history. It was written and opened in 1968, at the end of an era full of promise, of hope and change. However, the final year of the era, 1969, is famous for being fraught with uncertainty, loss of belief in the system and despair. With the Tet Offensive, the American people for the first time learnt that they were not winning the Vietnam War, both Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy were assassinated and there were protests and rioting all across the country. The desire for economic stability that some of the characters in The Price therefore are understandable, as the country was going through these massive structural changes.

On top of this, the spectre of the Great Depression runs deep in this play, Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) makes many references to his fear that his father was going to fall into financial distress as a result of the Great Depression, and sacrificed his dreams so he could support him.

If you need a quick refresher on either the context of the Sixties or to get more information about the Great Depression, you can’t really do better than the ‘Crash Course’ history video series.  Short, informative but grossly entertaining too, John Green (better known as the author of The Fault in Our Stars) hosts these quick bite-sized history videos. Worth a watch!

 

TO READ/LISTEN

‘Are You Now or Were You Ever?’

As Miller describes in his interview with Charlie Rose, there is a moral backbone to all of his work, and it can most definitely be felt in The Price. He believed that it was the playwright’s duty to hold society accountable to some degree. The most prominent example of where his personal and professional life overlapped was with the House of Un-American Activities. In this article which was published in the Guardian in 2000, Miller describes the wave of Anti-Communism that swept through America in the 1950s, and how it destroyed his friendship and professional relationship with the noted director Elia Kazan.

The OKeh Laughing Record (1922)

Perhaps somewhat unsettling and unusual to modern audiences, Victor comes across a record at the beginning of the play of two people laughing seemingly naturally and uncontrollably. It seems strange and somewhat unbelievable to us today that someone would pay for a record of people just laughing, but it was a fad that caught on in the 20s and actually saw a resurgence in subsequent decades. The original recording of two people laughing was the OKeh Laughing Record of 1922, which spawned many copycats and they even released records of other human functions, such as a coughing record and even a record where someone uncontrollably sobbed. For more information on the history of this fascinating historical object, read more on the Library of Congress’ page.

 


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price


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