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American Theatre Laboratory

 PremiereJanuary 1, 1966

 NotesIn 1966, disenchanted with the pressures of commercial theatre and influenced by the ideas of visionary directors like Peter Brook and Jerzy Grotowski, Jerome Robbins founded the American Theatre Lab to explore what his grant proposal called “total theatre”: a “poetic,” non-realistic meld of acting, dance, singing, performed by a group of actors and dancers in a closed workshop setting. For three years, with the help of seed money from the fledgling National Endowment for the Arts and assisted by Anna Sokolow, Leonard Bernstein, John Guare, and the young Robert Wilson, among others, Robbins worked with this group on a variety of exercises and projects, including a theater piece based on the Warren Commission’s report on the Kennedy assassination, which was presented alternately as a dramatized documentary and as a Noh play, complete with masks. But none of these efforts was given a public airing; and although the idea of a permanent rehearsal had seemed a good idea to Robbins at the beginning, three years without any closure left him “exhausted” and convinced (as he told the critic Clive Barnes) that “I just couldn’t go on that way.” ATL ceased functioning in 1968; but some of the ideas Robbins worked on there can be clearly seen (as he was the first to admit) in his 1972 ballet Watermill.

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