To Inherit the Wind: Margo Jones as Director
Housley, Helen Marie
Gillespie, Patti P.
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Margo Jones was an important force in the American theatre. Noted as theatrical producer, nurturer of new playwrights, initiator of professional arena staging, and founder of the regional theatre movement, Jones directed over a hundred plays in Houston, Dallas, and on Broadway. Yet no study has examined her directing methods and their implications. Margo Jones' directorial relationship to the script, actors, designers, stage, and critics was examined and evaluated using correspondence, promptbooks, interviews, reviews, and published works. Directing provided Margo Jones with the link to accomplish two essential goals she set for herself: to decentralize the American theatre and to promote new plays and playwrights. The playwright was central in Margo Jones’ theatre. She directed only "originals'' and "classics," espousing the playwright 's cause by directing over fifty new scripts during her eight-year tenure in Dallas. For Jones, the actor was the primary communicator of the playwright's text and the focus of the staged play. Jones preferred simple scenic design, using light and sound to stimulate the audience's imagination and relying on the actors and text to do the rest. For Jones, the production was a collaboration between director and actors, exploring characters creatively and developing blocking organically from the words and ideas the playwright provided. Margo Jones' reputation as director was forged with her innovative development of a language and method for directing in-the-round. Her work on Broadway's proscenium stages, however, was beset by difficulties with playwrights, actors, and critics. Jones decried the commercial theatre and its reliance on critics and long runs for success. The Broadway model was anathema to this director who enjoyed the theatrical process so much so that she directed a play every two weeks during her seasons in Dallas. Margo's work as director offers two fertile areas for further research: First, her directorial methods appear similar to recently identified female-specific strategies of communication and the directing techniques of contemporary female directors. Secondly, her innovative methods pointed directions to be taken during the theatrical renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s.