My way of writing plays involves the birds coming home to roost. It's also the Greek way, and Ibsen's way. It's about challenges that were not met when they came up and so those challenges return and haunt people. History is of the essence in that form.
I'm so old now that it's appalling to me that people forget ninety-eight percent of what I remember. There seems to be no past in America except that we have to pledge allegiance. The current dramatic forms don't have much past; they are more like movies. In movies we rarely ask ourselves about the past of the character. A few quick references are enough. In the older forms, what I think of as the dramatic forms of theater, you spend a third of the work dealing with the past; whether it be Shakespeare's work or almost any you can mention. The past has gone out of the theater. We're writing films on the stage.
I cannot accept that each man is an island and that literature, theater, is something done altogether for the pleasure of the artist and altogether to divert people from real life. I think that there is a mission. It may be terribly subtle, it may be buried deep, but literature has a job that has to do with the way we live, the way we organize ourselves. That is why I find it inescapable that I should be involved in thinking about politics and thinking about society. I think that it is all one piece. In most of the history of literature this question would never even have arisen. It wouldn't have arisen for Shakespeare, whom we regard as the purest of artists. He was up to his neck in Elizabethan politics. After all, what are those kings fighting about?
"There is a misunderstanding about what political theater really is. That's why I object to people like Richard Schechner going back to the agitprop of the thirties. In 1968, I went around campaigning for McCarthy, and during my speeches I talked in specific political terms. But when I write a play, I'm interested in changing the way people look at themselves and the way they look at life. I have never written a play that was not in its essence political. But we don't need an attack on the specific or the conscious. We need an attack on the unconscious."I daresay I could write a play attacking Nixon. But we all hope that he will go away in '72, so it would be a play with no interest after '72. And why write a play about the shooting of Martin Luther King? Isn't it better to write about the mentality which allows that shooting to take place? When you've got a society that's so uptight that all it cares about is self preservation, it's far more important to write about that situation than to make specific attacks on Nixon and the ghettos. Nixon and the ghettos are particular horrors that have come about because people are so closed down about themselves. If we can get them to be open about themselves, the rest will come automatically.
Serious theater is meant to change people, to change their perception of themselves.