Legendary playwright lectures on free speech

Wednesday, March 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:33 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

For a man who was kicked out of all but one school he attended, playwright Edward Albee has proved his literary abilities.

Albee, winner of three Pulitzer Prizes and two Tony Awards, spoke at Jesse Hall Tuesday evening. He was invited by MU’s Center for the Literary Arts' Master Class Series.

His lecture focused on how the arts are intended to teach people how to become responsible citizens and to reflect how people truly are.

Albee said creating art is what separates humans from all other animals and is connected to evolution.

He said that he thinks that “somewhere along the line, our tails fell off, and we grew art.”

Since he was 8, Albee said he wanted to become a writer. He tried poetry, novels, short stories and essays, achieving merely competence in the two latter forms, until he stumbled upon plays.

His well-known play “The Zoo Story” was actually not his first play. He wrote a “three-act sex farce,” which his mother threw out, and because it no longer exists, he said that he chooses not to count it as his first. He has written 28 plays since.

At Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., the only school from which Albee earned a degree, he said that he learned the value of self-education and how to gracefully make a fool of himself, a skill necessary for the performing arts.

Despite the array of countries he’s visited and writers he’s met, Albee said he would prefer to be a writer in the United States because of the freedom to think and experience any art a person chooses.

Albee said he feels that his right is being threatened by the government.

He said he thinks that in a democratic society, self-censorship is the “most dangerous” form of censorship and that the arts still need to teach us a sense of responsibility to ourselves, others and our country.

For Albee’s parting words, he said Americans should never forget that they can have whatever they want, but they always end up with exactly what they deserve.

At that point, the members of the audience that filled more than two-thirds of Jesse Auditorium sprung to their feet.

Albee, 75, is visiting MU through Friday. He will stop by theater classrooms and critique readings of his plays.

At 1:30 p.m. Friday there will be a staging of Albee’s “The Zoo Story” at the Rhynsburger Theatre.

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