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Classier British Imports

May 10, 1987

Dan Sullivan suggests that the reason British actors excel American actors is that we have no Royal Shakespeare or National Theatre in this country ("Bloody Good Showing" May 3).

What nonsense. British actors excelled long before there was a Royal Shakespeare or the National Theatre.

There are countless fine theaters in this country where American actors can learn their craft as British actors do, by acting the classics. But unfortunately, American producers of nationally endowed nonprofit regional theaters do not "nurture" actors. They nurture the playwright, director and the designer, and engage actors to serve this elite corps.

It is only the wicked commercial Broadway producer that dares to "star" an actor and sell tickets on the actor's "name," for they are the only producers who know that audiences buy tickets to see actors act.

The British theater, equally in the throes of the director/designer elite, nevertheless respects and promotes actors, for they know that, apart from musicals, that's what the public comes to see.

We have been reading recently from American critics how wonderful Anthony Hopkins was in "Pravda," and now as Antony and Lear at the National Theatre. How many people remember that Hopkins played Prospero in "The Tempest" at the Mark Taper a few years ago? How many people knew he was in it when he did? How many ads for theater in The Times list the names of the actors?

As long as American producers continue to show so little respect for the importance of the actor in a stage production, British actors will continue to excel in a country where the art of acting is still held in high esteem.


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