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Chaos & Order: Making American Theatre cover photo

Chaos & Order: Making American Theatre 2005

Recommended with Reservations

Distributed by Distributed by Films Media Group, PO Box 2053, Princeton, New Jersey 08543-2053; 800-257-5126
Produced by Produced by Mary Cardaras
Directed by Directed by Tim Jackson
DVD, color, 88 min.



Sr. High - Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 11/29/2006

ALA Notable:
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Beth Kattelman, The Ohio State University, Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute

Chaos and Order explores the founding and history of the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.), one of the most respected arts institutions in the United States. A.R.T. is the only not-for-profit theatre in America associated with a major university (Harvard) that maintains a resident acting company. It continues to develop exciting and innovative theatre to this day. This documentary, narrated by Cherry Jones, incorporates historical information about the institution, footage of current rehearsals and interviews with major theatre artists who have been associated with A.R.T. including F. Murray Abraham, Andrei Serban, Anne Bogart, Robert Woodruff (A.R.T. Artistic Director) and Robert Brustein (A.R.T. Founding Director).

The video is divided into various sections, each focusing upon a different topic related to the A.R.T. The section on “The Director,” for example, highlights Andre Serban’s direction of Pericles at A.R.T. Serban is known as one of the premiere re-interpreters of Shakespeare’s texts for contemporary audiences, and he is a frequent director at A.R.T. This section provides a bit of insight into Serban’s rehearsal process and into the way he interacts with actors using interviews with Serban and his actors that are inter-cut with footage of rehearsals. Another section, “Theatre, Politics and Religion,” gives a brief history of the anti-theatrical bias that was prevalent in Boston (and Harvard) in the late 1600s, and the Puritan and political influences that have shaped the struggle to create art and theatre through to the present day. Other sections cover such topics as: “The A.R.T. and Harvard,” “Artists Behind the Scenes,” and “The Future.” The documentary maintains a good balance of historical information, interviews and actual scenes of artists working on the production.

The documentary provides a good overview of the A.R.T.’s creation, mission and current status as an arts institution. It also offers an excellent discussion of the practical aspects and economic challenges facing the contemporary theatre and provides a great deal of philosophical reflection on the purpose and value of art. These are perhaps its strongest assets.

This video would be most useful those who already have an interest in theatre, but are at the beginning of their theatre studies; thus, the video is recommended primarily for high school libraries and libraries that are associated with undergraduate theatre programs. The information presented is useful, but would not be new or of much interest to those who already have a strong background in theatre studies. The documentary would also be particularly useful for anyone studying the work of Andrei Serban since most of the footage and the interviews center around his production of Pericles. The video, sound and editing quality of the video are excellent. There are no subtitle options.