The Legacy of Samuel Beckett

Date: 13/12/2002

The Sydney Festival, with its vibrant music, dynamic theatre performances and colourful exhibitions, might seem an odd place to discuss the theme of waiting.

But from January 6 to 9 next year, more than 130 of the world's leading scholars will gather in Sydney to debate the legacy of Nobel Prize-winning author and playwright, Samuel Beckett.

The convenor of the Samuel Beckett International Symposium after Beckett d'après Beckett, Dr Anthony Uhlmann from the University of Western Sydney, says the event coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Irishman's signature play, Waiting for Godot.

"Beckett re-invented modern theatrical productions. Godot was unique, in that there was no linear progression of the plot - it's circular," Dr Uhlmann says.

"The play created a cult following in Paris when it opened half-a-century ago, and has changed the face of twentieth century theatre, writing and philosophy."

Dr Uhlmann says one of the guest speakers at the Symposium witnessed the birth of the phenomenon.

"Ruby Cohn was one of 30 reviewers who attended the preview performance of Godot on January 4, 1953, a day before its public debut," Dr Uhlmann says.
"She went on to develop a close friendship with Beckett, and wrote several leading books about him, including Samuel Becket: A Collection of Criticism, Back to Beckett, Casebook on Waiting for Godot and, most recently, A Beckett Canon," he says.

"She is an internationally-renowned expert on Beckett, and her appearance at this Symposium is a real coup."

Dr Uhlmann says one of the world's leading theatre practitioners, Professor Herbert Blau, will also add his own unique perspective to the debate.

Professor Blau co-founded the Actors Workshop of San Francisco in 1952, and later became its director.

"In 1957, he took Waiting for Godot to California's maximum security San Quentin prison in one of the first theatrical performances of its type to take place in a US jail.

"Prison psychologists were concerned the 'depressing' nature of the material could be traumatic for the inmates, but the prison warden gave the final clearance."

Dr Uhlmann says the production was a hit.

"The language of the play, the character's names and the theme of waiting struck a real chord with the inmates. The production was very well received, and had a lasting impact," he says.

"Professor Blau helped the prisoners establish their own drama group, the San Quentin Players, and following their release they toured the world during the 1980s. Beckett's plays helped reform the inmates, some of whom were sentenced to serious crimes like murder.

"He later went on to meet Beckett, and worked with experimental theatre before becoming a theorist. His published works include The Audience, To All Appearances: Ideology and Performance, and Sails of the Herring Fleet: Essays on Beckett," Dr Uhlmann says.

Professor Blau will share his observations and expertise in a public lecture on Beckett at the Sydney Town Hall on January 8, 2003. He'll be joined by noted French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray (via video conference from France) and dual Booker Prize-winning novelist, J.M. Coetzee.

Dr Uhlmann says more than 130 local and international Beckett scholars will attend the Symposium.

"Ruby Cohn will join other leading Beckett academics, including H. Porter Abbott, Mary Bryden, Bruno Clement, Steven Connor, Colin Duckworth, Gerry Dukes, Stan Gontarski, Peggy Phelan and Mariko Tanaka.

Beckett's legacy to the arts is truly international. We have delegates coming from Ireland, France, North America, the UK and Australia, but also surprisingly from Iran, Jordan, India, Israel, Austria, South Africa, Romania, Argentina, Germany, Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore," Dr Uhlmann says.

In addition to the Symposium and public lecture, the Sydney Theatre Company and Company B Belvoir will stage performances of two of Beckett's best-known works, Endgame and Waiting for Godot as part of the Sydney Festival.

"This is one of the largest international humanities conferences ever held in Australia, with some of the world's most respected academics in attendance. Many were personally known to Beckett, and helped elevate the quiet Irishman to one of the most written-about Western authors after Shakespeare," Dr Uhlmann says.

Note: Ruby Cohn and Professor Herbert Blau will be available for interview prior to the start of the Symposium.

Tickets for the public lecture are available through Ticketek on 02-9266 4826, while tickets for the Symposium (including day rates) can be purchased through the conference website:

Concession rates are available for UWS Staff.

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Angela McIntyre, Senior Media Officer - 02-9852 5822 or 0419 244 595
Mikael Kjaerbye, Media Manager - 02-9852 5821 or 0405 356 021