D'YE Ken the Kanins?
First there's Michael, who won his Oscar as coauthor with Ring Lardner Jr. for "Women of the Year."
Then there's Fay, Michael's wife, who won an Emmy for "Friendly Fire" and is president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, better known as Oscar's parent.
Then there's Garson, Michael's younger brother, who won his Oscar for "The True Glory" and whose about-to-be miniseries, "Moviola," prompted his best seller of that title.
Then there's Ruth, Garson's wife, actress-writer Ruth Gordon, that is, who won her Oscar for "Rosemary's Baby" and is still acting after making her stage bow with Maude Adams in "Peter Pan" in the 1915 revival.
Then there's Josh, son of Michael and Fay, who is a film editor and cinema professor, and another Ruth, young Michael's aunt, who used her stage experience to become a psycotherapist.
When Michael's and Garson's mother died last December at age 89, her obituary appeared in the show biz papers, "though she never appeared professionally on any stage or before any camera." Still, with her builder-husband David, Sadie Kanin had spawned a theatrical industry.
This report is centered on Michael, whose years of heading the American College Theater Festival's Playwriting Program were to be saluted Friday night with a citation in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, where the festival continues through May 11.
Having created this unexpected aspect of college theater activity, Michael is giving up his trail-blazing role to concentrate on still another career.
Some years ago, as a painter, Michael branched out into sculpting and came up with a rare specialty. Using basically copper and his very personal sense of humor, Michael has been creating figures of the century's great comics in action, and now will start a new career with them in his 70s.
The family's all in favor and while one always senses a rivalry between the award-winning brothers, 66-year-old Garson has now another family reference when he talks, as he has on hundreds of TV shows, about creativity among those presumed to have passed their prime. Garson can point not only to his octogenarian actress-writer wife, Ruth, but also to his imaginative elder brother.
Michael first discovered the American College Theater Festival in its first Year, when it included 6 productions of "Roshomon," which Fay wrote.
To one of these at Rio Hondo, its director, Jean Korf, invited the Kanins. (Tonight Korf is to present an award to Burr Tillstrom -- and his handpuppet pals, Kukla and Ollie -- during Irene Ryan Night of Scenes on the Center Theater stage.)
Impressed by what she had experienced during her guest-starring campus appearances, actress Peggy Wood created the festival to display young talents, but only in existing plays.To outsider Kanin this had the effort of "discouraging" plawrights.
"I saw it as a problem and an opportunity," he says. "It is not enough to teach some to write a play; the manuscript of a play basically is a blueprint of a walking, talking, breathing organism. If colleges could be induced to produce the work of student playwrights more often that would not only enrich the festival but in time would increase the general effectiveness of playwriting education and training."
Kanin had a lot of people to convince: festival officials, its parent body, the American Theater Association, hundreds of academics, the sponsoring Kennedy Center's Roger L. Stevens and the executive producer of ACTF, and the late Frank Cassidy.
With his experience, Kanin did something even more practical, pointing out potential collaborating advantages to such organizations as Dramatists Guild, the William Morris Agency and publisher Samuel French, Inc.
Washington sees only eight of the close-on 500 productions created across America during a college year, of which this year three are originals. Perspective is needed by audiences to appreciate what are not finished or fully satisfying plays.
For college theater is not professional theater, which, for that matter, isn't always professional theater either.
All the usual lapses -- from writing and direction to acting and technical matters -- are magnified. And while professors almost habitually scorn commercial theater, they have the same tyrannical cruelties, pretentions and sloppiness found most places in the profession. There's as much politics, pettiness and nagging jealousies here as lies outside academe.
But there also can be an encouraging, patient and enveloping atmosphere with mature individual talents and that team spirit as vital to theatrical disciplines as it is to athletics. One can sit before these plays and find arresting details which only can be practiced before audiences, not in theoretical classrooms. Do not expect finished work; stretch the imagination to find seeds of the future.
Kanin doesn't consider his work with ACTF completed by any means. For its various boards he's compiled a list of 40 "suggestions," furthering what he already has begun, or sketching ideas. These range from special prizes for mutsical, racial and sexual topics to national tours, new funding sources, judging, all accenting the "festival" idea or mere "competition."
"We barely scratched the surface, muses Kanin, "and there has been a subtle sea change, a trasmutation of the college theater from the strictly educational to a new kind of community theater."
"Starting with excellent facilities and equipment, with funding from their institutions and with audiences to be drawn from student bodies and surrounding communities, there is a seed-bed for talents and audiences of the future.They'll take time to develop, these farm teams for the big leagues, but doesn't everything?"
Now for those marvelous copper figurines.