PETER SELLARS is going to need all the luck he can get in his attempt to create an American National Theater at the Kennedy Center comparable to such distinguished institutions as Britain's National Theatre and the French Academie Francaise. Luck and much, much more.
First he will need money, of course, for there is no thought that the American National Theater would be self-supporting. He will also need that blend of talent and ideas known as inspiration, without which there is no living theater, no art at all. Mr. Sellars is said to possess that happy madness to a fairly awesome degree, and the membership of the theater's artistic board -- 20 men and women ranging from Orson Welles to filmmaker Frederick Wiseman to the performance artist Laurie Anderson, to Richard Foreman, founder and director of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater -- would suggest that audiences at the Eisenhower Theater might wave their goodbyes to traditional Broadway right now.
This latest attempt to create a truly national theater in the United States is a joint project of the American National Theater and Academy and the Kennedy Center, from which it will rent the Eisenhower and Terrace theaters and the seldom-used Theater Lab, which will be renamed the Free Theater for obvious reasons. Its budget for the first year is $6 million, one-third of which is already in hand ($1 million each from the Kennedy Center and ANTA). The rest will come, it is hoped, from public and private grants and the sale of memberships and tickets. Tickets for the productions in the Eisenhower Theater, by the way, will range from $15 to $20, with half-price tickets available to special groups. This is considerably less than current Eisenhower ticket prices. In addition, memberships will be sold next month for $75 and $100 entitling holders to four or six performance passes.
The first production, opening March 23, will be Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part I." Lest this give you a slightly false impression of what's in store, it will be followed a little later by "Come on Over," a previously unproduced comedy about Washington by Mae West. That's right, Mae West. It was found in the Library of Congress. "We can sit here and do 'Masterpiece Theater' or we can do something that will change the status of theater in America," Mr. Sellars told David Richards of this newspaper. We wish him well in this breathtaking adventure.