Posted by Hannah Miller
Welcome to the third Word of the Week. From March 3 until 7, I had the chance to spend my Junior Work Week volunteering at Barksdale. It was a great experience being with the staff for five days. Phil, Brad and Janine (my supervisors) let me spend a full day and a half working on this column. Thanks to Barksdale’s accounting, marketing, development and costume staffs for letting me share their offices.
This week’s theatre artist is EDWARD ALBEE, and the word is BANDY.
Edward Albee is often named as America’s greatest living playwright. His credo is that each of his plays should “bring its audience some special sense of awareness of the times.” He celebrated his 80th birthday this past week on March 12.
Edward Albee was adopted into an affluent family and lived a pampered childhood as the grandson of a vaudeville producer. He did not have an admirable school record. After getting kicked out of a boarding school and a military academy for bad conduct, he finally found his place at Choate where he discovered his love for writing. He wrote many poems, short stories, a play and a novel, working sometimes for 18 hours a day.
After graduating from Choate, Albee left home and spent a decade studying at several universities, working a variety of jobs, and attending theatre as often as possible. During a state of depression, he wrote his first successful play, The Zoo Story. Originally rejected in New York for being too “experimental,” the play was recognized by reader after reader and finally premiered in Berlin in 1959.
Albee then went on to write other plays that proved to be controversial in many quarters. In the preface to the first published edition of The American Dream, which was written to bring attention to the shortcomings of American values, Albee wrote that the play was "a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen. Is it offensive? I certainly hope so; it was my intention to offend ... as well as amuse and entertain.”
In 1962, Albee created even more controversy with his most successful play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which he received a Drama Desk and Tony Award. Though he was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, the controversy kept him from winning.
In 1961, Albee helped found the Playwrights Unit. This project was meant to provide a jump-start to young, inexperienced playwrights, an opportunity that he did not have when he wrote The Zoo Story.
In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, when Nick tells George that he isn’t planning on working as a professor forever, George replies, “Well don’t let that get BANDIED about. The old man wouldn’t like it. Martha’s father expects loyalty and devotion out of his…staff.”
BANDY – (ˈban-dē) verb – to bat (as a ball) to and fro, or
to discuss back and forth in a casual or offhand manner—often used with about
The verb, to bandy, comes from the game of Bandy, which began as an open air, warm weather sport in which opposing teams try to take control of the ball and land it in their opponent’s goal. In Romeo and Juliet, Act III Scene 1, Shakespeare writes, “The Prince expressly hath forbidden Bandying in the Verona streets.”
Some time in the 18th century, the warm weather version of the sport became better known as Field Hockey, and the winter version, played on frozen lakes and fens, took over the name Bandy. Ice Hockey, played in a smaller rink and with a puck instead of a ball, was developed in Nova Scotia in the 19th century. But it was in the 20th century that the verb to bandy first fell into popular usage, usually associated with the back and forth tossing of ideas or gossip.
George makes a great deal of Nick’s athletic prowess throughout Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? Perhaps that’s why Albee had George, a professor who obviously relishes language, use a quasi-athletic term to describe Nick's idle chitchat.
Edward Albee is continuing to work in the theatre today. In honor of his 80th birthday, several of his plays are being performed Off-Broadway, including The American Dream and The Sandbox. Both of these are directed by, who else? -- Albee himself!
Postscript - I was in Lancaster PA last night watching Hannah Zold's TERRIFIC performance in All Shook Up at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, when the character of Dennis used the word bunk, not once but several times, to describe the life philosophies espoused by the leading character Chad. Bunk, of course, is the shortened version of our first Word of the Week, buncombe.