What is the importance of the information provided by Professor Willard in Our Town by Thornton Wilder? How does the audience react to this information?
Professor Willard describes Grover's Corners scientifically: Emily and George are of "brachycephalic" stock; the New Hampshire countryside rests upon "a shelf of Devonian basalt."
The Stage Manager in Our Town by Thornton Wilder provides background information for the town. All towns across the United States have geographic differences, diversity in cultures, immigrants from around the world—the Stage Manager at every opportunity points out the similarities between Grover’s Corners and all of the other little towns in and around the United States in 1901.
This kind of theater was experimental. It was unique in American Drama. It was praised and awarded for its daring. No other play had tried to encompass all of these interesting and fun elements before. No scenery, no properties, pantomiming in regular life, a Stage Manager in front of the curtain—this was untried territory. It was so thrilling and so moving to see the progression through life of these two wonderful young people without the need for all the properties, just two human beings falling in love.
What was the purpose of Professor Willard and his mini-lecture?
One of the ways that Stage Manager informs the audience is to ask one of the local experts Professor Willard from the State University to discuss to the “scientific account” and the specific geographical makeup of the area and the history of the people. The professor knows much more than the Stage Manager wants him to share. He points out geological composition of the New Hampshire area.
Professor Willard mentions that the town is very homogeneous: nearly all the residents are white— He also discloses that current population comes from English brachiocephalic stock. His reference meant that most of the people who settled in the area in the 17th century were from Nordic stock. They were blonde haired and blue eyed.
The professor further points out that at one time the area had been populated by the Native American Cotahatchee tribes. Wilder was again making a social comment that the ancestors had replaced and probably extinguished the Native American tribe.
Yes… anthropological data: Early Amerindian stock. Cotahatchee tribes…no evidence before the tenth century of this era…hm…now entirely disappeared…possible traces in three families.
There were only about three families left that could trace their origin to the Native Americans. He also adds that the population is fairly constant: when someone is born, then someone usually dies.
The reaction of the audience
Unless the audience is really into geological and anthropological information, there was probably little reaction to the information that the good professor provided. Having seen the play presented, the Professor himself provides the humor because he is a “typical, nerdy, stuffy, into himself” type that really does not like for the Stage Manager to interrupt him, let alone dismiss him in the middle of his lecture.
The Professor’s lecture enables the Stage Manager to cover all conceivable kinds of information about a town and its citizenry. From the buildings to the graveyard, the Stage Manager fills in the gaps for our town.