In 1957, four years after its world premiere, Waiting for Godot was staged for one night only at the San Quentin State Prison in California. Samuel Beckett’s two-act play, in which two men wait for someone named Godot to arrive, was directed by Herbert Blau with the San Francisco Actors Workshop. Some 1,400 inmates encountered the performance, which was staged in the dining hall where the prison gallows once stood. Those who were not allowed out of their cells listened to it over loudspeakers, or heard about it from their fellow cellmates.
In the words of Rick Cluchey, one of the inmates who heard the play from his cell, it ‘caused [a] stirring’; ‘My cellmate returned [and] told glowing stories’. He has said that, ‘The thing that everyone in San Quentin understood about Beckett, while the rest of the world had trouble catching up, was what it meant to be in the face of it’.
The production inspired a group of inmates to start their own theatre group, which evolved into the San Quentin Drama Workshop, headed up by Cluchey. In 1961 they staged their own production of Godot, and invited Blau and the actors back to San Quentin. After his release in 1966, Cluchey became a leading interpreter and director of Beckett’s works, as well as a close friend. Cluchey continued the work of the company outside of prison.
This edition of Waiting for Godot is annotated by Beckett for the San Quentin Drama Workshop’s 1984 production, which Beckett supervised for ten days. The production was rehearsed at London’s Riverside Studios before opening at the Adelaide Arts Festival in Australia and later touring Europe. Directed by Walter Asmus, it starred Cluchey as Pozzo, Lawrence Held as Estragon, Bud Thorpe as Vladimir, J Pat Miller as Lucky and Louis Beckett Cluchey as A Boy.
 Rhys Tranter, ‘San Quentin and Samuel Beckett: An Interview with Rick Cluchey’ (15 May 2015) <https://rhystranter.com/2015/05/15/rick-cluchey-san-quentin-drama-workshop-beckett-interview/> [Accessed November 2016].
 Rick Cluchey, quoted by Edward Helmore, ‘Beckett's prison protege: The inmate who became a top interpreter of writer's work’, The Guardian (3 January 2016)<https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/jan/03/samuel-beckett-prison-rick-cluchey-inmate>
- Full title:
- Manuscript annotations by Samuel Beckett in a copy of Waiting for Godot (London, Faber, 1981). This copy was used by Beckett in preparation for production of the play by the San Quentin Drama Workshop at Riverside Studios, London, and subsequently at the Adelaide Arts Festival, March 1984.
- Book / Manuscript annotation
- Samuel Beckett
- Usage terms
Samuel Beckett: © The Estate of Samuel Beckett. The above selected images reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Samuel Beckett c/o Rosica Colin Limited, London.
© Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading
- Held by
- Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading
- MS 3098
- Article by:
- Andrew Dickson
- 20th-century theatre, Capturing and creating the modern, European influence, Power and conflict
Waiting for Godot has been performed in many languages and in many contexts: in prisons, in apartheid South Africa, in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and during the Siege of Sarajevo. Andrew Dickson examines the ways in which Samuel Beckett's play has resonated in different communities and political climates.
- Article by:
- Chris Power
- Capturing and creating the modern, 20th-century theatre, European influence
Chris Power explores how Waiting for Godot resists straightforward interpretation, producing audiences as uncertain as its characters.
- Article by:
- William McEvoy
- Capturing and creating the modern, European influence, 20th-century theatre
The main character in Happy Days is a middle-aged woman inexplicably buried in a mound, first to her waist and then to her neck. William McEvoy discusses how Beckett uses this character and her predicament to explore a recurring interest in his work: the failings of bodies and language.