To the relaxation-inclined,
Like many people, my first exposure to theater came not from any Broadway house but the humbler stages of our local high school. Trust me, you haven’t seen Fiddler on the Roof until you’ve seen my brother in his walk-on-role as a priest! Or Twelve Angry Men performed by twelve not angry so much as angsty boys—in the round!
I’m happy to say, my theatrical horizons have expanded considerably since then, from the mainstream to the avant-garde, Broadway to the Edinburgh Fringe. And while we can rarely go back and see a live performance once it’s over, thanks to the digital archive, we can see what the actors wore, and what their sets looked like.
Mordecai Gorelik, for one, designed sets for the famed Group Theatre, and eventually Hollywood. Over at the CARLI Digital Collections, you can view many of his drawings, including this one from the 1925 modernist play Processional. Take a look, too, at Miami University’s Randy Barceló Collection, featuring drawings by the Cuban-born costume designer behind Jesus Christ Superstar, and many lesser known productions. Below are two costumes he created for a 1994 ballet ¡Si Señor! ¡Es Mi Son!, produced by New York’s Ballet Hispanico. I’d like to see the folks on Project Runway attempt these.
Last but not least, the Motley Collection from U. of Illinois includes many costume and set designs from New York theater, throughout the twentieth century. The image on the left comes from a production of Romeo and Juliet, on the right from Paint Your Wagon.
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Dear idling experts,
I’ve lived in Massachusetts for three Halloweens now, counting tomorrow, but I’ve yet to trek to Salem for their ghoulish festivities. From what I hear, they’re a real hoot—if by hoot, you mean a gross misappropriation of the past. Why worry about Puritans persecuting each other when you can visit a psychic fair?
For a more historical Halloween experience, check out Cornell’s Witchcraft Collection. Sure, you know the story of John Proctor—but what about the Salem dogs that were put to death, for afflicting people with their stares? Or read Increase Mather’s account too, whether the original manuscript or transcribed.
If that’s not spooky enough, take a look at these adorable/terrifying trick-or-treaters in 1965 Greenville, from East Carolina U’s Daily Reflector collection.
But the best way to get into the Hollow’s Eve spirit for the die-hard Americanist: watching Disney’s still charming adaptation of Washington Irving’s”Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” with tunes sung by Bing Crosby himself. Tim Burton has nothing on this! Watch one of the highlights, “The Headless Horseman,” here.
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Dear die-hard dilettantes,
Some of you know that I’m a teaching fellow this semester for a popular course at Harvard called, “Gender and Performance,” taught by the extraordinary Professor Robin Bernstein. This week’s all about Bertolt Brecht, an artist I’ve had a love-hate relationship with ever since my freshman year encounter with Mother Courage.
I’m a bigger fan of The Threepenny Opera, the operetta Brecht wrote with Kurt Weill in the late 1920s. You can get a taste with this clip from this 1966 TV broadcast of Lotte Lenya recreating her role as Pirate Jenny from the 1954 off-Broadway production, with a translation by one of my all-time favorite queer, Jewish socialists, Marc Blitzstein (you can hear songs from his Brecht-inspired Cradle Will Rock on the Internet Archive). Feel the alienation!
The Lenya clip comes from the spectacular website BlueGobo.com, which recovers videos of musicals from the 1930s to the present, as were broadcast to national audiences on the Tony Awards and other TV specials. Where else would you find a clip of the great Zero Mostel performing “If I Were a Rich Man” from Bock and Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof? Or any clip at all from their lesser-known Fiorello! about the rise of, yes, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
Two more favorites: Chita Rivera singing “All That Jazz” on Sammy Davis Jr.’s variety show (you’ve never seen jazz hands like these, people!). And lesbian comic Lea DeLaria performing “I Can Cook Too” from the underappreciated Bernstein, Comden, and Green musical On the Town.
So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, for now.
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