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Archive for the ‘theater’ Category

Dear Prodigy pioneers,

This week and next, the undergrad dorm where I’m a resident tutor is putting on their annual musical—this year Guys and Dolls. And complete Carrie Bradshawesque narcissist that I am, that got me thinking back to my own theatrical past, specifically trying out for my high school’s production of Guys and Dolls my freshman year. The task, of course, was geared to traumatize the weak of vocal skill—sing the opening verse of “Luck Be A Lady.” Simple enough, except I started about two octaves too high. I dropped out a few days later, and so my on-stage career ended. I found a few years later, that I much preferred a place behind the scenes, in the audience, or, apparently, at the computer.

The digital archive, in fact, contains a host of valuable sites dedicated to the performing arts. For an appetizer, try the Hansen Collection from UNC. It includes beautiful broadsides, like the one to the right, from an 1870 Boston performance of Rip Van Winkle, adapted by Dion Boucicault (more on him here).  You’ll also find correspondences, posters, and some stirring photographs. And if you were wondering, celebrity sponsorship didn’t start in the twentieth century. Witness below, soprano Minnie Hauk hawking the Warner Brothers’ corsets. (I initially misread “Abdominal” and “Abominable.” So much for truth in advertising).


Over at the University of Louisville, the Macauley’s Collection chronicles the life of a family-owned theater in the Bluegrass State. The archive includes photographs of countless actors unknown today, including Anna Boyd, dressed below left as a man. For cross-dressing in the other direction, you can see a photograph on the right of once-famed performer Julian Eltinge. (Check out Sharon Ullman’s excellent chapter on Eltinge in Sex Seen to learn more, and click here for yet more cross-dressing from the Macauley collection).

Eager for other images of 19th century actors and actresseses? Try this collection of cartes-de-visite from the University of Washington. There you’ll find, lo and behold, photographs of Mr. Joseph Jefferson himself in his role as Rip Van Winkle, before and after his big sleep. (How do you like that for continuity, dear reader!)

As Benjamin McArthur explores in his well-received study, The Man Who Was Rip Van Winkle, made his name playing the famous napper, and became one of the best-known comedic actors of the American stage.

Alas, that’s all for this time.

Curtains down,

Stephen

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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.

Sartorially yours,

Stephen

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Dear dawdlers,

Forgive this lazy scholar, returning after a prolonged sabbatical. Not that I have not been working, researching, and blogging, too—albeit on another site. (You can read some of those less lazy dispatches on Post-Post-Jew). I even watched the entire first season of Heroes. So you can tell, I have been productive. But I’m happier still to return to these pages and to you dear readers, for another semester of academic detective work, uncovering even more ways to get work done without leaving home.

Bringing education and entertainment to audiences where they lived was also a chief goal of the Circuit Chautauqua, the subject of today’s post. The University of Iowa library hosts Traveling Culture, an incredible collection of brochures and recordings from a local outpost of the Circuit Chautauqua, which brought performances and lectures to small towns around the country from 1904 to 1932. (Read a great introduction here). The digital collection is a remarkable window into American popular culture at the start of the twentieth century before movies and radio took off, ranging from a production of Les Miserables (decades before the musical) to Israel Zangwill’s Melting Pot.

And so many all-male quartets!

Be sure to listen to some of their 300 sound recordings, including bird impersonators, dialect comedians, and singing preachers. It’s a little like watching an episode of America’s Got Talent.

You can also read more about the origins of the circuit in The Chautauquan monthly magazine, digitized on Google.

Yours in pedagogy,

Stephen

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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.

Lotte LenyaI’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.

DeLariaTwo 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.

Musically yours,

Stephen

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