Archive for August, 2009
So I was over at Princeton University’s Mudd Library (which houses McCarter Theatre’s archives), looking for some archival photos of Nicholas Martin—the director of the upcoming production of She Stoops to Conquer. Nicholas started out in the profession as an actor, and he earned his equity card while performing at McCarter in the 1960’s. I was searching for a picture of him in the 1960 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I think I found some!), but while I was there I also stumbled into the archives for the 1963 McCarter production of She Stoops to Conquer (after Nicholas had left McCarter).
It was fascinating! The archives included the program, the advertisements, the stage manager’s promptbook (with the 1963 blocking), the set design groundplan, a hand-drawn illustration for the show curtain, the lighting design (hand-written on two pieces of yellow legal paper!), and lots of pictures. The show ran in repertory with another play, and I noticed in the calendar that the November 16th 8:30pm perforamnce was followed by a midnight concert by “America’s fastest-rising young folksinger”—yup, you guessed it, Bob Dylan!
According to the program, “illumination” was “created by Mr. Gilbert V. Hemsley, Jr.”. The show featured a grand total of 17 light cues—undoubtedly a far cry from the hundreds that lighting designer Ben Stanton will create for our 2009 production. Of course, Ben has the advantage of computerized lighting operation, while poor Gilbert had to design the show to be run on three “two-scene preset” manually faded boards (and according to his notes, the light board operator had to sometimes take breaks to help with scene changes).
The cast included: Karl Light (as Mr. Hardcastle), Anne Murray (as Mrs. Hardcastle), Clarence Felder (as Tony Lumpkin), Christine Pickles (as Miss Kate Hardcastle), Angela Thornton (as Miss Neville), Grenville Cuyler (as Sligo), Donald Moffat (as Young Marlow—and also the director of the production!), Edward Zang as Mr. Hastings, Edward Groves as Diggory, Virginia DeAngelis as Pimple, Edward Grover as Sir Charles, and an ensemble of Jack Dreifert, Apollo Dukakis, Dennis Gilliland, William Smith and James Stripp.
As I was flipping through the program, I noticed something very, very familiar. An ad for Lahiere’s! Forty-six years later, this Princeton restaurant is still one of our regular program advertisers. Thanks, Lahiere’s, for your sustained support of the arts in your community. Some things never change.
Posted by Adam Immerwahr, Producing Associate at McCarter Theatre.
Last week, 150 community members from Trenton, Princeton, and beyond joined writer/director Emily Mann and actors Yvette Freeman and Lizan Mitchell at a special reception held at Morven Museum & Garden to kick off McCarter’s upcoming production of Having Our Say. We couldn’t have asked for a better setting; the current exhibit, Let Your Motto Be Resistance – African American Portraits, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, highlights African-American individuals whose passion, determination, and talent played an influential role in shaping our country’s notion of race and status over the past 150 years.
Walking among the photos selected for this exhibit, I got to thinking that despite the many changes that have shaped our world, one thing has always been a constant: the spirit of determination and pride that is at the core of Having Our Say and the American experience. At its heart, Having Our Say is an American story, a true testament to the resilience of ordinary Americans surviving and persevering through extraordinary times. The Delany sisters are one example of this spirit, and the collection at Morven pays homage to Americans who have refused to allow their circumstances to stop their dreams or their hopes—W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Robeson, Angela Davis, Diana Ross, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, to name a few. Despite racism, sexism, and economic hardships, these individuals took a stance believing in themselves and their right to equality and the pursuit of happiness. Surveying the room last night, this spirit of pride was so apparent in our guests. After listening to Emily and the actors share their experiences working on Having Our Say and hearing from Civil Rights pioneer Edith Savage Jennings, the room was filled with excitement, a sense of pride, and a buzz that was so contagious that I know it will create a lasting memory to all who shared in last night’s festivities.
Click the link below for a few photos from the event!
I had the great good fortune last week of listening to two of this season’s plays being read aloud. First, I heard a reading of Fetch Clay, Make Man that we produced in NYC. This was the third or fourth reading of the play that I have heard, and it’s a revelation every time. And then on Friday, I was able to stay for the first read-through of Having Our Say. A few months ago I saw an archival video of McCarter’s 1995 production of Having Our Say, but this was the first time I’ve been able to hear that play read live.
Hearing these two plays in dialogue with each other made me think about some of the themes that run through all of the plays in our season. For me, one of the most powerful and resonant themes is of how we shape (or try to shape) our own self-images. The characters in this season’s plays are interested in creating a version of themselves for others to see, and a great deal of the dramatic tension in this year’s plays comes out of the distance and dissonance between the characters themselves and the image they are trying to create. In Having Our Say, as Bessie and Sadie Delany reflect on their lives one hears a difference in how they speak about each other and how they speak about themselves. As African-American women living through 100 years of American history, their lives were filled with situations in which they had to forge a public identity of themselves that doesn’t always match the inner woman. In She Stoops to Conquer, characters disguise themselves, pretending to be lower class in order to, well, conquer. Fetch Clay, Make Man examines very literally what happens to people as they shape their public images—Cassius Clay becomes Muhammad Ali, Lincoln Perry becomes Stepin Fetchit, and even the supporting characters (Sonji Clay, William Fox and Brother Rashid) are in the process of re-shaping their images. They are changing their names and putting on metaphorical masks as they make the man (or woman!) that they will become. American Buffalo concerns three small-time crooks as they posture for each other and negotiate their relationships, and Take Flight tells the story of four pioneers of aviation, trying to shape their legacies.
So I started to wonder why this theme felt so present this season (in a way that it didn’t, for example, last season). Of course, part of it is that three of this season’s plays are about historical characters (the Delany Sisters, Fetchit, Ali, Fox and Clay, and of course the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh). In writing these characters drawn from America’s history book, the playwrights are naturally intrigued by the questions of identity and legacy–who was the private person underneath the public, etc. But perhaps also maybe there’s something about this moment, at least for us here at McCarter, that drew us (unconsiously, I’m sure) to stories that share in an exploration of shaping self-image. As we enter our artistic director’s 20th season and start our first full season with a new managing director, we’ve all spent a lot of time thinking about who we are as a theater right now, and what our identity is in the world and our own community. And as our nation has undergone a massive shift, with democrats winning two of the three branches of our government, and with a president who represents, for many, a very new (and welcome) idea of the image of American leadership, it seems natural that we would be thinking about these questions. Frankly, as America starts to look toward our sister nations and say: “we are a different country now than we were a year ago,” perhaps we are all thinking about identity differently.
What do you think? Coincidence, or is there an underlying trend here?
Posted by Adam Immerwahr, Producing Associate at McCarter Theatre
Tomorrow morning marks the first day of the 2009-2010 theater season at McCarter, and we’ll be kicking off with the first rehearsal of Having Our Say, a play based on the memoirs of Bessie and Sadie Delany, a pair of African-American sisters who each lived for over 100 years. At that rehearsal, set designer Dan Ostling’s model of the set will be presented to the cast, show staff, and McCarter’s staff. Dan Ostling (who also designed McCarter’s productions of The Odyssey, The Secret in the Wings, Lookingglass Alice and Argonautika) has imagined (with Emily) a fresh take on this play which first premiered at McCarter Theatre 15 years ago. I have attached some photos of his model to this post.
A lot has changed since McCarter’s first production of Having Our Say. We have a new theater (the Berlind), which affords us the opportunity to look at this play from a much more intimate vantage point. The play was originally presented in the Matthews, a very large venue for a personal play like Having Our Say. Additionally, the Delany sisters were still alive when the play was first performed (they passed away at the ripe old ages of 104 and 109!). Now, we’re remembering them, honoring their memories as they remember their lives, and there is a new perspective on the play. They’re speaking to us from a different place, and the set reflects that shift (both literally and metaphorically).
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the world has changed a lot since 1995. In the play, Bessie says: “If I was president, the first thing I would do would be to say that people over one hundred years of age no longer have to pay taxes!… But I guess it will be a thousand years—probably never—before a colored person is elected president of the United States.” Sadie responds: “There will be a Negro President someday…” and Bessie retorts: “no, no. I think white people would rather die than have a Negro president. I predict there will be a white woman president before there is a Negro president. And if a Negro is elected president? That person will be a Negro woman.” Those words sound different on a stage in 2009 than they did in 1995, in important and powerful ways.
I can’t wait to see how audiences respond to the play today. There will be some audience members who saw it in its original production at McCarter, others who saw it on Broadway, or the national tour, or any number of the productions that appeared at regional theaters, schools and community theaters around the country. And there will be some who have never seen it before. But the audience members who I am most looking forward to hearing from are the ones who weren’t even born yet. These elementary, middle school and high school students will have grown up in a world that is in many ways very different than the one in which Bessie and Sadie Delany lived. How will they respond? What will they connect to? I can’t wait to find out!!
Posted by Adam Immerwahr, Producing Associate at McCarter Theatre.