Category Archives: History

OVERLOOKED NO MORE: MARGARITA XIRGU, THEATER RADICAL WHO STAGED LORCA’S PLAYS ·

(Kathleen Massara’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/16; via Pam Green.)

The Spanish film star and theater director was known for taking chances in her politics, in her private life and on the stage.

Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable people that never found their way into the newspaper.

When Margarita Xirgu met Federico García Lorca in the summer of 1926 at a bar in Madrid, he was a fledgling playwright and a questionable investment for most producers.

But Xirgu, a Catalan actress and director who was also a lesbian and a political radical, was known for her willingness to take risks. She accepted the challenge, and staged Lorca’s “Mariana Pineda” in Barcelona the next year, with costumes by the artist Salvador Dalí.

The play was a hit, and it cemented a friendship between Lorca and Xirgu, who became instrumental in staging and exporting his work in the early years of the 20th century. Lorca went on to become one of Spain’s most admired writers.

“She took a big chance on him,” said Christopher Maurer, a Lorca scholar at Boston University. “He wasn’t a playwright; he was a poet.” Because of her left-leaning views, he said, “people called her ‘Margarita La Roja’ ” — Margarita the Red, a Communist threat to Gen. Francisco Franco’s right-wing dictatorship.

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SIMON CALLOW ON ORSON WELLES ·

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen on BBC Radio 4

The actor Simon Callow nominates one of the giants of the golden age of Hollywood, Orson Welles. He once said of himself he ‘started at the top and worked his way down’ never managing to recreate the success he had aged 26 with Citizen Kane, which he wrote, directed and starred in. Welles’ friend and collaborator Henry Jaglom talks about knowing him for the last years of his life when Hollywood had turned its back on him and he was strapped for cash and looking for work.

Producer: Maggie Ayre.

Photo: Corbis

AT FIRST PERFORMANCE OF ‘MY FAIR LADY,’ THE DRAMA WAS OFFSTAGE ·

 

 

(Charles Rizzo’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/13; via Pam Greedn.)

NEW HAVEN — The snow was coming down. The turntables didn’t turn. The star refused to perform. The cast was dismissed, thinking that that night’s show would not go on.

Yet “My Fair Lady” opened improbably, triumphantly, to its first paying audience on that Saturday, Feb. 4, 1956, at the Shubert Theater here, making the night the stuff of theater legend.

Continue reading the main story

 

ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: THE FIRST TIME A WHITE PERSON WROTE ‘LOVE’ TO ME ·

(Anna Deavere Smith’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/13; via Pam Green.)

In 1961, there was a widely held theory among educated Baltimore Negroes, many of whom, like my mother, were teachers or administrators themselves, that if you wanted your children to have a good public school education, you should send them to a school that was predominantly Jewish, because Jews valued learning. And so I was sent not to the brand-new junior high that was built to service Negro students who were in desperate need of a better facility, but to Garrison Junior High in the Forest Park neighborhood, from which gentile whites had fled when the Jewish population moved in. I wasn’t “bused,” but I had to take two buses to get there.

Segregated schools taught you where you did belong. Integrated schools taught, in surgical detail, where you did not belong.

That is what junior high is all about. Sorting. I assessed the following as best as an 11-year old-could: White Christians and Jews stayed apart. My Jewish classmates seemed to divide along lines that privileged assimilation. Two Eastern European girls, one of whom had recently arrived in the United States, played a game in which they threw knives into a circle on the ground. (Today, that would get you handcuffed and perhaps jailed.) They were ostracized. But a newly arrived Algerian Jewish girl was welcomed because she was pretty. We Negro kids divided along class lines: where we went to church, by neighborhood and by our mating habits.

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Photo: the Los Angeles Times

 

ROGER HENDRICKS SIMON:  CELEBRATING 40 YEARS OF THE SIMON STUDIO (Part 2) ·

One of New York City’s most respected and notable acting teachers, Roger Simon, offers Stage Voices’ readers insight into the inner workings of an actor’s technique  

PLASTIC VALUES–“A HOMBURG, DEAR BOY!” 

(By Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher)

. . . So, as I say, I always say to my actors at The Simon Studio, here in New York City, “That’s why they pay us the big bucks! Take that needed time and make it happen!”  In our wonderful age of sound bites and the quick fix, we are, unfortunately, influenced by pressures to meet demands, particularly commercial demands and deadlines.  An actor or director has to be very careful not to rush the process by going immediately for results.

I offer a case in point: Between 1968 and ‘70 I had made somewhat of a name for myself as a young American director in London, directing premiers of Off-Broadway playwrights, like Sam Shepard, Jean-Claude van Itallie, and Megan Terry at the Royal Court Theatre and other theatres.  I was casting a production of Carl Sternheim’s expressionistic dark comedy Bloomers (or The Underpants, as it is better known in the U.S., and as it was called in Steve Martin‘s recent clever adaptation).  My production of Bloomers, an English translation, was for the newly built Gardner Arts Center‘s first season in their beautifully designed theatre by Sean Kenny (the brilliant innovator, known for his Oliver! and so many other British and Broadway designs). 

I was looking for the perfect actor to play the central role of Theobald Maske, the overbearing bourgeois husband of the flirty Louise, who accidently drops her panties in front of admiring gents at a public parade.  Naturally, the successful West End actor Alfred Marks came immediately to mind.  Alfred, who had already distinguished himself in London, with numerous 1960s transfers of Neil Simon‘s plays, invited me to meet him and discuss the play at his club on Tottenham Court Road. After trading initial pleasantries at the bar, Alfred looked me right in the eye and simply said, “A homburg!”

“What?” I replied incredulously, trying to be polite.  “A homburg, dear boy.  I see the character in a homburg!” Alfred patted his head, as if to visualize the exact angle that a homburg should be worn on his head and the physical life it would give him.  For a moment I was taken aback, being pretty much used to actors wanting to talk about their potential character’s inner life.  Inner life, indeed!  Alfred’s “homburg” inspiration proved that he understood how important that hat would be to the inner life of his character, not just to what was external.

Alas, I never got to work with Alfred, although we did find a great West End London cast, including: Judy Cornwell, James Grout, Ferdy Mayne, and Jack Shepherd.

Alfred Marks, however, instinctively knew what “plastic values” could do for a character, and he reminded me of that for our production.  I updated the play, from the early 20th century to 1930s Berlin, and used George Grosz cartoons for the visual inspiration.  I even had them all over the commedia, like a painted backdrop.  Alfred’s  “plastic values/ homburg” became my private image for the style of the production, though; a kind of Oliver Hardy touch that seemed just right. I later had further success with that play and production concept, bringing Bloomers to New York and then to the Netherlands. 

So thanks, Alfred, wherever you are, and thanks to the late, great, Nikos Psacharopoulos, my Directing Teacher at Yale School of Drama for introducing me to the “plastic values” concept.

Roger Hendricks Simon is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Simon Studio.  For more details and class information contact Roger direct.   Ph: 917 776 9209 or email rhsstudio@gmail.com

Visit the Simon Studio 

(c) 2018 by Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher.  All rights reserved. 

Read Part 1 of this article 

Read Part 2 of this article

Photos, courtesy of The Simon Studio, Tania Fisher, public domain,  from Top:  Roger Hendricks Simon;  Jean-Claude van Itallie; Alfred Marks; homburg; Judy Cornwell; Tania Fisher.   

TOLSTOY, GORKY, AND “THE LOWER DEPTHS” ·

(Pavel Basinsky’s article appeared in Russia Beyound the Headlines, 3/2.)

While the younger Gorky considered Tolstoy almost a god, the great Leo had a strong interest in the new writer, even on the verge of obsessive jealousy. Musings on the very nature of God became a passionate bone of contention between the two extraordinary writers.

This year, Russia celebrates the 150th birthday of one of its most important 20th century writers, the stormy petrel of the revolution, Maxim Gorky. Russia Beyond publishes a translation of an extract from a new book by Pavel Basinsky “The Passion According to Maxim. Gorky: 9 Days After Death,” which is about the complicated relations between Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy. The book will be published this March in Russian by Yelena Shubina publications, AST publishing (link in Russian).

***

Tolstoy’s first diary entries about Gorky were favorable. “We had a good conversation,” “a true man of the people,” or “I am glad that I like both Gorky and Chekhov, particularly the first one.” But from about the middle of 1903 there is a drastic – and even whimsical – change in Tolstoy’s attitude to Gorky.

“Gorky – there is a misapprehension,” Tolstoy writes on Sept. 3, 1903, adding angrily: “The Germans know Gorky, but they don’t know Polenz.”

But Wilhelm von Polenz (1861-1903), a prominent German writer of the naturalist school, could not compete with Gorky, who by 1903 had become famous in Germany with his play, The Lower Depths, which premiered at Max Reinhardt’s Kleines Theater in Berlin on Jan.10, 1903 under the title, Nachtasyl (Night shelter). It was staged by the well-known director, Richard Vallentin, who himself played Satin, while Reinhardt played Luka. The success of the German version of The Lower Depths was so overwhelming that it had 300 (!) performances in a row, and in the spring of 1905 its 500th performance was celebrated in Berlin.

It is silly and ridiculous to suspect Leo Tolstoy of envy, but there was a certain element of writerlyjealousy in this entry, and it’s not accidental that, while calling Gorky a “misapprehension,” he refers to the Germans. The runaway success of The Lower Depths, not just in Russia but also in Germany, had already reached his ears. Tolstoy had heard The Lower Depths in Crimea read by Gorky himself in manuscript form, and already then thought the play strange and couldn’t understand why it had been written. If the play had not been such a success, Tolstoy would simply have concluded that the young author had made the wrong creative choice. Even before then, he had upbraided Gorky for the fact that his peasants talk “too cleverly,” and that much in his prose was exaggerated and unnatural.

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Photos: Russia Beyond the Headlines

 

ROGER HENDRICKS SIMON:  CELEBRATING 40 YEARS OF THE SIMON STUDIO (Part 1) ·

One of New York City’s most respected and notable acting teachers, ROGER SIMON, offers Stage Voices’ readers insight into the inner workings of an actor’s technique 

PLASTIC VALUES–“A HOMBURG, DEAR BOY!”

By Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher

“Plastic Values”–that’s what Nikos Psacharopoulos, my directing teacher at Yale School of Drama, called all of the things an actor comes into contact with on the stage: the props, costume pieces, sets, sound, and lights–the texture and feel, as well as the shape, color, and smell of those things when contact is made with them.  It’s not just the spoken words–and the relationships with other characters in the scene–but also the relationships with those items on stage that give a performance needed texture and dimension.  This means an actor is giving actual life to what otherwise are inanimate objects–and that life relates to the inner life of a character at the moment of contact.

Just the other day, I went to see a one-woman show:  The actor had talent, having not only written the work herself, but she also composed and sang her own songs.  On the tiny stage, she surrounded herself with one or two chairs and numerous costume changes and set pieces.  The performer then proceeded to play various roles from her life.  Throughout the performance, recorded sound effects were heard, which usually marked the end of one section and the beginning of another.  I watched the actor repeatedly take off her costume pieces and replace them, but nothing seemed to be happening, other than that a new scarf or hat was put on to indicate a new character.  The audience began to realize that we were only waiting for a costume change, rather than watching a character transform in front of our eyes.

The feel of that scarf going on–the smell and smooth, silky texture of it–should have conjured up the essence of a new character.  Then we would have been watching something exciting happening:  a transition that had real life to it–not simply a signal for a pause in the action.  How wonderful it would have been for the viewer to actually “see” and “feel” the actor make a transformation happen—to see Dr. Jekyll become Mr. Hyde!  When there was a taped sound effect–of a gavel banging, to signify the entry of the dominating father, for example–the actor failed to let that emotionally move her.  Her dominated, fearful daughter didn’t physically or emotionally grow, as she changed to the father’s role of judge or when she moved into the next scene. The same was true when the recorded sound of the surf took her from an interior setting to a beach.  Yes, we knew we were now on a beach because we heard it, but how wonderful it would have been to have had her actually visualize that beach, with all its sensuality, for a more fully realized and felt transition.

The actor has to do more than just put on new costume pieces or hear sounds, and so on.  He really has to allow himself to take on the new character during the process of giving “life” to that scarf or sound effect. Otherwise, the audience feels cheated.  And we should feel cheated, because the performance has stopped momentarily:  Actors need to find a character’s life in transition, too–not only before and after a scene change takes place. 

And those transitional moments, if fully realized–through the use of those props and set and costume pieces, lights, sound, and more–can be the most memorable and moving moments of a performance.  It’s often scary for actors to do this, particularly if they’re beginners, because they may feel the need not to be boring and to get on with the words–quickly doing the technical mechanics of putting on the new hat, in order to then become a new character.  But the irony is that if performers don’t take the necessary time to fully invest in allowing the “plastic values” to affect them, they truly will be boring!  Despite fears of an audience’s lack of patience, or the time limit of an audition,  it’s entirely necessary not to rush the process of making things happen.  That’s why people go to the theatre:  to see actors make things “happen.”  Particularly in the rehearsal process, taking the time needed to rehearse a scene or transition fully is essential, even if tightening occurs later. The audience will feel the captured life, because the actor has found it in the rehearsal process. If actors fail to be comprehensive, audiences might as well read the play in the library and try to visualize characters’ lives themselves.

So, I always say to my actors at The Simon Studio, here in New York City, “That’s why they pay us the big bucks! Take that needed time and make it happen!”  In our wonderful age of sound bites and the quick fix, we are, unfortunately, influenced by pressures to meet demands, particularly commercial demands and deadlines.  An actor or director has to be very careful not to rush the process by going immediately for results.

Roger Hendricks Simon is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Simon Studio.  For more details and class information contact Roger direct.   Ph: 917 776 9209 or email rhsstudio@gmail.com

Check back with Stage Voices next week to read the second part of Simon’s article.

(c) 2018 by Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher.  All rights reserved. 

Read Part 1 of this article 

Read Part 2 of this article

Photographs courtesy of The Simon Studio and Tania Fisher; from top:  Roger Simon,  The Simon Studio, Tania Fisher

 

OSCAR WILDE BIOPIC BY EVERETT HAILS ‘CHRIST-LIKE’ GAY ICON ·

(Deborah Cole’s article appeared on Yahoo, 2/18; via the Drudge Report.

Berlin (AFP) – Gay cinema pioneer Rupert Everett said his new biopic about legendary literary dandy Oscar Wilde captures him as a “Christ-like” figure who sacrificed himself for the future global LBGTQ rights movement.

Everett penned, directed and starred in his years-long passion project about the flamboyant 19th century Irish writer, “The Happy Prince”, screening this week at the Berlin film festival.

The 58-year-old British actor focuses in the film on Wilde’s self-imposed exile after serving two years’ hard labour from 1895 on “gross indecency” charges for sex with men.

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VLADIMIR VYSOTSKY SONGS THAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BE ACCEPTED BY RUSSIANS ·

(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 1/25.)

He was a sex symbol, the Soviet Kurt Cobain whose star burned brightly and was soon extinguished. Unique in all ways, you won’t confuse Vladimir Vysotsky’s voice with any other: It will sear your soul.

Born into a poor family in Moscow in the turbulent year of 1938, Vladimir Vysotsky went on to become a very talented singer, songwriter and actor. Among his best roles in cinema are the police captain in the TV series, The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed; the White Army officer in Two Comrades Were Serving; and Don Juan in Little Tragedies. His most famous theater role was Hamlet at the Taganka Theater, Moscow’s progressive stage in the 1960s-1970s.

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https://www.rbth.com/arts/327360-5-vysotsky-songs-you-need-know

 

ORSON WELLES AND SHAKESPEARE ·

(from Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 89

There was a time when Orson Welles was one of America’s biggest celebrities. 

In 1938, he made national headlines when the radio show he produced did a version of The War of the Worlds that was so realistic people actually thought the country was under attack by Martians. Then he went to Hollywood and made Citizen Kane, which is still considered one of the greatest movies of all time. And he did all of this by the age of 26.

For his entire life though, Welles’s obsession was Shakespeare. He produced and starred in Shakespeare plays on Broadway and directed and starred in multiple versions of Shakespeare’s work on film, including Chimes at Midnight.

Our guest is Michael Anderegg, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of North Dakota and the author of Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture.

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