Category Archives: History

SWEDISH ACTRESS AND DIRECTOR GUNNEL LINDBLOM HAS DIED AGED 89 ·

(Matthew Roscoe’s article appeared in EuoWeekly, 1/24.)

SWEDISH Actress and Director Gunnel Lindblom Has Died Aged 89

Gunnel Lindblom, who performed the lead role in Miss Julie for BBC Television in 1965, has died at the age of 89 after a period of illness.

Gunnel Lindblom was born in 1931 and trained as an actor at Gothenburg City Theatre in the early 50’s. She made her film debut in Gustaf Molander’s “Love” in 1952. After her debut, she started working with Ingmar Bergman, with whom she is particularly associated with, at Malmö City Theatre.

After the successful collaborations with Bergman, Gunnel Lindblom has continued to play at Dramaten in Stockholm. Since the 70s, she has directed several productions at Dramaten in Stockholm, including productions for SVT.

She also played the key role of The Mummy in Bergman’s staging of Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata in 1998-2000, a performance that earned her much critical acclaim.

In 2009, she appeared as Isabella Vanger in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which won a BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language. The film grossed over €85 million worldwide.

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(Second photo from top: CREDIT: “File:Gunnel Lindblom, Bokmässan 2013 3.jpg” by Albin Olsson is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

ON THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF ‘ROBOT,’ THEY’RE FINALLY TAKING OVER ·

(Christopher Mims’s article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 1/23; Photo from The Wall Street Journal; via the Drudge Report.)  

A century after playwright Karel Čapek coined the word ‘robot,’ we finally have the technology to make the stuff of science fiction a reality—for better and for worse

On Jan. 25, 1921, Karel Čapek’s play “R.U.R.”—short for “Rossum’s Universal Robots”—premiered in Prague. It was a sensation. Within two years it had been translated into 30 languages, including English, to which it introduced the word “robot.” Čapek’s vision of unwilling slaves of humnity destined to rise up and destroy their makers has shaped our view of both automation and ourselves ever since.

In a century-long dialogue between inventors of fictional and actual robots, engineers have for the most part been forced to play catch-up, either realizing or subverting the vision of robots first expounded in books, movies and television.

Now, the reality of robots is in some areas running ahead of fiction, even ahead of what those who study robots for a living are able to keep track of.

Heather Knight is an engineer, “social roboticist” and one of 13 core faculty in Oregon State University’s robotics program. One day in late October, she was shocked to find the campus crawling with a fleet of autonomous, six-wheeled vehicles made by Starship Robotics. The San Francisco-based company had contracted with the campus dining service to provide contactless delivery.

“We’re at the point where not even the people in robotics know there are going to be robots on campus,” she adds.

This new visibility of robots—now in storeshotels and health-care facilities, as well as on our streets and above our heads—is an indicator of their evolving nature. It’s also the outward sign of a watershed moment.

In 2019, 373,000 industrial robots were sold and put into use, according to the International Federation of Robotics, a not-for-profit industry organization that conducts an annual, global robot census based on vendor data. That number has grown about 11% a year since 2014, to a total of 2.7 million industrial robots in use world-wide. Industrial robots—descendants of the Unimate robot arm first installed at a General Motors factory in 1961—are the kind common in manufacturing, performing tasks like welding, painting and assembly. They work hard, but they’re not very smart.

Also in 2019, 173,000 “professional service robots” were sold and installed, according to the federation. That number is projected to reach 537,000 units a year—a threefold increase—by 2023. These are the kind of robots businesses use outside of manufacturing. They perform a wide variety of functions, including defensewarehouse automation and disinfection in hospitals.

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MABOU MINES’ ‘COLD HARBOR’–“A SARDONIC, SOCIO-PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBE OF ULYSSES S. GRANT” (STREAMING UNTIL 1/26–LINK BELOW) ·

INTO THE ARCHIVES | COLD HARBOR

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Mabou Mines Home

MABOU MINES’

Cold Harbor

CONCEIVED AND DIRECTED BY

Bill Raymond and Dale Worsley

TEXT BY

Dale Worsley

WITH EXCERPTS FROM THE MEMOIRS OF ULYSSES S. GRANT AND JULIA DENT GRANT

“a sardonic, socio-psychological probe of Ulysses S. Grant.”

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HOW THE LEGACY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. INSPIRED THE DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM ·

(Walter Rutledge’s article appeared on Playbill Online, 1/18; Photo of Arthur Mitchell by Sharon Perry.) 

THE GREAT AMERICAN ARTS INSTITUTION WAS BUILT ON A MODEL OF INCLUSIVENESS.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a rally in Memphis, Tennessee, delivering his iconic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. Initially, there had been concerns he might miss the rally due to a bomb threat. The following day, as King prepared for another rally, he turned to musician Ben Branch and said, “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” Then he stepped out on to the balcony of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel. Julian Barber, a reporter for WTOP TV in Washington D.C., was the first to report Dr. King had been shot. Soon all three national television networks would interrupt their broadcasts with the news of his assassination.

Harlem seemed to react to Dr. King’s murder with a collective moan. Strangers embraced and openly sobbed on the street, then parted, going on alone, while others simply asked, “Why? Why?” this moment of deep despair Dr. King’s own words, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars,” offered both solace and the will to keep the dream alive.

Arthur Mitchell, compelled by the tragedy, took action. He saw the opportunity to change the lives of the young people in his community by opening a ballet school. In the beginning, Mitchell’s vision of bringing classical ballet to the youth of Harlem was met with doubt. “Well, the field really thought I had lost it,” explained Mitchell. “The rumors that went around—‘he’s crazy, insane, nuts, black kids can’t relate.’ Even the black community didn’t know why I was coming uptown to do ballet.”

Skeptics never deterred Mitchell. In 1955, he joined New York City Ballet. By 1958, he was a soloist and in 1962 he became the first African American to achieve the rank of principal of a major ballet company. At that time, only three other African-American dancers held positions in the city’s major ballet companies.

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ROBOTS TURN 100—AND STILL ENTHRALL US ·

(Adam Kirsch’s article appeared in The Wall Street Journal, 1/16.

The intelligent, human-like machines long promised by science fiction still don’t exist, but they’ve played an important role in the modern imagination.

In 2021, robots can be forklifts or machine tools, surgical instruments or bomb defusers. As a viral video showed this month, a new, human-shaped model from Boston Dynamics can even dance to the Motown song “Do You Love Me?” But when the Czech writer Karel Capek coined the word “robot” in his play “R.U.R.,” which made its debut in Prague 100 years ago this month, he had something much grander in mind: a new, man-made species, capable of tireless labor but also love, hope and self-sacrifice. As a robot declares in the play’s last scene, “We’ve become beings with souls.”

Actual robots may be a letdown by comparison, but over the last century, imaginary robots have become one of our best tools for thinking about fundamental questions: What is it that makes us human? How can we be sure of what’s going on in other minds? Do the benefits of progress outweigh its dangers? These used to be problems for religion and philosophy; thanks to robots, we now often approach them through science fiction.

Humans have always worried that the machines we make to serve us could eventually turn on us.

People told stories about mechanical men long before 1921. The Argonautica, a Greek epic from the 3rd century B.C., includes the story of Talos, “fashioned of bronze and invulnerable,” who guards the harbor of Crete. A 16th-century Jewish legend tells of the Golem, a huge man of clay made to protect the Jews of Prague. Both of these proto-robots are built with a kind of kill switch, giving humans a way to keep them in check. Talos is deactivated when the thin skin on his ankle is punctured, allowing the fluid that gives him life to run out; the Golem can be stopped by erasing the Hebrew letter written on his forehead. Clearly, humans have always worried that the machines we make to serve us could eventually turn on us.

Not until Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein,” however, did a man-made creature become an object of sympathy. Dr. Frankenstein makes his monster out of body parts scavenged from “the dissecting room and the slaughterhouse,” and it turns out to be all too human. Indeed, the monster is driven to violence because people refuse to acknowledge that he has human feelings, especially a need for love. “Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness?” he rages.

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MORE THAN THE GIRL NEXT DOOR: 8 ACTORS ON EMILY IN ‘OUR TOWN’ ·

(Laura Collin-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/6; via Pam Green.  In a Broadway production of “Our Town,” Helen Hunt, right, played Emily Webb with Jason Gedrick, left, as George Gibbs and Don Ameche as the Stage Manager.Credit…Brigitte Lacombe, via Lincoln Center Theater.)

With a history of the Thornton Wilder classic coming soon, we talk with performers who found personal inspiration in the play’s beating heart.

Life is a quiet affair in Grover’s Corners, N.H. Its citizens don’t do drama or fuss. But Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” set amid the mountains there, is no folksy paean to simplicity. It’s a boldly experimental play about the beauty of the everyday, and human beings’ tragic propensity to look right past that.

When that realization lands, late and joltingly, it arrives by way of a character we may have underestimated: Emily Webb, the brainy daughter of the town’s newspaper editor. She vows that she’ll make speeches all her life, then falls in love with George Gibbs, the boy next door. If the storytelling Stage Manager is the play’s marquee role, Emily is its beating heart — and a rare complex canonical part for young actresses just starting out.

After “Our Town” made its premiere on Jan. 22, 1938, at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., it swiftly moved to Broadway, and won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for drama. In the decades since, it has gained a reputation for fusty sentimentality, a misperception that Howard Sherman’s new oral history, “Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ in the 21st Century” (out Jan. 28 from Methuen Drama), debunks through discussion of a dozen productions.

The New York Times chatted recently with eight actors who have played Emily: on Broadway and Off, in London and regional productions — two of them bi- or multilingual. Lois Smith, now 90, did “Our Town” a mere dozen years after its debut, on a college stage. Their thoughts on the role suggest just how capacious Grover’s Corners can be. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.

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ROBOT WARS: 100 YEARS ON, IT’S TIME TO REBOOT KAREL ČAPEK’S ‘RUR’ ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/17.  Photo:  Satirical … a sketch for Karel Čapek’s RUR by Bedřich Feuerstein. Photograph: Dea Picture Library/De Agostini/Getty Images.)

The play Rossum’s Universal Robots clearly belongs to the 1920s but its satirical take on the meeting of humans and machines is all too relevant today

Not many plays introduce a new word to the language. One that did was Karel Čapek’s RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots that had its premiere in Prague 100 years ago this month. Every time we use the word “robot” to denote a humanoid machine, it derives from Čapek’s play, which coined the term from the Czech “robota” meaning forced labour. But a play that was hugely popular in its time – its Broadway premiere in 1922 had a cast that included Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien as robots – has now fallen into neglect. Given our fascination with artificial intelligence, it’s high time we gave it another look.

But what kind of play is it exactly? A dystopian drama attacking science and technology? Up to a point, but it’s much more than that. It starts almost as a Shavian comedy with a do-gooding visitor, Lady Helen Glory, turning up on an island where robots are manufactured out of synthetic matter. She is amazed to discover that a plausibly human secretary is a machine and is equally astonished when the factory’s directors turn out to be flesh and blood creatures rather than robots. With time, the play gets darker as the robots prove to be stronger and more intelligent than their creators and eventually wipe out virtually all humankind. Only a single engineer survives who, a touch improbably, shows two robots transformed by love.

The late, great critic Eric Bentley called Čapek’s play “a museum-piece”. And it is true that it belongs to a 1920s genre of expressionist drama about the threat of dehumanising technology: in 1923 Elmer Rice wrote The Adding Machine about a repressed clerk who, when replaced by the instrument of the title, murders his employer. Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, in her excellent book Science on Stage also implies RUR may have had its day in that theatre now eagerly embraces science and technology.

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MABOU MINES/BECKETT: ‘IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE’–DIRECTED BY RUTH MALECZECH (12/21-12/17) ·

MABOU MINES/BECKETT: ‘IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE’–DIRECTED BY RUTH MALECZECH (12/21-12/17)

Ruth Nelson (Voice) & Clove Galilee (Figure)
__________________________________

Light, voice, hologram and music play against one another in undulating patterns. Beckett himself could have been describing the eerie effect of Miss Maleczech’s stage piece when he wrote in his text about the striking contrast between the ”absolute stillness and the convulsive light.” ‘Imagination Dead Imagine’ lasts only 14 minutes, but it is a paradigmatic example of the Mabou Mines mastery of technology in the name of art.

– Mel Gussow, NY Times 1

**Streaming access can be purchased between 12/21 and 12/27. Once your order is processed you will receive a viewing link to watch anytime through 12/27.**

SAMUEL BECKETT’S

IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE

DIRECTED BY Ruth Maleczech

WITH

Ruth Nelson (Voice)

Clove Galilee (Figure)

PREMIERE

The Performing Garage – NYC , 1984

Running time 17 min

See full production page here. 

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SAMUEL BECKETT’S

IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE

DIRECTED BY

Ruth Maleczech

” the equivalent of hearing poetry read to sculpture … “

MEL GUSSOW – NEW YORK TIMES

TRIPLE THREAT: ANN REINKING IN ‘OVER HERE!’ AND ‘ANNIE’ (1949-2020) ·

More than forty-six years ago, the Sherman brothers’ Big Band musical Over Here! (they had written the scores for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, and the song “It’s a Small World,” for the 1964 World’s Fair) opened on March 26, 1974, at Broadway’s Schubert Theatre.  Hoping to do for the ‘40s what Grease had done for the following decade (that ’50s-inspired show originally opened theatrically in 1971), Patty and Maxene Andrews starred (LaVerne, the third and oldest of the trio, died in 1967). Directed by Tom Moore, with choreography by Patricia BirchOver Here! is about a trip, by train, across the contiguous United States, as well as through America’s heart, memory, and consciousness, and its cast included stars, who had yet to break out: John Travolta, Treat Williams, Marilu Henner, and Samuel E. Wright.  From the distance of so much time, however, what was most bamboozling for me, as a suburban teenager, was a transvestite bride, dressed in white and carrying a bouquet, who sat toward the rear of the mezzanine with her groom.  (Whether related or not, one song in the vehicle, is called “Wartime Wedding”—and the Vietnam conflict would continue until 1975.)  Under the proscenium itself, a young dancer  appeared to be swimming across the stage, like Esther Williams–we could barely take our eyes off of her.  Ann Reinking was her name, and she died on December 12, at age 71.

My brother and I had actually seen the future Tony winner before, in  Pippin (1972)—and, at a Wyoming movie theatre, ten years later, she appeared on celluloid, as what’s best, in Annie—a movie that was too big for its story.  In an interview with The New York Times, in 1991, Reinking comments on what theatre was like in the late 1960s and 1970s—she called it “sophisticated and adult.”  And among the shows, flowering in Sondheim’s “city of strangers,” were: Cabaret, Pippin, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Dancin’—five of which she appeared in. During that era, when we caught the theatre bug, dance was becoming a necessary part of the actor’s toolkit, as show people talked intimidatingly about triple threats—and Reinking was probably the best example of the breed, able to dance, act, and sing, with a smoky voice.  Before too long, we would be playing in those shows she helped define and create, in college and community groups. Performers were different then: tougher, alienating, and asocial, as was that transvestite. Theatre, was a societal revolt—and to Reinking, who could dance strong or elegant or shaded, every step was as meaningful as a word in a line of dialogue.

 

The superagent Robert Lantz told me a change occurred with the opening of Annie on Broadway (1977). The audiences would be younger now, the themes, in the work, less complicated.  Reinking’s talent is validated in that she could play in both spheres: the darker musicals, which the culture was moving away from, and those demarcating a new age (that would welcome the British theatrical invasion). Ironically, she might be remembered best for a movie that was antithetic to her most challenging roles (not unlike the actress Gloria Grahame, who today is best-known for being Ado Annie, in the film of Oklahoma!, rather than for her Oscar-winning role in The Bad and the Beautiful). Reinking probably bridged the genre gap better than the noir star, but the profound, hard cynicism and sarcasm of her working-class characters, may garner less understanding today.  Perhaps, for good reasons,we prefer comic escapism–and have lost too much of an affinity for Brecht.  Reinking’s likeable, balletic dancing in a “soft, floating” yellow dress in Annie, however, is a mirage.

Rest in Peace.

–Bob Shuman

(c) 2020.  All rights reserved.

AUGUST WILSON, AMERICAN BARD ·

(Maya Phillips’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/4/2020; via Pam Green. To accompany this essay, the Baltimore-based artist Jerrell Gibbs painted “Portrait of August Wilson” (2020), exclusively for T.Credit…Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim. Photo by Joseph Hyde.)

Perhaps no playwright has asserted the richness and complexity of everyday Black lives and language so deeply. Now, two screen projects affirm his legacy for new audiences

IN THE WOODS of Barnesville, Ga., two Black men are running, barely visible in the dusk. There are crickets chirping, dogs barking in the distance and, more immediately, the urgent pants of their breath. This seems to be a familiar horror, but the men aren’t being chased; they’re heading toward a tent. Inside, Ma Rainey — played by Viola Davis, her lips painted burgundy, eyelids smoked with black, cheeks stained merlot — beckons the audience in a royal blue dress. “Daddy, daddy, please come home to me,” she sings, shimmying in the heat.

 “Anytime you see two Black people running in the South, you think the Klan’s somewhere, but, no, they’re not running from something. They’re running to something — to this woman whose voice is telling their story,” says George C. Wolfe, the director of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the Netflix film version of August Wilson’s beloved play, which debuts this month. The scene feels appropriate for the opening of a Wilson adaptation: One of the most acclaimed Black playwrights in America, he spent more than three decades telling the story of Black America with pride and verve, with language that beckoned like Ma’s voice in that tent.

The play, first produced in 1984 at Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, Conn., is a fictionalized account of a famous blues singer, Gertrude (Ma) Rainey, who is in Chicago with her band in the 1920s to record a few songs. Ma’s musicians rehearse in a back room, or at least talk about rehearsing: There’s the sensible Cutler (played in the film by Colman Domingo), the laggard Slow Drag (Michael Potts), the thoughtful Toledo (Glynn Turman) and Levee (Chadwick Boseman, who died in August, in his final film role), a young and impetuous trumpet player with an idea for what a new sound might be. Ma finds herself at odds with Levee, as she does with her controlling white agent and the white studio owner, both of whom she knows are exploiting her. That’s the conflict, but much of the play’s pleasure is its dialogue: the characters gabbing, joking and arguing. Accordingly, the pith of the show is Ma’s voice — not just her husky murmur but the sound of a Black artist singing her story to and for her community. “White folks don’t understand about the blues. They hear it come out, but they don’t know how it got there,” Ma says in the play. “They don’t understand that’s life’s way of talking.”

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