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Posts Tagged ‘theater

Writing with scissors…

 

Over at the New York Review of Books, Christopher Benfey has a fascinating– and illuminating– review of Ellen Gruber Garvey’s Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance, in which the author makes the case that scrapbooks—which everyone seems to have kept during the nineteenth century—“are the direct ancestors of our digital information management.”

There are examples of politically-focused compendia (Garvey’s primary interest), but also wonderful tastes of more artistic applications:  Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman… and Mark Twain:

Mark Twain was perhaps the king of American scrapbook culture. According to the OED, he was the first writer to use “scrapbook” as a verb, writing in 1881 about the origins of his book A Tramp Abroad, “I scrap-booked these reports during several months.” Prolific in inventing ways to lose money, especially in his attempts to predict how books would be published in the future (not, he found to his chagrin, with type fashioned from clay), Twain successfully marketed his own patented design for a more efficient scrapbook, outfitted with no-muss adhesive pages and an index awaiting entries. Twain’s scrapbook can be seen as the ancestor of the lavish “Keeping Memories Alive” scrapbook industry today, with its glitter and fluff and hobby stores…

Twain’s loose and baggy non-fiction books Roughing It, The Innocents Abroad, and A Tramp Abroad were assembled from his own carefully maintained travel scrapbooks, and retain some of the pleasingly serendipitous and fragmented feel of life on the road.

Still, as Twain’s buddy William Dean Howells noted, “anyone may compose a scrapbook, and offer it to the public with nothing like Mark Twain’s good-fortune. Everything seems to depend upon the nature of the scraps, after all.”

Readers can find the whole story (before they hop over to Pinterest) at “Scrapbook Nation.”

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As we reach for the paste, we might recall that it was on this date in 1750 that the first professional theatrical production of a Shakespeare play– an “altered” version of Richard III– was mounted in New York City at its first formal performance space, The Theater on Nassau Street.  Sitting just east of Broadway, it was a two-story wooden hall with a capacity of about 280.  Actor-managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean set up shop there, and opened with the Bard.  But their repertory also included the first documented performance of a musical in New York – John Gay’s The Beggars Opera, which they premiered on December 3rd of that same year.

The site of the theater in 2004

source

 

Be your own boss!…

Franchising opportunities, circa 1934…  more at Retronaut.

As we clear off the kitchen table, we might recall that it was on this date in 1787 that the first professionally-produced theatrical comedy written by an American was produced in the U.S.:  Royall Tyler’s The Contrast premiered in New York.  The play satirizes Americans who follow British fashions and indulge in “British vices”… ironic insofar as it was written in the manner of English Restoration comedies of the seventeenth century, and modelled on Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, a British comedy of manners that had revived that tradition in London a decade before.

 source

Written by LW

April 16, 2012 at 1:01 am

Genius, explained…

Recently uncovered evidence suggests that William Shakespeare used marijuana, and now a team of paleontologists want to dig him up to prove it.

Francis Thackeray, an anthropologist and director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, has made a formal request to the Church of England to unearth the playwright.  “We have incredible techniques,” Thackeray told Fox News. “We don’t intend to move the remains at all.”

After determining the identity of the remains, Thackeray’s team hopes to find out more about Shakespeare’s life and even the cause of his death.  “Growth increments in the teeth will reveal if he went through periods of stress or illness — a plague for example, which killed many people in the 1600s,” he said.

Further tests should be able to ascertain if the Bard smoked marijuana.  “If we find grooves between the canine and the incisor, that will tell us if he was chewing on a pipe as well as smoking,” Thackeray explained.

Pipes uncovered in the garden of Shakespeare’s home in 2001 showed evidence of cannabis and cocaine.  “There were very low concentrations of cannabis, but the signature was there,” according to Inspector Tommy van der Merwe, who tested the pipes at South Africa’s Forensic Science Laboratory.

The evidence of cocaine was also very strong.  “The pipes we tested still had dirt in them which preserved the residues inside the stem and bowl,” Van der Merwe said. “The readings we got were the same as if it had tested a modern-day crack pipe.”

Camphor, myristic acid, and quinoline were among other substances detected in the pipes.  “Myristic acid, which is found in nutmeg, has hallucinogenic properties, and camphor, perhaps, was used to hide the smell of tobacco or other substances,” Thackeray noted in 2001.

Sonnet 76 of Shakespeare’s poems contains a reference to the “noted weed.”

Via The Raw Story.

As we wonder if perhaps it was actually Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford who did the dope, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that the first ever National Scrabble Championship was held, when Gyles Brandreth had brought together 100 players in London.  Despite this slow start (Scrabble was created by Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938), national tournaments sprang up in other countries over the next several years; and a World Championship was established in 1991.

Gyles Brandreth (source)

 

I for one welcome our new computer overlords…

source

In the aftermath of Watson’s triumph over humanity’s best, your correspondent thought it wise to remind readers (and himself) that this is not the first time that we mortals have faced the onslaught of astounding new technology.

The good folks at Dark Roasted Blend have compiled a nifty through-the-ages recap of attempts to create “life” in new-fangled ways; from Leonardo’s “robot” and John Dee’s “flying beetle” to an “steam-powered hiker” and an “electric milk man” from Victorian England, there’s quite a selection in “Amazing Automatons: Ancient Robots & Victorian Androids.”

It’s all fascinating; but the sweet spot is surely the selection of creations from the 18th (and early 19th) centuries, when the then-highly-developed crafts of metal working and watchmaking were turned to automata.  Consider, for example…

Jacques Vaucason created numerous working figures, including a flute player, which actually played the instrument, in 1738, plus this duck from 1739. The gilded copper bird could sit, stand, splash around in water, quack and even give the impression of eating food and digesting it.

Pierre Jaquet-Doz created three automata, The Writer, The Draughtsman and The Musician, which are still considered scientific marvels today. The Draughtsman is capable of producing four distinct pictures, while the Writer dips his pen in the ink and can write as many as forty letters. The Musician’s fingers actually play the organ and the figure ends her performance with a bow.

More, at Dark Roasted Blend.

As we remind ourselves to re-read Kevin Kelly’s excellent What Technology Wants and then to retake the Turing Test, we might stage a dramatic memorial dramatist and scenic innovator James Morrison Steele (“Steele”) MacKaye; he died on this date in 1894.  He opened the Madison Square Theatre in 1879, where he created a huge elevator with two stages stacked one on top of the other so that elaborate furnishings could be changed quickly between scenes. MacKaye was the first to light a New York theatre– the Lyceum, which he founded in 1884– entirely by electricity. And he invented and installed overhead and indirect stage lighting, movable stage wagons, artificial ventilation, the disappearing orchestra pit, and folding seats. In all, MacKaye patented over a hundred inventions, mostly for the improvement of theatrical production and its experience.

Steele MacKaye

Arachnofatigue…

Broadway’s newest and biggest spectacle appears also to be it’s baddest:  Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark isn’t even officially up; still critics tired of waiting for the now thrice-postponed opening night have broken with tradition and begun to file reviews…

The most enthusiastic reaction has been from political pundit Glenn Beck, whose love for the show moved him to suggest

…give a kidney to go see ‘Spider-Man.’ I’m telling you, mark my words, it’s being panned right now, nobody’s saying good stuff about it. I’m telling you, you go buy your ticket — you buy your ticket now, if you’re thinking about coming to New York, because when this thing opens and it’s starting to run, you will not be able to get tickets to this for a year. This is one of those shows, this is the ‘Phantom’ of the 21st century. This is history of Broadway being made. I sat next to the casting director, by chance, and I said, ‘You, sir, are part of history.’

One thrills to imagine the show’s creative team, director Julie Taymor and composer Bono, reconciling themselves to that unlikely ally, as they face the reactions of more established theatrical observers– reviews that range from bad to excruciating.

But for your correspondent’s money, the best line is from Amy at the always-enlightening Amy’s Robot: “This show looks like what you get when you spend most of your $65 million budget on insurance.”

As we hear the greasepaint and smell the crowd, we might recall that it was on this date in 1924 that a young man known at the time as a composer of Broadway tunes premiered a more serious piece:  George Gershwin accompanied Paul Whiteman’s Palais Royal Orchestra in the first performance of Rhapsody in Blue.  Gershwin’s piece concluded an “educational event” Whiteman staged to try to demonstrate that the relatively new form of music called jazz deserved to be regarded as a serious and sophisticated art form.

Just five weeks prior to the “Experiment in Modern Music” concert, Gershwin hadn’t agreed to compose for it.  But when his brother Ira read a report in the New York Tribune that George was “at work on a jazz concerto” for the program, he was painted into a corner. Gershwin pieced together Rhapsody In Blue as best he could in the time available, leaving his own piano part to be improvised during the premiere.  In the event, of course, Rhapsody has come to be regarded as one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century. It opened the door for a whole generation of “serious” composers—from Copland to Weill—to draw on jazz elements in their own important works.

UPDATE 2.12.11: Our ecstatically well-informed friend CE writes with a critical clarification:

Of course, old George forgot the main requirement of the assignment for the “Experiment”- that it be composed for orchestra with strings. The “Rhapsody” he turned in, three weeks before performance, was written for two pianos!
What we mostly hear and identify with Gershwin- the clarinet call, the surge of strings, the honking brass- was largely written by Paul Whiteman house arranger FERDE GROFE who went on to have a celebrated career as a composer in his day. His GRAND CANYON SUITE was the theme music for The Chesterfield Hour (cigarettes) and a later Walt Disney film. He was commissioned to write large orchestral pieces for The World’s Fair and for the opening of Niagara Falls power plant in 1964 and soundtracks to the likes of ROCKETSHIP X-M. Now of course, he is mostly a forgotten man. But from the 1930s to the early 1960s, glory was heaped on him as it was on few native born San Franciscans. A few years back, Dutch group The BEAU HUNKS recorded a lovely album of several of his least famous works THE MODERN AMERICAN MUSIC OF FERDE GROFE which is now available on iTunes.

(Your correspondent can attest:  CE’s recommendations are always worth taking.)

 

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