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Posts Tagged ‘theater

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising”*…

 

A ghostsign for Black Cat cigarettes

 

Ghostsigns are the typically faded remains of advertising that was once painted by hand onto the brickwork of buildings.  In 2006 London resident Sam Roberts began the Ghostsigns Project, collecting the work amateurs and professionals in appreciation of the painted history found on walls around the world.

Philadelphia Belting Company (Lawrence O’Toole)

 

More at Ghostsigns

* Mark Twain

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As we admire ancient advertising, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that Archibald MacLeish’s JB premiered at the ANTA Playhouse in New York.  The play, a retelling of the Biblical story of Job in free verse, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for Best Play and Best Direction (Elia Kazan).

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Written by LW

December 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I have known uncertainty: a state unknown to the Greeks”*…

 

Octadrachm, reverse: jugate portrait Ptolemy I and Berenice I, Alexandria, 260–240 BCE

The Ptolemies who ruled Egypt for nearly three centuries, from about 320 to 31 BCE, had a difficult dual part to play: that of Hellenistic monarchs, in the mold of Alexander the Great, and, simultaneously, Egyptian pharaohs. The founding father of their line, Ptolemy I Soter (“Savior”), a Macedonian general in Alexander’s army of conquest, secured rule over Egypt amid the confusion following his king’s death, crowned himself monarch in 306 BCE. But he bequeathed to his heirs—the fourteen other Ptolemies who would succeed him, not to mention several Cleopatras—a difficult demographic and geopolitical position. The Ptolemies’ palace complex, staffed by a European elite, stood in Alexandria, one of the world’s original Green Zones, a Greek-style city founded on a strongly fortified isthmus facing the Mediterranean. To the south, nearly cut off by the vast marshes of Lake Mareotis, lived most of their Egyptian subjects. Some scholars have reckoned the country’s ratio of Egyptians to Greco-Macedonians at ten to one…

Find out how the Greeks did it at “When the Greeks Ruled Egypt.” (Spoiler alert:  it involved respect for and tolerance of Egyptian religious and social beliefs.  Genghis Khan operated in a similar fashion; more modern empires, not so much…)

* Jorge Luis Borges

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As we go native, we might spare a thought for Aristophanes; he died on this date in 386 BCE (or so many scholars deduce; the exact date has not been documented).  A poet and dramatist, Aristophanes– whose works are the sole surviving examples of what is known as “Old Comedy”– is widely known as as “the Father of Comedy.”  His eleven surviving plays essentially laid the foundation for satire as we know it, and have a significance that goes beyond this artistic value: Aristophanes acute observations of classical Athens are perhaps as important as historical documents as the writings of Thucydides.  They had impact in their own time, as well.  His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries; Plato singled out Aristophanes’ play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates (although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher). His second play, The Babylonians (now lost), was sufficiently scathing to be denounced by the demagogue Cleon as a slander against the Athenian polis.  Aristophanes survived The Peloponnesian War, two oligarchic revolutions, and two democratic restorations– evidence that he was not himself actively involved in politics; rather, an objective “commentator.”  In this, he agreed with Socrates (as “reported” by Plato in The Apology): “he who will fight for the right, if he would live even for a brief space, must have a private station and not a public one.”

Illustration from a bust found near Tusculum (likely altogether imaginary, as Aristophanes was reportedly bald)

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Written by LW

November 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Demographics is destiny”*…

 

… or not.  One can decide for oneself by consulting ZIP Lookup

How much can where you live say about who you are? According to a new interactive map by geographic information firm Esri, a whole hell of a lot. Esri’s “Tapestry Segmentation” database mines socioeconomic and demographic data to create a picture of who lives in each ZIP code–i.e., what marketers assume about you based on your particular neighborhood or city. Using Tapestry‘s 67 neighborhood classifications for socioeconomic and demographic characteristics–complete with cutesy names like “American Dreamers,” “Front Porches,” “High Rise Renters,” and “Diners and Miners”–Esri has created an interactive map of the U.S. called ZIP Lookup that lets you dig deep into the stereotypical lives of residents of your ZIP code, along with their average and income, and the neighborhood’s density…

Read more at “What Your ZIP Code Says About You,” then find out what to expect as you trick-or-treat this evening.

* Arthur Kemp

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As we disagree with Arthur (on this, as on so many fronts), we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that The World We Live In (The Insect Comedy) opened in New York.  Written by Karel Čapek (who had two years earlier coined the word “robot” in his play R.U.R.) and his brother Josef, the play features a tramp/narrator who falls asleep in the woods and dreams of observing a range of insects whose lifestyles and morals stand in for various human characteristics– the flighty, vain butterfly; the obsequious, self-serving dung beetle; the ants, whose increasingly mechanized behavior leads to a militaristic society; et al.– an allegorical account of life in post-World War I Czechoslovakia.

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Written by LW

October 31, 2014 at 1:01 am

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

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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.

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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…

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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

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