ESSAY | Progress from the Past: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain

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“Britain’s nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement had a curious relationship with Victorian notions of social advancement. Whereas proponents of the Industrial Revolution encouraged mechanization and new technology, people in the Arts and Crafts movement looked back to the Middle Ages. Both camps firmly believed in progress—the improvement or even perfectibility of the human condition—yet one group looked to the future while the other favored a return to the past.

Arts and Crafts advocates opposed industrialization and factory-made goods on aesthetic and moral grounds: mass production dehumanized workers, and the cheapness of low-quality decorative items encouraged people to decorate their homes with excessive ornamentation. Ironically, although Prince Albert wanted the Great Exhibition to encourage beautiful design, several of the event’s own organizers publicly decried poor examples of design throughout the exhibition. Morris idealized medieval craftsmen, who made their products by hand, and medieval art, which expressed profoundly Christian themes in beautifully designed furniture, textiles, and architecture…” more.

SOURCE: Interweave


RELATED PROGRAMMING

Art Talks with Rebecca Albiani

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood | March 20 | 11am

William Morris: The Revolutionary | April 17 | 11am

The Arts and Crafts Movement: Form, Function, and Influence | May 15 | 11am


KEY IDEAS | The Arts & Crafts Movement

The founders of the Arts & Crafts Movement were some of the first major critics of the Industrial Revolution. Disenchanted with the impersonal, mechanized direction of society in the 19th century, they sought to return to a simpler, more fulfilling way of living. The movement is admired for its use of high quality materials and for its emphasis on utility in design. The Arts & Crafts emerged in the United Kingdom around 1860, at roughly the same time as the closely related Aesthetic Movement, but the spread of the Arts & Crafts across the Atlantic to the United States in the 1890s, enabled it to last longer - at least into the 1920s. Although the movement did not adopt its common name until 1887, in these two countries the Arts & Crafts existed in many variations, and inspired similar contemporaneous groups of artists and reformers in Europe and North America, including Art Nouveau, the Wiener Werkstatte, the Prairie School, and many others. The faith in the ability of art to reshape society exerted a powerful influence on its many successor movements in all branches of the arts.

KEY IDEAS

The Arts & Crafts movement existed under its specific name in the United Kingdom and the United States, and these two strands are often distinguished from each other by their respective attitudes towards industrialization: in Britain, Arts & Crafts artists and designers tended to be either negative or ambivalent towards the role of the machine in the creative process, while Americans tended to embrace the machine more readily.

The practitioners of the movement strongly believed that the connection forged between the artist and his work through handcraft was the key to producing both human fulfillment and beautiful items that would be useful on an everyday basis; as a result, Arts & Crafts artists are largely associated with the vast range of the decorative arts and architecture as opposed to the "high" arts of painting and sculpture.

The Arts & Crafts aesthetic varied greatly depending on the media and location involved, but it was influenced most prominently by both the imagery of nature and the forms of medieval art, particularly the Gothic style, which enjoyed a revival in Europe and North America during the mid-19th century.

Learn more about The Arts & Crafts movement here.

SOURCE: The Art Story


RELATED PROGRAMMING

Art Talks with Rebecca Albiani

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood | March 20 | 11am

William Morris: The Revolutionary | April 17 | 11am

The Arts and Crafts Movement: Form, Function, and Influence | May 15 | 11am


ESSAY | William Morris, His Politics

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“William Morris was deeply disturbed by the inequities and income disparities he observed in Victorian society. In 1883, he joined the Social Democratic Federation, the first official socialist party established in England. Like many in the movement, Morris struggled to define his vision amid the many competing views on the ideal organization of society. He advocated radical revolution and change through government reform at different times in his life.

With Eleanor Marx, the daughter of Karl Marx, and other prominent party members, Morris formed the breakaway Socialist League in 1884. Ultimately frustrated by ideological differences between anarchists and reformist party members and exhausted from his relentless schedule, he abandoned all organized political activity in the early 1890s.

Morris's enduring contribution to the cause of social equality was largely educational. He financed, edited, and wrote for the Socialist League's monthly publication, Commonweal, and was a popular speaker at party meetings and on street corners where he explained the merits of socialism. Even after resigning his Socialist League membership, Morris continued to champion socialist ideals in his writings and endeavors…” more.

SOURCE: University of Maryland


RELATED PROGRAMMING

Art Talks with Rebecca Albiani

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood | March 20 | 11am

William Morris: The Revolutionary | April 17 | 11am

The Arts and Crafts Movement: Form, Function, and Influence | May 15 | 11am


BIOGRAPHY | William Morris

"William Morris was a revolutionary force in Victorian Britain: his work as an artist, designer, craftsman, writer and socialist dramatically changed the fashions and ideologies of the era.

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Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was privately educated before matriculating to read Theology at Exeter College, Oxford, in 1853. He was swayed from his initial intention of taking holy orders by the social commentaries of writers such as Thomas Carlyle, Charles Kingsley and John Ruskin. After university he trained as an architect and developed close friendships with the Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, with whom he formed a deep and lasting friendship. The two fostered in him an increasing interest in art and architecture. This was the beginning of a remarkable career spanning several disciplines – artist, author, craftsman, and social activist.

Morris would become one of the most significant figures in the arts and crafts movement, a man of far ranging creativity and knowledge…” more.

SOURCE: The William Morris Society


RELATED PROGRAMMING

Art Talks with Rebecca Albiani

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood | March 20 | 11am

William Morris: The Revolutionary | April 17 | 11am

The Arts and Crafts Movement: Form, Function, and Influence | May 15 | 11am


ESSAY | Why were the Pre-Raphaelites so shocking?

Pre-Raphaelite paintings are today seen as uncomplicatedly beautiful images. But when they were first painted in the mid 19th century, they were regarded as assaults on the eye, objectionable in terms of their realism and morally shocking.

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Charles Dickens was one of the disapproving critics. He described the figure of the Virgin Mary in John Everett Millais’s “Christ in the House of His Parents” (image above and right) as a degenerate type, one who was ‘horrible in her ugliness.’

Whereas other artists tended to idealize religious figures, the Pre-Raphaelites painted them with unprecedented realism, detailing peculiarities of physiognomy and character, so people read them in terms of the model rather than in terms of the person that particular model was impersonating. Sometimes the artist’s approach was considered sacrilegious or even blasphemous.

The artists used bright colors so their pictures stood out against other works in an exhibition, demanding people’s attention. The Pre-Raphaelites were self-publicists, seeking controversy and attention…” more

SOURCE: TATE


RELATED PROGRAMMING

Art Talks with Rebecca Albiani

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood | March 20 | 11am

William Morris: The Revolutionary | April 17 | 11am

The Arts and Crafts Movement: Form, Function, and Influence | May 15 | 11am


ART TERM | Pre-Raphaelite

In 1848 a group of young artists founded a secret society. “The Pre-Raphaelites” were opposed to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the ideal as exemplified in the work of the Renaissance master Raphael.

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They were also in revolt also against the triviality of the immensely popular genre painting of time.

Inspired by the theories of John Ruskin, who urged artists to ‘go to nature’, they believed in an art of serious subjects treated with maximum realism. Their principal themes were initially religious, but they also used subjects from literature and poetry, particularly those dealing with love and death. They also explored modern social problems.

Its principal members were William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. After initial heavy opposition the Pre-Raphaelites became highly influential, with a second phase of the movement from about 1860, inspired particularly by the work of Rossetti, making major contribution to symbolism.

Learn more about the Pre-Raphaelites, their work, and related terms and concepts here.

SOURCE: TATE


RELATED PROGRAMMING

Art Talks with Rebecca Albiani

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood | March 20 | 11am

William Morris: The Revolutionary | April 17 | 11am

The Arts and Crafts Movement: Form, Function, and Influence | May 15 | 11am


Stepping Behind the Scenes of "The 39 Steps"

Stepping Behind the Scenes of The 39 Steps
By Evan Ray

 

“How far is Winnipeg from Montreal?,” Hannay exclaims from his box in the audience. As Mr. Memory sorts through his extensive intracranial filing cabinet, I head toward the stage right clothing hooks. That was my cue to prepare Katie’s next costume change, the second of over twenty (it’s hard to count!) that will occur throughout the show. There are many instances like this one in the backstage orchestration of The 39 Steps, components of our own behind the scenes blocking that has formed both consciously and unconsciously in rehearsal and run. The play requests a high degree of organization from its stage crew and we make it our goal to bring that to the table (wings and booth?) in return. In a review of paper tech at the start of tech weekend, our stage manager, Kathy Stanley, produced a prompt book that likely contained more lighting, sound, and backstage cues than actual dialogue. My own script is full of graphs and charts reminding me how to position costumes for the most efficient quick-changes and notes about finally remembering not to leave the loops on that one dress over the hanger.

 

In spite of all our planning, an equivalent amount of creative problem-solving and quick thinking is necessary in a play notorious for rapid-fire action. If an actor is exiting the stage with a torn curtain—or a chair in three pieces, as the case may be—it is the backstage crew’s job to figure out what to do about it in that moment, especially if the prop will be needed later in the performance. For me, this synthesis of careful coordination and quick improvisation is one of the things that makes being backstage for The 39 Steps both an intense and intensely rewarding and enjoyable experience.

 

The clock reads 6:01 as I enter the mainstage door. I make brief stops at the sign-in sheet and green room and then start on the pre-show checklist. This consists of making sure the right props are onstage for the top of the show and the correct footlight is in place and “where did those biscuits go?” and the battery for the lamp is plugged in and “really, what happened to the shortbread?” and all of the money is in the right pockets and “seriously, who would have taken something from the prop table?!?.” Phew!

 

Compere jacket #2, British police cape, sideburns on a headband, three stuffed sheep—this is the eclectic inventory of items I pile onto my arm before heading to stage left to do final checks on the coat hooks and prop tables. “Fifteen to places.” We look over the stage one last time. Everyone makes sure the lamp works, independently of one another. No wonder the battery goes so fast. “Ten to places.” Water bottles are filled. “Five to places.” Are the safety lights on? “Actors in places and….

 

Here we go!” During the performance, it stays as busy backstage as it was before the show. My notes to myself, verbatim, often look something like the following: “Assist change to milkman SR (stage right), then hightail it to SL (stage left) with trench coat and bring compere jacket #1, dropping off clown hat along the way. Make sure sunglasses are in right pocket. Prepare coat with cape, take milkman costume quietly from Tristan, and assist Katie’s change to salesman SL. Then get to dressing room pronto for Bristol’s change to Pamela.” Yes, indeed, there’s certainly plenty to do and the pedometer in my phone doesn’t rest often.

 

Collaboration is key; this is especially evident in the middle of the show. A play itself is a giant feat of collaboration and the backstage crew is a smaller collaboration within the larger. Sometimes one action will involve many members of the crew, such as the shadow screen plane scene in Act I. Other things fall into a natural sequence; after a while you begin to notice patterns, walking past the same person in the hallway carrying the same things after that one scene.

 

Once the intermission checklist has been completed (tea is poured, chairs are placed, rope on the banner is properly set, etc.), it’s time for Act II. “Actors in places!”  We sometimes refer to Act I as “the busy act” (it is, after all, the act where I run from “flying” a plane to trigger the fog machine and then immediately open the mid-traveler), but there are still many things to be done in the second half. Sheep must be herded positioned, flannel nightshirts must be wrestled with, and then there is what seems to and may be a matter of seconds to strike and reset the stage for the final scenes.

 

Curtains close, lights go up—it’s time to pre-set for the next show. This means lots of sweeping (if you’ve come to see The 39 Steps already, you’ll probably know why), tracking down errant opera glasses, or trying to attain some semblance of order in that one chaotic stash of costumes that always accrues on stage left. The post-show checklist is as important as the pre-show one, as this is the time where that one pair of sunglasses can be located before it has had time to disappear into the woodwork, seemingly of its own accord, and make you spend fifteen minutes looking for it the next day. That’s right sunglasses, you know who you are. After double-checking everything for a third time, we head out.

 

Kazoos, kilts, and knives—where else can you find such diversity of prop and costume? This medley is representative of the play itself, with a storyline that winds through territories from spellbinding thriller to screwball comedy to romance to a puddle on the dark Scottish moors. And now, when you catch one of the last three opportunities to attend this show (available at tickets.wicaonline.com or 360.221.8268!) and see all of the incredible onstage feats of acting, you can imagine the glorious frenzy occurring behind the scenes as well.

PS: *Can you find the Alfred Hitchcock references hidden in this essay?

 

Emancipating Gender in Theatre - by Katie Woodzick

Re-posted with permission from woodzickwrites~ Theatre, Feminism & Poetry.

This was going to be an essay about trains.

When I was ten years old, I saw the Robert Preston and Shirley Jones version of The Music Man for the first time. I was enthralled. I would march around the backyard with a tree branch conducing 76 trombones. I would bellow “W-w-w-w-ell, you got Trouble my friends!”

This was well before my household had a personal computer or the internet, so I couldn’t look up the lyrics of songs. I wanted to memorize all of the different parts to Rock Island, which is spoken word piece that opens The Music Man. Several salesman are sitting on a train and talking about their products and the scourge Harold Hill who is giving all other salesman a bad name by swindling towns out of money. The lyrics, performed percussively, mimic the sounds of a train leaving the station, picking up speed and slowing down at the next stop.

I used the interlibrary loan system to the libretto from another branch. Once it arrived, I set up chairs in my living room, switching seats as I learned all of the different parts. I was a quick study, and learned the entire number by the end of the week.

I shared this story at a rehearsal for The 39 Steps earlier this week. The 39 Steps isn’t a musical—it’s a play based on the Hitchcock film. It’s written for four characters: the handsome leading man, his three love interests (all played by the same woman) and two clowns, who play over 100 roles, ranging from policemen, to spies to underwear salesman on a train. The two clowns are traditionally played by two men.

(I’m going to warn you right now, this essay it not going to be told in linear fashion. We are going to jump back and forward multiple times, and that’s ok. If I were telling you this story in person, there would likely be moments of me saying “Well, wait, we have to go back ten years…but then remember the thing I said five minutes ago? Let’s go back there, now!” I thank you in advance for your patience.)

The reason that this essay was going to be about trains is that while we were blocking the train scene, it reminded me of memorizing Rock Island when I was a kid. One of the other actors looked at me and said, “Now, that’s a blog post.” And I added it to my to-do list without much thought.

It’s New Year’s day as I write this and I’ve spent the last couple of hours thinking that this needs to be more than a piece about trains and salesman. It needs to be about how my relationship to performing gender both onstage and off has changed. So here we go.

As I said before, the roles of the two clowns in The 39 Steps are usually played by two men. I want to unpack why this wasn’t the case for this show, why that’s a good thing and express my sincere hope that modern theatre starts/continues considering/putting into practice gender neutral/gender queer casting on a wider scale.

I’m going to use my personal journey with gender expression and performance as a (mostly) linear through line to demonstrate how many twists and turns I’ve experienced. And by doing that, we’ll eventually get to why I was cast as a man in The 39 Steps. (I promise!)

Back to ten year old me. I displayed the attributes of a tomboy (for lack of a better word), using the definition of tomboy as “a girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys.” My best friend and I played with sticks as swords and chased each other around the backyard. We played Power Rangers, astronauts and aliens and when we learned and sang song from Disney movies, we stayed away from the princess songs and opted for the funny sidekick’s songs or the villain’s songs.

I am reminded here of a line from Sarah Galvin’s fantastic essay, My Whole Life I’ve Been Asked If I’m a Girl or a Boy: “I became Captain Hook as a child because Captain Hook was powerful—he could do things I had no evidence little girls could.”

I remember my mother preparing me for a video audition for a summer repertory theatre and saying I should audition for both Mary in The Secret Garden and Winthrop in The Music Man. The suggestion confused me: I was a girl, but I could pretend to be a boy?

At another audition, I insisted on singing Mister Mistoffelees from Cats. The folks sitting behind the audition table looked perplexed.

I began to look at the musical theatre cannon with a beautiful lens where I could go far any part I wanted to, regardless of gender. I watched Little Shop of Horrors and decided to memorize the Dentist’s song.

And then the big 12 came around. The summer I turned twelve, I went through puberty. I shot up several inches and it changed the way I felt in my body and how directors saw my body and how it fit into their vision of casting. That summer, I wanted to be the villain in the musical of Aladdin, but I got cast as the villain’s sister.

Spring of 1998. Sleeping Beauty. This was when the shit really hit the fan.

For the first time, I was cast as a romantic lead. I played the serving woman of the princess, who in this particular fairy tale version ends up with the prince. It was uncomfortable. I was having a hard time adjusting to my newfound height and breasts and periods…I felt lost. I looked to the older high school girls and their actions to see if I could mimic them for survival.

One of the things I saw the older girls doing was kissing each other on each cheek to greet one another. So, I kissed one of my friends on her cheeks when she came to see the show. Another girl witnessed this and spread a rumor throughout our middle school that I was gay.

I grew up in the Midwest, and I’ll have to admit that at 12 years old, I didn’t have a good grasp of what “gay” meant. What I knew was that I was getting verbally and physically assaulted at school because kids thought I was gay. I don’t remember telling my mom and I don’t remember telling any teachers. I felt that I had done something wrong and now no one liked me. My middle school logic dictated that:

gay = finding girls attractive = getting bullied

SO

not gay = finding boys attractive = being left alone

I didn’t stop to ask myself if I actually did find girls attractive. I just wanted to feel safe at school.

Since my family didn’t have a lot of money, I wasn’t able to make a huge overhaul of my wardrobe. But I found myself making choices to perform my femininity as much as possible, having dramatic infatuations with boys that I made sure I told everyone about except the boy. These crushes never worked out. They weren’t meant to. I just wanted to display/show/perform/prove that I didn’t like girls, so-can-the-bullying-stop-now-please?

In high school, I did show choir and participated in the big annual musical. I played Mrs. Paroo in The Music Man, Ruth in Pirates of Penzance and Fantine in Les Miserables. In the summers, I participated in programing with The Young Shakespeare Players. YSP produced un-cut versions of Shakespeare’s works with ages 8-18. I got to play the Earl of Northumberland in Richard II, Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure and Iago in Othello. The kids who participated in YSP were not from my high school. They came from more liberal areas of Madison and its suburbs and many were homeschooled. Performing male roles felt safe there. And many other young women were doing it as well.

College gave me the space to think and learn and start becoming more of an individual. I took a class on God and Gender and my world cracked open. I became fascinated with Judith Butler and Gender Performance theory. A central concept of the theory is that gender is constructed through one’s own repetitive performance of gender.

“…if gender is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearance of substance (last 3 words italicized) is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which he mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief. If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style.” (Performative Acts and Gender Constitution An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory by Judith Butler.)

Learning about this theory didn’t necessarily change anything immediately about the way in which I performed my gender, but I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. There was freedom in discovering there was an aspect of choice when it came to gender.

For my senior project, I directed Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy. The title of the project was “Beyond Therapy: Beyond Social Constructions of Gender and Sexuality.” In the end, I was extremely proud of production and the conversations we had about gender theory in the rehearsal room (although I may have not been the most qualified person to lead those discussions.)

I moved to Whidbey Island the summer after I graduated college. I had just turned 22 and packed my life in my Toyota Camry, driving from Minnesota to Whidbey in two days. I became involved with the vibrant theatre community, and that’s where I met Deana Duncan.

Deana is the Programming and Production Director at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. When I auditioned for Sweeney Todd in 2008, I had my eyes set on the role of Mrs. Lovett. As I came into the callback, she asked me “Would you be willing to audition for Pirelli?”

As actors, we’re trained to say yes whenever possible to directors. So I said yes to her without thinking. And I got the part.

If you’re not familiar with the musical, Pirelli is an Italian barber who Sweeney challenges to a shaving duel. It’s a male role. I cut my hair shorter, bound my chest with Ace Wrap and used makeup to make my features read as more masculine. It’s higher tenor role, so I was able to sing most of the score as written, only transposing the lowest of notes. I had a pair of bright orange pants custom-made by the costumer. The experience was incredibly freeing as a performer. I got to simultaneously disappear and yet feel more like myself than I ever had before onstage.

Before season auditions in August, Deana and I were sitting at our good friend Matthew’s wedding talking about The Addams Family. I really wanted the role of Wednesday, which was written as 18-30 in the script. I felt confident that I could sing and act the role as strongly as anyone who came to audition, but acknowledged that the director might want to go with a more petite Wednesday (more about my experiences being a plus-sized actress here). I also expressed interest in playing Gomez, saying, “I mean, Pirelli…Gomez…they’re kind of the same guy.” We both laughed.

I went on to say that I wanted to list on the audition form that I was interested in/had experience playing male roles, but didn’t know how that would sit with a director who didn’t know me. And Deana’s eyes lit up. “You know, the two clowns in The 39 Steps, they’re traditionally played by men, but they wouldn’t have to be.”

I smiled and nodded politely. When I got a callback for the clowns in The 39 Steps, I was surprised by how much fun I had in the callback, rapidly shifting between different male characters. And by the end of the callback, I really wanted to be one of the clowns. I wanted to be one of the clowns more than I wanted to be Wednesday in The Addams Family. By the time I got home, there was already a voicemail from Deana offering me the role.

Deana recently visited the Off-Broadway run of The 39 Steps and took a backstage tour. When she told the producer that she had cast a woman in one of the clown roles, he raised an eyebrow.

“Are you sure you can do that?” He asked.

She replied that she checked with the licensing company that held the rights for the show and they had given her the go-ahead.

“I went with talent,” she explained.

I went with talent. I love those words. What wonderful words.

This is why I applaud this particular casting decision. Yes, it means I get to be a part of an amazing production. But what it also means is that she looked outside of what tradition casting was for this show—she expanded her vision of what the play was and chose actors who best served that vision, instead of locking herself into the way casting had traditionally been done for this show.

I’m delighted to be seeing more decisions like this one. The hit musical Hamilton tells the story of America’s Founding Fathers with a show-stopping group of multiracial actors. Creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda was quoted recently as being open to having women play the leading roles:

“I’m totally open to women playing founding fathers once this goes into the world. I can’t wait to see kick-ass women Jeffersons and kickass women Hamiltons once this gets to schools.”

Gender blind casting is sometimes a necessity in education settings—they’re simply aren’t enough men or boys to play the male roles, so girls get cast in those roles. How fantastic if what was once a necessity became more of a casting convention.

This past summer, I saw an all-female cast of 1776 on the Seattle Musical Theatre stage. 1776 is one of my favorite musicals, but it’s a show that only has two roles for women. I was deeply moved by this production, because the story didn’t lose anything for making the choice of having an all-female cast. The highly-committed performances of all the actors elevated the musical to new a new artistic level for me.

At most auditions I’ve been to post-college, there have been at least twice as many (if not three times) female actresses auditioning than male actors. In the script itself, the ratio is often reversed: two male speaking roles for every one speaking role for women. In a 2012 study conducted by The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins found that “…there is a stubborn 2:1 male-to-female problem in English theatre, which runs from boards of directors through to actors.”

Groups like The Kilroys are making great strides to increase awareness of female and trans* playwrights and challenge theatres to create gender parity in the plays they choose for their seasons. But what if theatres started to make decisions like “Regardless of the season we pick, we commit to hiring the same amount of male and female actors.”

I want to see more female Hamlets. An all-female cast of The Importance of Being Earnest. If we continue to produce theatre by dead white men, I want to see more and more gender blind casting and what that casting does to the story. Does it uncover other themes? Does it challenge what the original author meant? Does it inspire audiences to see gender in a completely different way?

In my recent interview with theatre artist Ada Karamanyan, we discussed what it means for casting directors to have gender neutral or gender queer actors come into the audition room.

Ada responded: “To me, that’s just like putty in your hand from a casting perspective, if you have somebody come in and there’s a…not to put it in a box, but let’s say androgyny to it or a lack of a construct of ‘this is a very feminine person’ or ‘this a is a very masculine person’ but you have a blend..you could really do anything with it.”

I am heartened by local companies like Copious Love Productions who have added the following language to audition notices: “Copious Love STRONGLY encourages all ethnicities, actors of color, ages and gender identities to audition for any role that interests you!”

As a bisexual, genderqueer performer, I see audition notices like this and it makes my heart sing. I’m thirty years old, and I feel more like myself than I ever before. I am more comfortable in my own skin.

I saw my first Drag King show last weekend. It was fantastic and I can’t wait to get up on that same stage and perform. I want to start working my way through my new musical theatre bucket list as a performer. It includes Sweeney Todd, the Street Singer from ThreePenny Opera, Harold Hill, Pippin, Judas from Jesus Christ Superstar, the Dentist from Little Shop, and The American in Chess to name a few.

I woke up this morning to see that one of my favorite writers, Ijeoma Oluo, had posted this on Facebook: “Let’s emancipate gender this year.”

Reading her words lit the fire under my ass to write this essay. So let’s do it. Let’s emancipate gender in theatre.

From the Newbie’s Knothole…..The Director

Director Phil Jordan

Director Phil Jordan

New to acting and the inner life of the theatre, I am fascinated by all of it.  As a lifelong student of leadership and a practicing executive coach I’ve been riveted on Phil Jordan, the director.   I entered this production wanting to discover if directing people in a play was different from in corporate settings.   I’m delighted to report that best practices are, well, best practices in both domains.  And I’ve discovered a delightful difference.

I asked Phil today what he liked most about being a Director.  He said, ‘rehearsals,’ because he likes the interaction with the actors.  It’s clear even to this newbie that he loves the challenge of shepherding creative people.  What I see is him allowing the actors to find their characters and develop them (within his vision) without intrusion. So, I asked him what he does when it isn’t working.  

 “Actors are very good at reading the director,” he tells me.  “They pick up the director’s vibe very quickly, so I don’t make it about living up to my vision. I ask myself how I can help them make it better. So, before I ask something of them, I ask myself, “what’s the next best thing to say that will best help them go deeper into themselves for their character.”

Perhaps its because the theatre’s lifeblood is creativity that he found this approach, for I cannot recall a corporate executive ever framing his primary role as one of growing his people’s reliance on their own wisdom and creativity.  Imagine, the energy that could be released and sustained if our institutional leaders were so inclined.

From my vantage point, I see its effect in rehearsals.  People are giving 150% every night.  Every run through runs deeper and better.  The cast is close and supportive.  We solve problems together; asking each other how can I help.   Laughter rings out easily and often.   Every layer added makes it better and more exciting.  People are popping ideas and Phil is listening.

This director realizes that the path to a truly brilliant production lies in supporting his people to depend on their own creativity.  And, even this thespian newbie can already see…

Dead Man’s Cell Phone is going to be truly brilliant !

-Peggy Gilmer