“People frequently believe the creative life is grounded in fantasy. The more difficult truth is that creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed or specifically imagined.”— Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
“It is not an artist’s job to please anyone, but to bravely do the work that they are most compelled to do. It’s the public’s job to bravely seek out and appreciate the work that resonates with them.”—Steve Peters
Attention MT history nerds: The New York Public Library recently digitized a major portion of its holdings, including thousands of theatre photos. There are over 15,000 Martha Swope photos available for free! http://bit.ly/MarthaSwope Huge thanks to Doug Reside and the amazing staff at NYPL.
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”—Henry Miller
“Inspirational ideas come about through divine accidents. That is, the right and truthful and effective concepts always exist. It is an accident which breaks through my mistakes and I recognize them. It is like the divine awkwardness of the body. We keep trying to eliminate faults and awkwardness but it is that which makes for power and revelation as the small grain of sand makes a pearl.”—
-Martha Graham (as qtd. in de Mille, Agnes. The Book of the Dance)
“When I began writing for the musical theatre, I firmly believed that what I chose to put onstage had the potential of changing people’s lives. I wrote from the belief that plays and musicals can foster in their audiences a feeling of shared community, thereby combating personal isolation and fear. In theatrical settings, people become receptive, and important lessons about life can be genially imparted from the stage.”— Sheldon Harnick
“For a number of years now, I’ve noticed that people auditioning for my school or my company come in and essentially perform a tribute to me, thinking this is the way into my class and into my heart. They are quickly proven wrong: I want to know what you’ve seen and how you have threaded it through your own experience, your own mind, your own heart, your own history.”—Martha Graham
“No one expects a Broadway musical comedy to be in the vanguard of what is bohemian, raunchy, folkloric, academic or aggressively experimental. That is not its job. Its job is to synthesize musical and social traditions with high-styled vivacity, especially those that dwell on different sides of the tracks in real life. The highbrow meets the lowbrow; sweet meets hot; uptown, downtown, all around the town.”—Margo Jefferson, critic
“Compassion may be called the fundamental of all good art because it alone can tell you what other beings feel and experience. Only compassion severs the bonds of your personal limitations, and gives you deep access into the inner life of the character you study, without which you cannot properly prepare it for the stage…”— Michael Chekhov
“I am not a courageous person by nature. I have simply discovered that, at certain key moments in this life, you must find courage in yourself, in order to move forward and live. It is like a muscle and it must be exercised, first a little, and then more and more. All the really exciting things possible during the course of a lifetime require a little more courage than we currently have. A deep breath and a leap.”—
“The antagonism between actor and spectator is an acute unresolved tension. Who’s going to get whom? It becomes a sadomasochistic dilemma… . The actor, the hero is the sadist screwing the passive spectator. Yet the actor sacrifices himself in the fiery outstretched arms of a greedy audience which desperately wants what it has for centuries denied itself—the right to act itself. The actor is part of the organism (audience) projected outside itself to unfold the misery of its own self-alienation… . We are all actors and spectators simultaneously upon the stage of the world.”—Jill Johnston
“The musical theater, in my view, cannot be separated from its commercial aspect. A commercially succcessful show, is by some definitions, a better work [than an artistically sound show that fails commercially] … . While I’m disappointed that my work is not financially successful and has not been commercially well received, that’s still the standard to which I’m holding myself.”—
-Jason Robert Brown
Bryer, Jackson R., and Richard A. Davidson, eds. The Art of the American Musical: Conversations with the Creators. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005.29-30
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, executive producers of Smash are developing an hour-long musical series featuring the music of Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren for NBC,
Warren is known for penning iconic love songs such as, LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live,” Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heark,” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.”
“A song can degrade your culture, debase your language; can pollute your air and poison your taste or it can clear your thoughts and refurbish your spirit. It is the pulse of a nation’s heart, the fever chart of its health. Are we at peace? Are we in trouble? Are we floundering? Do we feel beautiful? Do we feel ugly? Are we hysterical? Violent? Listen to our songs.”—
—Edgar “Yip” Harburg [Lyricist/Librettist: The Wizard of Oz, Finian’s Rainbow, Americana, Bloomer Girl]
(as qtd. in)
Hischak, Thomas S. Boy Loses Girl: Broadway’s Librettists. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002. 101
A pioneer of musical theatre dance, de Mille’s choreographic style legitimized narrative dance as an accepted convention of the book musical. De Mille’s character-based choreographic style redefined the role of dance in musical theatre. Her technically and emotionally demanding choreography elevated the standards for Broadway dancers, usurping the mindless showgirl and introducing the dancer-actor. Her far-reaching influence fostered new approaches to developing dances for the musical stage. She is the first individual credited as both director and choreographer of a single Broadway production with her work on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Allegro. In addition to her pioneer work in musical theatre, de Mille is a founder of the burgeoning genre of American ballet. Her introduction of American styles and concepts into traditional European ballet revolutionized the art form, inciting shock and awe in audiences and critics alike. Her work as an arts advocate, labor organizer, dance historian, and prolific author greatly enriched the American cultural landscape.
Agnes de Mille was born on September 18, 1905 in the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City. Her father, William de Mille was a famous Broadway playwright and screenwriter in the early days of silent film. Her mother Anna George was the daughter of single-tax advocate, Henry George. When Agnes was nine, the family moved to Hollywood to join William’s brother Cecil B. de Mille, a famous film director. As a child, de Mille found creative outlets by studying piano and staging amateur dramatic performances in which she also performed. At age 10, Agnes had a rare opportunity to perform on film in The Ragamuffin, directed by her father. Her early aspirations as an actress were soon squelched after being told she wasn’t “pretty enough.”
De Mille’s fervent interest in dance began at an early age, much to her parents’ dismay. After seeing Anna Pavlova perform in 1918, de Mille’s desire to study dance intensified. Her parents did everything to dissuade her from what they viewed as an unsuitable activity for a young lady. Agnes finally received permission to dance when an orthopedic doctor prescribed ballet lessons to Agnes’ sister Margaret to correct her fallen arches. De Mille experienced difficulty in her early ballet training for she did not possess the lean sylph-like physique of a classical dancer. De Mille worked tirelessly to overcome her physical challenges in addition to her late start as a dancer.
Responding to pressure from her father, Agnes gave up dancing and attended the University of California Los Angeles as an English major, graduating with honors in 1926. Around this time, her father and mother divorced. De Mille then moved to New York with her mother and sister. Unable to find employment opportunities as a dancer, she choreographed and performed in a series of solo recitals—also arranging the music and designing the costumes. In 1932, de Mille was hired to choreograph Flying Colors, a Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz revue, her inexperience led to many errors and ultimately to her termination from the project.
After the failure of Flying Colors, de Mille moved to London. Financial security eluded her as she struggled to make a living as a dancer and choreographer in the darkest days of The Depression. Throughout the 1930s, de Mille devoted herself to strengthening her dance technique and choreographic abilities. She trained with Marie Rambert at the Ballet Club where she met emerging choreographers Frederick Ashton and Anthony Tudor. In 1933, she choreographed the dances for Charles B. Cochran’s production of Nymph Errant starring Gertrude Lawrence.
De Mille returned from London in 1938, at the eve of World War II. At age 32, de Mille was penniless and unemployed. A change of fortune occurred when de Mille was offered a position as a charter member of Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) in 1940, where she shocked the dance world with Black Ritual (1940). Although the ballet was not a commercial success, it marked the first appearance of black dancers in a major ballet company. Further establishing herself on the American concert stage, de Mille restaged her 1934 ballet entitled, Three Virgins and a Devil at Ballet Theatre. De Mille solidified her reputation as a burgeoning American choreographer with Rodeo (1942) produced by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and boasting a score by composer Aaron Copeland. The movement vocabulary of Rodeo exemplifies de Mille’s signature Americana style, built upon the riding and roping techniques of cowboys of the Old West. At age 37, de Mille danced the leading role in the original production at the Metropolitan Opera House, receiving over twenty curtain calls.
The prodigious success of Rodeo led to an invitation to collaborate with Richard
Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II on Oklahoma! (1943). In the production, de Mille employed an approach to choreography as costuming, developing a movement vocabulary inextricably linked to time and place. With the creation of dances that served as crucial elements of plot, character, and theme, de Mille elevated the role of dance in the American musical. The dream ballet “Laurie Makes Up Her Mind” is one such example, and holds a preeminent position in the musical theatre dance canon.
Following the monumental successes of Rodeo and Oklahoma!, de Mille reigned as the best-known Broadway choreographer of the 1940s and 1950s. She went on to create narrative, integrated dances in hit musicals such as Kurt Weill’s One Touch of Venus (1943), Bloomer Girl (1944) in which her moving “Civil War Ballet” garnered great critical acclaim, Carousel (1945), and Brigadoon (1947). De Mille became the first individual credited as a director-choreographer with an ambitious production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (1947). The creative team was bitterly disappointed by the final product although the production ran for 315 performances.
Working consistently throughout the 1950s with Lerner & Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon, The Girl in Pink Tights (1954), Goldilocks (1958), and Juno (1959), de Mille continued to hone her craft of using dance as text. In 1954, Agnes de Mille choreographed the film version of Oklahoma!. Several musicals originally choreographed by de Mille were adapted into films; however, Oklahoma! marks the sole occurrence in which de Mille choreographed the film adaptation of a musical she originally choreographed for the Broadway stage.
In addition to her accomplishments as a dancer, choreographer, and director on the Broadway stage, de Mille was an eloquent speaker and accomplished writer. Her interest in preserving the American dance heritage and her desire to work with young people led to the establishment of the Heritage Dance Theatre at the North Carolina School of the Arts. Her numerous awards include the New York City Handel Medallion (1976), and the Kennedy Center Honor (1980).
In 1975 she suffered a stroke but continued to write and publish books. She restaged Oklahoma (1979) on Broadway, and her lecture series Conversations about the Dance aired on PBS. She remained active as an arts advocate throughout her life. At the time of her death in October 1993, Agnes de Mille was still an influential and productive cultural leader.
reprinted with permission from
Ellis, Roger. “Choreographing America: The Narrative Style of Agnes De Mille.” Teaching the Theatre Dance Repertory: A Study in Style. San Diego: Montezuma, 2012. 31-34. Print.
Actress Lauren Bacall celebrates her 88th Birthday
Two time Tony Award winning actress Lauren Bacall celebrates her 88th birthday today, September 16, 2012. Prior to beginning her prolific career in film and television, Bacall made her Broadway debut in the ensemble of Johnny 2 X 4 (1942). She returned to the New York stage twice before winning acclaim as Margo Channing in Applause (1970), a musical based on film classic All About Eve (1950). In 1981, Bacall starred in Kander and Ebb’s Woman of the Year (1981), a feminist musical exploring gender roles and female ambition.
An adaptation of the 1942 film of the same title, Woman of the Year was the most commercially successful “women’s issues” musical of the decade, running for 770 performances and winning 4 Tony Awards including best book and best score.
The musical centers on Tess, an aggressive, strong, and independent woman heralding feminist ideals, “what you need is brains, what you need is push, what you need is energy to get off your tush. But you don’t need men when you come to bat. No you do not need a man, I’m the proof of that!” Despite Tess’ bravado and gusto, the all-male creative team (John Kander, Fred Ebb, Peter Stone) posit her as a complex individual struggling to balance her career and personal life.
The following clip features Lauren Bacall and the cast of Woman of the Year performing “One of the Boys” at the 1981 Tony Awards.
Creative Team: Book: Peter Stone Music: John Kander Lyrics: Fred Ebb Directed by: Robert Moore Musical Staging: Tony Charmoli
“[M]usical theatre can never be fully realistic, even within the conventions of theatrical realism for non-musical plays. In real life, people don’t start singing as an extension of normal conversation. But, once that convention is accepted, musicals can achieve a considerable illusion of reality or authenticity.”—Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre by John Bush Jones (137)