Friday, April 29, 2011

Reading the Romances

"The boy was born. The girl was born. Went to school....Read Romances, studied cloud formations."

The Romances originally meant something written in French; usually a medieval story. In the broader context, the Romances were fantastic stories about marvel filled adventures with knights possessing heroic qualities who go on huge adventures or quests.

The Romances that Luisa read were probably Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Romeo and Juliet.

Jones and Schmidt provide a little foreshadowing of Matt's quest in El Gallo's first soliloquy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Word About Word

The third member of this happy creative trio was a skinny, pimply little kid a lot like Jones. Charlie (Word) Baker was another directing student at UT Austin. Baker, five years older than Jones, seemed worldly wise; married with 2 daughters, and a stint in the Army during World War II impressed Jones immensely.

He was a director from the start. When he was five he received a Mother
Goose book and promptly cast the neighborhood kids in his own backyard theatrical production. He married his high school sweetheart. Both went on to college where the lure of the stage was too much for Word and he soon flunked out of college. After the Army he got a job helping to organize his hometown's theatre company. At a friend's prompting he enrolled at UT Austin and crossed paths with Jones, Schmidt, B. Iden Payne and found a theatrical home in the Curtain Club.

At this time Oklahoma was only four years old, South Pacific and West Side Story were not even waiting in the wings and the musical theatre was persona non grata at the university level but not at the Curtain Club. Every Friday they would host a hugely extravagant talent show of skits and songs.

From there he got a teaching job in El Paso and made a move to Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University) when a job opened in the theatre department. His first directing assignment: The Crucible and a long career as a director.

He is often described as "magical", "incandescent." Of Baker, a colleague said, "He had characteristics about him that I have never seen in another was a charisma beyond anything I'd ever heard of."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"I hear her speak of Sabine women"

It is nor surprising that Luisa, who has read the classic and the Romances, would speak fondly and wistfully of her favorite story The Rape of the Sabine Women. After all, to a young young it was fantastically romantic story.

Contrary to what modern audiences might think, no real rape occurred, rather an abduction.

The Rape of the Sabine Women is an episode in the legendary history of Rome in which the first generation of Roman men acquired wives for themselves from the neighboring Sabine families. The English word "rape" is a conventional translation of Latin raptio, which in this context means "abduction" rather than its prevalent modern meaning of sexual violation.

The Rape is supposed to have occurred in the early history of Rome, shortly after its founding by Romulus and his mostly male followers. Seeking wives in order to found families, the Romans negotiated unsuccessfully with the Sabines, who populated the area. Fearing the emergence of a rival society, the Sabines refused to allow their women to marry the Romans. Consequently, the Romans planned to abduct Sabine women. Romulus devised a festival of Neptune Equester and proclaimed the festival among Rome's neighbours. According to Livy, many people from Rome's neighbours attended, including many of the Sabines. At the festival Romulus gave a signal, at which the Romans grabbed the Sabine women and fought off the Sabine men. The indignant abductees were soon implored by Romulus to accept Roman husbands.

Livy is clear that no sexual assault took place. On the contrary, Romulus offered them free choice and promised civic and property rights to women. According to Livy, Romulus spoke to them each in person, "and pointed out to them that it was all owing to the pride of their parents in denying the right of intermarriage to their neighbours. They would live in honourable wedlock, and share all their property and civil rights, and--dearest of all to human nature--would be the mothers of free men.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"She's Too Vibrant for a Name"

Juliet, Helena, Cassandra, Cleopatra, Beatrice, Guinevere? What a line up of Beauties.

Mostly familiar names at least to 1960's audiences who were still studying the classics in school.

In case you missed it in English class..

Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. Her beauty caught Apollo's eye and he granted her the gift of prophesy. Unfortunately for him it was unrequitted love so he put a curse on Cassandra. She still had the gift but no one would believe her. Cassandra was left with the knowledge of future events, but could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions.

We get the phrase the Cassandra metaphor from our fair lady.

The Cassandra metaphor (variously labelled the Cassandra 'syndrome', 'complex', 'phenomenon', 'predicament', 'dilemma', or 'curse'), is a term applied in situations in which valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved.

Jones's Beatrice may be the one from Much Ado About Nothing as is Helena but I like this Beatrice better.

Beatrice was the woman to whom the great Italian poet Dante dedicated most of his poetry and almost all of his life, from his first sight of her at the age of nine (“from that time forward, Love quite governed my soul”) through his glorification of her in La divina commedia, completed 40 years later, to his death in 1321.

Beatrice is usually identified as Beatrice Portinari, the daughter of a noble Florentine family, who married Simone de’ Bardi and died at the age of 24 on June 8, 1290. Dante wrote a chronicle of his relationship with her

Cleopatra. I couldn't possibly do justice to her in a short little blog post so I'll pay homage to the iconic Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Everything Fantasticks

Check out MTI's Fantasticks page with music clips, synopsis, photos, videos, forums, and upcoming shows ...Look for us!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It is hard to know what is most important or how it all began.

...They grew up - quickly - went to school, became shy in their own ways and for different reasons. Read romances, studied cloud formations in the lazy afternoon and instead of reading textbooks tried to memorize the moon."

Harvey Schmidt, the son of a Methodist minister, traveled from town to town in Texas as his father's assignments changed. It was his mother, with her love of music had the most significant impact on the young Harvey. She made a living as a piano t
eacher. Harvey was one of her student's, but as he admits, one of her worst students. It was his mother and her love for music that made an impression.

In those small Texas towns long before TV radio was king. He listened to hour upon hour of symphony broadcasts and operas on the radio, it was the highlight of his weekend. That and the movies that came to town. "People growing up today can't imagine how different the world was before television," Schmidt says, "We had movies, radio, and some live performances and I loved them all because they were all separate. TV smears them all together. In those days I didn't know quite what was real and what was fantasy. I'd see these old 30's musicals where everybody'd be dancing on black glass floors and that supposedly was New York. I thought, well that looks swell."

Although reading notes baffled the young Schmidt it in no way stopped his love of music. He did learn to play and as soon as he knew how a song went he could play it by ear. He had a wild imagination and would meander down the dirt roads of Texas creating wild productions with huge production numbers like the one's he had seen in the movies. "Only mine were even bigger, and grander, because out of door, under the sky, I was not restricted by a studio budget!"

He did excel in one other thing and at a very early "A precocious artist, Schmidt's drawing so impressed his first grade teacher that the teacher announced to the class that he could grow up to be a commercial artist in New York. 'That sounded good to me.' Schmidt said , so I always claimed, I'd do that.'"

By 1948 he was headed to the University of Texas as a commercial art student but the Siren call of music and the theatre led him to a performing group on campus called The Curtain Club, his first audition as a pianist, and his first meeting with Tom Jones that sealed his fate.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Perhaps You Recall my Hamlet?

Back to the titanic theatrical influence in Tom Jones's life....

B. Iden Payne the internationally known Shakespearean actor and director arrived on the UT Austin campus in 1946 at the "moonlight" of his illustrious career with no less energy, spark, and eccentricity that he had demonstrated his entire life.

A native of Great Britain, he directed at the Abbey Players in Dublin, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford on Avon, and New York's Theate Guild Shakespeare Company and was one of the godfathers of The Goodman . He credits himself with giving John Barrymore his first serious role in Galworthy's Justice. He cast Helen Hayes at 14 in her first serious role. He was an authority on Elizabethan stage technique.

Today on campus his name is as prolific as Emmy, Oscar, and Thespie, with a theatre named after him and an annual theatre award given in his name.

"He was determined to root out the notion that complicated sets and scenery were necessary for theatre." For Payne, the text alone in all his richness was enough. "He was emphatic about this and pounded it into his students." This may not sound like a revolutionary idea today but in 1946 it was cutting edge and to many a little bizzare.

It was under Payne's tutelage that Tom Jones was inspired. He came to realize the kind of theatre he liked the most, that of "Shakespeare, Moliere, the Greeks, and Thorton Wilder." The kind of theatre that was presentational not realistic. It was so over the top, smaltzy, a bit of glittery fantasy."

Jones says, "I could believe anything. If you didn't ask me to believe anything, I could believe everything."

HENRY: Don't look at us like we are, sir. Please. Remove ten pounds of road dust from these aged wrinkled cheeks. See make-up caked in glowing powder pink! Imagine a beard , full blown and blowing like the whiskers of a bear! And hair! Imagine hair."
..."Try to see it under light. I assure you it's dazzling."

BTW...The role of The Old Actor/Henry was inspired by B. Iden Payne.

(much credit needs to go to The Fantasticks: How It All Began by Donald C. Farber and Robert Viagas.)