NYPL Shines Light on Female Theatrical Designers in New CURTAIN CALL Exhibit
Everyone loves a backstage story, and none so much as the one about the brilliant but unsung talent who finally makes it into the spotlight. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the League of Professional Theatre Women bring that long-deserved moment to 140 of those stories in Curtain Call: Celebrating a Century of Women Designing for Live Performance.
Featuring treasures from the Library's archives, Curtain Call is a multi-media exhibition crackling with creative verve and bursting at the seams with the dazzling works of the little-noted women without whose costume, set, and lighting designs and innovations the show could not have gone on in North America for the past hundred-plus years. This is the stuff that makes the audience gasp in awe. This is the opportunity to meet those responsible for taking our breath away.
Curtain Call will be on view November 17, 2008 through May 2, 2009 in the Library's Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery. Admission is free. Workshops, films screenings, and a full slate of public programs will be scheduled for early in the year. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, is located at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. For further information, telephone 212.870.1630 or visit www.nypl.org.
The exhibition was conceptualized and co-curated by award-winning costume designer Carrie Robbins (whose designs for the upcoming Broadway production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas are included in the show) in collaboration with noted performance historian Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg Curator of Exhibitions for the Performing Arts Library.
Curtain Call showcases the strong presence and progress of women within a field still dominated by men. In spite of limited opportunities, women designers exerted significant influence on every major artistic movement since 1890: from Caroline Siedle's costume illustrations for The Belle of New York (the 1897 precursor to Guys and Dolls) to Anna Louizos' 2008 Tony®-nominated set design for In the Heights; from the vast array of sketches from the staff designers who devised the never-ending parade of glamorous, exotic, and downright bizarre characters (dancing hotdogs in bowlers, anyone?) who strutted the revue stages of the Hippodrome, the Roxy and the Greenwich Village Follies to the grandeur of Tanya Moiseiwitsch's masks for the Guthrie's House of Atreus; from the Neighborhood Playhouse to the Metropolitan Opera House; the chiaroscuro first moment of modern dance in America to the Golden Age of Broadway and the great regional stages. The exhibition also acknowledges the women artisans and business owners with whom designers collaborate to manifest the magic they devise.
Some names might ring a bell among theatre and fashion buffs-Aline Bernstein, Theoni V. Aldredge, Bonnie Cashin, Joan Personette, Irene Sharaff, Patricia Zipprodt. Others less clearly or not at all-Beatrice Irwin, Gladys Monkhouse, Cora MacGeachy, Katharine H. Lovell, Kate Drain Lawson, or the once-dominant triumvirate known as Motley. But their trailblazing work and contributions to high-profile productions will be familiar to most.
In addition to the moving and immensely fun history lesson here, Curtain Call takes visitors into the heart of the creative process. "How do you turn a human actor into a believable lizard? How do you fashion armor that will move with a Fosse-flexed spine? Or make Peter Pan's shadow disappear?" asks Jacqueline Z. Davis, The Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. "Design for the stage takes into account so many unusual variables and challenges. This is a rare opportunity for the public to see the experimental passes designers take along the way to their ingenious solutions to problems of theme, concept, character, and sheer physical possibility. In some cases, they can see the trial-and-error and the finished product in the same room."
The exhibition begins with design illustrations and renderings from early 20th-century operettas, book musicals, dramas, opera, and the first lighting experiments for modern dance. It moves on to the designers for Broadway revues of the 1910s to 1930s and into the experimental theater movement of the ‘20s - ‘40s, where women held particular sway. Next stop, the mainstream of Broadway musicals and dramas, and set design contributions to the WWII effort at home and abroad. There are sections devoted to design for opera, the Shakespeare Festival movement, and fashion and interior designers who switch-hit for the stage. The eye-popping costume collection is divided into sections on Dance, 19th Century, Shakespearean, Celebrities, Exotics, and Animals.
Among the hundreds of items on display, visitors of all generations will recognize iconic objects of enchantment from every realm of live performance. There is the gown in which Constance Towers' Anna waltzed with Yul Brynner's King to "Shall We Dance?" and Glinda's blue Dior-inspired number from Wicked; Richard Burton's casuAl Hamlet garb; Hume Cronyn's ass's head (as Bottom at Stratford, Ontario); the wings from Angels in America. Amazing constructions of skill and imagination become Beauty and the Beast's Lumiere on stage, a fire-eyed flying Beelzebub from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Dr. Faustus, and a Passion Play Queen Elizabeth so elaborate it comes with a multi-page instruction guide. There are intricate set models from shows and operas many will have experienced full size-Spring Awakening, Avenue Q, Tom Sawyer, An American Tragedy and more-as well as innovations in lighting, from Beatrice Irwin's correspondence with Ruth St. Denis to Jean Rosenthal's legendary lighting plot for Billy the Kid to video demonstrations of the new wave of projection artists.
Several of the designers themselves are present on film and videotape. "To see and hear these women speak about how they came to their work, the people and productions with which they've been involved, and the creative and professional hurdles they've cleared is inspirational," says Joan Firestone, exhibition Project Director on behalf of the League and past Co-President of that organization
Drawing original materials from the Library's collections as well as items on loan from the Museum of the City of New York, the José Limón Dance Foundation, the Martha Graham Dance Company, several North American regional theaters, and individual designers, the multi-media exhibition features costumes of every kind and era, set models with their accompanying boxes full of handmade miniature denizens and décor, lighting plots, sketches and illustrations, research notes, fabric swatches, presentation renderings, costume bibles, production photographs, props, festival figures, autographed Broadway Bears from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, correspondence, and interviews and performance videos.
The exhibition catalogue, edited by Alexis Greene, includes essays by both curators with an introduction by theater historian Mary C. Henderson; graphic design is by Linda Florio.
League of Professional Theatre Women and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts express their gratitude to the following organizations and individuals for their support: The National Endowment for the Arts; The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; Amber Foundation; Sonia Alden Foundation; American Express Foundation; Budd Enterprises; Diageo; Ettinger Foundation; Hudson Scenic Studio; Life Style Visuals; Lucille Lortel Foundation; Manhattan Beer Distributors; Edith Meiser Foundation; Paul Green Foundation; PRG Theatrical Lighting; Jerome Robbins Foundation; Rose Brand; Daryl and Steven Roth Foundation; Dorothy Strelsin Foundation; United Scenic Artists; Barbara Freitag; Jane Harmon; Chase Mishkin; Thomas Safran; Nadine Schramm; and ElizaBeth Williams.
About the League of Professional Theatre Women
The League of Professional Theatre Women is a not-for-profit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the visibility and advancement of women in the performing arts. Established in 1980, the League is an international organization based in New York City. Through its seminars, educational programs, festivals, and awards the League links professional theatre women around the world and provides an on-going forum for ideas, methods and issues of concern to the theatrical community and its audiences.
About The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses the world's most extensive combination of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. Its divisions are the Circulating Collections, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Music Division, Billy Rose Theatre Division, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound. The materials in its collections are available free of charge, as are a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts - whether professional or amateur - the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters, and photographs.
About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. It comprises four research centers - the Humanities and Social Science Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and the Science, Industry and Business Library - and 87 Branch Libraries in Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items, including materials for the visually impaired. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English as a second language. The Library serves some 16 million patrons who come through its doors annually and another 25 million users internationally, who access collections and services through the NYPL website, www.nypl.org.
Curtain Call: Celebrating a Century of Women Designing for Live Performance is on view from November 17, 2008 through May 2, 2009 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery, 40 Lincoln Plaza. Exhibition hours are: Monday and Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; closed Sundays and holidays. Admission is free. For exhibition information, call 212. 870. 1630 or visit the Library's website at www.nypl.org.
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts gratefully acknowledges the leadership support of Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman. Additional support for exhibitions has been provided by Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg and the Miriam and Harold Steinberg Foundation.