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Griselda Gambaro

Griselda Gambaro: An introduction

1928-Present

One of Latin America’s most prolific and important novelist, prize-winning, playwrights scrutinizes the role of theatre and theatricality in Argentina’s tumultuous recent history. She was born in Buenos Aires in 1928 into a family of second-generation Italian immigrants.  She began writing at the age of 24 but it was in her mid-thirties that she suddenly started to enjoy great recognition and success as a writer. In the early 1960s, Gambaro became involved with the avant-garde arts foundation the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella where she staged a series of four plays: Las paredes (The Walls) (1964), El desatino (The Blunder) (1965), Los siameses (The Siamese Twins) (1967) and El campo (The Camp) (1971). This began her international success which has continued to the present day. Her most recent production was El don at the Teatro Cervantes in 2015. Though her theatre takes the form of many varied aesthetic expressions, on some level Gambaro is always probing the nature of power, our conscience, and theatricality itself.

For decades she has been creating allegorical dramas that deal with issues relating to the oppressive political and social environment of Argentina in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Although her characters and their situations offer a commentary on Argentine society and government, Gambaro’s work reached beyond the country’s borders to make universal statements about power dynamics, human nature, and the role women play in the larger social order.

Her Works

Her plays of the 1960s, such as The Walls (1963), Siamese Twins (1965) and The Camp (1967), already depict the escalation of political violence that became the grim reality of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-83). The bizarre environments of victims and victimizers, abductions and concentration camps, foretell the atrocities to come. In the 1970s, major works such as Information for Foreigners (1972) and Strip (1974, included here), explore the role of the population living in a criminal society. The audience becomes the main protagonist in Information for Foreigners – not the population of torturers and torture victims of earlier plays, but the audience of innocent by-standers, complicitous onlookers, and invisible members of the silent majority who had to make daily decisions about how to act and react to the brutality around them. Her work of the 1980s, such as Decir Sí (Saying Yes, 1981), and Antígona Furiosa (1986) marks the population’s gradual shift from passive participant to furious resistance.

In the 1990s, plays such as Atando cabos (1991, Tying Loose Ends) and Es necesario entender un poco (1995, It Important to Understand a Little), show people trying to deal with the traumatic aftershocks of their recent experience. Throughout her career, Griselda Gambaro has been in tune with the political climate in her country. Dismissed by the theatre establishment as apolitical and aestheticist, Gambaro’s plays written before her political exile to Spain in 1977 dramatize Argentina’s escalating social crisis. When she went into exile in Spain during the ‘Dirty War,’ she gave up writing theatre. She needed her audience, but no more than her audience needed her. Gambaro is the most celebrated playwright in Argentina. Her works are produced in all the major theatres, and awarded every conceivable prize. She has won dozens of national awards. She is also recognized internationally as Argentina’s most important living playwright. Her works have been translated into English, French, Italian and staged in theatres such as Royal Court, Theatre de la Source, and Lugano Teatro in Europe. In 1982, she was awarded a Guggenheim. For translations of The WallsInformation for Foreigners, and Antígona furiosa, see Marguerite Feitlowitz’ Information for Foreigners: Three Plays by Griselda Gambaro

“Life here is surreal”- Griselda Gambaro

Major Themes

Gambaro’s plays share the common theme of everyday people wrapped up in oppressive power relationships. Gambaro’s characters are victims and oppressors locked into situations in which the victim remains helpless and unable to rebel against the cruelty of his oppressor who often takes the form of friend or family member. These early plays, as Gambaro herself acknowledged in Women’s Voices from Latin America, are largely concerned with the subject of passivity. “One often has a single theme, and I probably have mine, the problem of passivity. It must be due to personal reasons; I am a very cowardly woman. Very cowardly in every way. I’m not brave; I find it difficult to be brave. I am very preoccupied with passivity and the non-assumption of individual responsibility. In society it is that way and, also, in my plays.” In The Female Dramatist, Gambaro was quoted as having said that she was also majorly preoccupied with “violence—its roots, manifestations, and spheres of influence, as well as the ways in which it may be perceived, masked, and denied.”

Gambaro’s style involved black humor, focusing on the absurdities of the Argentine political situation, and it broke with realistic drama insofar as her plays were not set in a specific time or place. The dramatist did not locate her plays literally within Argentina by use of identifiable nationalist themes or specific references to her native country. Instead the physical and mental abuse played out by her characters mirrors the reality perpetrated by the Argentine military in the 1960s through the Dirty War ending in 1983. Adding to the surreal nature of her work was the fact that the action of the plays was rarely linear or logical, and it was almost always terrifying. Las paredes, for example, is about a nameless Youth who is abducted and questioned by an Official and a Custodian in a well-decorated room. Nobody seems to know why he is being held captive, but the tormentors are dead set on breaking his will and torturing him, regardless. As the walls close in and the room begins to literally shrink in front of the audience’s eyes, the Youth can no longer deny that he has “disappeared” from the world. Still, at the end of the play, he is unable to bring himself to walk out the open door because he is so deeply traumatized.

Homecoming: More Freedom and a New Voice

Since Gambaro herself had been a “prohibited” writer under the former administration, the democratic shift in Argentina’s political climate affected her very personally and allowed her the freedom to influence Argentina with her bold art. Although the political climate in Argentina had calmed, the writer was no less passionate in her work. In 1987, she finally published Información para extranjeros, an arresting work that challenged spectators to comment on and engage the brutal actions they witnessed on a “stage” that did not have clearly defined boundaries. The stage directions called for an entire house to be used as the backdrop for some actors who perpetrated violent acts, such as murders and kidnappings, while others played children’s games. The audience members encounter harmlessness or torture, depending upon which room they enter, and they were to be led by an actor/guide who interacted with spectators along the way. The surreal writing style and contrast between the actions taking place in the different rooms reflected Gambaro’s belief that, “[Argentina] is a schizophrenic country, a country that lives two lives. The courteous and generous have their counterpart in the violent and the armed who move among the shadows… . One never really knows what country one is living in, because the two co-exist.” Gambaro created a drama in which viewers were not permitted to be passive bystanders to terrible acts of violence, for the guide forced them to question and respond to their surroundings and the events that take place within them. The play, which powerfully addresses the reality of Argentina’s past military regime and the way average citizens were implicated—through their silence—in the brutalization of their neighbors, was a commentary on passivity in the face of horror. It indirectly, but clearly, was a reminder of the phenomenon of desaparecidos (“the disappeared”). These vanished Argentine citizens, many of whom were intellectuals or politically conscious members of society, were commonly dragged off to a horrible fate, often in the dead of night, by the former dictatorship while their neighbors pretended they did not see what was happening.

During Gambaro’s time in exile, the playwright had the opportunity to engage the feminist movement in Europe and develop consciousness about women and their issues. At the time, Ganarse la muerte had been published in France and Gambaro was invited there. “I had the opportunity to meet the feminists of France, and I began reading about the specific problems related to women. I started to realize things which, before that time, I had only felt in an instinctive way,” she told Kathleen Betsko and Rachel Koenig in Interviews. In the 1980s, Gambaro’s writing reflected, embraced, and contributed to the growing women’s movement in Argentina. She created a number of plays with strong female characters. These women, like the geisha Suki in Del sol naciente (“From the Rising Sun”) and Antígona in Antígona Furiosa, represented powerful models who rejected the confines of stereotypical female roles. “The title character of her 1986 play Antígona Furiosa hauntingly mirrors Gambaro herself. She, like Antígona and her Greek namesake, is intent on burying her dead, her disappeared ones. She renounces the traditional sphere, home and hearth, and refuses to remain silent,” Elaine Parnow commented in The Female Dramatist.

Starting in the mid 1980s, many of Gambaro’s characters—not just women—shifted in such a way that those in the victims’ roles managed to confront and fight back against their oppressors. For example, marginalized characters in Del sol naciente joined forces at the end of the play, their solidarity and humanity undermining the oppressive system in which they found themselves. This transformation from passive characters to consciously united, active ones reflects the way in which Argentine society was unable to fight government oppression until the Falklands War brought about a group effort to overcome it.

It was only in the 1990s, after decades of recognition in Latin America and Europe, that Gambaro’s work began to be performed with some frequency in the United States. In this era, her plays began changing in texture and theme-personal emotions, rather than state control became the main subject. Penas sin importancia, written in the early 1990s, has been described by reviewers as having a gentler tone than her previous work, reflecting the transitions— socially, economically, and politically—that have occurred in Argentina since Gambaro began writing. Since the early 1960s, Gambaro has let loose her words through plays, fiction, and essays. In the face of terror, exile, repression, and financial challenges, the dramatist has never failed to offer creative, poignant, relevant, and painfully true perspectives on politics and human nature.

Vision Seven: Interview with Griselda Gambaro (not translated)

Works Cited

1. Taylor, D., & Taylor, A. (2014, September 30). Holy terrors: Griselda Gambaro (Argentina). Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://scalar.usc.edu/nehvectors/taylor/chapter-2-griselda-gambaro-argentina?path=the-book. 


2. Griselda Gambaro. Oxford Reference. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095841723. 

3. Griselda Gambaro. Out of the Wings Festival. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://ootwfestival.com/griselda-gambaro/. 

4. https://read.dukeupress.edu/theater/article-abstract/21/3/34/23422/Crisis-Terror-Disappearance-The-Theater-of?redirectedFrom=PDF

5. Griselda Gambaro. Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://biography.yourdictionary.com/griselda-gambaro. 

Tawfiq Al-Hakim Egyptian Playwright

Tawfiq Al-Hakim is known to be the most inspiring and well known Egyptian Playwright in Egypts history.Al-Hakim was born in 1898 in Alexandria Egypt and was a son to a wealthy judge in Egypt. Following in his fathers footsteps he majored in Law in Cairo in the year of 1925 and eventually Paris shortly after. He was a deputy prosecutor when he returned and while doing constitutional work he also wrote on the side. While transferring to civil courts he was able to travel and even work as a journalist in the Akhbar-El Yom Paper. Many may wonder how well Al-Hakim wrote poems,novels, essays and known to be an incentive at playwriting and with that he developed the aspect of Arabic drama.

Al-Hakim quit his job in the Law field and dedicated his life into his writing due to his dedication won the hearts of many with his numerous plays that include 

  • Ahl al-Kahf (1933; “The People of the Cave”),
  •  Al-Malik Udib (1939; “King Oedipus”),
  • Sulaymān al-Ḥakim(1934; “Solomon the Wise”)
  • Sirr al-muntahirah (1937; “The Secret of the Suicide Girl”) 
  • Ruṣāṣah fī al-Qalb (1944; “A Bullet in the Heart”)
  •  Muḥammad (1936)

 Hakims plays were mainly based on themes that were represented by Greek legends, The quran and the history of the Middle east in order to produce play that can be seen as tolerable by the condemning structure in Egypt which is known to be literature that is dramatic.His very first play is known as Ahl-al-kahf which means The People of the Cave he based this play off of the Greek legend known as Ephesus and the seven sleepers in which that play was based on people waking up from a long sleep finding themselves in a different era which is that of chirtsians. Hakim’s version is based on the sura 18 of the Quran.which causes tension in the 1930s as if it is traditional literacy which means did it display social and political issues.Many bought up the topic of why he plays aren’t displayed and played live in action and states that play were first intended in reading and liked it that way.

Later in his career he released action and events which allowed him to have several plays later in the future played live such as the Tree Climber which was successful as it had dramatic language as his use of standard language of literary in the form of dialogue allowed him to have an unreal sense of nature within the play logic which was very much noticeable.

Hakim was so favored by the president at the time Nassar during the revolution that his play allowed for social and political change in Egypt and displayed such a thing. Theatre and his plays were outlets to express that of concerns by the public and can not be controlled like the media. In the 1950s it was known as the golden era for the Arabic aspect of drama and Egyptian drama.What made Hakim so unique is that he went against societal norms and became a playwright which is known to be unworthy and not a good profession in egypt at the time but he ended up making a reputation for himself. At first Hakim wrote his very own writing anonymously within the years of the early 1920s and it included plays by the Ukashah Brothers; he doesn’t like those works of writings of his as it was never published or seen. Hakim is an important legacy in the field of literature in Arabic due to his techniques in expression and language as well as his role in theatre in which he is known to be the founder of literacy traditions.Hakim through his time and contribution in European theatre allowed him to have a mix of european traditions in his palsy specifically that of The People of the Cave. His main plays were about the transformation of social reform in egypt during the revolution of 1952 in which the plays talks about a price that was a part of a daily role but now doesn’t know his play within a normal society.

TOP 5 QUOTES BY TAWFIQ AL-HAKIM | A-Z Quotes

Overall Hakim has showed us that no matter what societal norms may be you can go against it to make your dreams come true and speak on issues within your society through play writing that many may fear to speak upon and with that he was able to become one of the most well renowned playwrights in Egypt.

“The 20th Century and Beyond.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/art/Arabic-literature/The-20th-century-and-beyond. 

“Autobiography.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/art/autobiography-literature. 

“Modern Arab Writers: Tawfiq Al-Hakim.” Al, https://al-bab.com/modern-arab-writers-tawfiq-al-hakim. 

Global Research Methodology Journal … – Grmgrlaranya.org. http://grmgrlaranya.org/Journals/4th%20issue/A%20Study%20on%20Boro%20%20Ethnic%20Clothes%20and%20Costume_%20A%20survey%20study.pdf. 

SpiderWoman Theatre

Prior to the Feminst Movement, the theatre community continuously faced a lack in representation of indigenous women in a white washed industry. In 1976, Spiderwoman theatre blossomed from the Feminist Movement and was introduced to the world by Muriel Miguel, Gloria Miguel, and Lisa Mayo. In 1975, Muriel organized a workshop consisting of Native and non-Native American women at the Washington Square Methodist Church in Manhattan.

This workshop was based on the Hopi Goddess or SpiderWoman, who wove men and women to life and taught them how to weave. At the start of the workshop, the sisters taught the audience Native American hand games. It is metaphorical to what the workshop consisted of since it experimented with the weaving of stories, images, songs, poems, experiences, feelings, music, spaces, and bodies. The actresses structured and developed the basis to their stories, they collectively used improvisation in order to bring life to their pieces. One of the women would become SpiderWoman while finger weaving her story to life as another performer wove their own story into the first one. Musicians also participated in improving through playing gongs, bowls, rocks, saw, flutes, hand made instruments, etc.

The process they created included collaboratively expressing themselves through their stories and writing it down in order to eventually create a solidified script through the process. The original members of the ensemble of the Spider Woman workshop dissolved a week after it occurred but Muriel put together a new ensemble by June consisting of her sisters (Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo) and two non native women named Pam Verge and Brandy Penn. Their first performance/workshop together was titled Women in Violence. Muriel’s purpose in this was to work with the anger and feelings that have been boxed in, regards to the Indian situation, current Indian Movement, and her own violence as a woman and an Indian.

After the debut of Women in Violence, Spiderwoman Theater’s existence was solidified with 70 performances in New York and Boston within a year. Spiderwoman Theatre is now known as the longest running feminist performance group in existence. After Women in Violence, debuted in 1976, Spiderwoman theatre has continuously produced more theatrical works including;

  • The Lysistrata Numbah (1977)
  • Sun, Moon, Feather (1981)
  • The Fittin’ Room (1981)
  • I’ll Be Right Back (1984)
  • Reverb-Ber-Ber-Rations (1990)
  • Hot ’N’ Soft (1992)
  • Hot ‘N’ Soft II (1993)
  • Power Pipes (1993)
  • Voices from the Cross Bridge (1994)
  • Daughters From The Stars: Nis Bundor (1996)
  • Winnetou’s Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City (1999)
  • Indian Summer (2006)
  • Persistence of Memory (2007)
  • Red Mother (2010)
  • Oops, Bloody Bloody, Oops (2011)
  • Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue (2011)
  • The Elder Project (2011)
  • Women in Violence II (2012)

Over the years, the troupe has continuously pushed barriers and questioned gender roles, cultural stereotypes, and sexual and economic oppression. The sisters created a voice for indigeneous women internationally. On their website spiderwomentheatre.org, their mission statement states, “Our mission to present exceptional theatre performance and to offer theater training and education rooted in an urban Indigenous performance practice. We entertain and challenge our audiences and create an environment where the Indigenous, women’s and art communities can come together to examine and discuss their cultural, social, and political concerns.”  Some of Spiderwoman Theatre’s accomplishments also include an honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts for their life contributions to the theatre presented to them by Miami University in 1997, being apart of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2005, and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 from the Women’s Caucus for Art. Spiderwoman Theatre still continues to spread its mission and be a proud representation for Indigenous women to this day.

Work Cited

“About.” Spiderwoman Theater, https://www.spiderwomantheater.org/blank-mpvle.

“NAWPA: Spiderwoman Theater.” Walter Havighurst Special Collections University Archives, https://spec.lib.miamioh.edu/home/nawpa-spiderwoman-theater/.

Spiderwoman Theater and the Tapestry of Story. http://www3.brandonu.ca/cjns/16.1/abbott.pdf.

“Spiderwoman Theater.” Contemporary Playwrights of Color, https://sites.google.com/nyu.edu/contemporaryplaywrightsofcolor/spiderwoman-theater.

Staff, ICT. “An Appreciation of Spiderwoman Theater.” Indian Country Today, Indian Country Today, 7 July 2005, https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/an-appreciation-of-spiderwoman-theater. 

GK: Theatre Artists and the House of Un-American Activities (Continued)

The Hollywood Ten

The Holywood 10 was a group of film industry professionals “who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947”1. They refused to answer questions and even publicly denounced the committee’s investigative tactics. The men in question were: Avah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, lbert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo.

The Hollywood Ten

Fun Fact: Bertoldt Brecht was originally part of the Hollywood Ten, but fled the country the day after his inquest.

Every member of the Hollywood Ten was convicted in contempt of Congress and served a sentence of six months in prison. All but one of them were additionally blacklisted from Hollywood, although many continued to work under pen names. “Using the pseudonym Robert Rich, Dalton Trumbo penned the script for “The Brave One,” which earned an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1957.”2. The one not blacklisted, Edward Dmytryk, chose to cooperate while in prison and accused around 26 fellow film industry professionals of being communists.

Other Investigated Artists

Sources

  1. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hollywood-Ten

2) https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/hollywood-ten

Musical Theater Influences from the 50s & 60s

The postwar wave of creation with avant-garde and political propaganda changed the game of influence for modern times to come. Audiences postwar did not want to see or hear the dread of what had happened. This being the start of the baby boom, people living in the moment. People wanted to focus on the peace and calm of everyday life, on the other hand, there was theater.  With the focus of musical theater influence to current times from the 1950s and 1960s. Popular musicals in these times focused on romance and/or happy endings. Emphasizing on love and happiness, no traces of the past but only happiness of the new. From Singing in the Rain (1952) to Jailhouse Rock (1957) and their different renditions to come, with the 60s holding more commonly known classics of My Fair Lady (1964) to The Sound of Music (1965) to Mary Poppins (1964) to West Side Story (1961) and more. 

As Musicals tend to focus on many different topics while following the storyline, this is where the influence into modern ideas starts to form. Musicals, and even play and other forms of art, start bringing to life the humanity of people to bring out the empathy of the audience. That is where the influence begins. West Side Story is a good example of such. The influx of Puercans moving onto the mainland from the 40s to the 60s could be where the idea of changing up Romeo and Juliet came from with over 900,000 Puercans migrating, 85% of which moved to New York City, where the capital of musical theater is. 


With the Jets and the Sharks battling out their problems, comes an interracial romance that would cause controversy at the time. This musical added on to the stereotype/feeling that Puercans are thugs, they added them into theater which started the wave of having BIPOC in musicals. During this time and earlier, doing blackface was more welcomed than having a BIPOC on stage. Furthermore, the large wave of people coming to New York, this influenced how Puercans was seen, whether people knew it or not. This musical was able to succeed through people being able to relate to it through one factor or multiple. This twist on a classic tale focusing on love and youth was just the thing people wanted to watch postwar as the world was getting more diverse.

With the influence of the 50s and 60s, theater started to become more diverse in modern times. The modern day musical In The Heights by Lin Manuel Miranda was named to be the predcesncer of West Side Story but with a non-white cast. Showing that West Side Story, while it was created in the 50s and released in the 60s set precedence in what musical theater is to become. Changing the way people question, what is musical theater?

What is Musical Theater 

Many may not know but there are many parts to the aspect of theater and one of these very sections includes that of musical theater what many may not know is the concept and the definition of musical theater. Musical theater is the aspect of theater that embraces and constantly uses the beauty of what comes with song, dance, and that of talking also known as dialogue amongst one another to show a story in a more exciting way for many to enjoy. This very genre of Theatre can go back centuries and plays an important role in theater till this very century but also uses the components of physical images as well as motionless scenes.

Frank Loesser

In the start of musical theater specifically in the 1950s Loessers created one of the most renowned plays on Broadway which allowed him to have his second-best hit known as “Guys and Dolls” not only that but the music within the plays were a crowd favorite that includes “Luck, be a Lady”.

How Did Musical Theater Come to be in the 1950s 

After the 1940s era, the 1950s were full of excitement as it was known as the decade Post-World War II which meant many babies were being born during this time after much time of sadness and uncertainty. Known as the Golden Age the United States began to show great improvement such as that of the military and economy which was shown through the beginning of cars, goods, and houses which was difficult for families to afford previously. Due to this era and the booming of it, this allowed Broadway to rise up and succeed due to the fact that now people had the money and willpower to see film productions and plays and even enter studios. This was all lead but MGM studios at the time as individuals known as Technicolor would announce to the general public the starting and beginning of a show that was played across screens across the nation. Broadway was known to be at its best during this very decade as they came out with productions that included that of “West Side Story” and “Peter Pan”.

 1960s and Musical Theatre 

What many have not realized is that sometimes musical productions relate to what is happening around them in society and are influenced by it in which they create play productions to reflect that every time. During this decade is what the musical world called the Sunset of the Golden Ages as this decade changed history past present and future for years to come within the United States as it was not only the time of the Assaantitation of the former President John F. Kennedy as he brought hope and happiness to many but when his murder occurred everything became a 360 spiral as the nation became something they wished never would’ve happened which was the that of racism and segregation. Thus began the civil rights movement as many know the leader being Dr. Martin Luther King Junior there were victories as well as downfalls that occurred such as that of the Civil rights and war began across the world and America was a part of it during this period many wanted either justice and reform and with that many began to be protesters and activist and with that now we know that Americans did not know how to feel at the time and were divided and that is when theatre comes into play as it was a way for many to perform what was happening and bring reform and light to what tragedies are occurred within our nation.

Hair The Musical That Changed it All!

The first Hair Musical first appeared in Theatres in 1960 September 27 to be exact as this very musical showed what was happening around our nation at the time and people were quite shocked at what they saw which included that of nudity, anti-war protesting, and fighting for what is right as they went against societal norms at the times. It represented aspects of life such as international relationships, brought up the aspect of monogamy and being against it. At first many were against such a play because it went against what many beloved in as the very start of the play the actress was nude behind a sheet and was talking to others at the time people didn’t believe in such things and walked out of the Shaftesbury theatre at the time. Within time and understanding, the audience understood the concept and embraced it as they fought against what had seemed as the norm and had to be back then but stood up for what was right and fought for what they truly loved and believed in.

The Rising and Downfalls of the 1950s and 1960s in Society and Theatre!

As we have seen throughout the aspect of not only society but theatre our society is connected in many ways as we see that musical productions are influenced by what is happening around us and is a way to speak up and bring awareness to actions and events that are happening to a certain race, religion, and even gender. Theater is a way to speak your truths to the general public because there is no other way to do it, especially during these decades. Life is always full of downfalls and happiness which is reflected in many lives and history but we must learn from past experiences and even plays to never make these mistakes again as it comes with consequences that may affect many. This was just the start of musical theatre and its impact within society as a whole.

Written by Mirna Tadros and Thalia Lopez

Work Cited

“What Is Musical Theatre? – Musical Theatre – GCSE Drama Revision – BBC Bitesize.” BBC News, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z2hr7ty/revision/1. 

History.com Editors. “The 1950s.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 17 June 2010, www.history.com/topics/cold-war/1950s. 

By. “The Best Broadway Shows of the 1950s.” Film School And Acting School Of New York Film Academy, 9 Feb. 2016, www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/the-best-broadway-shows-of-the-1950s/. 

Adlington, R. (2005). Music theatre since the 1960s. In M. Cooke (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera (pp. 225-243). (Cambridge Companions to Music). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521780094.015

Krstičević, Klara. “The Representation of Minorities in American Musical Theater since the 1950s.” University of Zagreb, 2019. 

Wells, Elizabeth A. West Side Story: Cultural Perspectives on an American Musical. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2011. 

Mondello, Bob. “’Hair’ at 50: Going Gray, but Its Youthful Optimism Remains Bouncy And Full-Bodied.” NPR, NPR, 1 May 2018, www.npr.org/2018/05/01/607339204/hair-at-50-going-gray-but-its-youthful-optimism-remains-bouncy-and-full-bodied.

“A Great American Songbook Foundation.” The Center For The Performing Arts, thesongbook.org/change-is-gonna-come. 

Sutori, www.sutori.com/en/story/a-history-of-american-musical-theatre–aUH6hqrWo1S2eYXx3vseptrk. 

Lee, Sarah. “Hair: The Musical That ‘Changed Theatre for Ever’.” BBC News, BBC, 27 Sept. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-45625785. 

GK: Theatre Artists and the House of Un-American Activities

House of Un-American Activities

1938-1975

House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, established in 1938 under Martin Dies as chairman, that conducted investigations through the 1940s and ’50s into alleged communist activities. Those investigated included many artists and entertainers, including the Hollywood Ten, Elia Kazan, Pete Seeger, Bertolt Brecht, and Arthur Miller. Richard Nixon was an active member in the late 1940s, and the committee’s most celebrated case was perhaps that of Alger Hiss.

Background

House Un-American Activities Committee

After World War II the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves on opposite sides of a “Cold War,” which pitted the democratic United States against the Communist Soviet Union. As the Cold War intensified, the frenzy over the perceived threat posed by Communists in the U.S. became known as the Red Scare. The United States government responded by creating the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was charged with identifying Communist threats to the United States. HUAC often pressured witnesses to surrender names and other information that could lead to the apprehension of Communists and Communist sympathizers. Committee members branded witnesses as “red” if they refused to comply or hesitated in answering committee questions.

HUAC was created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and rebel activities on the part of private citizens, public employees and organizations suspected of having Communist ties. Citizens suspected of having ties to the communist party would be tried in a court of law. Also during this time, Senator Joseph McCarthy began a campaign against alleged communists in the U.S. government and other institutions. From 1950-1954 “McCarthyism” described the practice of accusing Federal Government employees of having affiliations with communism and leaking information. Government employees could be blacklisted (viewed as untrustworthy or someone to avoid) and could lose their jobs. The threat of Communism was a driving force that created a wedge between society and the United States government.

During this time period the lines of civil liberties and national security began to blur, and U.S. citizens felt a sense of uncertainty. Some Americans felt that their personal freedoms were being taken away, while others believed HUAC and McCarthyism were necessary to secure national security. Government officials felt the same types of pressures on the home front.

Un-American Activities Committee hearing Novemebr 3rd, 1947

Crash course on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

Hollywood Ten Explained

WORKS CITED 

 1. House Un-American Activities Committee. House Un-American Activities Committee | Harry S. Truman. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/education/presidential-inquiries/house-un-american-activities-committee. 

2. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). House Un-American Activities Committee. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/House-Un-American-Activities-Committee. 

Musicals in the 50s and 60s

 The 1950’s marked a period defined by domestication and family values, quite often referred to as the “boom”. The economy was booming, the suburbs were booming, and famously babies were also booming. This era also is highlighted by the start of The Civil Rights movement and the Cold War.

After the Great Depression and World War II, civilization put an emphasis on settling down and starting a family. The image of the ideal family included a stay at home wife, a working father, and several children. After women proved themselves of being capable of handling any man’s job after taking them over during the war, they were expected to return to a domestic lifestyle once the men had returned. The narrative of women being the caretakers and only purpose was for a man, was heavily being popularized throughout media in the 50’s which ingrained itself within musical theatre.

     Some of the popular musicals of the century included Pajama Game (1954), My Fair Lady (1956), West Side Story (1957), Guys and Dolls (1950), The Sound of Music (1959), Once Upon a Mattress (1959), The Music Man (1957), Gypsy (1959), and many more. Most of these musicals share one common element centered around the women’s plot in the story being involved with or around a man. For instance, My Fair Lady plot centers around a woman changing herself to a man’s image of a respectable woman. In West Side Story, although it represents the division of race in America, Maria’s story line is falling in love with a man. In The Sound of Music, Baronin Maria Von Trapp works caring for a man’s children and then falling in love with that man. Although these musicals are classics with astounding music and storylines, the plot of the female roles remained only limited to the counterpart of a man.

It reflected what was societally being pushed on the idea of a women’s purpose at that time. Despite the narrow perspective and not at all complex roles that were created for women of the decade, the 1950s were also known as the “Golden Age” of musical theatre. Most of the musicals of this time used what is known as the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s formula. Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein were an iconic American musical theatre duo who created Broadway classics such as Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. Their formula consisted of predictable plots and the character casting of a baritone lead, light soprano lead, supporting lead tenor, and supporting alto lead. Although predictable, their formula could always create a hit.

It seems in a world of unpredictability, it is comforting to go and be entertained by something that is predictable. After the Great Depression and a second World War, to then be dealing with the threat of the Cold War, reality can be a frightful place. In the 50s, what the world needed most was a form of escapism that gives the audience an outcome that was foreseen, and musicals of that caliber provided exactly that. 

         Although as the 60s approached, musicals started to delve into more complex and racier narratives than ever before. As the world became less conservative and started to progressively begin to be more open minded, it made its way into the world of musical theatre.

The 1960s was an era defined by revolution, often referred to as the “Civil Rights era”.
This tumultuous decade is marked by many social and political changes, such as the civil rights
movement, the sexual revolution, the Vietnam war and anti-war movements, cults, presidential
assassination, rising tensions caused by drug culture in America, and an emergence of a
“generational gap”. Younger generations were finally opening their eyes to the decades of
discrimination and violence that preceded them and began to rebel against the
sexism, racism, and classism that has been so deeply ingrained in their society. During
this era the term “Hippie” was coined to describe the youth who took on a grungy
aesthetic and lead the anti-war movement, creating a movement revolved around
peace, love, liberation, and equality.

During such a hectic era with many emerging movements, theater played a pivotal role to allow an outlet for artists to reflect and comment on the quick transition of cultural values. Currently, musical theater was able to raise awareness for important social issues while offering entertainment and even escapism for audiences. However, musical theater was also experiencing its own radical shift as well; Shifting toward plays based on revolutions, important figures and war. John Bush Jones’ book “Our Musicals, Ourselves”, cites the 60s as the emergence of “Issue Driven Musicals”, in which the musical centers around a socio-political agenda that is the main focus of the story and in which the music and dance aids in emphasizing the musicals main message on the topic. Many musicals from the 50’s made their way into film adaptations as well such as My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), and West Side Story (1961). There was also various emerging new musicals both on and off broadway including Cabaret (1966), Oliver (1963), and the Fantastiks (1960).

1960s is well-known for its eclectic style and easily recognizable aesthetics. While it was
easily reflected in fashion, theater also took on the popular styles of the 60s and often
incorporated it into shows, most notably Hair! A rock musical which premiered on Broadway April 29th, 1968. Directed by Tim O’ Horgan with choreography by Julie Arenal and music by Galt McDermont, Hair! encapsulated the anger the young generation of the 60s had with the ongoing violence in Vietnam, while incorporating the psychedelic rock music that had blossomed due to bands such as The Beatles, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, and of course, the legendary festival at Woodstock.

Hair! placed 1960s counterculture front and center, featuring a group of college kids
who are struggling to find identity, both personally and in search for their broader place in the
world. Protesting the Vietnam war and coming to terms with the generational gap between
themselves and their parents, while exploring the emerging psychedelic drug scene and playing a large role in the sexual revolution. This play touches on all the main struggles 60s-era youth faced in front of war and uncertainty. It thrust interracial relationships, bisexuality, and
questioned monogamous relationships into audiences faces and was controversial for its loose
sexual boundaries, vocality against the Vietnam war, and its portrayal of drug use. Hair! is the
defining musical for the rock-musical genre, paving the way for plays such as Little Shop of
Horrors, Jesus Christ Superstar as well as paved the way for film musicals such as Rocky Horror
Picture Show (1975).


Hair!’s soundtrack heavily reflects the psychedelic rock movement in the 60s, while also
incorporating powerful messages on race, sexuality, and the generational gap. The song below
is a great example of the music commenting on societal shift:

“I Got Life” Hair! (Original Broadway Cast):

With the shifting style and themes of musical theater in the 60s, so came a shift in how
theater was received and viewed. During the 60s, as many controversial themes became
broadcasted on the mainstages of Broadway, many audiences and critics caught eye of the new
themes and either vehemently advocated them or abhorred them. Ticket prices on Broadway
also began to surge, which caused many audience members to shift toward off-Broadway and
off-off Broadway. The off-Broadway movement rebelled against commercial theater and the
high prices with low employment rates that Broadway offers. Many of the prominent 60s
musicals were created and performed in theaters that then moved to Broadway later on.


Overall, the 60s were a hectic, crazed, and groovy time where culture was beginning to
change rapidly, becoming a forefront in civil rights, feminism, drugs, and sexuality, all things
that were questioned and explored on and off- Broadway stages. The narrow confines of the
1950s were broken and expanded, paving the way for controversial theater pieces to come.

Work Cited

“1960s.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 Aug. 2018, www.history.com/topics/1960s.
Asimenou, Gabriella. The Evolution of American Musical Theatre: A Sociological Perspective.
Edited by Edel Sandars, Faculty of Education Music Department Charles University, July
2015,
dspace.cuni.cz/bitstream/handle/20.500.11956/78896/BPPR_2014_2_11410_0_392872_0
_166230.pdf?sequence=4&isAllowed=y.
Bottoms, Stephen J. Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway
Movement. University of Michigan Press, 2004, https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.22965.

FilmSnobReviews, director. Top 5: Musicals of the 1960s. Youtube, 27 Nov. 2017,
www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcq2jNWHvjE&ab_channel=FilmSnobReviews.
Otis, Mary. “Off-Broadway, 1960.” Dissent Magazine, 9 Aug. 2018,
www.dissentmagazine.org/article/off-broadway-1960.
Staff, Playbill. “Look Back at the Original Broadway Production of Hair.” Playbill, PLAYBILL INC., 29

Apr. 2020, www.playbill.com/article/look-back-at-the-original-broadway-production-of-
hair.

Administrator. Mark Adamczyk – Major Broadway Musicals of the 1950s, www.adamczyk.com/musicals-by-decade/41-major-broadway-musicals-of-the-1950s. 

History.com Editors. “The 1950s.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 17 June 2010, www.history.com/topics/cold-war/1950s. 

Robin. “Music: Rodgers and Hammerstein.” Great American Things, 26 Dec. 2011, www.greatamericanthings.net/music/no-92-rodgers-and-hammerstein/. 

“Rodgers and Hammerstein.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Aug. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodgers_and_Hammerstein. Stage 1950s I: When Broadway Ruled, www.musicals101.com/1950bway.htm.