Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Getting with the program(s)

A big part of last weekend was helping clean out a small apartment on the first floor of Fritz's house. One of our friends is going to stay there for six or eight months while he goes through some life transitions. He worked out with me what pieces of furniture he'd like to stay and what should go into storage to make way for his own pieces. Then he slipped away to spend the bulk of the weekend with his boyfriend and I went to work.

In the couple of years since the last tenant, the room had become something of a storage dump for random things Fritz and I weren't currently using, so there was a fair amount to move, and a lot of decisions to be made about throwing things out. As Fritz was teaching all weekend, guess who got to do most of the cleaning! As I think I've mentioned before, each of us individually is pretty lame when it comes to throwing out items from our past. But when we get together, each is really effective at "editing" the other's stuff. Without him with me, I had to go through things carefully and lay items out into piles: obvious garbage, obvious keepers, and two or three shades of gray area. In the middle of all this I came across a big cache of old theater and opera programs.

Fritz & theater: check. Fritz & opera: Error Message, this concept has permanent and fatal errors. It turned out that the programs had belonged to a partner of his before I arrived on the scene and he had never gotten rid of them. I noticed immediately that there were a LOT of programs to the musical HAIR, all in different sizes and designs, so they were obviously souvenirs of different productions in different places. I immediately declared break time for myself as I'm a devoted program reader and I turned up some delightful tidbits.

The three productions were London 1968, New York 1970 (late in the original run), and Detroit 1970. In each case one member of the cast achieved stardom and everybody else has remained in at least comparative obscurity. In London the great Elaine Paige, then 22 years old, was a member of "The Tribe" with no individual roles, but she's credited with two other London productions, three pantomimes (a typically British form of holiday entertainment), and several films including the original "Oliver." In New York the young Joe Mantegna had three small parts but was also understudy for Berger, one of the three leads. So at that point in time, his career was essentially launched. In Detroit three small parts (including one in drag) were played by young rocker Meat Loaf. Here's his program bio:

MEAT LOAF has been described as a "heavy" singer. He studies Tarot and Astrology faithfully and considers gospel and blues to be the greatest influences on his music style. He appeared with a rock group called Popcorn Blizzard, later renamed Floating Circus. His personal motto: "Make no small plans for they have not the power to move men's souls."

Also in the pile was the newspaper-sized program for the 1980 exhibit of Judy Chicago's iconic feminist installation "The Dinner Party" which was shown at the Boston Center for the Arts in the Cyclorama Building. Using painted china and needlework (traditional female arts according to Chicago), the exhibit in the form of a triangular banquet table with 13 place settings on a side honored powerful and creative women beginning with mythic female archetypes and ending with Georgia O'Keeffe. Much of the symbolism on the painted plates was openly, joyously vaginal. The idea, according to Chicago, was to celebrate the history of women in western society in the same sort of imagery as had been used for "The Last Supper." "Men," Chicago said, "had a Last Supper but women had dinner parties."

At the time, I was painting scenery in the basement of the building for one of my opera productions and one Saturday morning before the exhibit opened to the public I came upstairs and walked through it for about an hour, fascinated by the wealth and variety of the imagery and the bold confidence of the concept.

In the years since the Boston showing, I haven't heard where "The Dinner Party" is being housed of if it's even on public display anywhere. Anyone know where it is?

Art for two of the dinner plates: Sojourner Truth (left) and martyred Roman philosopher/scholar Hypatia (right)

MeatLoaf in opera....imagine...! This was an interesting post.
Wow. I was fortunate enough to be in a production of Hair about, well we'll just say it was a good while back. ;)

You know you are feeling old when you mention a show like that (we thought it was so cutting edge) and you are told it is too "dated". Oy.
Ah, Joey, wait another quarter century and it will get a round of revivals as a significant cultural icon and an important piece of mid-20th century protest theater. There will be articles written, papers delivered at theater conferences, annotated editions of the script with a glossary of unfamiliar terms (groovy; way out, man; psychedelic!; summer of love) and-- PhD theses!

You'll be proud to have been in that "dated" musical. Overanalyzed, but proud.
OMG, where has the time gone ? I've seen "Hair" on the occasion of my first visit of London in 1972 at the age of 29 ... what a great experience for a guy coming from the dozy Austria at that time :-)

Great, that you have been in a production of Hair, Joey! Nostalgia is coming up to me now :-)Bob Dylan's hit "Forever young" and so on and so on ;-)

Will, this is the best post for the Autumnal Equinox!!!
Hans, I'm delighted you liked it. HAIR was such an iconic musical here, a slap in the face of the "establishment." I saw it in New York City (where I grew up) shortly after it opened. I was lucky enough to come of age in what was then the epicenter of the American theater.
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