Marga Gomez, the lesbian author of Marga Gomez is Pretty, Witty, and Gay, ran into problems the first time she performed this one-person theatrical piece. Because the piece was new, she placed cheat sheets on the set, out of the sight of the audience. Unfortunately, she accidentally kicked the sheets, mixing them up, and she had to wing the rest of the performance. However, this was not her most terrifying performance. That occurred when she thought Cher was in the audience. All during the performance, she was afraid she would forget her lines. After the performance, she discovered that Cher hadn’t been there — just a man who looked like Cher.
In 1913, the widow of Ernest Fenollosa gave Ezra Pound her husband’s translations of Japanese Noh plays so that he could make poetic translations of them. Mr. Pound was willing, but he requested help in understanding Noh from Japanese choreographer/dancer Michio Ito, who told him, “Noh is the damnedest thing in this world.” Mr. Pound replied, “I am only an American. You say Noh is the damnedest thing in this world — which means you know more about it it than I do. That is why you have to help me.” Mr. Ito did help, Mr. Pound did make some poetic translations, and his translations inspired William Butler Yeats to write some plays in the Noh style.
Sir Ralph Richardson once starred as Macbeth in a critically savaged production. The morning after opening night, his colleague Raymond Westwell arrived at the theater at the same time as he to pick up his mail. Mr. Westwell didn’t speak to him, either because he didn’t see him or because he was too embarrassed to say anything after reading the critical notices. After the second performance, Sir Ralph Richardson joked to him, “You cut me this morning. If you do it again, I shall bruit it about that you were seen playing Banquo to my Macbeth.”
Two great Dames of the English theatre — Dame Sybil Thorndike and Dame Edith Evans — appeared together. This caused a major problem for the manager of the theater: Which Dame should get the star dressing room? He went to Dame Sybil and explained the problem. The two dressing rooms in question were both very good, but the number two dressing room was at the top of a flight of stairs. Dame Sybil replied, “Well, then, there’s no problem. Dame Edith must have the number one dressing room — I can still climb stairs.”
After writing the very successful play, The Children’s Hour, Lillian Hellman wrote a second play, Days to Come. She was very nervous at its opening on December 15, 1936, and vomited. She went home, changed her clothes, and returned during the second act — only to see much of the audience leaving the theater. The play flopped, closing after only six performances. Fortunately, Ms. Hellman continued to write, penning such classic plays as The Little Foxes and Toys in the Attic.
Mrs. Patrick Campbell was very capable of being insulting when she disliked something, even while on stage. During the famous screen scene in Sheridan’s School for Scandal, Mrs. Campbell felt that Fred Terry and William Farren were acting too slowly. Despite being on stage behind the screen in the role of Mrs. Teazle, Mrs. Campbell suddenly shouted, “Oh, do get on, you old pongers!”
Tennessee Williams found it easy to come up with a title for A Streetcar Named Desire. He lived in New Orleans, and two streetcars ran past his apartment: one streetcar was named “Desire,” and the other was named “Cemeteries.” Blanche Du Bois’ first line in the play is, “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, then transfer to one called Cemeteries.”
WNBA star Lisa Leslie also excelled at track in high school, although she took a roundabout way of getting on the track team. At Morningside High School in Inglewood, California, she performed the part of track star Wilma Rudolph in a school play. During her performance, she had to run around the auditorium, and she ran so quickly that the track coach invited her to run for the team.
African-American actor/singer Paul Robeson created a critical and popular sensation in his role as the title character in Shakespeare’s Othello, but he was sometimes forced to cancel his theatrical and musical performances — during the Jim Crow era, because of the color of his skin, he was unable to find a hotel room in some cities to stay in.
Harley Granville-Barker was very sparing in giving praise as a theatrical director. When he was directing John Gielgud in King Lear, he would sometimes say, “You did some fine things today in that scene. I hope you know what they were.” Then he would give Mr. Gielgud a long list of the things he had done wrong!
One actress whose name has remained on the programs for Peter Pan since the play debuted Dec. 27, 1904, is Jane Wren (sometimes Jenny Wren). She is listed as Tinker Bell, even though Tinker Bell is actually a spotlight reflected in a mirror — her voice is created by bells.
Early in her career, playwright Lorraine Hansberry was excited to receive a job as a production secretary. She hoped that the job would introduce her to the exciting world of theater, but she quit after discovering that the job mostly consisted of her serving coffee.
In 1926, Mae West wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the Broadway hit Sex. She also was arrested for doing so and spent 10 days in jail. The jail time was interesting — each evening the warden took her out for dinner.
The ancient Greek theater located in Epidauros was constructed around 350 B.C.E., yet it is in such fine shape that the Greek National Theater dramatic company performs in it today.
Lines were long as fans waited to get into Lily Tomlin’s one-woman Broadway hit titled Appearing Nightly. Ms. Tomlin often passed out coffee to fans waiting in line.
As a child, Maria Montessori could be very studious. She once took a book to the theater so she could read it as the actors performed on stage.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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