Friday, May 10, 2013

Alan Cummings as Lady Macbeth and Female Hamlets – role reversal in Shakespeare

Alan Cummings is currently playing Lady Macbeth on Broadway – actually he is playing all the characters. Cummings’ plays a lone patient housed in a clinical room deep within a dark psychiatric unit. He relives the Macbeth story playing each character himself as a closed circuit television camera watches.

Wild, right?


However, the gender reversal part (a man as Lady Macbeth) in Shakespeare is nothing new. Of course in Shakespeare’s time female roles (his and others) were never played by women but by boys. As time went on, though, women on stage became acceptable and female roles were actually played by females. Then the gender reversal took on a new twist. Women playing the male roles.

Hamlet is considered one of the great roles, not just in Shakespeare but in all drama. So it is not surprising that women as well as men would want to play the Prince. And they have and not just in the modern era.

Sarah Siddons, the great British (she was actually born in Wales) actress of the 18th Century played all the great Shakespearean women – she was particularly noted for her Lady Macbeths – but also played Hamlet 200 years ago. To my knowledge she is the first woman to do so in a public performance. (Unless you are a student of theatre history, you may not be familiar with Siddons, but if you are a film buff, you will be. The opening scene of the wonderful All About Eve, is the presentation to Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington of the Sarah Siddons Award.)

Sarah Bernhardt also played Hamlet in 1899 London. There have been many others up to our own time including a tremendous performance by Judith Anderson on a national tour and at Carnegie Hall in 1970.

These performances involved the women playing Hamlet as a man. However there are instances in which the character is actually played as if a woman. Scholars have long commented on the male/female nature of Hamlet.

Of course, Shakespeare also wrote female characters that spent most of their time on stage pretending to be boys: As You Like It
and Twelfth Night.

There is a lot of discussion in the theatre today regarding color-blind and gender-blind casting. And indeed we have seen productions of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple with the male roles played by women, as women. There was also a tremendous production of Twelve Angry Women, the all-female version of the classic courtroom drama.

So far, most of the proponents of gender-blind casting have advocated for women being able to play men’s roles. But interestingly, there is a bit of a flap now being raised about some all-male casts of Shakespearean plays. Apparently in some circles the notion of gender-blind casting only goes one way.

But that is a subject for another day.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Imagine Denver 2020, Swallow Hill, Harry Tuft, Denver Folklore Center, Denver Folk Music in the 60s

Last night, I did another Community Forum for the Imagine Denver 2020 cultural plan.

The Forum was at Swallow Hill and being there I couldn’t help but think of Harry Tuft, the Godfather of Denver Folk Music. Swallow Hill Music grew out of the Denver Folklore Center, which Harry started in 1962. Harry and the Denver Folklore Center are still around though the location has changed.

Originally, the Folklore Center was at 17th and Pearl. It was ostensibly a guitar shop but was really a hangout and home away from home for folk musicians of the 60s. I was one and wandered in to the Folklore center in 1967. I remember it being funky, a bit dark and dusty with wood walls – I thought it was perfect. Next door, or maybe a couple doors down (my memory fades, it was, after all nearly 50 years ago) was the Green Spider Coffee House where many musicians who frequented the Folklore Center played. It was a typical 60s coffee house. Long and narrow with candles in bottles, etc. I played there with the string band of which I was part – The New Mobile Strugglers – quaint, huh? We were two guitars (six-string and 12-string) a bass and banjo.

Harry eventually took over the space and expanded it into a concert hall – yes the beginnings of Swallow Hill. Playing in the Hall or hanging out in the Folklore Center you would see the likes of Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Utah Phillips, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Doc Watson, Denver’s own Walt Conley, the list goes on.

Steven Fromholz was there as well. He wrote I’d Have To Be Crazy, which Willie Nelson recorded (you can hear Steven singing back up). I first met Steven at the Irish Pub and Grill, in Pueblo, when he was singing with Dan McCrimmon as Frummox. They recorded an album titled Here To There. There are some great songs on that album including The Man With The Big Hat. In the background of the song is some bar noise, glasses clinking, voices, etc. One of those voices is Harry Tuft.

The Folklore Center eventually moved to south Pearl Street where it remains today.

So, back to the Community Forum: I noted last night that the Folklore Center was and is the kind of creative business that supports arts and culture and which is supported by arts and culture; it represents the synergy that has a positive impact on the community as a whole.

The Imagine Denver 2020 cultural plan needs to reflect how that synergy can occur in a diverse and wide spread way.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Make your voice heard - Make Denver's Cultural and Arts Scene Better - Imagine Denver 2020

For the past year, as a member of Denver's Commission on Cultural Affairs, I have been involved in the creation of a new cultural plan for Denver.

Why you say?

Because it is necessary. The arts contribute so much to the vibrancy and economy of a community and it is so important that those communities foster a healthy arts environment. World class theatre and other performing arts, film/filmmakers, visual art and of course the written word. To that end a road map needs to be created that informs governmental and civic leadership as well as the general public - and artists and creative individuals themselves - what is needed and how to get there.

Denver's last cultural plan was written in 1989. Denver and the world are very different from that time. Today we have creative technologies that didn't exist then. We have smart phones and Facebook and Twitter, and the like. We have also seen a decline in arts education and other elements that support a vibrant arts environment.

So we are creating that road map, that cultural plan that will take us into the next decade. It is called Imagine Denver 2020.

But regardless of the efforts of those of us who have been working on this for over a year, it will not be successful, or useful, if many others are not involved. Make your voice heard. We need to hear from everyone, every neighborhood, every person who cares about Denver and the arts and creativity; we need to hear from those concerned about economic development and how the arts contribute to that.

There are many ways to be involved and to contribute and the easiest is to simply take the survey regarding Denver and its arts and cultural present and future. Go to the website and take the survey. It is easy and doesn't take very long. It is critical that we hear from as diverse a population as possible - we need to hear from you.

Okay, I am off my soap box. Just go to the website and take the survey.