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A Modern Midsummer

I’m Daniella Snyder, a second-year graduate student at Villanova University, and your ‘Cat in Falvey Library’s Stacks. I’ll be posting about academics– from research to study habits and everything in between– and how the Falvey Library can play a large role in your success here on campus.

Villanova Theatre is proud to present A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Edward Sobel, on stage November 12-24.

Beware the forest outside Athens, where mischief reigns and faeries tease and torment. Shakespeare’s comedy of passion and power throws two mismatched couples into the fray of a lovers’ quarrel between the faerie king and queenand soon they’re all entangled in enchantments. Add to the mix the devious Puck and hapless troupe of amateur actors, and mayhem abounds. This magical tale, boldly reimagined for our time, reveals the dangers of unbridled desire and the healing potential of the imagination. 

Angela Rose Longo as Hermia and Sarah Stryker as Lysander. Photos by Kimberly Reilly.

Director Edward Sobel leads a cast of 16 Villanova graduate students, portraying the lovers, faeries, and novice actors drawn to the Athenian woods. Sobel’s contemporary staging zeroes in on issues of gender politics while showcasing the darker forces at play in Shakespeare’s well-loved comedy. According to Sobel, the Athens of this production is “a male-dominated world that thinks it’s a democracy – but it’s not.” This Athenian worldview impacts its characters both politically and romantically. “Love is a dangerous thing,” he adds, “and we want to reveal the way male characters manipulate passion in order to absorb rebellion and maintain their power.”

The production features female-identifying actors in various male roles while the most politically powerful male characters are played by male-identifying actors. Female-identifying actors will portray the young lovers Lysander and Demetrius and members of the relentless acting troupe The Rude Mechanicals. The cross gender casting allows actors to both hilariously embody and also critique gender stereotypes.

Angela Rose Longo as Hermia and Sarah Stryker as Lysander. Photos by Kimberly Reilly.

Dramaturg Travis Milliman has extensively researched gender roles in society, both in Elizabethan England and modern-day America, suggesting that the oppressive forces at play will resonate with our audiences in a way that will cause them to perk up and listen. Milliman’s research has also helped to illuminate the faerie world as it related to an Elizabethan audience. He says, “I want to prepare audiences for a Midsummer no one would have expected.”

An Elizabethan audience would have regarded the “Faerie World” as being a very real threat to sinners in their human society and believed that their wrongdoings could result in punishments or torture from vengeful faeries. While our understanding of “fairies” today has been infiltrated by the cute, Disney characters many of us know and love, this production plans to use the fearing subconscious to inspire the faerie world of Titania, Oberon, and Puck. Check out Milliman’s dramaturgical guide to learn more.

Angela Rose Longo as Hermia and Sarah Stryker as Lysander. Photos by Kimberly Reilly.

Costume designer and second-year graduate student Asaki Kuruma’s ambitious design conjures three distinct worlds: the regal Athenian court, ominous faeries, and lower-class actors. While audiences might not see wings on these faeries, they can expect to feel as though these haunting spirits are from a world mortals dare not enter. What’s more, she has created silhouettes that allow female bodied actors to inhabit male roles in a way that is realistic and affecting. Kuruma blends repurposed materials, classical silhouettes, and couture inspiration to wardrobe a large ensemble, each of whom play multiple roles.

Deepening the world of the play is set designer Stephanie Hansen. Hansen’s unified set marries the natural forest and classical architectural structures in order to suggest that these locations are far from separate and that the powers and mysteries of the woods are, in fact, an extension of the desires of the real world. Jerold Forsyth’s lighting design will illuminate the foliage of the woods and create the dark and starry skies required to evoke the shadowy nighttime. John Stovicek’s soundscape will emphasize the play’s bewitching themes, bringing encroaching winds and haunting lullabies into the mix of theatrical spectacle.

Sarah Stryker as Lysander. Photos by Kimberly Reilly.

For those of you who haven’t seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream before, you might want to check out a more traditional production of the play before you see Villanova Theatre’s modern re-imagining. Don’t worry, Falvey has you covered. We have two DVD versions of the play in our permanent collection, we have the 1994 issue of The Villanovan that reports a previous production of Midsummer, and you can stream at least 3 different productions of the play through our subscription to Digital Theatre +. We also have access to the BBC version of Midsummer with video and text transcripts. Finally, check out the Midsummer educational guide from Villanova Theatre.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on stage from November 12 to 24. Buy your tickets here.


Daniella Snyder HeadshotDaniella Snyder is so excited to see Villanova Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her favorite Shakespearean play is Othello. She also wants to thank Sarah Wingo, the Falvey Subject Librarian for English, Theatre, and Romance Languages, for her help and information about valuable Shakespearean resources.


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#TBT: Props to Vasey Hall

The Playboy of the Western World play bill, 1960 , at Villanova

THROWBACK THURSDAY

This week, our throwback pic features a playbill from the 1960 production of “The Playboy of the Western World” by John Millington Synge. The playbill is housed in the University Archives along with many other treasures from Villanova’s past.

Did you know that the Villanova’s Theatre Program has been around since 1958? Over that time the program has produced hundreds of plays and musicals in its beloved campus home, Vasey Hall. While Vasey is centrally located on campus, it is a bit tight as other academic offices are also located in the building.

In early 2020, the University hopes to officially open a new, larger space for the Theatre Program—the Performing Arts Center as part of Villanova’s Campus Transformation Project.

We are looking forward to visiting the new space and adding more play bills to our collection. Thanks for the memories, Vasey!


Regina Duffy is Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Memorial Library.


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Villanova Now Has Access to the Full Drama Online Collection

Villanova now has access to the full Drama Online collection, and an access link can be found in Databases A-Z.  Once logged in, Drama Online includes full texts of plays from across the history of the theatre, ranging from Aeschylus to the present day. It also includes non-English-language works in translation, scholarly and critical editions, first night program texts, and critical analysis and contextual information. Critical interpretations, theatre history surveys and major reference works on authors, movements, practitioners, periods, and genres are included alongside performance and practitioner texts, acting, and backstage guides.

You can browse by plays, playwrights, genres, periods, context, and criticism, and by theatre craft. Advanced search options also allow you to search by type, playwrights, genre, period, theme, and setting.

Each play in the collection includes the either the full script or sound recording of the play and a production enquiry, which gives helpful information on who to contact to get performance rights for the play.

Many plays also include useful tools, like a Character Grid that can be used to see only the lines of a given character.

In addition to the Core Collection (www.dramaonlinelibrary.com) our subscription includes full access to the following individual collections housed within Drama Online.

All of the collections listed below can be accessed through Drama Online. They have been provided here with links to detailed descriptions of their contents if you wish to further explore:


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eBook available: How to Become an Actor

actorOur latest Project Gutenberg eBook release, produced with the help of Distributed Proofreaders, is another how-to manual from Frank Tousey‘s series of Ten Cent Hand Books. Designed to help with the production of amateur “drawing-room theatricals,” How to Become an Actor touches on such important subjects as set and costume design, make-up, conveying emotions and (crucial at the time) fire safety. It also includes a selection of short sample plays, all of which rely on broad ethnic stereotypes, and most of which end in a general melee between the actors. It is difficult for the modern reader to imagine how anyone would want to put on such productions for their friends and family in the comfort of their own home (or anywhere else), but the book serves as an interesting cultural artifact, revealing just how much some things have changed since the late 19th century.

The entire text of the volume may be read online or downloaded through Project Gutenberg. The original page images of the book can be found in our Digital Library.


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Available for proofreading: How to Become an Actor

How to Become an ActorOur latest Distributed Proofreaders project is another vintage “how to” manual from publisher Frank Tousey. How to Become an Actor, as the title suggests, deals with theatrical matters, and like many books in this series, it is quite ambitious for its brief length, covering not just acting but also makeup, set design and other technical matters. As if that were not enough, it also includes several short plays.

The modern reader is unlikely to learn many useful skills from this text, but it does provide considerable insight into the popular entertainments of its time. To help make the book even more accessible through the creation of a new electronic edition, you can read this previous blog post to learn about the proofreading process, then join in the work at the project page.


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A lost piece of Theater History

 

One of the most satisfying aspects of working in a digital library is the opportunity to expose people to a life or a story they may not have realized existed. A week ago I was presented with an archival box full of pieces of a puzzle. The pieces belonged to a man named Howard Merrill Shelley and the puzzle I am working on is how to put together the events that make up the life of this man. I have begun scanning in images and other assorted items from the box, and his story is slowly coming to light, possibly for the first time in fifty years.

Howard Shelley (1879-1956) was known primarily as a Philadelphia theater and opera personality. However, before I go into that, I would like to delve into his ancestors, an interesting topic of its own. Howard Merrill’s lineage plays like a who’s who of American history. Howard’s mother, Sophia Rittenhouse Shelley, is directly descended from the famous scientist and astronomer, David Rittenhouse. Howard’s grandmother, Amanda McClellan is related by marriage to none other than Benjamin Franklin and is directly related to the Civil War general, George B. McClellan.

 

 

George himself was the grandson of General Samuel McClellan of the Revolutionary War. Samuel married Rachel Abbe, a direct descendant of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

 

 

Howard also had a famous second cousin named Kate Shelley. While not a household name today, in her own time she was a famous poet and folk hero. As a young girl she risked her own life to save hundreds of lives by averting a potential train accident.

Not surprisingly, Howard Shelley thought his own family history quite interesting and wrote a successful play about it in 1914 called The Family Tree. At the time in Philadelphia, as well as other major cities, there was a craze to document and brag about one’s own family history in order to secure social prestige and Howard took advantage of this subject to write his satirical comedy. Prior to The Family Tree Howard co-wrote a popular musical called The Beauty Doctor in 1904. An article in the Geneva Daily Times described this production as a piece “based on the beauty culture craze, which is handled in a broadly humorous way and is said to afford ample opportunity for hearty fun”.

After writing two successful satires for the stage, Howard went on to become a theatrical press agent. He wrote an early form of gossip column about society under the name Barclay Beekman for the New York Daily Mirror and was also employed by stars of the stage, including Lillian Russell, an actress and singer, and Luisa Tetrazzini, an Italian opera soprano.

 

Digitizing the Howard Shelley Collection has been like working on a miniature time capsule of Philadelphia genealogy and theater history. I have only completed about a third of the collection and am eager to discover how the other pieces of the puzzle come together. What I find remarkable is that despite having two hit shows and an active life in theater and opera, Howard Shelley and his productions have managed to escape history’s grasp. It causes one to realize that the majority of popular culture today may not survive a hundred years, for better or worse. For my part, I am glad to have the opportunity to once again put Howard Shelley in the spotlight.

Posted for Karla Irwin, Fall 2011 Digital Library Intern.


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Exploring French theatre at the turn of the 20th century

Posted for Alexandra Edwards (Falvey Memorial Library Intern and Digital Library student employee)

One of the best parts about working in the Digital Library is getting to experience, firsthand, historical materials related to your own interests. Recently, I worked on digitizing issues of a French theatre magazine, Le Théatre, from the turn of the 20th century — a project that combined my love of the stage, the French language, and fin de siècle culture.

Le Théatre gives a fascinating glimpse into French cultural life during this highly artistic time period. The magazine covered the world of French theatre and dance in-depth, and provides an intriguing primary-source look into stage conventions, costuming, set design, and theatrical celebrity.

Of particular historic interest are the articles on Loïe Fuller, the American dance sensation with no formal training who is now credited as a pioneer of modern dance as well as theatrical lighting. Videos of her performances have been preserved and are exhibited around the country to this day — I recently saw a Library of Congress video of her signature dance style at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Several issues of Le Théatre mention Fuller, either in reference to the dancer herself, or to the style of dance she created, which was subsequently picked up by other performers.

The December 1898 issue devotes an entire section to Fuller, including a color cover featuring a dancer dressed and posed in the style of “La Loïe Fuller.”  After several pages of more traditional-looking ballerinas, the section on Fuller highlights the somewhat shocking, modern quality of Fuller’s style.  The dancers pictured wear long and flowing dresses which can be held up — it appears that rods have been inserted into the fabric — to give the appearance of wings.  Indeed, butterflies are pictured on many of the dresses.  A captivating action shot hints at the effect of Fuller’s twirling style in combination with the flowing costume.

The article mentions that Fuller was basically unknown a few years prior, but has since taken the dance world by storm.  The author notes that Fuller may not be the best dancer on the stage, but rather that there is a kind of magical quality to her dancing in and of itself:


Subsequent issues of Le Théatre profile “Le Théâtre de la Loïe Fuller” (August II, 1900), as well as Japanese dancer Sada Yacco, who worked closely with Fuller after the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 (October II, 1900).  Fuller served as Yacco’s manager and press agent, proving herself as savvy a businesswoman as she was entertainer and theatrical inventor.

Seeing Fuller’s work documented in Le Théatre emphasizes both her importance in the history of dance and the necessity of preserving historical primary-source materials.  Researchers across the world can now access these documents for free, allowing them to understand, in the original historical context, the impact that Fuller made on the world of French theatre and dance.

References:

Loie Fuller.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 May 2011. Web. May 2011.

Collier, Peter and Robert Lethbridge, eds.  Artistic relations : literature and the visual arts in nineteenth-century France.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.  Print.

Garelick, Rhonda K. Electric Salome : Loie Fuller’s performance of modernism.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.  Print.

Holmes, Diana and Carrie Tarr, edds.  A “Belle Epoque”? : women in French society and culture, 1890-1914.  New York: Berghahn Books, 2006.  Print.


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Last Modified: May 31, 2011