"In doing the research, I was stunned by the depth and breadth of American women playwrights in the 20th century--groundbreaking women whose work played everywhere from school halls to Broadway, who protested racism and inequality, who provoked as well as entertained, who have such a profound legacy...and yet, because they are women, their work just hasn't been given the same respect as many of their male colleagues. I hope people will learn more about the history of American women playwrights from this event, as well as realize how viable these works are for the stage--I hope this event inspires people to produce these plays at schools, colleges, and theatres!"
Thank you, Heather, I hope they do too! Now, as promised, below you will find the play line-up for the upcoming Scenes by Historic Women Playwrights: Read by Luminaries of the Stage. You will also find a brief bio of life and work of these extraordinary playwrights as well as links to learn more about them. Enjoy!
THE OLD MAID (1934)
By Zoë Akins, Adapted from Edith Wharton
Zoe Akins made her professional writing debut with the one‐actor The Magical City (1916). Many critics saw great promise in Papa (1919), her comedy about a father who attempts to save his faltering fortune by marrying off his daughters; but her reputation was established by the success of Déclassée (1919), about a woman who abandons home and husband. Akins met with varying success with such plays as Daddy's Gone A‐Hunting (1921), which depicted the consequences of a man's desertion of his family; The Varying Shore (1921), the history of a courtesan told in flashbacks in reverse chronological order; The Texas Nightingale (also known as Greatness) (1922), about the troubled life of an opera singer; A Royal Fandango (1923), in which a promiscuous princess is brought to her senses; and a series of adaptations of foreign plays: The Moon‐Flower (1924), First Love (1926), The Crown Prince (1927), The Love Duel (1929), and South of Siam (1929). A bawdy comedy about gold‐digging ex‐Follies girls, The Greeks Had a Word for It (1930), was a huge success; and she won a Pulitzer Prize for her dramatization of Edith Wharton's The Old Maid (1935). While many of her early plays shocked audiences by their candor, changing moral codes have dulled their sharpness. Nevertheless, her works can be perceived as urbane, with a superior flare for dramatic situations.
Excepted from The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, by Gerald Bordman and Thomas H. Hischak, Oxford University Press
To lean more, follow this link: http://columbia-mo.aauw.net/notablewomen/womenac/zoe-akins/
IN THE SUMMER HOUSE (1953)
By Jane Bowles
American writer, born in New York of a German Jewish father and a Hungarian mother. Educated privately, she travelled in Europe and moved in artistic and literary circles, meeting Celine, E. E. Cummings, Klaus Mann, and Paul Bowles whom she married in 1938. After extensive travels the couple became the centre of an expatriate literary group including Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Alan Sillitoe, and Ruth Fainlight. Bowles has been highly praised by contemporaries—such as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote (who referred to her as a ‘modern legend’), and John Ashbery—for the irony and surrealism with which she describes the bisexual, nihilistic ambience of her fictions. Although it is held that her career was curtailed by the cerebral haemorrhage she suffered in 1957, she had never been prolific. Her reputation rested on her single novel Two Serious Ladies (1943); with echoes of Kafka and Compton-Burnett, it tells the story of Miss Goering, whose ideal of sainthood dissolves into sexual servitude to dubious characters, and Mrs Copperfield, who abandons a respectable marriage in pursuit of a native Panamian prostitute. It contributed to the revival of a modern gothic sensibility. A play, The Summer House, appeared in 1954. Bowles's early physical decline, the interest in forgotten women writers, and the bizarre stories circulated about her life, have perhaps contributed to her cult literary status. Her stories were collected in Plain Pleasures (1966), which includes such notable fictions as ‘Camp Cataract’ (1949) and ‘A Stick of Green Candy’ (1957). The title story is indicative of Bowles's technique and vision: a lonely widow meets an equally lonely man, but their mutual gestures of communication end in drunken misunderstanding, sexual confusion and the threat of cruel estrangement.
Cross-posted from: http://www.jrank.org/literature/pages/3409/Jane-Bowles.html
To learn more, follow this link: http://www.paulbowles.org/janebowles.html
TROUBLE IN MIND (1955)
By Alice Childress
Alice Childress, actress, novelist, and playwright, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on October 12, 1912. Childress moved to Harlem when she was five and was raised by her grandmother, who encouraged her to write. At weekly church events, young Childress heard moving stories of personal and family struggles, which inspired her with a love of storytelling and served as fodder for stories about the plight of urban blacks. She became passionately interested in theater and attended the American Negro Theater School of Drama and Stagecraft. In 1944, she made her debut in Anna Lucasta, which became the longest running all-black play on Broadway. She wrote, directed, and starred in her first play in 1949, and in 1950, encouraged by actor and activist Paul Robeson, she founded her own theater. She wrote more than a dozen plays, including Trouble in Mind. The play was scheduled to move to Broadway in 1957, but Childress objected to changes requested in the script and canceled the production. Her 1966 play, Wedding Band, was produced again in 1972 by Joe Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival. She also wrote adult and children's novels. Like her plays, they dealt with the pressures on urban blacks. Her young-adult novel A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich (1973) recounts the rehabilitation of a 13-year-old heroin addict. The book became a bestseller and a movie in 1977. Her 1979 novel, A Short Walk, was nominated for a Pulitzer. She also collaborated with her husband, composer Nathan Woodard, on musical plays. She died in 1994 at age 81.
Cross-posted from: http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/alice_childress
To learn more, follow this link: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/theatre/2011/10/10/111010crth_theatre_als
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A WOMAN
By Rachel Crothers
Rachel Crothers (1878–1958), playwright. Born in Bloomington, Illinois, she had dabbled at playwriting before she entered the State Normal School of Illinois. After studying acting at the Stanhope‐Wheatcroft School and performing professionally for several seasons, Crothers abandoned acting when her first play, Nora (1903), was produced. Her first successful work was The Three of Us (1906), a story of a spunky sister who protects her brothers' interests in a Nevada mine. Several subsequent plays had short runs before she had better luck with A Man's World (1910), Young Wisdom (1914), Old Lady 31 (1916), A Little Journey (1918), and 39 East (1919). Crothers then hit her stride with a series of plays that explored the roles men and women played in contemporary society: He and She (1920), Nice People (1921), Mary the Third (1923), Expressing Willie (1924), A Lady's Virtue (1925), Venus (1927), Let Us Be Gay (1929), As Husbands Go (1931), and When Ladies Meet (1932). Her last play was Susan and God (1937), describing the problems that ensue when a rich matron discovers religion. During World War I Crothers founded Stage Women's War Relief. She was a consummate craftsman, who, as Howard Taubman noted, “used the stage to articulate the case for woman's freedom. When the battle was won, she did not shrink from poking fun at the liberated woman's pretensions.”
Cross-posted from: The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, by Gerald Bordman and Thomas H. Hischak, Oxford University Press
To learn more, follow this link: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/144321/Rachel-Crothers
By Angelina W. Grimke
Angelina Weld Grimké (not to be confused with her great aunt Angelina Emily Grimké Weld) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 27th in 1880, the only child of Archibald Grimké and Sara Stanley. Archibald, Angelina's father, was a well known lawyer who was the executive director of the NAACP. In her lifetime Grimké wrote many works, including poems, most of which were not published. Much of her poetry shows signs of despair, rejection, and thoughts of death and also alludes to her lesbian identity. Her most famous work was a play, Rachel, which she wrote in response to W. E. B. DuBois's requests for Black theater by, for, and about Black people. Rachel was the first play written for staging, as all previous black plays were not written with staging in mind. This play is about a black woman who vows not to have children because they would become victims of a racist society. She loves children, yet she refuses to marry and have any when she sees the suffering of Blacks in America. Grimké also wrote several short stories, such as "The Closing Door." This story reflects the feelings of loneliness and isolation she felt after her mother left her. Grimké's writings have been noticed by several critics including Gloria Hull. She writes of Grimké in her book Color, Sex and Poetry, saying that "being a black lesbian poet in America at the beginning of the twentieth century meant that one wrote (or half wrote)-- in isolation. . . . It meant that when one did write to be published, she did so in shackles-- chained between the real experience and convention that would not give her voice. "
Cross-posted from: http://voices.cla.umn.edu/artistpages/grimkeAngelina.php
To learn more, follow this link: http://washingtonart.com/beltway/grimke.html
THE LITTLE FOXES (1939)
By Lillian Hellman
Lillian Hellman took her first leap into professional writing with a play about two teachers accused of being lesbians by a privileged student. Overwhelmed by the accusation, one teacher kills herself. “The Children’s Hour,” was a gripping emotional tale about the abuse of power and its effects. The play was an enormous hit on Broadway (running for more than seven hundred performances), and brought the young playwright instant recognition. She followed it soon after with “In Days To Come” (1936) and “The Little Foxes” (1939). “The Little Foxes” was a story about three siblings struggling for control over a family business. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s she continued to write plays and increase her political activism. Her anti-fascist works “Watch the Rhine” (1941) and “The Searching Wind” (1944) directly criticized America’s failures to address and fight Hitler and Mussolini in their early years. Blacklisted in the 1950s for her leftist activism, Hellman continued to write and to speak out against the injustices around her. In 1969 Hellman published AN UNFINISHED WOMAN, the first of three memoirs that dealt with her social, political, and artistic life. Followed four years later by PENTIMENTO: A BOOK OF PORTRAITS and in 1976 by SCOUNDREL TIME, these books were a moving investigation of the life of a strong, successful woman — the life of a woman who stood against an unjust government and was able to maintain her dignity and artistic vision. Though criticized for inaccuracies, these books were influential not only for their depiction of an exceptional and exciting artistic time, but for their tone, which many associated with the beginnings of the feminist movement.
Cross-posted from: www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/lillian-hellman/about-lillian-hellman/628/
To learn more, follow this link: http://www.economist.com/node/21552535
By Georgia Douglas Johnson
Georgia Douglas Johnson was an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance, the literary and cultural movement that flourished in the predominantly black Harlem neighborhood of New York City after World War I (1917-18). Johnson's four volumes of poetry, The Heart of a Woman (1918), Bronze (1922), An Autumn Love Cycle (1928), and Share My World (1962), established her as one of the most accomplished African American woman poets of the literary movement. In addition to poetry, Johnson wrote several plays. During the fall of 1926, her play Blue Blood was performed by the Krigwa Players in New York City and was published the following year. In 1927 Plumes, a folk tragedy set in the rural South, won first prize in a literary contest sponsored by the National Urban League's African American magazine Opportunity. Johnson also submitted plays to the Federal Theatre Project, but none were ever produced. Johnson wrote a number of plays dealing with the subject of lynching, including "Blue-eyed Black Boy," "Safe," and "A Sunday Morning in the South." According to the "Catalogue of Writings" that she produced in 1962-63, Johnson wrote twenty-eight dramatic works, but few were ever published or produced, and most have been lost. Johnson accepted an honorary doctorate in literature from Atlanta University in 1965, and in 2010 she was inducted posthumously into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his foreword to her poetry volume Bronze, "Her word is simple. . . . It is singularly sincere and true, and as a revelation of the soul struggle of the women of a race it is invaluable."
Cross-posted from: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-989
To learn more, follow this link: http://washingtonart.com/beltway/gdjohnson.html
GOODBYE MY FANCY (1947)
By Fay Kanin
Reflecting on the early part of her career Fay Kanin said, “When I first started working in Hollywood, women were big stars . . . and they played complex, accomplished characters. And many of the writers were women. Then came the end of World War II; the men came home and took over to a larger degree than ever before. Female characters became either passive or sex objects, not much more than wallpaper around men’s lives.” Her first play, Goodbye, My Fancy, focuses on a congresswoman, Agatha Reed, who struggles when she realizes that her former love interest, who is also the president of her alma mater, is threatened by Reed’s liberal political beliefs. The play, which was so successful that it was made into a movie, has in more recent years, been recognized as “prematurely feminist.” During the forties, fifties, and sixties, Kanin wrote nine feature films and five Broadway plays and musicals. In the early seventies, she began to write regularly for television. Between 1972 and 1984 she wrote five films, produced one other, and was honored with three Emmy Awards, three additional Emmy nominations, three Writers Guild of America honors, and one Golden Globe nomination. After serving four terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Kanin [became] a founding trustee of the Writers Guild Foundation, a trustee of the American Film Institute, a co-chair of the American Film Institute Center for Film and Video Preservation, and a co-chair of the National Film Preservation Board. She has been honored by American Women for International Understanding, Women in Film, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the League of Women Voters.
Cross-posted from: http://www.shemadeit.org/meet/biography.aspx?m=63
To learn more, follow this link: http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=4631
SO HELP ME GOD (1936)
By Maurine Watkins
Maurine Watkins became one of the first female crime reporters in the United States and used her talents to get the scoop on the infamous Leopold-Loeb murder case, one of the first cases to be labeled “Trial of the Century” and the source material of numerous film and stage adaptations. That same year, Watkins covered the sensational Chicago murder trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner. Her newspaper articles served as the basis for a play that she wrote three years later at Yale University’ renowned playwriting workshop as a class assignment. The play, initially entitled, A Brave Little Woman, then Play Ball, and finally, Chicago, was acquired by Sam H. Harris, a successful producer and former business partner of George M. Cohan. Harris, in turn, hired George Abbott to direct Chicago on Broadway, where it ran for 172 performances during the 1926-27 season and was named as one of the Top Ten plays by leading critic Burns Mantle. Watkins adapted the Samuel Hopkins Adams' book Revelry, a book about the Teapot Dome scandal that tainted the presidency of Warren G. Harding, into a stage play, also called Revelry. Watkins wrote short stories and a number of other plays, including Gesture, Tinsel Girl, So Help Me God, The Devil’s Diary, Grotesque and Against the Day, but sadly, other than Chicago and Revelry, none of her other plays received Broadway productions. Following in the footsteps of other playwrights and literary authors, Watkins made her way to Hollywood, where she became a successful scriptwriter for a number of film studios, including Fox, MGM and RKO.
Cross-posted from: http://www.literalmedia.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=75&Itemid=86
To learn more, follow this link: http://www.maurinewatkins.com/
On Monday, you're going to be treated to a Behind the Scenes interview given by the Steering Committee! I can hardly wait to share these with you!!
This past Friday, the Washington Post ran a terrific article on about Scenes by Historic Women Playwrights: Read by Luminaries of the Stage in the Style Section.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!