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Arthur Miller

Arts Days: June 21, 1956: Just Said “No”
Sitting in the hot seat before the U.S. Congress’ House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), playwright Arthur Miller was pressed to reveal his alleged ties to Communists. Or at least to name people Miller considered sympathetic to Communism and the Soviet Union.

Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible, ostensibly about the 17th century Salem witch trials, raised eyebrows among senators like Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy was also suspicious of where Miller’s sympathies lay, knowing that the playwright had attended several meetings of the Communist party in the 1940s. McCarthy and others were on high alert for Communists thought to have infiltrated the government, the arts, and other institutions in the U.S.

Miller, one of numerous writers, actors, and others suspected of having Communist ties, refused to identify anyone and was ultimately convicted of holding Congress in contempt.
Controversial, Playwrights & Plays, History, Theater

Chicago

Arts Days: June 23, 1927: Razzle Dazzle Man
From the hip roll to the finger snap to the perfectly angled hat—these are just some of the signature moves of the unmistakable “Fosse look.”

Jazz choreographer Bob Fosse invented so many moves that are now essential in modern dance that the casual observer may not even be aware of how widespread his influence continues to be. He broke new ground with dances that were demanding, entertaining, and provocative—often by creating one sharp, simple isolated movement. He honed his style in musicals like The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, and Pippin and saw his creativity peak in the musical Chicago and the autobiographical film All That Jazz.

The second film Bob Fosse directed, 1972’s Cabaret, won eight Academy Awards® including Best Director.
Broadway, Choreographers, Controversial, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Jazz

Shuffle Along

May 23: May 23, 1921: Breaking Broadway’s Barriers
The early 20th century ragtime and jazz musicians Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle had a major hit on their hands when they co-wrote Shuffle Along, the first major Broadway musical by, for, and about African Americans. All told, the show ran for more than 500 performances. It played in Washington, D.C. and other locales before lighting up Broadway, where police were assigned on show nights to help ease traffic congestion.

Shuffle Along also made stars of dancers like Josephine Baker and singers like Paul Robeson. Many songs became popular hits. But by today’s standards, some aspects of Shuffle Along are offensive. For example, though the actors were all African American, they applied makeup to their faces to darken them further, and borrowed stock characters from minstrel shows. As the show’s popularity spread by word of mouth, the audiences were filled with black and white theater patrons alike.
Broadway, Innovators & Pioneers, Musicals, Jazz, Controversial, Theater

Lorraine Hansbury

Arts Days: May 19, 1930: Young, Gifted, and Black
With her powerful drama A Raisin in the Sun, playwright Lorraine Hansberry broke multiple barriers.

When it opened in New York City in 1959, the play was the first to be written and directed by an African American, Lloyd Richards. And when her work was voted Best American Play by the New York Drama Critics’s Circle, the 29-year-old Hansberry became the youngest recipient of that prestigious award. Raisin was partly inspired by racial incidents suffered by Hansberry’s family when they moved into a segregated neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago in 1937.

Hansberry went on to write other works for stage, screen, and television. Though she died at only 34, Hansberry’s influence echoes with generations of young writers dedicated to uncovering racism and other injustices with their words.
Innovators & Pioneers, Playwrights & Plays, Literature, Controversial

Isadora Duncan

Arts Days: May 27, 1877: Something in the Way She Moves
Inspired by everything from ancient Greek art to the power of nature embodied in rushing rivers and rainy weather, Isadora Duncan poured all she had into dancing, which she believed to be the body’s expression of the soul’s innermost desires. She rejected classical ballet as too confining and controlled.

A true free spirit, Duncan brought a new athleticism to dancing; her choreography was full of leaps and jumps and skips. Barefoot, her long hair flying, dressed in Grecian-inspired flowing tunics, she was a captivating sight as she danced. She taught her students that the energy they need for dance originated in the solar plexus, a group of nerves in the body’s abdominal region.
America, Controversial, Dance, Dance Legends, Innovators & Pioneers, Choreographers

Iggy Pop

Arts Days: April 21, 1947: Music Gets Punk’d
As a kid growing up in the Midwest, James Newell Osterberg got his punk-rock nickname when he played drums briefly with a blues band called the Prime Movers. Iggy’s bandmates invented his moniker after his previous band, the Iguanas. In the late 1960s, Iggy Pop helped lay the groundwork for punk music by forming his influential band, The Stooges.

With their blistering guitar work and relentless drumming, coupled with Iggy’s unearthly yowls, shrieks, and moans, the band is still held up as the prototype for intense, driving rock and roll, with everybody from KISS to the Sex Pistols to Green Day. The Stooges only made a few records, like Raw Power and Fun House, before disbanding, but they and Iggy helped shape the course of popular music.
Rock & Roll, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends

Martha Graham Dance Company

Arts Days: April 18, 1926: Mother of Modern Dance
The first dance performance Martha Graham attended at age 16 with the legendary Ruth St. Denis on the program, may have flickered through Graham’s mind when the lights went down at the 48th Street Theater in New York City, just before she made her debut. The movements she and her fellow dancers were performing that night were anything but traditional. What the audience witnessed was an early public display of Graham’s “contract and release” technique, in which muscles were held taut, then let go in accordance with the emotions a dancer sought to convey. The movements were angular, athletic, jagged—in marked contrast to the graceful style of classical ballet.

Within a year, Graham opened a dance school, attracting attention from many in the dance community. One of the most acclaimed dancers in history, Graham’s choreography shook up the world of modern dance.
Choreographers, Dance, Dance Legends, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

Samuel Beckett

Arts Days: April 13, 1906: Post-Modern Poster Boy
Irish playwright and poet Samuel Beckett is considered the first Post-modernist writer. He explored some pretty bleak subjects in works like Waiting for Godot and Krapp’s Last Tape including loneliness, hopelessness, and isolation. His work attracted considerable attention in his day—and even still—for often tossing all conventions of character development and plot, even punctuation, straight out the window.

Some of his works attempted to capture the inner thoughts and feelings of his characters second by second. Beckett combined words and ideas in such innovative ways that he earned the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. But because Beckett was such a private person, the fame that accompanied this honor was a double-edged sword.
Controversial, Playwrights & Plays, Europe, Theater

Marian Anderson

Arts Days: April 09, 1939: Let Freedom Sing

For more than 40 years, Marian Anderson’s supple contralto voice—lower than an alto or soprano—thrilled audiences the world over. She preferred singing in recitals to opera performance, though many opera companies tried to entice her to sing with them. However, it was the Daughters of the American Revolution’s refusal to let Anderson sing at Constitution Hall simply because of her race that set the stage for perhaps the most important concert of her career.

With an assist from President Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson gave a spellbinding public performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Some 75,000 people listened live in the chilly spring air, and millions more heard Anderson sing on the radio. In 1955, reconsidering her stance on singing in operas, she became the first African American to perform at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Her grace and beauty—to say nothing of that remarkable voice—made Marian Anderson an important symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

For more on this historic concert, listen to Of Thee We Sing: Marian Anderson and the Music of the Early Civil Rights Movement.


America, Music, Opera, Controversial

Wilderness

2700 F St.: Wilderness
This New York Times Critics’ Pick is a pulsating new multimedia documentary theater work from En Garde Arts that speaks to our collective search for connection and hope as families navigate the complexities of their children coming of age in 21st-century America. The production is derived from the real-life stories of six families—narratives exploring issues of mental health, addiction, and gender and sexual identity. Video and projection design combines sweeping landscapes with documentary footage of parents, veering from familiar domestic confines to the harshness of the world outdoors.
Controversial, Theater

Theater seats

Video Series: The Power of Theater
What does theater "do"? Does it matter in a contemporary, screen-driven society? Drawn from the Kennedy Center Education Department archives, this series examines the way theater impacts modern society and culture.
Theater, Jobs in the Arts, Backstage, Controversial, Playwrights & Plays

She a Gem

2700 F St.: She A Gem
Krystin, Jaleesa, and Amber form a double-dutch team in inner city Philadelphia to compete in their neighborhood pageant. If they win, they’ll receive a special prize: their futures told by Ms. Mary, the local psychic. Will they become a famous singer? A hair dresser? Or maybe a “gem,” a special leader who cares for the neighborhood? Then they meet a pregnant teen from North Philly who can jump double-dutch almost better than any of them. Just as the girls anticipate learning about their futures, they’ll learn something important about her past that affects them all.
The Human Journey, Theater, Controversial, Sports

Long Way Down

2700 F St.: Long Way Down
Sixty seconds. Seven floors. One elevator. Fifteen-year old Will’s brother has just been shot, and Will is ready to follow “The Rules”: 1) “No Crying.” 2) “No Snitching.” 3) “Get Revenge.” But on the ride down, with his brother’s gun in his pocket, his plan is interrupted by a few visitors. Told entirely in free-form poetry, Long Way Down captures the potent minute Will contemplates retaliation. As mysterious guests appear at each floor, Will realizes there might be a bigger story to be told. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?
The Human Journey, Controversial, Theater

Cartography

2700 F St.: Cartography
Inflatable rafts on the Mediterranean. Dark holds of cargo trucks. Family photos wrapped carefully in a backpack that crosses border checkpoints. Cartography explores how the world is alive with movement and migration. Inspired by the artists’ creative work with young refugees from around the world, Cartography asks what part we play in the lives of youth who set out into the unsure waters of their future. From the effects of climate change to war and poverty, this powerful story examines the forces that shape where we have come from, how we have moved, and where we are going.
The Human Journey, Theater, Geography, Controversial

A World of Music

Audio Series: A World of Music
We’re off on a Musical Tour of Europe! The invention of the orchestra hundreds of years ago meant bigger musical possibilities, and composers all across Europe were inspired to try their hand at pushing classical music to new limits
Composers, Controversial, Europe, Folklore, Geography, History, Musical Instruments, Music, Orchestra

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