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Woodstock Poster

Arts Days: August 18, 1969: Give Peace a Chance
Who knew that a weekend-long, live music festival slated for a farm in upstate New York would become a cultural touchstone for untold numbers of people?

The Yasgur dairy farm north of Woodstock, N.Y., was the scene for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, a three-day long celebration that featured acts like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, and Carlos Santana. Woodstock, as it came to be known, was attended by half a million people, by some estimates.

Some feared that such a large crowd would lead to roads shutting down from traffic or riots breaking out, but the event was remarkably peaceful, which is just what the organizers had wanted.
Music Legends, Rock & Roll, Art Venues, Music, Popular Culture

The Flamingo Hotel

Arts Days: December 26, 1946: Vegas on the Verge
The gangster Benjamin Siegel—better known as “Bugsy”—was instrumental in the rise of Las Vegas from a patch of desert to an entertainment hub. In early 1946, Siegel met William Wilkerson, who was building a hotel called the Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Siegel’s mentor Meyer Lansky wanted a piece of the Flamingo, and while Siegel initially balked at being away from L.A., he soon became invested in the construction.

He bought building materials on the black market and overrode blueprints for the hotel with his own ideas. Siegel was no architect, though; these decisions ultimately led to huge cost overruns and delays. On opening day, construction racket and drop cloths filled the lobby, and the air-conditioning—a first in this town—was on the fritz.
Art Venues, Popular Culture, Architecture, Controversial, Innovators & Pioneers

The Cotton Club

Arts Days: December 04, 1927: Setting Up Shop in Harlem
Go back to the corner of Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street in Harlem and the very night Duke Ellington and his orchestra first played for an adoring crowd at New York City’s Cotton Club. This evening marked the beginning of a tremendous four-year residency. Ellington and his musicians provided dance music for the club's performers, African American dancers in incredible costumes who performed songs, dances, and comedy routines for all-white, high-society audiences.

Ellington’s trumpet players, trombonists, and saxophonists—from Bubber Miley to Harry Carney—were each amazingly gifted in their own right; under Ellington’s direction, the orchestra melded into a rock-solid, jazz-playing unit. Soon enough, Ellington, his band, and their music were exposed to a national audience when these shows were broadcast weekly on WHN radio.
Art Venues, Jazz, Music, Composers, Music Legends, America

Le Chat Noir

Arts Days: November 18, 1881: Come to the Cabaret
Today you think of these clubs as famous nightspots where celebrities like to hang out in Hollywood or New York. But back in Paris in the late 19th century, they were referred to as cabarets, and Le Chat Noir was perhaps the most legendary. Located in Paris’ fashionable, bohemian Montmartre neighborhood, Le Chat Noir, or “The Black Cat,” was envisioned by owner Rodolphe Salis as part nightclub, part salon.

Seated at crowded tables were well-known Parisian celebrities and their artist associates from around the world. On any given night, you could rub elbows with painter Pablo Picasso, composer Claude Debussy, or perhaps Jane Avril, the can-can dancer whom Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized in several paintings. They and countless others would talk, drink, flirt, and enjoy live performances. The party lasted until 1897, when the place closed up shop.
Art Venues, Europe, Popular Culture, Musicals

Louis B. Mayer

Arts Days: November 28, 1907: Movie Mogul
Purchasing a small nickelodeon in Haverhill, Massachusetts, near Boston, Louis B. Mayer—a Russian immigrant who started off in his family’s scrap-metal business—was on a quest to reach the top of the Hollywood heap. That’s right: He’s the Mayer in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, one of the most successful movie studios of all time.

On his way up the ladder, Mayer turned that single shabby, little theater into a successful chain of movie theaters all over New England. In subsequent years, after Mayer’s company had joined forces with Metro and Goldwyn Pictures, MGM pumped out hits like Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Wizard of Oz. Mayer, who believed in the power of starting small, became one of Hollywood’s legendary movie executives.
Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, America

Fox Film using Movietone

Arts Days: July 23, 1926: Breaking the Sound Barrier
It only costs $60,000 to turn the page in the movie industry. That was the amount the Fox Film Corporation plunked down to buy the equipment to record sound onto film. Noises like bells ringing, car horns beeping, or birds squawking could be added with this kind of technology. This Movietone sound system created a sound track that matched the visual “track” of the film.

The first movie produced this way was in 1927. Though it was the first commercial film released with music and sound effects (like a trolley car rumbling by) to accompany the action, the actors spoke just a few words, none of them synchronized to the soundtrack. The technology that supported that kind of synchronization would come later.
Movies & Movie Stars, History, Art Venues

Penguin Book

Arts Days: July 30, 1935: A Soft Spot for Writers
The Penguin publishing house made classic literary works available to a larger audience at an affordable price by publishing paperback editions—not heavy hardcover books that had been the norm up until then.

Allen Lane, Penguin’s founder, had been hunting for something to read at the train station, but had only found magazines and soft-cover romance novels. Among the first authors printed were Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway.

The books, a few cents each in today’s dollars, were color-coded: fiction works had an orange cover, crime a green one, and so on. And how’s this for success? That first year, some three million paperback books were sold.
Literature, Art Venues, Poetry

Hollywoodland

Arts Days: July 13, 1923: A Sign of the Times
It’s a lot more than just a series of letters stuck on a hill in Los Angeles. The Hollywood sign has come to embody glamour, success, and drama since it was dedicated on this day in 1923.

When it was first put in place, it was a marketing tool for a real estate project Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler had invested in. At this time, the sign actually said “Hollywoodland,” the name of the housing development. At night, the letters’ 4,000 light bulbs blinked on and off, spelling out the words “Holly,” “wood” and “land.”

While the development didn’t survive the Great Depression with the “H” falling off due to neglect, the city of Los Angeles bought the sign, fixed the “H” and removed the “land.” The resulting sign represents magic and movies.
Movies & Movie Stars, Art Venues, Geography

Vaudeville Theatre

Arts Days: February 28, 1883: Make ’em Laugh, Make ’em Cry
Vaudeville was a type of variety show with a bunch of back-to-back quick skits: A singing, tap-dancing man up first, then a dog riding a bike, then a few folks doing a comedy routine. And on and on for hours. If you could spin plates, sing well, or imitate various animal sounds, you, too, might have wanted to jump up on stage!

At its peak, thousands and thousands of performers worked the vaudeville circuit—a series of shows held at venues around North America. With everything from Yiddish theater to minstrel shows and contortionists to jugglers on the bill, vaudeville showcased the cultural diversity of 20th century America.

But vaudeville could not compete with the “moving picture show”—the form of entertainment we now call movies. Vaudeville shows went into a steep decline as movies became more popular.
America, Art Venues, Musicals, Theater, Comedy

Sundance Film Festival

Arts Days: January 18, 1985: Sun Screened!
The Sundance Film Festival is the largest cinema festival in the United States, established to showcase American-made films and attract filmmakers to the state of Utah.

The first festival was held in 1978, originally known as the Utah/US Film Festival. But thanks to the involvement of actor and Utah resident Robert Redford, as well as the strong, supportive response from Hollywood studios eager for a venue to celebrate their works, the festival was propelled into the national spotlight.

In 1985, the Sundance Institute took over management of the festival, changing its name to the Sundance Film Festival. Today this annual event is the premier showcase for new work by both American and international independent filmmakers.
Inventions, Art Venues, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture

Apollo Theater

Arts Days: January 26, 1934: Where Stars Are Born…
The Apollo Theater originally opened in 1913 as one of the city's leading burlesque venues for white-only audiences.

In 1932, powerful theatrical landlord Sydney S. Cohen purchased the theater and went to work refurbishing the entire venue. When it reopened its doors in 1934, patrons and performers of all races were welcomed.

The new Apollo Theater featured an "Amateur Night," which invited talented singers and dancers to the stage. "Amateur Night" helped launch the careers of numerous stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, and Lauryn Hill.
Art Venues, Music Legends, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

Benny Goodman

Arts Days: January 16, 1938: All Jazzed Up
Though jazz music originated in the early 1900s, it took several decades until it was commonly recognized as a serious musical form.

While there’s no way of putting an exact date on when this happened, jazz music did make history on this day in 1938. The prominent New York City music venue Carnegie Hall hosted its first jazz concert, performed by the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Guest artists included Count Basie and members of the Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras.

Initially, Goodman was hesitant to play at Carnegie Hall fearing mainstream audiences were not ready to accept jazz music. He was happy to be proven wrong by the 2,760 sold-out seats.
Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz

Circus

Arts Days: January 09, 1768: Send in the Clowns
Though acrobats, clowns, trapeze artists, and trained animals all existed before the modern circus, they’d never been under the same roof until Englishman Philip Astley, a former cavalry sergeant major, discovered his ability to perform stunts while standing atop his horse's back.

Realizing his talent’s potential entertainment value, he drew a ring in the ground and invited the public to witness his daring act. His display proved to be popular and Astley readily hired other trick riders, as well as clowns, and musicians to join his show. He built a roof over the ring, which he named Astley's Amphitheatre. Over the next thirty years, Astley took his show on the road and established 18 other circuses in major European cities.
Inventions, Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Stunts & Special Effects, Animals, Europe, Popular Culture, Theater

Globe Theatre

Arts Days: June 29, 1613: Global Warming
Before it went up in smoke, most of Shakespeare’s plays debuted at The Globe located just outside London’s city limits. The building, erected in 1599 by Shakespeare’s theater company, is probably the best known theater of the Elizabethan era.

With room for about 3,000 people, the Globe had a stage at one end and a couple of areas for viewing the plays: covered balconies with seats for the wealthy, and bare ground for those who didn’t have much money but were willing to stand up for the duration of the show (the standing folks were called “groundlings”).

The Globe had its own motto: “The whole world is a playhouse,” which might sound a little bit familiar. That’s probably because Shakespeare adapted this motto for As You Like It when he wrote the lines, “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players.”
Art Venues, Shakespeare, Theater, Playwrights & Plays

First Drive In

Arts Days: June 06, 1933: In a Parking Lot Near You
When Richard Hollingshead got the notion to create an outdoor theater showing films you could watch from your car, he experimented with cars and equipment in his New Jersey driveway.

First, he mounted a projector on the hood of a car and hung up a screen. Then, Hollingshead rearranged cars until he figured out a way everybody could see from their front or back seats. On this night, cars streamed into the world’s first drive-in to see a movie called Wife Beware. Each car was charged 25 cents for admission. In addition, each rider paid a quarter. Even though Hollingshead placed large speakers near the screen, movie goers parked in the back rows couldn’t hear well.

Still, the idea caught on and drive-ins began popping up everywhere, with 5,000 or so operating at the peak of the craze.
Art Venues, Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, Innovators & Pioneers

Universal

Arts Days: June 02, 1912: A Movie First!
The movie industry’s first major studio was officially formed on this day when several smaller studios merged. A couple of years after it opened, Universal Studios bought a piece of land in the San Fernando Valley and began churning out movies (the first full length feature was 1913’s Traffic in Souls).

The hits starting racking up for Universal: scary stuff like Dracula and The Hunchback of Notre Dame helped the studio keep its momentum going as more studios were forming during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Universal has acquired and been acquired by numerous other companies over its colorful history, but it’s still the studio responsible for many wildly successful films, from Jaws to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to Back to the Future.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Art Venues

Carnegie Hall

Arts Days: May 05, 1891: The Music House That Steel Built
The stages (there are three now) of Carnegie Hall, the preeminent concert hall in the U.S., have been graced by everyone from jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and violinist Isaac Stern, to opera star Luciano Pavarotti and pianist Fats Waller.

In the late 19th century, the landmark building on New York’s Upper West Side, then known simply as “Music Hall,” was funded by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and designed by architect William Burnet Tuthill. On this opening night, two important figures in classical music—conductor Walter Damrosch and composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky—were featured.

It would have been hard to imagine on this festive occasion that only 75 years later, Carnegie Hall would be slated for demolition. Fortunately, Stern and others persuaded the city to purchase the building and Carnegie Hall was saved. Renovations in the 1980s prompted critics to complain that the Hall’s famous acoustics were harmed, but others said that the renovations have improved the sound by muffling street noise.
Art Venues, Music Legends, Music, Orchestra

Paramount Pictures

Arts Days: May 08, 1914: Lights, Camera, Action!
Back in 1912, an entrepreneur named Adolph Zukor thought he could bring more movies to the middle class by contracting a group of actors to make a fixed number of movies every year. So he started the Famous Players Film Company. Famous Players partnered with a startup called Paramount Pictures Corporation to distribute its films to theaters; a few years later, it officially merged with Paramount.

Under Zukor’s leadership, Paramount owned all the components of the movie-making apparatus. It employed superstars of the day, like Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino, and acquired film production studios. Paramount even bought hundreds of movie houses around the country where the finished movies would be shown.

The company has been through many mergers since those early days, and has once or twice come close to closing up shop, such as during the Great Depression. Today, however, the company is still growing strong.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Jobs in the Arts, Art Venues

Augustus Julliard

Arts Days: April 19, 1836: Schooled in the Arts
Augustus Juilliard was born on a ship while his family made the crossing to America from their native France. Raised in Ohio, Juilliard moved to New York City when he was 30, amassing great wealth through his work in the textile industry. Juilliard went on to use his fortune to support a range of cultural and social causes, from the American Museum of Natural History to New York hospitals.

Juilliard is said to have loved music, in particular opera music. In his will, he left money toward the creation of a music school, which today we call The Juilliard School. Juilliard is admired around the world for its rigor in turning out young dancers, musicians, actors, and singers. Those who are admitted into the school have to have exceptional grades and proven talent in the performing arts.
Art Venues, Europe, Education, Music, Music Legends

Ella Fitzgerald

Arts Days: April 25, 1918: The First Lady of Song
At age 15, Ella Fitzgerald won the chance to compete at amateur night at New York City’s famed Apollo Theater. While she had originally planned to do a dance number, she got nervous. Fitzgerald changed her mind at the last minute, opened her mouth, and sang. That glorious voice stunned the audience and delighted jazz sax player Benny Carter, who happened to be there that night.

Carter went on to introduce Fitzgerald to people who might help this young singer find a greater audience. Fitzgerald later mastered a type of vocal improvisation called “scat singing,” in which she would sing in syllables, not words. Scatting lets a singer play around with sound, creating a vocal solo much like a clarinetist or trumpeter might invent a solo on his instrument. Fitzgerald, a 1979 Kennedy Center Honoree, made about 200 jazz records, whose collective sales would number about 40 million.
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Jazz, Art Venues, Music

Billie Holiday

Arts Days: April 07, 1915: The Lady Sang the Blues
Although vocally untrained, Billie Holiday possessed talents and characteristics far more critical to singing the blues—a natural ear for music and a life of turmoil and sorrow. Holiday changed the art of pop vocals with her smoky voice, unique word phrasing, and dramatic interpretations of classic songs. Her poignant renditions of love songs and ballads are considered classic; no one “carried a torch” like Holiday.

Discovered singing in a jazz club in the early 1930s, Holiday soon signed a record deal and began collaborations with musicians like Artie Shaw and Lester Young (who nicknamed her “Lady Day”). She shattered racial barriers by being the first black woman to front a big band composed of white musicians and by singing about lynching in the haunting “Strange Fruit.” Songs Holiday wrote with others, like “God Bless the Child,” rocketed to the top of the charts. Sadly, Holiday’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction led to her untimely death at the age of 44.
Art Venues, Blues, Jazz, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture

Theater collage

Article: It's Not Just a Stage
How to find your way around a theater, onstage and off
Backstage, Art Venues, Theater

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