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Death of a Salesman

Arts Days: February 10, 1949: The Death of a Dream
When the curtain rose at the Morasco Theater this night, Broadway audiences were introduced to Willy Loman, a middle-aged traveling salesman, on the verge of a breakdown.

All too aware that he is at the end of his career, Loman takes stock of the work he’s done, the money he’s made, the relationships he’s formed—and finds that much of it leaves him feeling defeated and disappointed. With actor Lee J. Cobb starring as Loman, and Elia Kazan directing the play, viewers sadly watched as Willy is forced to recognize himself as a failure.

In its review, The New York Times noted that Miller “has looked with compassion into the hearts of some ordinary Americans and quietly transferred their hope and anguish to the theater.” Today, Miller’s play is studied in schools across the country.
Broadway, Playwrights & Plays, Controversial, Theater, Tragedy

James Earl Jones

Arts Days: January 17, 1931: The Man with the Velvet Voice
It's hard to believe but actor James Earl Jones--known for his smooth, deep basso voice--once suffered from a severe stutter.

At college, where he planned to study medicine, Jones enrolled in acting lessons to conquer his speech impediment. A stunning improvement gave Jones an appetite for further theatrical experiences and he switched his focus to theater. After graduation, he moved to New York City to pursue acting, supporting himself with behind-the-scenes manual labor jobs.

In 1957, Jones made his Broadway debut, which caught the attentions of both stage and film directors and launched him to star status. In 1969, he won a Tony Award for The Great White Hope, and garnered an Oscar nomination for the film adaptation. He won a second Tony Award in 1987 for his work in Fences, and was also a 2002 Kennedy Center Honoree.
Broadway, Movies & Movie Stars, Theater

Romeo and Juliet

Arts Days: January 29, 1595: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
William Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet was and remains one of the English playwright's most popular works. The story of the young, "star-cross'd" lovers from feuding families premiered on this day in 1595 at The Theatre, performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

That’s right, the acting company was made up entirely of men, so roles like Juliet, the nurse, and Juliet's mother were given to actors who could muster high, feminine voices. Women were not permitted to take the stage in England until the beginning of the 17th century.
Playwrights & Plays, Shakespeare, Tragedy, Theater

Harold Prince

Arts Days: January 30, 1928: Theater Royalty is Born
Harold Prince, American theater producer and director, is associated with many of the best known Broadway musicals of the 20th century.

Born on this day in New York, NY, Prince landed his first job out of college in the office of legendary theater mogul George Abbott. Under Abbott's guidance, he learned the craft of creating original musical theater productions.

Prince co-produced a number of popular musicals in the 1950s and 60s including The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cabaret. In the 1970s, he met composer Stephen Sondheim and almost exclusively produced all of Sondheim's musicals.

In 1976, Prince directed his first of many operas for the New York City Opera. Since then he has directed two of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. Prince has received 21 Tony Awards, more than any other individual, for his work as both a producer and director.
Broadway, Innovators & Pioneers, Musicals, Theater

Gladiators Fighting

Arts Days: January 01, 404 C.E.: The Day the Crowd Went Silent

Believe it or not, the ancient Roman practice of pitting professional fighters against one another, wild animals, or condemned criminals for the viewing pleasure of a live audience, is considered one of civilization's earliest forms of social entertainment.

The first known gladiatorial competitions were held in Italy in 310 C.E. to impress the public with reenactments of exciting military battles and demonstrations of individual soldiers' strengths.

Over time, the games evolved into a much more elaborate spectacle. The games were popular with members of all social classes, prompting the construction of a new, larger kind of venue--the amphitheatre, or open air arena--a design still used today.

But hold on, not everyone appreciated the gore-filled competitions. Christians objected to the immorality of the viewers who happily observed the violence. Nearing the fall of the Empire, when numerous wars led to an economic recession and Christianity continued to spread, gladiatorial games began to decline.

After the last known gladiatorial competition was held on this day in Rome, Italy, audiences turned their attention to theater performances.
Controversial, Sports, Theater, World Cultures

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

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

Ice Capades

Arts Days: June 16, 1940: Theater on Ice
There was a time when seeing an Ice Capades show was the hottest ticket in town for a family night out. The show featured Olympic skaters and other national champions acting out plays, TV shows, and other stories in elaborate costumes and on skates.

It all started when a group of ice arena managers noticed how much applause the ice-skating demonstrations between hockey segments generated. On this day, Ice Capades mounted its first show in New Orleans. Skating stars of the day were along for the ride on this debut tour of 40 cities across the U.S. As children flocked to these shows with their parents, demand for ice-skating lessons surged. Still, with so much competition for leisure-time activities and dollars, the show’s popularity faded.
Theater, Popular Culture, Stunts & Special Effects

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

Oliver

Arts Days: June 30, 1960: The Boy Who Asked for More
Drawing on themes and characters Charles Dickens created in his 1838 novel Oliver Twist, composer Lionel Bart wrote the words and music to a stage version of the story, which he called Oliver!

Dickens’s book was about Oliver, a lonely orphan boy, the adults who abused him with too much work and too little compassion, and a few kind people he meets along the way. Despite the serious subject matter, the infectious melodies of songs like Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself became lodged in listeners’ memories. In fact, Oliver’s modest request for more porridge—“Please sir, I want some more”—became one of the best-known lines to go straight from Dickens’s pen to Bart’s libretto.

Ultimately, Oliver’s happy escape from a cruel life to a happy one with his long-lost grandfather, delighted audiences.
Broadway, Musicals, Theater, Literature

The Musical Grease!

Arts Days: June 07, 1972: Grease is the Word
Nobody thought that a musical about a bunch of working-class 1950s high school kids known as “greasers”—obsessed with fast cars, rock and roll, and each other—would go on to shatter Broadway records for the longest-running show. But it did and 3,388 performances later, Grease was still the word on everyone’s lips. Audiences followed the antics of a cute couple named Danny and Sandy and their pals as they sang and danced through summer-fling memories, teenage disappointments, and promises of eternal friendship.

The play, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, was loosely based on their own high school experiences and touched on some hard-hitting themes like gang rivalry and teenage pregnancy. But it was the music that had audiences dancing in the aisles and lining up to buy tickets year after year.
Broadway, Musicals, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Theater

Anne Frank

Arts Days: June 12, 1942: History in Her Own Words
Anne Frank’s diary, kept while her family was in hiding from the Nazis during World War II, is one of the most heartbreaking narratives to emerge from the Holocaust. Her journal is by turns funny, sad, and hopeful.

She received the diary on this day, her 13th birthday, and immediately began recording her innermost thoughts, as well as the astonishing story of her family’s hidden apartment in a building in Amsterdam. Through the unbearable tension of nearly two years, when the hidden occupants had to stay utterly quiet so the workers below would not grow suspicious, Anne Frank’s diary was a rare source of comfort for her.

She and her family were discovered in August 1944; all but her father perished in Nazi concentration camps.
History, Literature, Europe, Playwrights & Plays, Theater

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

Orson Welles

Arts Days: May 06, 1915: A Reel Visionary
Whether directing films or acting on stage, George Orson Welles’s theatrical talents were unsurpassed. It probably helped that he was a creative child: He painted, played the piano, and performed magic tricks.

When Welles was a young man, important connections advanced his career. Playwright Thornton Wilder introduced Welles to directors who gave him his first stage roles. He also made a name for himself writing, acting in, and directing radio plays. His radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938 terrified listeners convinced that aliens were actually invading our planet. And then there were movies like Citizen Kane and many others now deemed American classics.

Welles also pioneered new filming techniques, such as using “deep space,” in which scenes in both the foreground and background stayed in focus. Using this method, action can take place in two parts of a single frame. He also would place the camera near the floor to shoot up at a person so he appeared to loom above, larger than life.
America, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Theater, Movies & Movie Stars

Katharine Hepburn

Arts Days: May 12, 1907: Kate the Great
For the woman who carried home the Oscar® for Best Actress more times than any other, four times out of 12 nominations, Katharine Hepburn’s first forays into acting weren’t always successful.

She began acting in college plays from which she was fired more than once for stumbling over her lines. But her athleticism, beauty, and emerging talent got her noticed, and she soon began landing small roles. Big parts in Little Women, Bringing Up Baby, Woman of the Year, and other critical and commercial hits raised Hepburn to the level of Hollywood royalty, even as she shunned Hollywood’s glitz.

When she died at 96 years of age, the lights on Broadway went dim for an hour in honor of the woman many now deem one of the greatest actors of all time.
America, Movies & Movie Stars, Theater

Thornton Wilder

Arts Days: April 17, 1897: An American Wordsmith
His works are read and his plays performed around the world, but when Thornton Wilder started writing stories as a kid, he never dreamt he’d be an icon of American literature one day. While his seminal three-act play Our Town is arguably his best-loved work, with its timeless depiction of life and loss in the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, other plays including The Skin of Our Teeth and the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey are also literary classics (all three works netted Wilder Pulitzer Prizes for Literature).

He also revisited and tinkered with old works from time to time. For example, he reworked his play The Merchant of Yonkers into The Matchmaker, which in 1964 hit the Broadway stage as Hello Dolly!, running for 2,844 performances.
Playwrights & Plays, America, Literature, Theater

William Shakespeare

Arts Days: April 23, 1564: All the World’s His Stage
The most famous playwright the world has ever seen, William Shakespeare created unforgettable characters and stories in language so rich that the words move “trippingly on the tongue” (at least that’s how Hamlet put it).

His tragedies, such as King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth; comedies like Twelfth Night and As You Like It; and history plays, such as Henry V, thrive centuries later in part because they are filled with characters who make the same kinds of choices and face the same kinds of problems people everywhere do: broken hearts, office politics, family stuff.

Shakespeare’s 37 plays and 154 sonnets, basically a love poem, are really fun to read aloud. That’s because Shakespeare worked puns, jokes, and insults right into the text. Strangely, little is known about Shakespeare’s life.
Shakespeare, Playwrights & Plays, Innovators & Pioneers, Theater

Marlon Brando and Man

Arts Days: April 03, 1924: The Godfather of Acting
Though he never cared for the glitz and glitter of fame, few would question that Marlon Brando was perhaps the most accomplished actor of his day—or of any period since movie making began. While studying at the Actor’s Studio in New York City, Brando adopted the “method acting approach,” where he disappeared into the fictional characters he was asked to portray.

His unforgettable performances including Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire or Vito Corleone in The Godfather, stuck with viewers long after the movies ended because of Brando’s believable performances. A rebel by reputation, Brando was described by some directors and fellow actors as difficult to get along with while other colleagues said he was funny, generous, and professional. But his reputation didn’t stop him from racking up awards, including winning two Academy Awards® and being nominated for eight.
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, Theater

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

Theater collage

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

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

Digging Up Dessa

Cuesheet: Digging up Dessa
Dessa is a 21st-century girl with no shortage of struggles, secrets, and mysteries to solve. From dinosaur bones to hidden memories, the world is filled with buried treasures just waiting to be uncovered. Luckily, thanks to the mysterious appearance of a remarkable friend—the pioneering 19th-century English paleontologist Mary Anning—young Dessa knows just how to excavate them! After a field trip to a museum reveals that Mary Anning’s legacy has been buried by history because of her gender and lack of formal education, Dessa decides that she’s going to fight to earn her friend the credit she deserves. With help from her once-rival Nilo, Dessa sets to work unearthing the secrets hidden beneath the surface of the past and present—for Mary’s history and her own future.
Theater, Accessibility, Animals, Innovators & Pioneers, Science, Family

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Cuesheet: Mr. Popper's Penguins
In the small town of Stillwater, painter and decorator Mr. Popper is a pleasant, practical, predictable person who periodically pines for polar adventures. But when a peculiar package on the Poppers’ porch produces a penguin, chaos waddles into their lives! Soon, the Poppers open their home and hearts to not one, not two, but a bunch of boisterous black-and-white birds!
Theater, Accessibility, Animals

Waves

Cuesheet: Waves, all that Glows Sees
Experience the joy of theater in this carefully crafted experience for the very young, written by Véronique Côté! Adults with their little ones follow a pathway of shells and stones into a warm, serene tent on the stage, where a gentle seaside scene awaits. One man makes music, while another dreams of the ocean. Through sand shaping, shadow puppetry, and inventive sound effects, the two performers create tender, magical moments of sea turtles, seagulls, fish, dune grass, ships, and sky. As time passes, one of the men plays at diving into the water in search of treasure, bringing a poetic undersea adventure to life before your eyes.
Theater, Family

Night Train 57

Cuesheet: Night Train 57: A Sensory-Friendly Folk Opera
All aboard the Night Train! Enter the freewheeling musical world of Grammy® winner Dan Zanes, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Claudia Eliaza, and more special guests for an interactive folk opera that takes audiences on a far-out ride to the galaxies and back. During a joyous dusk-to-dawn trip through the stars, passengers on Night Train 57 will discover the power of friendship and community with the sounds of 21st century handmade sing-along music.
Theater, Music, Musical Instruments, Accessibility

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