August 2007


Just a quick word to let you know that the SAA Performing Arts Roundtable meeting took place yesterday at the Chicago Public Library and that it was both well-attended and well-received. Expect more complete reportage next week, since your intrepid blogger is here without a computer (this situation has given me a renewed awareness of the reality of the digital divide). This brief post is coming to you courtesy of a friend’s laptop, but more will follow (we hope) some time next week.

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Today’s New York Times reports on events scheduled in New York City to celebrate the upcoming 80th birthday of Edward Albee. What it does not note is that (at least) two collections of archival material relating to the playwright are available at the New York Public Library right now. The Edward Albee scripts collection is held by the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (at Lincoln Center), while the Manuscripts and Archives Division (over on 42nd Street) holds a small collection of his papers, mainly dating from the early part of his career. Always check first with the Division that is responsible for the material ahead of time. Many archival collections are stored at an offsite facility and will have to be retrieved in advance of a visit (this usually involves only a 24 hour turnaround). Happy birthday and happy research!

I was thumbing through a copy of the latest issue of Vanity Fair in a waiting room yesterday and I had just started reading the Suzanna Andrews article on Arthur Miller, when I was called in for my appointment. Not surprisingly, after finishing the article today, I discovered that discussion about the piece, which reveals that Miller took great pains to conceal the fact that he had a son with Down syndrome whom he had institutionalized, was taking place all over the blogosphere and elsewhere. (Indeed, Miller’s entry in Wikipedia already had been revised several times.)

While the article has the potential to be just another nine days wonder (or whatever our contemporary Web equivalent might be), it is bound to have an impact on Miller’s reputation and the study of his work. Admittedly, it was not the first thought that the article provoked, but my reading did make me curious to see what the finding aid for Miller’s papers might look like. After confirming that his papers were held by the Harry Ransom Center, I searched their Web site in vain for an online finding aid, but I was startled to discover that an exhibition on Miller, Rehearsing the American Dream: Arthur Miller’s Theater, was scheduled to open on September 4, 2007 at the Center.

I’m not sure whether to pity or envy the public service and curatorial staff at the Ransom Center. Is this kind of indirect publicity for an exhibit and/or collection an archivist’s nightmare or dream come true? What sort of experiences might we have had in dealing with such awkward or potentially awkward situations?

Maybe there is a germ of an idea for an SAA session in here somewhere. I feel pretty sure, however, that we will see something inspired by the Anderson article as an episode on the Law & Order franchise sooner than that.

SAA has just announced the details of its closing party on September 1, 2007. The event will feature “a private tent next to the Jazz Fest’s center stage, reserved seating at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park, and a Chicago-style picnic with hamburgers, veggie burgers, fancy potato salad and slaw, sweets, beer, wine, and soft drinks.” The evening’s line-up includes Ernestine Anderson and Frank Wess and Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra. Tickets ($40/$50) will be sold onsite at the Fairmont on the final day of the conference.

I recently had a chance to visit the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and was delighted to have had an opportunity to view the excellent exhibit, Molly Picon, Yiddish Star, American Star. One fact that stood out immediately was the true passion of the curator, Diane Cypkin. Many of the captions and descriptive writings were executed in a very personal style, which is somewhat unusual and which has the potential to be annoying and self-aggrandizing. Happily, though, in this case, the style suited the exhibition perfectly and was, in actuality, completely charming.

The exhibition makes it clear that Picon, in some ways, was a kind of Yiddish Edith Piaf (minus the self-destructive behavior, the multiple lovers, and the reputation for being difficult to deal with). Picon’s music fills the room while one is gazing at the cases of photographs, letters, costumes, posters, show programs, etc., and it is impossible to not be struck by the power and incredible range of her voice. An exciting plus–probably the most popular section of the exhibit–is the self-controllable video monitor that plays some Picon clips, including a wonderful segment of Yidl mitn fidl (1936). Picon and her co-star riding on a donkey cart through the Polish countryside, with actual villagers waving along the way, is almost breathtaking. I certainly could not stop tears from welling up.

Also surprising to me was the section at the end that featured information about Picon’s work in the latter part of her career. I was taken aback by the number of Broadway shows and films in which she appeared. One of these films, Come Blow Your Horn (1963), co-starred Frank Sinatra (as a nice Jewish boy), and, kind of incredibly, wound up being screened on TCM on the very same night that I viewed the exhibition.

The exhibition is recommended highly and I applaud Ms. Cypkin for her excellent work. It is sad, though, that NYPL is not promoting the exhibition very well and that all of the programs connected to the exhibition took place in June, in spite of the fact that the show is actually on display until late September. Additionally, I felt that very little attention at all was being paid by NYPL staff to the show, since some captions and description plaques were falling down and some pieces in the display cases were in need of straightening or readjusting (unlike the objects in the more prominently displayed Merce Cunningham exhibit on the main floor of the library).

Don’t be misled by any erroneous information that has been circulated. I have it on good authority that the SAA Performing Arts Roundtable will indeed be holding its annual meeting on Wednesday, August 29, 2007 at the Harold Washington Library Center of the Chicago Public Library. The correct location, as well as the agenda and program information can be found on the Performing Arts Roundtable Web site (and the unofficial SAA2007 wiki). Hope to see you there!