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The Legacy Project: Pioneering Women Producers

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May 14, 2012
May 14, 2012
Segal Theater



Lucille Lortel Photo courtesy Ludovica Villar-Hauser

Lucille Lortel
Photo courtesy Ludovica

Presented with the League of Professional Theatre Women

The day after Mother’s Day, come to this all-day tribute to the foremothers of the American stage. Consider the legacy of 20th century producers many also actresses, playwrights and directors who envisioned and created alternatives to the commercial theatre, laying the foundation for what we know as the Off Broadway, non-profit and regional theatre. So where are they in our histories? Susan Jonas (Curator), Ludovica Villar-Hauser (Producer), and DeVida Jenkins (Producer) of the League of Professional Theatre Women program a day of symposia on titanic figures like Eva Le Gallienne (who called theatre “an instrument for giving, not a machinery for getting!”), Margo Jones, Susan Glaspell, Lucille Lortel, Cheryl Crawford, Margaret Webster and Hallie Flanagan. Speakers will include historians Susan Quinn and Wendy Smith, biographers Helen Sheehy and Alexis Greene, and scholars J. Ellen Gainor and Wendy Vierow. Today’s women theatre artists stand on the shoulders of giants.




2:30pm Film: Sweet Tornado: Margo Jones and the American Theater
starring Judith Ivey, Marcia Gay Harden and Richard Thomas

Followed by Panels at 4:30pm and 6:30pm

Reception Afterward

Cheryl Crawford was a founding director of the Group Theatre in 1931 and the Actors Studio in 1947. With Eva Le Gallienne and Margaret Webster, she formed the American Repertory Theatre in 1945 to present classic drama. She produced the 1942 revival ofPorgy and Bessthat cemented its reputation as a classic American musical drama. She produced three Kurt Weill musicals—Johnny Johnson, One Touch of Venus,andLove Life—and four plays by Tennessee Williams:The Rose Tattoo, Camino Real, Sweet Bird of Youth,andPeriod of Adjustment.Among her other projects as an independent producer wereBrigadoon, Regina, Paint Your Wagon,andYentl.

Hallie Flanagan Photo courtesy Ludovica Villar-Hauser

Hallie Flanagan
Photo courtesy Ludovica

Hallie Flanagan(1889-1969) grew up in Grinnell, Iowa.After losing her husband to TB, shepoured herself into theater, studying at the renowned Baker Workshop at Harvard and then receiving a Guggenheim (one of the first to a woman) to travel to Europe, where she met Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Pirandello and Lady Gregory among others. At Vassar College, she developed a reputation as a theatrical innovator, written about by the New York critics. During the Depression, Flanagan headed the Federal Theater Project under the WPA’s New Deal, and launched cutting edge and controversial theater nationwide, including fact-based Living Newspapers and Negro theater units which broke down many barriers. Flanagan and the Federal Theater were among the first targets of the Communist-hunting House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC), under the leadership of racist Texas Congressman Martin Dies. After the Federal Theater, Flanagan continued to teach, first at Vassar then at Smith, and wrote important books, including an account of the Federal Theater,Arena.


Margo Jones Photo courtesy Ludovica Villar-Hauser

Margo Jones
Photo courtesy Ludovica

In her brief career,Margo Jones pioneered the American resident theatre movement, established the first professional theatre-in-the-round in the United States, and nurtured the work of budding playwrights. When she established her theatre in Dallas in 1947, her dream “to create the theatre of tomorrow today,” which would grow into a national network of resident theatre companies, began to come true. The inaugural season introduced the first play of William Inge and the world premiere ofSummer and Smokeby Tennessee Williams. In 1955, after it had been turned down by every Broadway producer, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s,Inherit the Wind,was produced by Margo’s Theatre ’55 in Dallas. Today, hundreds of non-profit resident theatres light up the sky from coast to coast; the national theatre for America that Margo Jones envisioned.

Susan Glaspell (1876-1948), writer, actor, producer, and co-founder of the legendary Provincetown Players, began her career as a journalist in Iowa. She soon began to publish short stories in leading magazines; her first novel was published in 1909. Following her marriage to George Cram (“Jig”) Cook in 1913, the couple moved to Greenwich Village, spending summers in the bohemian community on Cape Cod that fostered her early playwriting. Glaspell is best known for her short playTrifles(1916) and its short story counterpart “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917), based on a murder trial she covered as a reporter. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1931 for Alison’s House.



Eve La Galienne
Photo courtesy Ludovica

Actor, director, producer, author, translator,Eva Le Gallienne had a career that spanned the 20th century. As a young Broadway star, she used her celebrity to found the Civic Repertory Theatre in New York City, laying the groundwork for off-Broadway and the resident non-profit theatre movement. During her career, Le Gallienne founded and supported noncommercial theatre companies. She also translated twelve of Ibsen’s plays, three Chekhov plays, and wrote two autobiographies as well as a memoir of her mentor Eleonora Duse. Le Gallienne had the courage to reject the status quo in her professional life, and she was equally courageous in her personal life. She loved and lived openly with women and believed that her homosexuality was natural and beautiful. In a publicity-mad world, she loathed self-promotion and refused to “market” herself. She championed the nonprofit theatre and called the lack of government support for the arts “a national scandal.”

Lucille Lortel was a pioneering American producer, notable for presenting new American and avant-garde European plays from the late 1940s through the 1980s. Born Lucille Wadler in 1900, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, she grew up in a realm of increasing privilege as her parents, immigrants both, made their way up the American ladder.  Falling in love with both theater and the movies, Lortel in the 1920s worked briefly as a stage and screen actor. But her career faltered, and in 1947, now married, she started what soon became the White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut. The White Barn was the platform from which Lortel began producing Off Broadway, opening up that realm as a viable, stimulating alternative to Broadway. She brought to American audiences the first U.S. productions of Jean Genet and Athol Fugard, significant productions of Brecht, Beckett, O’Casey, and Caryl Churchill, and of American playwrights Murray Schisgal, Tennessee Williams and Lee Blessing. She died in New York City in 1999, leaving a legacy of innovation on which Off Broadway has built ever since.

Margaret Webster was an actor, director, and producer who held both American and British citizenship. With experience as an actor in the British repertory system, Webster was dedicated to the creation of repertory in the United States. Along with producer Cheryl Crawford and the multi-talented Eva Le Gallienne, she co-founded New York City’s American Repertory Theatre in 1946, and also directed and acted in the company’s productions for its two short-lived seasons. After the disbandment of the company, she formed her own touring repertory company, the Margaret Webster Shakespeare Company, also known as Marweb. Although the venture was critically successful, it folded in 1950 due to financial difficulties. Known for her acclaimed stage direction of Shakespeare, Webster directed a renowned production of Othello in 1943, which was the first time on Broadway an African American  (Paul Robeson) played the title role. The production remains the longest running Shakespeare play on Broadway with 296 performances.

J. Ellen Gainor is a Professor in the Department of Theatre, Film & Dance at Cornell University. A specialist in British and American drama of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women’s dramaturgy, and social dance, she is the author of the award-winning studiesShaw’s Daughters: Dramatic and Narrative Constructions of GenderandSusan Glaspell in Context: American Theater, Culture and Politics 1915-48. She has also edited two influential essay collections,Imperialism and TheatreandPerforming America: Culture Nationalism in American Theater. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Mint Theater in New York and works regularly for the Shaw Festival in Canada. Her most recent publications includeThe Complete Plays of Susan GlaspellandThe Norton Anthology of Drama.

Alexis Greene Photo courtesy artist

Alexis Greene
Photo courtesy of the artist

Alexis Greene is an author, editor and teacher. Her many books includeIn an Hour: Wendy Wassersteinfor Smith & Kraus, to be published in 2012;Front Lines: Political Playsby American Women,an anthology edited with Shirley Lauro;The Story of 42ndStreet,written with the late Mary C. Henderson;Women Writing Plays: Three Decades of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize; the biographyLucille Lortel: The Queen of Off-Broadway; a collection of interviews with American dramatists,Women Who Write Plays; andThe Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway,written with Julie Taymor. She holds a Ph.D. in Theater from the CUNY Graduate Center and is a member of PEN, The Author’s Guild and the League of Professional Theatre Women.www.alexisgreene.com

Helen Sheehy is the author of three biographies and a textbook,All About Theatre(1981). Her biographyMargo: The Life and Theatre of Margo Jones, (SMU Press 1989) was released in paperback with a new introduction by Emily Mann in 2005. TheNew York Times Book Reviewselected Sheehy’s

Helen Sheehy Photo courtesy artist

Helen Sheehy
Photo courtesy artist

biography Eva Le Gallienne(Knopf 1996), as one of its notable books of 1996. Sheehy’sEleonora Duse: A Biography(Knopf 2003), was also selected by theNew York Times Book Reviewas a notable book. Sheehy is a member of PEN and the Author’s Guild. She recently completedWilla, a novel.

Wendy Smith is the author of Real Life Drama: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1940.She is a contributing editor atThe American Scholar,which has published her essays on theatre, film, popular music, and literature. She contributes book reviews frequently toThe Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post,andThe Chicago Tribune.Her article about early plays of Eugene O’Neill will appear in the July/August issue ofAmerican Theatre,which recently published her essay on three books about musical theatre.Susan Quinn is the author of A Mind of Her Own: The Life of Karen Horney, Summit, 1987, Marie

Wendy Smith Photo courtesy artist

Wendy Smith
Photo courtesy artis

Curie: A Life, Simon and Schuster, 1995, and Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times, Bloomsbury, 2008. Quinn received the Globe Winship award for A Mind of Her Own, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and Rockefeller residency to work on her biography of Marie Curie. The Curie book was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize, on the short list for the Fawcett Book Prize and won the Grand prix des lectrices de Elle. Quinn’s most recent work is a play about Hallie Flanagan called Hallie, which will be performed at the Church of the Apostles in Chelsea, New York City, on May 19.The New Yorker called Furious Improvisation a “fascinating book… [that] makes a cutting-edge season at BAM look like a night at the opera in Dubuque.”

Dr. Wendy Vierow is co-author with Dr. Anne Fliotsos of American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century, which was awarded “Outstanding

Susan Quinn Photo courtesy Barry Goldstein

Susan Quinn
Photo courtesy Barry

Academic Title” by the American Library Association’s Choice Magazine. She teaches at the State University of New York at New Paltz and is a freelance writer and editor. In addition to creating and directing her own performance art, she has appeared in the works of electronic media artist Toni Dove, which have been shown in venues including New York City’s Whitney Museum, the Rotterdam Film Festival, and the Spielart Festival Munich.

Susan Jonas, Curator on Behalf of the League of American Theatre Women, held leadership positions as a dramaturg and producer at Classical Theatre of Harlem, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Classic Stage Company and The Acting Company. A Theatre Arts Analyst at the New York State Council on the Arts for a decade, she has also taught at Princeton, Brooklyn College, and New York University. Jonas co-authored the 2002 “Report of the Status of Women in Theater,” and co-founded “50/50 in 2020,” a grassroots organization committed to achieving parity for women in theatre.She co-editor ofDramaturgy and American Theatre,a proud board member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, and on the advisory board of Women’s Project.

DeVida Jenkins, Producer on Behalf of the League of Professional Theatre Women, began her career as a lighting designer. As General Manager of the Merriam Theater (1997-2009), she created many educational programs, including Broadway on Broad and the Student Critics Program. DeVida is an aspiring farmer, who successfully farms one third of an acre in her spare time.

Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Producer on Behalf of the League of Professional Theatre Women,  is a Director and Dramaturg whose career highlights include Eugene O’Neill’sLong Day’s Journey into Night(West End, London); three productions at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Gregory Murphy’sThe Countess (premiere; Off-Broadway and West End); Rona Munro’sBold Girls (29th St. Rep.); Otho Eskin’s Duet (premiere); Philip Ridley’s Leaves of Glass(North American premiere); Derek Murphy’sA Short Wake (Origin); and Arlene Hutton’s As It Is In Heaven (3 Graces Theater Co at The Cherry Lane Theatre).

6:30 p.m., Monday,May 14, 2012, Martin E. Segal Theatre. Free!