Welcome to the home page for the Theatre History Podcast! You can find information about the show, as well as a list of every one of the episodes we’ve produced so far. Visit our blog for a look behind the scenes at what’s going on with the podcast, as well as occasional essays on theatre history.
Episode 96: The End of Her Own Rainbow: Dr. Kim F. Hall Introduces Us to the Life and Work of Ntozake Shange
The recent Tony-nominated Broadway revival of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf reflects a growing appreciation for a Black writer whose work gives voice to those who have been oppressed and marginalized because of their race and gender. But who was Shange, and what more do her theatrical works have to say to us today? Dr. Kim F. Hall of Barnard College joins us to explore Shange’s life and work.
- Barnard College’s Digital Shange resource is a great place to learn more about Shange’s life and work.
- Check out a special issue of S&F Online devoted to Shange.
- Explore the Barnard College archives’ finding aid for Shange’s papers.
Episode 95 – Going Beyond Shakespeare with Rob Crighton
Shakespeare looms large over both the American and British theatre scenes. But his outsize influence means that we’ve long neglected a dizzying array of fascinating and brilliant theatre written by other early modern England dramatists. Rob Crighton and the Beyond Shakespeare Company are working to remedy this, and Rob joins us for this episode to discuss how they’re trying to expand our awareness of the theatre of this era.
- Visit Beyond Shakespeare’s website to learn more about their work and to hear audio recordings of medieval and early modern drama.
- Check out Beyond Shakespeare’s YouTube channel.
- Keep up with Beyond Shakespeare’s latest work on its Twitter account.
Episode 94: A Theatre for the Oppressed? Dr. Amy Richlin on Slavery and Plautus
The ancient Roman comedies of Plautus have inspired playwrights from Shakespeare to Sondheim. But they’ve also been seen as grim reminders of the oftentimes horrifying world of ancient Rome, where violence and slavery were commonplace. Dr. Amy Richlin joins us to talk about her book Slave Theater in the Roman Republic, which explores how Plautus’s plays gave voice to enslaved persons during this era.
- To find out more about Amy and her work, visit her page at UCLA: https://classics.ucla.edu/person/amy-richlin/
- If you want to learn more about recent performances of Roman comedies, visit this website from the National Endowment for the Humanities: https://www.neh.gov/divisions/education/featured-project/roman-comedy-in-performance
- Watch scenes from the NEH Summer Institute’s 2012 “Roman Comedy in Performance”: https://sites.wustl.edu/tjmoore/roman-comedy-in-performance/
- For more on the ancient Greek comedies that partially inspired Plautus’s work, check out https://bacchicstage.wordpress.com/
- To read or watch some of the sources that Amy mentions in the interview, visit these links:
- Amy Richlin’s translations of Plautus: https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520242753/rome-and-the-mysterious-orient
- Antonin Obrdlik’s essay “Gallows Humor” (paywall): https://www.jstor.org/stable/2769536
- W. Marshall’s The Stagecraft and Performance of Roman Comedy: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/stagecraft-and-performance-of-roman-comedy/35AC63FDAFFA6D7A66F06FE18738041E
Episode 93: Brava! American Women Make Theater, with Dr. Melissa Barton
The roles played by women in theatre in the United States have been varied, from playwrights and performers to critics and members of the audience. Now the Beinecke Library at Yale University is sharing some of the stories of these women in an exhibit called Brava! Women Make American Theater, which runs through July 3, 2022. Today we’re joined by Dr. Melissa Barton. She’s the Curator of Drama and Prose at the Yale Collection of American Literature, as well as one of the lead creators of the exhibit.
- Find out more about Brava! on Beinecke’s website.
Episode 92: Lady Romeo: Learning About 19th-Century Actress Charlotte Cushman with Tana Wojczuk
Charlotte Cushman was a fascinating figure in 19th-century American theatre: in addition to being the first female celebrity actress on the American stage, she was also a trailblazer who embraced her identity as a lesbian and made a name for herself in a male-dominated industry. Tana Wojczuk joins us to talk about Cushman, who’s the subject of her new biography, Lady Romeo: The Radical and Revolutionary Life of Charlotte Cushman, America’s First Celebrity.
- You can purchase a copy of Tana’s book at our bookshop.org storefront.
Episode 91: Passing into History: Dr. Megan Sanborn Jones on Pageants and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Performance has always been a key part of the spiritual life of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. One of the most notable Mormon theatrical events of the last few decades have been the pageants that depict stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. However, as Dr. Megan Sanborn Jones discusses in this 2018 interview, the era of pageants may be coming to an end. Even before the covid-19 pandemic made it impossible to safely perform live theatre, Church leadership had decided that the pageants didn’t fit well into its vision for the future of the faith. Dr. Jones joins us to discuss the past, present, and possible future of these unique performances.
- Learn more about Dr. Jones’s books, Performing American Identity in Anti-Mormon Melodrama, and the book that we discuss in this episode, Contemporary Mormon Pageantry: Seeking After the Dead
- Watch the 2019 Hill Cumorah pageant, possibly the last of its kind: https://youtu.be/4ELqqqyPTMw
Episode 90: Reappraising the Legacy of Ernie McClintock with Dr. Ibby Cizmar
Developing approaches to theatre that fit the needs and experiences of performers of color, particularly Black artists, has long been a pressing concern for the American stage. Actor training has been dominated by Eurocentric approaches based on theorists such as Stanislavsky, which are geared towards a repertoire that’s heavy with White authors such as Shakespeare and Ibsen.
In the 20th century, the Black Arts Movement challenged these prevailing influences, offering work that spoke to Black experiences in the United States and developing new approaches to producing the movement’s plays. However, one of its most important figures, Ernie McClintock, has been underappreciated in histories of the movement. Dr. Ibby Cizmar has been working to reappraise McClintock’s career and situate him within the larger Black Arts Movement, and she joins us in this episode to discuss his life and work.
- Read “Subversive Inclusion,” Ibby’s article on Ernie McClintock, in the Journal of American Drama and Theatre: https://jadtjournal.org/2021/05/11/subversive-inclusion-ernie-mcclintocks-127th-street-repertory-ensemble/
- Find out more about the Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance, which contains Ibby’s essay on Ernie McClintock’s “jazz acting” style: https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Companion-to-African-American-Theatre-and-Performance/Perkins-Richards-Craft-DeFrantz/p/book/9780367478018
- Find out more about Ibby and her work at her website: http://www.ibbycizmar.com/
Episode 89: The History of Method Acting with Isaac Butler
Every year, the run-up to an event like the Oscars or the Tonys causes us to get into arguments about which actor deserves a prize for the best performance in their category, and in these discussions you’ll often hear the word “Method” thrown around a bunch, usually as an adjective to describe an especially intense performance where the actor totally immersed themselves in the role. But what is “Method acting,” exactly, and where did it come from? Those are some of the questions that drive Isaac Butler’s new book, The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act.
- For more information on Isaac’s book, The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act, check out its Bloomsbury website
- You can order The Method and other books featured on the podcast on our bookshop.org storefront
- Follow Isaac on Twitter
Episode 88: Learning About the History – and Future – of Stand-up Comedy with Dr. Rachel Blackburn
Stand-up comedy has long been associated with White men. But, as Dr. Rachel Blackburn explains in this episode, there’s a long history of women of color performing stand-up. Today, BIPOC comedians are challenging boundaries and raising new issues in ways that are changing the nature of live comedy.
- Watch a clip from Whoopi Goldberg’s Direct from Broadway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKPYBLlEjkk
- Watch an HBO documentary on pioneering comedian Moms Mabley (HBO subscribers only): https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/whoopi-goldberg-presents-moms-mabley-doc
- Some sources recommended by Dr. Blackburn:
- “The Seriously Erotic Politics of Feminist Laughter,” by Cynthia Willett, Julie Willett, and Yael D. Sherman (JSTOR login required)
- “Arts of the Contact Zone,” by Mary Louise Pratt (JSTOR login required)
Episode 87: Hearing the Voices of Women in Yiddish Theatre with Dr. Alyssa Quint and Amanda Miryem-Khaye Seigel
The Yiddish theatre has a long and rich history. But all too often that history focuses on the prominent men who found success on the stage. Now two scholars of Yiddish theatre have launched a new project to correct that historiographical imbalance. It’s called “Women on the Yiddish Stage: Primary Sources,” and it’s part of the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project, which chronicles the history of the Yiddish stage. Amanda Seigel and Dr. Alyssa Quint join us to share their work on the project and give us some glimpses into the lives of the underappreciated women who made the Yiddish theatre so vital.
- Visit the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project and check out the announcement about “Women on the Yiddish Stage: Primary Sources”.
- Find out more about Alyssa and Amanda and their work
- Read Tsipe Abelman’s letter to the editor and Bella Bellarina’s reminiscence about her first performance
- Delve into the New York Public Library’s guide to research on Yiddish sources, including their theatre-related holdings.
- Explore the NYPL’s digitized theatre ephemera
- Learn more about the Yiddish theatre and the actress Esther Rokhl Kaminska at the online exhibit, “A Tale of Two Museums,” which contains primary documents
- For more information on this collection and what it contains, visit the Center for Jewish History’s overview.
- Explore the Blavatnik Archive to learn more about Jewish history, including material from the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre
- To learn more about Yiddish theatre, check out Alyssa’s publications, including:
- Her book The Rise of the Modern Yiddish Theater
- Her articles in Tablet magazine on:
- The play Mississippi
- Avrom Goldfaden and “The Accidental Rise of the Modern Yiddish Theater”
- Revisit the Theatre History Podcast’s previous episodes featuring Yiddish theatre, including our interview with Dr. Joel Berkowitz and our conversation with David Mandelbaum of New Yiddish Rep about Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance.
Episode 86 – Episode 86: Introducing the University of Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Archive With Dr. Sandra Shannon and Bill Daw
Playwright August Wilson’s legacy has loomed ever larger over American theatre in the years since his death in 2005. In 2020, the University of Pittsburgh announced that it had acquired his archive and would make it accessible to the public. We’re joined by Dr. Sandra Shannon and Bil Daw to discuss the new archive and how Wilson continues to influence us today
- You can learn more about the University of Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Archive and explore some of the holdings online at the archive’s website.
- To find out more about recent scholarship on August Wilson, visit the August Wilson Society’s website, and read articles from the open-access August Wilson Journal.
- For other examples of August Wilson’s long-term impact on the city of Pittsburgh, visit the August Wilson House and August Wilson African American Cultural Center.
- The Theatre Communications Group publishes editions of the plays in August Wilson’s American Century cycle.
Episode 85 – Reading the Manuscripts of the Negro Units of the Federal Theatre Project with Dr. Kate Dossett
The so-called “Negro Units” of the Federal Theatre Project are often remembered for productions involving White artists such as Orson Welles. But, as Dr. Kate Dossett reveals in her book “Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal,” the story of Black artists and audiences in the FTP was a much more complicated one, in which Black actors and writers fought to ensure that they could tell their own stories.
- To find out more about Kate’s book, visit UNC Press’s website and shop our bookshop.org store, where you can find books like the landmark anthology Black Theatre U.S.A.
- Learn more about Kate’s work at her website and her institutional profile at the University of Leeds. You can also connect with her on Twitter.
- In the interview, Kate mentions the Federal Theatre Project Materials Collection at George Mason University. You can visit the collection here to see documents and images from the Project’s history. For a guide to the Collection’s holdings, see the finding aid.
- Learn more about the Classix project, which is dedicated to “celebrating classic plays by Black playwrights.”
- Watch “A Past Becomes a Heritage: The Negro Units of the Federal Theatre Project.” This 2021 event from Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts and Classix featured discussion of the Negro Units of the FTP, along with readings from some of the texts that Kate mentions in the interview.
- Visit the Library of Congress’s homepage for its Federal Theatre Project collections: https://www.loc.gov/collections/federal-theatre-project-1935-to-1939/about-this-collection/
Episode 84: Imagining a New Federal Theatre Project with Corinna Schulenburg and Dr. Elizabeth A. Osborne
The devastation wrought by the covid-19 pandemic has left us all questioning what we should be working towards as we pick up the pieces and try to build a theatre that reflects our changed world, One possible model comes from the past: the Federal Theatre Project, which for a few years in the 1930s offered a national theatre that brought performances to every corner of the country. How might we revive some of the spirit and substance of that project? To answer that question, we’re joined by Dr. Elizabeth A. Osborne of Florida State University and Corinna Schulenburg,, director of communications at the Theatre Communications Group.
- This piece was originally published on HowlRound Theatre Commons on November 24, 2021. You can find a link to the original story here, along with a transcript of the conversation.
Episode 83: Transcribing the Federal Theatre Project with Morgen Stevens-Garmon
The Federal Theatre Project was a landmark of American theatre history whose influence has far outlived its brief existence in the 1930s. There’s probably no bigger trove of information about and material pertaining to the FTP than at the Library of Congress, which holds thousands of the programs and fliers printed to accompany its theatrical productions. Archivist Morgen Stevens-Garmon joins us to talk about an exciting new project that will let you read and transcribe them.
- More on the project: https://blogs.loc.gov/music/2022/01/theater-for-the-people-transcribing-the-federal-theatre-project/
- Explore the Library of Congress’s Federal Theatre Project Collection: https://www.loc.gov/collections/federal-theatre-project-1935-to-1939/about-this-collection/?loclr=blogmus
- Visit the webpage for the Library of Congress’s “By the People” crowd-sourced transcription initiative: https://crowd.loc.gov/
- For the specific campaign relating to the Federal Theatre Project, go here: https://crowd.loc.gov/campaigns/federal-theatre-project/
- To learn more about Morgen and her work, and to find links to her blog posts for the Library of Congress, visit her LoC page.
- Revisit our episode on the Federal Theatre Project’s history and future, which featured a conversation between Corinna Schulenburg and Dr. Beth Osborne.
Episode 82: Where the Courtroom Meets the Stage: Dr. Luke McDonagh on Copyright and Drama
The connection between theatre and the law is a deep one that goes back thousands of years. Dr. Luke McDonagh has been tracing this connection in the context of British authors such as Shakespeare, and his new book Performing Copyright: Law, Theatre and Authorship looks at how copyright law affects dramatic works in the United Kingdom.
- You can learn more about Luke’s book here.
- Read a sample chapter of Performing Copyright.
- There’s a Substack for Performing Copyright, which features a series of essays by Luke on the history of drama and copyright.
- If you’d like to learn more about Luke and his work, you can visit his personal website and follow him on Twitter.
- Revisit our interview with Derek Miller on his work with copyright and drama, which Luke references in this episode.
- For more on the intersection of literature and the law in early modern England, read Jessica Winston’s book Lawyers at Play: Literature, Law, and Politics at the Early Modern Inns of Court, 1558 – 1581.
Episode 81: “Simultaneously Unhinged and Fantastical in Every Possible Way”: Margaret Hall Introduces Us to the History of Theatrical Merchandise
If you’ve been to a Broadway show, you’ve probably seen the merchandise booth. You may even have bought a t-shirt, or a magnet for your fridge. But where did the Broadway merchandise industry come from? Margaret Hall joins us to talk about her recent Theatermania articles chronicling the rise and development of this unique theatrical industry.
- Read Margaret’s articles on the history of Broadway merchandise and the weird and wonderful items and avid community of collectors that look for them.
- Follow Margaret on Twitter and learn more about her work at her website: https://www.margaret-hall.com/
Episode 80: Rediscovering Lost Plays with Dr. David McInnis
Over half of the plays produced during Shakespeare’s time have since been lost. What can we learn from the little evidence that remains of these plays? Dr. David McInnis joins us to talk about his book Shakespeare and Lost Plays in our latest episode.
- Learn more about David’s book, and be sure to check out our storefront on bookshop.org to find all the books featured on episodes of the podcast.
- Explore the Lost Plays Database to learn about individual examples of lost plays from this time period.
Episode 79: Exploring Nuyorican Feminist Performance with Dr. Patricia Herrera
There are many theatrical movements and institutions that have been marginalized in histories of the American theatre. But there are also individuals and groups who are further marginalized within those movements, such as the role played by women in the development of Nuyorican performance. Dr. Patricia Herrera joins us to talk about these women and her book, Nuyorican Feminist Performance: From the Cafe to Hip Hop Theater.
- Find out more about Dr. Herrera’s book here: https://www.press.umich.edu/6710954/nuyorican_feminist_performance
- You can also find out more about Dr. Karen Jaime’s book, The Queer Nuyorican: Racialized Sexualities and Aesthetics in Loisaida, here: https://nyupress.org/9781479808298/the-queer-nuyorican/
- If you want to watch performances by some of the artists mentioned by Dr. Herrera during this episode, check out these links:
- Sandra Maria Esteves performs “Aguacero”: https://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/11/sandra_maria_esteves_performs_aguacero_at_the_young_lords_40th_anniversary_celebration
- La Bruja performs “For Witch It Stands”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DcozO03epU
- DivaNations performs “Spirit Dance” at the Nuyorican Poets Café: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BdmrqTwKi4
- To learn more about the Nuyorican Poets Café, visit their website: https://www.nuyorican.org/
Episode 78: Peter Schmitz’s Adventures in Theater History
How do we recover and retell the stories of theatrical performance from ages past? That’s a question that Peter Schmitz is exploring with his podcast Adventures in Theater History: Philadelphia, which delves into the theatrical past of one of America’s most important centers of performance.
- Find out more about Adventures in Theater History: Philadelphia at its website: https://www.aithpodcast.com/
- Follow Adventures in Theater History: Philadelphia for fascinating images from Philadelphia’s theatrical history, as well as news about the show: https://twitter.com/schmeterpitz
Episode 77: Exploring the Imitations of Gertrude Hoffmann with Dr. Sunny Stalter-Pace
We tend to think of originality as a positive attribute, something that makes art and artists stand out, while “imitation” is almost a dirty word. But as Sunny Stalter-Pace’s new biography of Gertrude Hoffmann shows us, imitation can often be its own sort of artistic accomplishment. Hoffmann was a successful dancer and performer who imitated important modernist acts like the Ballets Russes. Sunny joined us to talk about her book, Imitation Artist: Gertrude Hoffmann’s Life in Vaudeville and Dance.
- Learn more about Sunny’s book: https://nupress.northwestern.edu/9780810141919/imitation-artist/
- And buy it from bookshop.org
- Explore the Max and Gertrude Hoffmann Photograph Collection at Wake Forest University: https://wakespace.lib.wfu.edu/handle/10339/38811
- Visit Sunny’s website: https://www.sunnystalterpace.com/
Episode 76: Voyage to the Planet of the Grapes with Peter Michael Marino
How do you create theatre in the midst of a global pandemic? Pete Marino discovered one answer to that question when he began looking into the Victorian-era tradition of toy theatre, which allowed 19th-century drama fans to bring their favorite plays into their homes. He fused that with one of his favorite classic sci-fi films to create Planet of the Grapes, a toy theatre reimagining of Planet of the Apes.
- Visit Planet of the Grapes‘s website to find out more, including information about upcoming shows: https://www.planetgrapeshow.com/
- Read a short article by Pete for American Theatre magazine about his work on Planet of the Grapes: https://www.americantheatre.org/2021/04/29/theatre-thats-evolved-from-grapes/
- Learn more about the history of toy theatre, as well as how artists are using its techniques today:
- Explore the Arthur Weyhe Toy Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library; you can access the finding aid here and explore images from the collection here.
- The World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts has a brief summary of toy theatre’s history: https://wepa.unima.org/en/toy-theatre/.
- Great Small Works is a theatre company working with toy theatre techniques today – visit their website here: https://greatsmallworks.org/toy.html
- Read Marisa C. Hayes’s article on toy theatre performances during the 2020 covid-19 pandemic in this Theatre Times article: https://thetheatretimes.com/the-magic-is-in-the-miniature-toy-theatre-thrives-online-during-quarantine/
Episode 75: Our Town in the 21st Century: Howard Sherman’s Another Day’s Begun
Our Town is one of the classics of the American stage, but how well do we really know this play? Howard Sherman joins us to discuss his new book, Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the 21st Century, in which he speaks with people who have been part of productions of the play in the last few decades. Many of them have gained surprising new insights into this supposedly all-too-familiar play.
- Learn more about Howard’s book on his website: https://hesherman.com/anotherdaysbegun/
- Check out Another Day’s Begun at our affiliate link at bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/shop/theatrehistorypodcast
- Additional reading:
- Howard’s LitHub article on the WWII-era radio play that served as an unofficial “sequel” to Our Town: https://lithub.com/on-the-our-town-spin-off-that-served-as-wwii-spirit-building/
- Howard’s article in the Guardian on the international appeal of Our Town: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2021/jan/20/thornton-wilder-our-town-is-americas-answer-to-shakespeare
- Howard’s account of attending a production of Our Town at Sing Sing Prison: http://www.hesherman.com/2013/06/03/address-sing-sing-prison-grovers-corners-ny-the-mind-of-god/
- Watch the 1977 TV version of Our Town with Hal Holbrook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEoXuXRoOdY&t=14s
Episode 74: Discovering Teresa Deevy with Drs. Una Kealy and Kate McCarthy
Teresa Deevy was one of Ireland’s most frequently-produced playwrights in the 1930s. As a Deaf woman in a deeply patriarchal society that was trying to assert its identity in the wake of independence, she brought a unique perspective to Irish theatre. But she’s been relatively neglected by later generations of scholars and artists. Among the people who are working to change that are Dr. Kate McCarthy and Dr. Una Kealy, who join us to share fascinating insights into Deevy’s life and work.
- Read Teresa Deevy’s one-act play, The King of Spain’s Daughter: https://www.estudiosirlandeses.org/2020/03/translation-of-the-king-of-spains-daughter-1935-by-teresa-deevy/
- Read Una’s article, “Resisting Power and Direction: The King of Spain’s Daughter by Teresa Deevy as a Feminist Call to Action” for additional insights into this play: https://www.estudiosirlandeses.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/DEF-INTRO-TRANSLATION-1.pdf
- Explore the Special Collections and Archives at Maynooth University, which houses extensive material related to Deevy: https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/library/collections/special-collections-and-archives
- Learn more about recent scholarly work on Deevy at the “Active Speech: Sharing Scholarship on Teresa Deevy” conference: https://activespeech2021.org/
- Find out more about the Abbey Theatre’s 2017 productions of Deevy’s work in their Research Pack, which includes Kate and Una’s contributions: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/KATIE-ROCHE_RESEARCH-PACK-2017.pdf
Episode 73: Exploring the Theatre 2020 Collection with Dr. Eric Colleary
How was theatre in the United States affected by the events of 2020? At the same time that the covid-19 pandemic closed down live performances and threw the entire economy of the performing arts into chaos, the theatre world found itself trying to respond to protests against racial injustice. Dr. Eric Colleary, along with his colleagues at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, is leading an effort to document this tumultuous year through the Theatre 2020 Collection.
- Learn more about the Theatre 2020 Collection and find out how you can contribute: https://www.hrc.utexas.edu/theatre2020/
- Browse some selected items from the collection here: https://hrc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15878coll117