This Day in the Arts — December 26 in Theatre History

Abgerissene Tage eines KalendersWelcome to the first of a new series on my blog — This Day in the Arts. Each Wednesday, I hope to bring you some vignette of theatre, music, dance, or visual arts history, with a few personal reflections. I know I will find this an interesting subject to delve into — I hope you will, too.

On this day in theatre history, a play opened in Chicago. Although it doesn’t happen as often anymore, at that time it was standard practice to try out plays “out of town” before they opened on Broadway. It was a play that was to become very well known in succeeding years, being performed not only on Broadway to great acclaim, but eventually all over the country, and indeed, the world. It was the first professionally staged play I ever saw.

The play? Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.

This story of a shy young girl, self-conscious because of a disability, her over-zealous mother eager that her daughter should have “gentleman callers,” and her brother, who, like his wayward father before him, feels the need to break out of the stifling atmosphere at home, resonated with me when I first saw it, staged with minimal sets, but with powerful acting. I can still picture some of the sets, hear some of the lines, and know those memories are from that stage production and not from some more recent experience of this play.

The fact that I remember those things after forty-four years says something to me about the power of theatre and acting, as well as of the power of Tennessee Williams’ play. Seeing something enacted on a stage can sometimes move beyond that stage/audience experience, and reach into one’s heart and mind and become a part of one’s person. Somehow, that’s what that performance of The Glass Menagerie did for me that evening so long ago.

From all accounts, The Glass Menagerie has had a similar powerful effect on audiences since the beginning. When the play opened on Broadway in 1945, the role of the mother, Amanda Wingfield, was played by one of the top stage actresses of the time, Laurette Taylor. She, apparently, was stunning in the role. What a shame that there was no filming of stage performances in those days — how I would love to be able to see, hear, feel her performance! This article from The Villager, although not directly about Ms. Taylor’s performance, still says enough about it that one can imagine what it might have been like to have been in the audience in The Playhouse Theatre some time in 1945.

I was twelve when I was first touched by the magic of theatre embodied in this simple but powerful play. It is an experience I would wish for all kids — that some play, some character, some theatre experience would reach deep within them, and become a part of their life for as long as they live.

Is there a play that has particularly resonated with you the way The Glass Menagerie did with me?


12 thoughts on “This Day in the Arts — December 26 in Theatre History”

  1. What a great new series, Beth! And may I just echo the sentiments in your last paragraph, that theatre is so very important for kids to watch and to do themselves for reasons to extensive to list in the comments. Just trust us, world, right Beth? 🙂

    So many plays and musicals have affected me in myriad ways, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Two of my best experiences ever were directing THE SECRET GARDEN and OF MICE AND MEN – two completely different animals, but both with an undercurrent of melancholy and hope and loss that never fails to get to me. On Broadway/West End, there was everything from the devastation of the superb THE GRAPES OF WRATH to the unbounded glee of 42ND STREET, the psychedelic dazzle of TOMMY, and the blow-your-hair-back brilliance of Patti Lupone in SUNSET BOULEVARD. It doesn’t really matter what it is – if it’s done well, it will stick with me forever!

    1. Ah, my singing and acting friend! You are so right — just trust us, world!

      You are so fortunate to have seen so many wonderful productions, especially on Broadway and the West End! Thank you for sharing!

  2. The first stage production wasn’t anything on Broadway or close to it. I was in third grade and a group of college kids came to our school and presented a series of fractured fairytales and other stories to us. I am not sure of their names, but I think they called themselves The Travel Diddle Travelers. After each joke in their play, they’d sing, “Travel Diddle Travelers on our way”, and transition to another scene. I’ll never forget their costumes, the songs they sang, and how they moved from the stage into the audience. We twisted and turned to see where they were going, we stood up in our chairs so as not to miss one funny gesture or line. It had a great impact on me. Today, I use music to introduce nearly every picture book and poem presented to my Preschool and Pre_K audience. I love choosing books for the preschool age children that have humor. Or books with characters who are very expressive. Children love to laugh. They also love connecting wit the emotions of the characters presented to them. But so do adults. Oh, to have the skill of presenting to these early learners in such a theater like environment. It is my hope that I can learn to add more theater (puppets and other props) to my literacy program for the schools that contract me.

    1. Love that you were influenced by theatre that early in your life! And I’m delighted to hear that you want to use more theatrical ideas in your literacy program. The kids will love it!

    1. Wonderful — just hearing about the phantom swooping down has an impact on me, although I’ve not seen any of those productions in person. Thanks, Catherine!

  3. This will be an informative series given I haven’t seen much in the way of plays. Because of this, I don’t have much to say regarding a favorite, though I must say that there is something very magical about a beautiful theatrical performance.

    1. There is something magical indeed.

      There’ll be all sorts of arts-related posts in this series, not just theatre. Hope you enjoy it!

  4. Beth, enjoyed your post! I was in love with the theater at an early age. I wanted to be Shirley Temple. But, my earliest plays were those based on fairy tales that we made up and starred in at 8-9 yrs old. I remember seeing Peter Pan, and falling in love with it. But, I can’t remember a play — I loved musical theater. I remember performing Joan of Arc’s famous soliloquy in HS. I worked in professional summer stock in high school/early college years so I saw a lot of musicals and plays with big star’s performing. But, the one play that stood out for me was “Grandma Moses,” performed by Cloris Leachman in the mid 1990s. I was absolutely mesmorized as I watched her transform from the young woman to Grandma Moses. It was such a slow transformation done with such perfection. Will never forget that performance. It went on to play on Broadway.

    1. Wonderful to read your memories, Pat — and delighted to learn that you worked in summer stock! That performance of “Grandma Moses” sounds amazing. Thank you!

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