Rick Walter, Producing Director, Talks to Vanda Writes

11958133_1237301672962146_1669874282223467458_o-2Vanda: Today I’m pleased to welcome Rik Walter to Vanda Writes. Rik has been with The New York International Fringe for some time. But before we go into that let me give you a run down on his previous extensive theater credits.

Theater: Off-Broadway, Walnut Street, Orlando Shakes, Connecticut Rep, Two River (“Best Actor in a Comedy”), Ivoryton Playhouse, Premiere Stages and Chester Theatre (as Charles Dickens), and Luna Stage (as John Muir) among others. Television: Unforgettable, 30 Rock, all Law & Order’s, American Masters, and several soaps no longer on the air. A co-founder of The New York International Fringe Festival, and co-founder and Producing Director of UP Theater Company in his “upstate Manhattan” neighborhood of Inwood, where he has appeared many times on stage. Vero nil Verius. www.rikwalter.com

Vanda: This year you’re not acting in the Fringe, but you have a long history with this fringe festival. Give us a an idea of your previous Fringe adventures.

Rik: I came on as an Artistic Associate with The Present Company in ’95 with the production of Americana Absurdum by Brian Parks wherein I played a suicidal airline pilot…

Vanda: I wouldn’t want to be on that plane.

Rik: … a wolverine (yes, the North American land mammal), a vacuum cleaner (yes, an actual appliance)…

Vanda: I would have liked to see you play a vacuum cleaner. It sounds like one of those strange acting exercises you hear about.

Rik: …and Lt. William Calley (of My Lai Massacre fame). We wanted to take the play to the Edinburgh Fringe but couldn’t raise enough money, so, naturally, we decided to start our own fringe festival. And the rest, as they say, is history. After doing Americana in that first fringe in ’96, the following year I helped transform an old auto body garage into “The Theatorium” on Stanton and Ridge streets which became FringeNYC headquarters for several years, and hosted the first production of Urinetown, which went onto Broadway two years later.

Vanda: It must have been exciting to be involved with Urinetown.

Rik: I continued to work as a Venue Director for several years before the arrival of our kids took me away from the festival for 15 years. So thrilled to be back! And very proud to be a part, once again, of this amazing institution.

Vanda: And this year instead of acting, you’re an Operations Manager. What does and an Operations Manager do?

Rik: Well, I’m basically in charge of the early planning stages and daily oversight of all operational needs of one of the festival’s multi-venues, The Clemente Soto Velez, which houses 4 performance venues for the festival (hosting about 60 individual productions), as well as central ticketing, outdoor artist/audience lounge, and food/beverage vendors, for the duration of the 16-day festival.

Vanda: It’s beautiful over there, folks. You must make a point of seeing at least one show in this venue and leave time to sit the café they’ve set up. A New York experience!

Rik: I provide logistical support to all the venues to enhance audience experience, traffic flow and vending partner needs, and help to resolve or offer solutions to all problems and issues, as well as coordinate with all technical needs, scheduling and equipment rentals with our technical directors, and make sure all staff is properly trained and in compliance with standards of interacting with artists, audiences and volunteers. And generally just keep people happy. Oh! The glorious crunch of the creative and logistical colliding. A real rush. I will sleep in September.

Vanda: I completely know what you mean. You’re also the Producing Director of UP Theater Company. Could you tell us about that?

Rik: As Producing Director, I’m in charge of all aspects of the company’s theatrical production output and goals: creating budgets, approving spending; hiring all creative and production staff for our productions, and negotiating venue contracts. I end up managing most of our projects, which includes 4 readings, 1-2 workshops and 1-2 fully-produced new plays each season, in addition to the various other special projects throughout the season.

When people ask me how it all started I blame it on our daughters. None of us co-founders knew each other professionally. We had all met in Isham Park in the early ‘00s while our kids were playing, and slowly developed friendships and realized there was a lot of talent in the ‘hood and wanted to do something about it.

Vanda: That’s a fascinating and unusual way to start a theater company. Tell me, Rik if you could be cast in any part, in any play in the world what character would you play and why?

Rik: If I had to pick just one, I would say that I feel that I am so ready for Macbeth. I have some dark issues to work out.

Vanda: Let me know when you get the part. MacBeth’s one of my favorites.
Be sure to visit Rik’s website and learn more about his theater company. Thanks, Rik, it’s been great talking to you today.

www.rikwalter.com www.uptheater.org

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Andrea Alton at This Year’s Fringe

AndreaAltonHiRes1Monday August 15, 2015

Today I am excited to have Andrea Alton with me on www.vandawrites.com. Andrea’s play, A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E-coli, written with Allen Warnok, opens at The 20th Annual New York International Fringe Festival on August 16. I’m always impressed with Andrea’s inventive titles.

Andrea recently won the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award at the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. As an actor/writer, her notable productions include, Big Girl, Little World, Carl & Shelly: Best Friends Forever, which she co-wrote with Allen Warnock, The F*cking World According To Molly, and last year’s production of Possum Creek. I loved the creative absurdity of Possum Creek.  There was something real about it, but also it was nuts.

Andrea is also the creator of Molly “Equality” Dykeman and has performed the character to sold-out houses at The Laurie Beechman Theatre and internationally. Andrea’s plays have been produced throughout the country with notable productions in New York, Washington DC, Florida, and Ireland. Andrea just returned from The Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival where she performed in Kathleen Warnock’s play, Julie Andrews Is The Devil.

Vanda: I recently heard that your play has been chosen as one of the top ten shows in the Fringe and that it will be published. Can you tell us a little about that?

Andrea: Well I don’t know how they pick the top 10 shows but I’m usually the underdog so I’ll take it. Martin Denton’s site Indie Theatre Now is publishing A Microwaved Burrito Filled With E. coli. Allen and I are very excited and thankful we were selected.

Vanda: How long have you been a playwright?

Andrea: I enjoyed writing as a teenager. Most of the stuff I wrote was a little quirky – not much has changed. I started writing plays in the late 90’s after I moved to New York. I had always loved writing but it wasn’t until I came to New York that I realized I could be a playwright.

Vanda: Do you still call yourself Molly Dykeman. Can you tell us a little about that?

Andrea: Yes. I love my character Molly “Equality” Dykeman and I’m so happy when I get to perform her or write for the character. The character came out of a sketch in 2005. She’s evolved a lot since then but she’s still the same old Molly. She loves her mullet, nachos. and the ladies.

Vanda:  What was the impetus for writing this new play that will be in the Fringe?

Andrea: Allen Warnock, my writing partner, and I had wanted to work on something together for awhile. I love writing with him and every time I share the stage with Allen I get a little giddy. It’s pure joy. We have two funny, quirky characters that we wanted to put together. We started talking and then everything started to unfold.

Vanda: You’re also a PR Representative. Can you tell us something about that?

Andrea: I love doing press for Indie Theatre. I’ve been doing pr for 5 years and I still get excited when review requests come in or a client is going to be featured in an article. Working in theatre is hard, it takes a lot of time, energy and money to get productions off the ground. If I do my job right, hopefully the production will get some recognition in the press and they’ll reach a wider audience.

Vanda: What’s next for you?

Andrea: When the Fringe is done, I’m going to spend a few days sleeping in and binging on Netflix.

After that, I have several plays I want to finish and a web series. But the thing I’m most excited about is going back to Oregon for a week. My parent’s 50th Anniversary party is in September so I’m looking forward to breathing fresh air and being around my crazy family.

Vanda: If you could cast any actor in the world in one of your plays who would it be and why?

I don’t want to pick just one. How about Mark Rylance, Helen Mirren, and Kevin Hart to make it interesting. And oh… Allen Warnock. He’s the funniest actor I know and wait, he’s in the Fringe show!

Be sure to see: A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E-coli (Running time 55 minutes)
Tickets: $18
Available at www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=M#AMicro

Performances: Venue #16, the Huron Club at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, New York NY 10013.
Subway: C/E to Spring Street, 1 to Houston.

Show dates:
Tuesday, August 16 @ 5:15 pm
Friday, August 19 @ 5:00 pm
Saturday, August 20 @ 7:00 pm
Wednesday, August 24 @ 8:00 pm
Friday, August 26 @ 3:45 pmAndreaAllen_Postcard_MicrowavedBurrito

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The International New York Fringe Festival: Paul Adams

Monday, August 1, 2016

Paul no beardVanda: This year August 12-28, 2106 New York will host The 20th Annual New York International Fringe Festival. Each year the festival presents close to 200 theater and dance companies as well as individual artists to the world. (FringeNYC.org/about us).

In 2006, my play Vile Affections was performed at The International Fringe Festival under the auspices of Emerging Artists Theater (EAT). The actors, director, writer, production crew and festival crew all worked really hard through the August heat to pull our show together. Putting a show up under the best of conditions is some kind of miracle, but putting one up at a fringe goes way beyond miracle.  Resources are limited. Sets need to be simple so they can be set up quickly right after someone has just taken down their show; and then when you’ve finished your show the set has to be taken  down again to make room for the next show.  We had seven minutes on either side.

Things always go wrong in theater, but when you’re working with limited resources whatever goes wrong is much worse.  During my show the air conditioning broke down the first night. The audience, a vital component of theater, hung in, sweating with all of us.  But isn’t that what theater is really about? Isn’t it more about a community of excited, dedicated people pulling it all together. Instead of  hugely expensive technology, $2000 tickets just to say you’ve been there–A theater which has no room for the middle class and the poor?

There’s always lots of variety at the Fringe so  you’re bound to find something you’ll like? Over the next few weeks I’m going to be interviewing people who are preparing to be in the Fringe. Then I’m going to try to get them back to talk to us about the good, bad, and ugly of the experience.

It is with great pleasure that today I welcome Paul Adams, Artistic Director of Emerging Artists Theater to www.vandawrites.com . Paul’s The Cleaning Guy, will be performed in the Fringe this year. Paul is play a New York based writer, director, actor and producer. He founded Emerging Artists Theatre Company in 1993 and has been its Artistic Director for the life of the company. He also has served on the New York Innovative Theatre Awards committee since its inception 10 years ago. And most importantly, Paul has been cleaning NYC apartments for 25 years!

The Cleaning Guy will have its World Premiere at the 20th Annual New York International Fringe Festival in August. This solo show is written and performed by Paul who has been developing the script for the last three years at Emerging Artists New Work Series. The comedy is based on his life as an apartment cleaner in New York City, since 1991.

I’ve seen The Cleaning Guy in development. It’s funny and its moving and you shouldn’t miss it.
For tickets: FRINGENYC.ORG

Vanda: How long have you been a playwright?

Paul: I have been a playwright for about 10 years but this piece is my first real piece of theatre. My other writing was two one acts plays they only got one performance each.

Vanda: You’re also the Artistic Director of Emerging Artists Theater. How do you manage to run a company, work your day job, write plays, act and not collapse?

Paul: It takes a lot of energy and focus to keep all the balls in the air. Working out a schedule where I can fit it all in is how it’s possible. It also helps that I am an early bird and am usually up by 5:30 every morning, even on weekends. ☺ The day job thing is harder as I clean apartments and can suddenly get a job at short notice and then have to rearrange my schedule to fit the money work in. But it also amazes me with how much I can get done in just a few hours while others are sleeping. And I don’t drink coffee or really get any kind of caffeine unless I have chocolate. Just naturally hyper.

Vanda: How do you, the artistic director, interact with you, the playwright?

Paul: The artistic director thinks ahead to production issues and deadlines, marketing, etc. The playwright and artistic director guy come together with the help of my director Melissa Attebery and composer Matt Casarino to take a close look at the text and how we feel it will land with an audience. And as I am also the solo performer, I also have to learn my lines☺ Which is what I am doing this weekend before we start intensive rehearsals this coming week.

Vanda: You said The Cleaning Guy is your first play, but you’ve written a couple one acts.  Explain.

Paul: Yes. I have written a couple of short one acts before this but this is definitely a 60 minute full play with five original songs. I don’t write music but I sang to the composer/arranger and he also came up with shared melodies for a couple of the songs. It was a real  collaboration. This play was developed in Emerging Artists New Work Series. The series allowed me to present where I was in my writing process before an audience and then to sit with them afterwards and have an interactive dialogue, where I could ask the specific questions I needed answers to in order to evolve the piece. Because of my hectic work schedule and because I was producing the New Work Series twice a year, it took a little over 2 years to develop.

Vanda: What was the inspiration for writing this play?

Paul: I have cleaned apartments for twenty-five years in New York City and have had some unbelievable situations that I have walked into and had to deal with. I started at one place and have ended up in a completely different place in that line of work. I wanted to take the audience on a journey that starts off as the humorous characters I worked for, but also gives them an intimate view of what it is to work for people and how the lines get blurred between employee and employer. The reaction from audiences has been amazing and it also leaves them thinking which I always want to do with my work.

Vanda: What’s next for you?    unnamed-1

Paul: I hope to submit it to other Fringe festivals around the country. I am also working on a TV series based on the play about a middle aged guy in New York City who cleans apartments. Wish me luck☺

Vanda: We do, Paul.  Be sure to let us know how it all goes.

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Special Guest Today: Robin Rice, Playwright With a play opening off Broadway soon.


Robin Rice

Robin Rice

It is with great pleasure that I welcome, Robin Rice, a friend and fellow playwright to VandaWrites. Robin and I have known each other for years as we’ve both grown as playwrights. For the past ten years, about, I think, we have both been members of The Oracles,  a group of truly gifted writers who give each other feedback about their latest work.

Robin has written 20 full-length plays and many more one-act and short plays. Her plays have been produced across the U.S. as well as in South Korea, South Africa, Mongolia, London, Scotland (Edinburgh Fringe) and Iran. Her plays often deal with the struggles of women, artists, and the environment.

Her latest play, Alice in Black and White, was first produced by The Looking for Lilith Theatre Company—I love that name—in Louisville, KY. It did so well there that they decided to bring it to New York, to the Off Broadway Theater 52 East 52 Theater.

It’s A  Must See Show. August 3-14. Tickets: $25.  212-753-5959 x101 or go directly to: http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=258

My Interview with Robin

Vanda: How long have you been a playwright?

Robin: I started writing plays, moved to NYC and got an M.F.A. in playwriting in the early 1990s. Playwriting wasn’t offered at Antioch, Williams, or any of the other colleges I attended previously and I had never met a playwright before then. The possibility never occurred to me!

Vanda: What was it about playwriting that called to you? Did any of the other forms of written expression have the same draw?

Robin: Previously I was a newspaper reporter, then a fine art printmaker. The processes of printmaking are crazy hard. Similarly, playwriting is much more difficult than any other kind of writing for me. I like challenges. Collaboration with directors, actors and designers who bring my work alive, putting it out there for audiences — these are frightening and thrilling gifts that other forms of artistic expression don’t offer. It’s rather like jumping into a cold pond and hoping that the swim to the other side is invigorating. You might drown, but you might see amazing sights on the journey. And of course there’s the challenge of being way past “retirement age” in this youthful arena.

Vanda: You’re getting ready for an off-Broadway production. That’s very exciting. Can you first tell us a little something about your play, Alice in Black and White. An intriguing title. What is it about?

Robin: Alice Austen, a real person, grew up during the Victorian Era. Her family was very proper, very upper middle-class. Women were expected to keep their mouths shut, get married, and see to house and home. Alice did none of these things. At the age of 10 she fell in love with photography. She refused to give up this “unladylike” passion for the rest of her life. She also refused to get married, choosing instead to share her love with another woman. Alice clung with a death grip to the life she wanted, but she almost lost everything. Today the Alice Austen House on Staten Island is designated as a New York City and National Landmark.

Vanda: What was the impetus for writing this play?

Robin: I had never heard of Alice. I was on a hike on Staten Island (yes, there is wilderness there!). Afterwards a friend wanted me to see the Alice Austen House. The house itself, sitting on the banks at the entryway to the Hudson River, captivated me. Alice’s photographs captivated me too. I wanted to know more about the little girl who sat under the linden tree here. She grew up to become the first woman-photojournalist. How did that happen?

Vanda: What’s next for you?

Robin: I’ll be working with the director and a large group of disadvantaged kids on my one-act semi-musical HONEY’S SMILE. This will be performed by Playhouse Creatures Camp at Dixon Place on August 20. Also I’m working on a full-length fantasia HARMONY’S AUDITION about a woman who is told she must choose between musicianship and motherhood. (The first reading is with Lafayette Salon on August 25 at Lucky Jack’s, NYC. You’re invited.) Then I’m off to Antioch College in Ohio for a program of my short plays with alumni and student actors in September. Next, I’ve been hired by a Mongolian NGO to teach playwriting there (using an interpreter — another challenge!) in October.

Vanda: Wow! You always have  many exciting projects going on all at the same time.  Tell me,  if you could cast any actor in the world in one of your plays who would it be and why?

Robin: Cherry Jones. Her acting is bed-rock honest and she is magnetic to the core. Plus she’s a lovely person.

Vanda: When that question was asked of me I said ‘Meryl Streep,’for similar reasons,  but I sure wouldn’t mind having the magnificent Cherry Jones, either in my play.

Thanks, Robin, for talking with us today. All the absolute best on your run.

Everyone be sure to go and see it. It’s going to be great.    http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=258

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The Gay Word

As a result of doing research into LGBT history for my novel I became fascinated by how the meanings of “in” words change. In the 1940s gays lived in a secret world. No one was in the closet because such a concept didn’t exist. Homosexuals were considered either criminal or mentally disturbed so you were not likely to go around advertising. It was a time when it was illegal to serve liquor to immoral persons and homosexuals were high on the “do not serve” list. But in their secret world a culture was growing and as with every culture it had its own words to refer to itself and to those who inhabited the out-group beyond them.

The Word ‘Gay’
It is often assumed that the word “gay” to refer to homosexuals came into use in the 1960s after Stonewall. But it is important to remember that “gays” had been living secret lives for decades before this. Stonewall only made straights aware of a word that had already been in use. I remember hearing straights in the seventies bemoaning the ruination of the word “gay” because of its “new” meaning. In reality, if a word can ever truly be termed “ruined”(meanings of all words are constantly changing; it is the nature of language) it was “ruined” long before the late 1960s.

The word “gay” meaning homosexual has been in use since the 1920s. Some authorities say one of its early meanings was “loose woman” or “prostitute” and then it gradually came to mean homosexual; other authorities claim that the use of the word gay to mean homosexual began long before the 1920s. Word derivations are hard to track, but we do know that the word gay, meaning homosexual was in use before the 1940s. In Bringing up Baby, a 1938 movie with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Grant wears a frilly woman’s bathrobe and jumps up and down proclaiming, “I just went gay all of a sudden.” Remarkably, this got passed the censors and the straight audiences.  It was against the Hayes Code to include any reference to sexual perversion (homosexuality) in films. The censors and most of those in the audience (but certainly not all) had to interpret “gay” as meaning happy.

 

The Word ‘Lesbian
Although the word ‘gay’ was in use by gays in the 1940s and hidden from the outer world, the word lesbian was not generally used by gays. The word “lesbian” was considered a street word and derogatory. It was only used by the outer world and was intended to be insulting or “clinical.” “Lesbian” did not become a positive term until the 1970’s when gay women claimed the word for themselves and re-claimed its original meaning in relation to Sappho, the Greek Female poet, who lived on the Island of Lesbos. During the forties, fifties and sixties gay women referred to themselves as “gay girls.”

 

Beautiful lesbian flirting couple on the sofa.

The Jams
Gays in the 1940 and 50s also had their own special names for non-gays.  They called them “jams,”  “straights,” (in use since 1941) and “normals” The word “normal” seems to have been used prior to the 1940s and probably lasted well into the late forties and beyond. Gore Vidal in The City and The Pillar, argumentatively the first novel about male homosexuals, published in the U.S. in 1948, used the word “normals” throughout his book to refer to straights.  This may give some indication of the degree of internalized homophobia that understandably existed during that time.

Medical Terms In Use in the 1940s (and before and after)
Medical men who were trying to be objective about the “disease” of homosexuality used the following terms:
Invert (men and women)
Third Sex (men and women)
Lesbian (women)
Tribadist (women)

The Positive Terms Women Used for Themselves
Gay girl (most popular)
Sapphist (used somewhat)
Homophile (used more often for men, but also applied to women)

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Nice Review for Juliana (Vol 1: 1941-1944) from Kirkus

In this debut historical novel, a girl seeks stardom on Broadway but instead discovers unexpected feelings when she meets a charismatic lesbian singer.

Alice “Al” Huffman has just graduated from high school in June 1941. She and her best friend, Aggie Wright, giddily depart the potato fields of Long Island for New York City, following their boyfriends Danny Boyd and Dickie Dunn. They all plan to act on Broadway except for Danny, who wants to write novels. For Al, moving is also a chance “to start my life away from the mother who tried to kill me” and to see new sights, such as celebrities and “real homosexuals.” The foursome’s prospects brighten when they meet Broadway producer Maxwell P. Harlington III, who offers his services. Soon, Al is intrigued and unsettled by Juliana Styles, a singer whose voice sounds “like warm milk slipping down the whole of my body,” but she tries to block out such thoughts. She believes that marrying Danny will give her security—but then she discovers Danny naked in Max’s apartment, and soon after, she has an encounter with Juliana, which results in Al’s first orgasm. Wartime brings changes to the foursome’s relationship, and Al’s misgivings about exploring her sexuality deepen. As the book ends, Al has new hopes, both for her producing career and for her relationship with Juliana.

Playwright Vanda (The Forgetting Curve, 2014, etc.) offers a well-researched, richly textured look at LGBT life in 1940s New York City, a time when women could get into trouble just for wearing trousers. She gives a good sense of the gay world’s sub rosa signals, codes, secret celebrities, and in-jokes. Her dialogue, fittingly for a playwright, is sharp and does much to aid characterization and add historical flavor; for example, unsophisticated Al expresses her reactions to an erotic explosion with “Oh, gosh, gosh, oh, gosh, gosh.” … (A) story that… captures the fear, excitement, and eroticism of a young lesbian’s awakening in the 1940s.
(Kirkus Reviews, 3/31/16)

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Madame Spivy: Patron Saint of “Fags”

Who Was She?

spivy I wonder how many LGBT folks today know who Madame Spivy was. Well, Spivy was an early pioneer in the gay rights movement, although I doubt she would’ve seen herself that way. She was a nightclub owner and entertainer who from the early 40s to the mid 50s kept Spivy’s Roof going despite her poor money management skills. Spivey’s Roof was a nightclub where gay men and women could go and be “almost” out. This meant it wasn’t a gay club, most of the patrons were straight, but gays could openly gather there if they didn’t call too much attention to themselves. According to Gavin (2006) Spivy wanted her various girlfriends to come into the club, and she didn’t think it would be fair to let them in while leaving out the men. Each night gay men lined the bar in their white tuxedos. Spivy’s was a good place for the men to meet each other and a little “fumbling around in the dark” was not uncommon. But Spivy, a short, stout woman who usually wore black dresses with shoulder pads and had black hair combed into a stiff pompadour with a white streak going from front to back (Gavin, 2006, p 30), could be moody. Every once in awhile she would stand up in the middle of the dining area and yell, “Get all the fairies out of here!” Gavin doesn’t say whether this was a joke or whether she actually pushed the gay men out. I rather think not. As one patron put it Spivy was the “patron saint of fags.”

Spivy’s Roof

searchSpivy’s Roof was located in the penthouse of 139 East 57 Street in New York City. To get there you rode up in a rickety elevator, which opened into a world of glitter and chrome and tightly packed tables and chairs. On the walls were paper sculptures of “stars” such as Katherine Cornell and Gypsy Rose Lee.

Madame Spivy had her devoted fans who came to hear her perform a set of 15 “sophisticated” or “blue” songs. She was supposed to do two shows a night on the weekend, but she paid no attention to time or scheduling. Often she still hadn’t begun the ten o’clock show at 11:30. It wasn’t uncommon for her fans to begin chanting “Spivy! Spivy!” to try to coax her onto the stage. But Madame Spivy was in the back talking to one or more of her girlfriends, among them Tallulah Bankhead or Patsy Kelly.

Spivy was always the star at Spivy’s Roof despite, allowing others to perform on her stages, such as Mabel Mercer, and the then unknown Carol Channing.

Carol_Channing_Allan_Warren

An Unknown Piano Player You May Know
Spivy always had two pianos, one under the spotlight and another in the back covered in shadows. The pianist in the back played the ambient music and also backed up Spivy’s own playing when she sang. The word was that she kept that shadowy pianist in the back, because she wasn’t very good, but she had no intention of sharing the spotlight with anyone else. One of her early pianists, hidden in shadows, was 21 year old Walter Liberace. Imagine him being stuck in the back and in shadow. Well, that didn’t last long, but to find out what happened between Spivy and Walter I hope you’ll read my novel, JULIANA. There’s a chapter on Spivy’s Roof in which the scene with the young Liberace gets played out. liberace05-1024

The times these people lived in were very different from ours in some significant ways. One commentator who was a regular at Spivy’s Roof when he was sixteen—they didn’t seem to be quite so fussy about legal drinking age back then—said “I was probably too innocent to think of Spivy’s sexuality. The concept of women loving women just didn’t exist in the groupthink of the era…” (www.ralphmag.org/DJ/spivy2.html)
Spivy’s Roof was so successful in New York that Spivy thought she could expand into London, Paris and Rome. These clubs all failed. (www.ralphmag.org/DJ/spivy2.html)
So What Happened to Her?
Spivy established a small acting career and you can see her in The Manchurian Candidate and Requiem for a Heavyweight. She also starred in some TV episodes of Hitchcock Presents.

Spivy in Requiem for a Heavy Weight

spivy-2

 

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The 1940s Christmas Village Putz House

DSC03253When I was a child my mother had these little cardboard houses with glitter all over them.  There was a hole in the back to put a light.  She also had little metal figures to go with the houses.  With them she made a Christmas Village under the tree.  As I grew older the houses and figures were relegated to storage.  Until one day my kid sister and I found them again. We made our own Christmas Village in between our two rooms.  I think we did it a few more Christmases after that.  I remember how much I loved looking at our little town all lit up.  It looked like such a wonderful place to live.  But, as with all children, my sister and I grew up and lost track of the little Christmas Village houses and people.  My parents moved and who knows where these things ended up.

Lately, I found myself longing for them (probably my novel was doing that to me) so I did a little research and I found out the Christmas Village houses and the metal people were a tradition throughout the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. They were sold in five and dime stores and in catalogues like Sears & Roebucks.  The “best” I read came from the 1930’s, during the depression.  Although people could not afford much during that time, they could afford a “putz house” for under the tree.  I wonder if the ones my sister and I played with were from the 1930s when my mother was a girl.  Fascinated by the history of these little houses I headed for ebay where I found plenty for bidding and for sale.  I figured if I couldn’t have the Village from my mother I could begin my own.  So that’s what I did. They make me feel closer to the characters in my novel.

Skiers

These houses were originally made in Japan so, of course, the importing of them stopped during the war.  One story I read was about Ted Althof, a well-known collector, who met an older woman who had worked at a five and dime when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  The day after the bombing her boss told her to collect anything made in Japan and put it on the curb to be taken away. American toy companies began producing them (Martin, 2010).

These houses are amazingly simplistic in their construction–we would never accept them today–but this simplicity seems to add to their charm. Despite being simplistic they are delicately made.  They have little cellophane windows which a breath could  tear.  It’s incredible how many houses have their cellophane windows still in tack.  It makes me a little nervous.  They’ve survived 60 and more years before they got to my tree. What if they can’t survive me?  Such responsibility!

Woman & Man & Bench

What do these houses and metal figures have to do with the lives of LGBT folks (the subject of my novel) living secretly in New York City in the 1940’s?  Well, one of my missions with this novel is to show that LGBT people have been living everywhere through every time and they’ve been celebrating the same traditions that everyone else celebrates, including putting little glitter houses under their Christmas trees.  They have never been alien beings despite having a long history of being treated that way.

Today there is gobs of information on the net about this tradition (its origin and history) and there are collectors who talk to each other in chat rooms and discussion forums.  I don’t think I’ll ever go that far, but there is something very comforting about waking up in the morning and looking down on the quiet little village under my tree and imagining what life might be like in a place like that.

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Martin, M.J. (2010). ‘Putz’ House Christmas Villages of the early 20th century bring out nostalgia for collectors. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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A Little Known Fact About the Stage Door Canteen

An Important Little Known Fact About the Stage Door Canteen

You’ve probably seen the film, The Stage Door Canteen, with lots of singing and dancing and movie stars serving sandwiches to the soldiers and sailors who come there for a night of fun and dancing with the volunteer hostesses before they take off for the war.  The film’s story focuses on four soldiers who are in New York City for the very first time.  They come to the Canteen and fall in love.  It is all very innocently romantic.  But there was much more to the Canteen than most people know.

The American Theater Wing headed by Rachel Crothers and Antoinette Perry established the Stage Door Canteen in New York. It was one of the many programs established by the American Theater Wing during the war. Miss Jane Cowl and Miss Selena Royle put their own successful acting careers on hold in order to keep the New  York Canteen running seven nights a week. (Get a load of all those unsung women!)

The Only Integrated Club in Times Square

The Stage Door Canteen was the only completely integrated club in the area. During the forties in Times Square African Americans could be and often were denied entry into movie theaters and nightclubs. (This was a time when seeing a black bus driver, elevator operator, doorman or policeman was very unusual) Some movie theaters would admit people of color, but only allow them to sit in the back. The Stage Door Canteen was a vitally important ground breaker.  

The film, Stage Door Canteen, however, supported our country’s bias by not showing a single African American soldier or hostess in its filmed version of the club. Therefore, most people are unaware that African American women also served their country by volunteering at the Stage Door Canteen.

Hostesses were required to dance with soldiers of all races and if they could not do this they were dismissed.

The only other club that allowed people of color to be equal customers (and not just entertainers) was Café Society, Downtown, located at Sheridan Square in the West Village.

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For the Boys: World War 2 Fashions, Pre & Post

Before the War

The late thirties/ early forties was a time of fedoras on men and hats, gloves, and girdles on women. That was before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor marking the United States’ entry into World War 2. Shortly thereafter, everything changed. Most men turned in their fedoras for servicemen’s hats (Men ages 18-65 had to register for the draft; men up to age 45 could be drafted) Women lost the girdles. Who needs a girdle when your stockings are painted on with especially made leg make-up and your girlfriend draws the seams on with an eyebrow pencil?

Brassieres

Brassieres

World War 2 and Rationing

During World War 2, in an effort to save precious materials needed for the war, The War Production Board (WPB) was in charge of rationing civilian goods. The first to be rationed was sugar and gasoline. Gradually other items were added like rubber, coffee and meat (somehow poultry didn’t count as meat so it wasn’t rationed). Alcohol wasn’t rationed because the misery of Prohibition was still fresh in everyone’s mind. As my character, Juliana, says, “Maybe if we all spend the war inebriated we won’t mind the shortages.”

You couldn’t buy a refrigerator or a Bendix washer (the first automatic, non-ringer type) during the war, but these companies regularly advertised in the popular magazines, reminding customers of all they were giving to the war effort.

When the Government Told Us What to Wear

Washing Machines

Washing Machines

One of the regulations The WPB came out with had to do with how much cloth could be used in make clothing. Although clothing wasn’t rationed in the US (except shoes*) as it was in Great Britain the WPB made regulations on how much cloth could be used to make any one outfit. The sleeves of dresses now had to be 3/4 length, dresses with no collars were favored. Double-breasted suits for both men and women became single breasted. There were no more women’s pleated skirts. (Stanton, 2009a) The WPB’s slogan was, “Control without regimentation,” meaning they didn’t want to tell designers how to initiate their regulations, but they did expect them to be followed. After all, this was being done “for the boys.” Everyone was behind it. Muriel Johnstone, a dress designer, advertising her new regulation dresses used the slogan: “Conserving material for victory.” (Old magazines.com)images-11

In the interest of following the mandate to use less material—or so they claimed—designers started raising women’s hemlines from  mid-calf to just below the knee. The amount of clothes women wore during this time became less and less, especially in Hollywood. Watch the films made during the war. First, you’ll see a lot of those collarless dresses along with the shorter lengths. Also, you’ll note how scantily many of the women are dressed, lots of bare legs, bare arms, cleavage. Compare these outfits with the clothing worn in films made before the war and after. It was “all for the boys” to win the war. (Stanton, 2009b)

Trousers

Alice, my main character in Juliana says, “I came home with a pair of pants.  I’d never had slacks before. No one wore them, except to do the gardening or maybe at the beach…. The Brown Derby in Hollywood refused to serve Marlene Dietrich when she showed up for lunch in pants.  Katherine Hepburn wore trousers all the time, but she was always getting kicked out of hotel lobbies.  One time the producer of one of her films took her pants out of her dressing room and left a skirt.  She walked across the movie lot in her underpants.”

Wearing pants in public before the war carried some pretty heavy social consequences when you were a celebrity, but the social restraints were even worse if you weren’t.  And then when once war was declared… Well, everyone’s heard of Rosie the Riveter.

Rosie the Riveter

Cross Dressing

Cross dressing in public was illegal for both genders during the 1940s.  Prior to this,  however, during the Pansy & Lesbian Craze of the 1920s and ’30s, (Heap, 2010) male and female impersonators were quite popular in certain nightclubs. (see Pansy & Lesbian Craze this blog) However in 1940 a New York City ordinance made it illegal for female impersonators (drag queens) to entertain wearing women’s clothes. The prohibition against crossdressing in public had been forbidden for both genders for some time.  Therefore, women suddenly wearing pants to work must have been awfully confusing for the police. The ordinance allowed a cop to stop anyone dressed in a way that was considered appropriate to the opposite gender and ask them to show that they were wearing three (some authorities say five) items of clothing from their own gender.  If they couldn’t do this then the cop could arrest them. But the laws had to become looser during the war to accommodate the army of new women factory workers. (I have found no authority to comment on this)  This offered an opportunity for butch lesbians to be freer in their clothing choices.  After the war society was even more vigilant than previously about cross dressing.  During the post war era you rarely saw a woman wearing pants in public.  For an example, watch I Love Lucy closely.  Sometimes Lucy or Ethel (mostly Ethel) wear pants in the house, but always, before going out they change their clothes.  This return to a rigid dress code, more rigid than before the war, put butch lesbians in quite a spot.  When they were out walking with a group of lesbians who could pass, butches in their men’s clothes would have to cross to the other side of the street when non-gays (or jams) approached so that the passing gay girls were not recognized.

Zippers

Still, even during the war when women could wear pants in public they couldn’t wear just any pants.  Women’s pants always had the zippers on the side.  This lasted through the early sixties. Wearing pants with the zipper in the front would have been seen as scandalous. The same was true for dresses. The zipper was on the side.   Zippers in the front on trousers would have made women look shockingly mannish. And this was a society that worried about such things. Zippers in the back of dresses would go against womanly modesty by making a woman too accessible.  To see a side zipper in use on a dress watch the film, Gilda (1946), with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford.  Gilda finishes singing, Put the Blame on Mama, Boys in a nightclub in which she has removed her opera gloves and a necklace. She challenges someone to come on stage  to help her unzip her dress.  Two dorky guys jump out of the audience to volunteer. They go for her zipper on the side.   (Sorry, guys or ladies according to your particular orientation, they don’t get far before the bouncer stops them and Glenn Ford punches Gilda in the face)

The Just Below the Knee Club

When the war ended you might expect that  after years of less material this next generation of fashion would be even more liberated. Not so.  Dior in Paris came out with the New Look, which meant longer skirt lengths with a flare, girdles and long line bras. He even added hip padding to make the waste took tiny.  This style ruled the 1950s and influenced ready to wear.  It was a reaction against the mannish, boxy styles of the war.

BUT not all women were so eager to embrace this New Look.  Groups of women around the country formed “Little below the knee” clubs to protest being put back into restrictive fashions.  When Christian Dior came to New York, the Manhattan branch of the “Little below the knee club” marched down Fifth Avenue in protest against him. (Hawthorne, 1996) Alas, the New Look won out and the  “little below the knee clubs” folded.  Women were once again encased in yards of satin, crinoline and corset-like undergarments.  They would have to wait for the sixties to get out of all that material. 

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*Each individual was allowed 3 pairs of shoes a year, which doesn’t sound terribly harsh to me. Stage Door Canteen volunteers were permitted an extra pair of shoes because their shoes wore out quickly from all that dancing.

(For info about LGBT history in the thirties, forties, fifties and for specific NYC history go to www.julianathenovel.com)

References

Cawthorne, N. (1996). The New look: The Dior revolution. Edison, NJ: Wellfleet Press.

Heap, C. (2010) The Pansy and lesbian craze in white and black. In slumming: sexual and racial encounters in American night life, 1885-1940, 231-276.

OldMagazineArticles.com

Stanton, S.L.(2009a) Limitation Order L-85: General restrictions. The United States in War and Peace (PDF)

Stanton, S.L.(2009b) Limitation Order L-85: Fashion and Morale, The United States in War and Peace

 

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