20th Century, History, Theatre, Uncategorized

Guthrie Theater

Original Guthrie Theater – circa 1963. Amy Sanders. guthrietheater.org

May 8, 1963
The Guthrie Theater, named for its founder and first artistic directory, Sir Tyrone Guthrie, opens in Minneapolis with a performance of Hamlet. Known as an innovator “interested in places that aren’t central marketplaces of theater,” Guthrie assembles a distinguished repertory company that includes George Grizzard, Hume Cronyn, and Jessica Tandy. *

In a private conversation over breakfast, three friends despaired the commercialization of Broadway. This triumvirate, composed of uber director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, stage manager Peter Zeisler, and producer Oliver Rea, committed to move elsewhere and build a theatrical community of their own design. ** They were determined to bring gravitas, excellence, and elevation to audiences not exposed to classical theatre.

To be more precise, Mr. Guthrie gave the following quote as to why he saw a promising future of theatre in the Twin Cities.
“We believe that something here (Minneapolis-St. Paul) had a chance growing into an institution where we did not believe that such a growth was absolutely possible on Broadway. The over competitive, over stimulated, over crowded nature of the Broadway theatre makes it impossible to take a longer view than Thursday next.” **
In Minnesota, these men found a fertile soil to plant their theatre. Local businesses and foundations donated exploratory money and land. Renowned local architect Ralph Rapson was tapped to provide his forward-thinking concepts to the building, and Tanya Moiseiwitsch designed the thrust stage.,* Public support was profound, and Minnesotans volunteered to boost ticket sales, and raised $2.2 million to establish the project.****

To embellish this point further, Dr. Guthrie gave the following answer to local Minnesota students when asked about the importance of “this kind” of theatre. His reply reveals his heart to inspire.
“Plays are meant to be acted, not dissected in a classroom…Just as a community needs a public library where great books are available, or an art museum where you can see great pictures, or a symphony orchestra where you can hear great music, so you need a theatre where great plays can be brought to life.” *

So we turn to You, Host of History, to remember this moment when a theatre is born. No one but You can write a script eons long, heighten the drama of the human experience, or provide the unexpected denouement of our Christ! Today, we remember You, first, as the Supreme Author and Director of the drama of life. Be forever praised!

We applaud Sir Guthrie’s efforts to establish a beachhead of this art form within the seas of entertainment of the 1960’s. Bravissimo! Has he captured Your heart when he stated, “Plays are meant to be acted not dissected in a classroom…”? We see something very sacred here; when one acts, they are placing their whole being in participation of a storyline while potentially engaging both themselves and their audience very deeply with the virtues of a great script. Engagement through action involves risk. Yet, the potential for learning at a much deeper level, and the rewards of making a brave journey are only known by those who partake. So, we thank You for this moment that sparked this vision in the Guthrie Theatre Company, its patrons and volunteers, and its impact on Minnesota of 1963!

It is apparent that this venture, which has captured the hearts of at least two generations of Minnesotans, had to battle through the seas of modernity. Since the era of movies and television, theatre has been largely monetized. Where can we find a place where “stories for the sake of stories” exist?

Although they can and do exist in live venues, we still and feel the encroaching arms of influencers. Playwrights become famous, often, when they sell their rights to make a movie of their scripts. All kinds of foundations seek writers, directors, dancers, and theatre companies who will bend a story to their liking. Even political and spiritual groups are in on the game; i.e. “we will fund you if you heighten this issue, let’s call it “Issue X”, in the public’s mind through your artistry.” Good G-d, have we moved an inch as artists from being the court jesters, poet laureates, or entertainers of the aristocracy?

But You, our Prophet of Parables, taught us in a similar way except You forsook our purse strings for our heart strings! Help me remember a few, Lord?
The Lamp-Matthew 5:14-16
The Mustard Seed-Mark 4:30-34
The Good Samaritan-Luke10:29-37
The Prodigal Son-Luke 15:11-32
The Sheep, Shepherd, and Gate-John 10:1-18
Though these fables and apologues were given to mostly agricultural Semetic people groups over fifty generations ago; they retain Your genius today for those not familiar with those sub-cultures! Conversely, the Messiah also intersected in parable with the educated and worldly within Israel, and freely spoke with relevance to Arabian, Persian, Greeks, and Romans. You spoke in parables to portray the unspeakable words of our hearts to us. Those not ready to engage with You heard a good story, while those who were found themselves exposed before Wisdom Eternal.

Will You forgive us our judgments past of a man who desired cultural engagement in greatness through the means of the Guthrie Theatre? Will You forgive us our misapplications of artistry, through all aspects of theatre, towards the highest bidder? Will You guide us as playwrights, actors, directors, crew members, costumers to “allow” our audiences to feel rather than emotionally manipulating what they “should” feel? Will You bless Minnesota theatre to go beyond Guthrie’s vision of greatness and into the Messiah’s chesed of heart?

Lord, I leave You with a story, (I’m sure You know it), and a prayer. About a century ago, three children climbed a hill outside Fatima, Portugal; Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. There, they encountered an angel who taught them this prayer. I wonder if it was to buffer the suffering of the Great War? Today I echo this prayer which I amend only slightly.

“My G-d, I believe (in theatre and story), I adore, I hope, and I love Thee. I ask for pardon for those who do not believe (in theatre and story), do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee.”

P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
** O’Neill, Hannah. “An Englishman in Minneapolis: Sir Tyrone Guthrie”. May 12, 2017. Internet. https://www.continuum.umn.edu/2017/05/englishman-minneapolis-sir-tyrone-guthrie/
*** Combs, Marianne. “Architect Ralph Rapson at 91”. September 13, 2005. Minnesota Public Radio. Internet. http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2005/09/13_combsm_rapson/
**** A brief history of the Guthrie.https://www.guthrietheater.org/globalassets/pdf/guthrie_history.pdf
* “Guthrie Theater: Miracle in Minnesota”. (The Minnesota Theatre Company)1963. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkIXv_L3QHQ&t=456s

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19th Century, 20th Century, Americana, Books, History, Movies, Uncategorized

Judy Garland Stars in “The Wizard of Oz”

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June 5, 1939

“Frances Ethel Gumm (Judy Garland) grew up singing and dancing with her sisters at her father’s movie house in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

The family moved to California, and in 1939 17-year-old Judy goes “over the rainbow” as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.” * 

Frances, also known as Baby, began her performing career at the age of two and a half years when she joined her sisters in a song and dance routine. She performed her first public solo at her parent’s vaudevillian theatre, the Grand Theatre, singing a rendition of Jingle Bells.

Her astounding career and work ethic speaks for itself. Few American artists have connected with the public and emblazoned their names on the hearts’ of audiences as she. Please peruse the link to her museum, and see her for yourself?**

She knew the golden rules of performing: know yourself, gains skills to express yourself through your medium or instrument, and embrace the vulnerability of being authentic in front of an audience. That said, how did this iconic performer and recording artist view herself?

“Basically, I am still Judy Garland, a plain American girl from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, who’s had a lot of good breaks, a few tough breaks, and who loves you with all her heart for your kindness in understanding that I am nothing more, nothing less.” **

So we go to watch with You today, Holy Spirit, and ponder this event. We remember that You are the Ultimate Artist and portrayed Your performance across the universe! With the Psalmist we confess that “the heavens declare the glory of G-d”!

We give You thanks for relating to Minnesotans through the story of “The Wizard of Oz”. We applaud its author, L. Frank Baum, and the way it could be read on multiple levels. To the children, it’s a fantastical retelling of an old plot: kid wants adventure, kid experiences life, and kid finds that “there’s no place like home”. 

To the adults of the era, another plot unfolds relating to the American economy of the late 19th and early 20th century. The scarecrow is a personification of the Midwestern farmer: the beatings he took in the Dustbowl, the poverty and hardships endured by the manipulations of the Eastern Establishment and Wall Street, and the judgments by the same that he was just an ignorant red-neck. ***  

Tinwoodsman recalls the lives of factory workers, miners, and timber industry. He symbolized the unemployment of the Rust Belt, and anguish of laborers. He was said to have no heart, but was that true or was the the projections of industrialists and their dehumanization of their workers? ***

The figure of the Cowardly Lion can be construed to represent the Populist movement, or its most vocal representative; William Jennings Bryan. An outstanding orator, he was referred to as a “lion” for his causes, namely Bimetalism which advocated backing American dollars with both gold and silver. Gold values, it was thought, were more easily manipulated by Wall Street and Lombard Street a.k.a the Bank of England. ***

Further, the Wicked Witches were symbols of economic elites on the West and East coast who controlled the rest of the country through the power of the Emerald City (Washington, D.C. or New York City) and the Wizard (the President of the United States). All the great power of OZ was based on gold. One must follow the “yellow brick road”, get to the Great Wizard, and pull back the curtain on his frailties. The Wizard is just a man with smoke, mirrors, and a loud microphone!? ***

In sum, we recount the self-acceptance of Judy Garland within her portrayal of Dorothy, and the dual plot lines of Baum calling children and adults to come home. We hear its distant warnings of the noise of our political machinery, the spirit of manipulation in the business of money, and the calls to use one’s brain, trust one’s heart, and take courage. We hear Your message of encouragement in an age of deceit, greed, lawlessness, and manipulated algorithms; “Though they intend You harm, the schemes they devise will not prevail.” Psalms 21:11

Will You forgive us, the Only Truly Wise One, of believing the putdowns of those who oppose us? We are made in the Image of Your Thought, therefore, we can think! We are made in the Image of Christ, Our self-sacrificing Messiah, therefore, we can overcome any offense through merciful, new hearts! You have been struck down, yet are risen, therefore, we will rise when struck with betrayals, tragedies, and self-hatred through choosing to live in Your courage!

“And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” ESV Revelations 4:3

* http://www.mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm

** http://www.judygarlandmuseum.com/judys-life 

*** https://www.thevintagenews.com/2019/04/12/wizard-of-oz-symbolism/

 

 

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