Tag Archives: Performing Arts

Roxy Rothafel: Legendary American Showman


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American Showman chronicles the life of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882–1936), the prolific movie palace showman and radio star who helped transform the moviegoing experience, radio broadcasting, and American popular culture to become an international celebrity.

Ross Melnick’s American Showman: Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry (2012, Columbia University Press) is the first book devoted to Rothafel’s multifaceted entertainment career. Among Roxy’s notable popular culture contributions include the first showings of Robert Flaherty’s documentary “Nanook of the North” and the German film that reinvigorated the a genre, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” – oh, and there was also those Rockettes, and that mention in Cole Porter’s “You’re On Top.”

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Cayuga Museum Opens Newly-Renovated Theater Mack


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The Cayuga Museum has announced that Theater Mack, the carriage house undergoing renovation for the past several years, has reopened. A massive brick building originally constructed around 1850 on the foundation of an earlier wooden barn, the carriage house was turned into a theater in 1941 through a collaboration between the Cayuga Museum and the Auburn Community Players.

Once known as the Museum Playhouse, the building became the cultural hub of Auburn from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. The building gradually fell into disuse after the Auburn Children’s Theater, the company that became the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, outgrew the space in the 1970’s.

The in mid-1990’s, the Board of Trustees of the Cayuga Museum set an ambitious goal of restoring each of the three buildings on the Museum property. The Museum has been steadily working on that goal ever since. Before beginning on the carriage house, the Museum completed more than $1.2 million in capital improvements on the other buildings. The Case Research Laboratory, birthplace of talking films, was restored and re-opened, and the Willard-Case Mansion in which the Museum is housed was renovated. The first phase of the carriage house project was finished in May 2010, at a cost of more than $248,000.

In 2011, the Museum named the carriage house Theater Mack in honor of long-time supporters the Maciulewicz family and their company, Mack Studios. Now, the Museum brings the project to fruition and the building returns to use as a multi-purpose space equipped for everything from a musical production to a wedding reception.

Theater Mack is a perfect little “jewel box” of a theater, retaining much of the charm of its 19th century beginnings and adding modern amenities. There is now heat, air-conditioning, restrooms, dressing rooms, and a catering kitchen, as well as a first-class sound system, and theater lights and draperies. The lower level and the main floor have been completely renovated but the second floor, where Theodore Case created a sound studio to make his test films in the 1920’s, remains intact. The Museum now turns its attention to plans for a new Case exhibit including both the laboratory and the sound studio.

It’s taken the same kind of collaboration that originally put the theater in the building during WWII to bring the project to fruition today. New York State, local foundations and many individuals and families donated more than $600,000 to the project. Several local contractors contributed their work at or below cost. The completion and re-opening of Theater Mack is a triumph for everyone involved. This totally unique building will become an asset to the Museum and the community for decades to come.

The new Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival has rented Theater Mack for ten weeks this summer for their concept show, The Pitch. The Cayuga Museum is already programming film screenings, lectures and shows for Theater Mack for the rest of the year and it is available for rent to organizations and individuals.

Doris Kenyon’s North Country Connections


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A frequent visitor to Ausable Forks (and once a resident) Doris Kenyon starred in nearly fifty silent films, including 1924’s Monsieur Bocaire with living legend Rudolph Valentino, and 1925’s A Thief in Paradise with Ronald Colman. During her long career, she played opposite all the great stars of the day, among them Loretta Young, Spencer Tracy, Ralph Bellamy, John Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Robert Young, and Adolph Menjou. Her fame was such that newborn Doris Kappelhoff (in 1922) was named after Kenyon. Kappelhoff would gain great fame under her stage name, Doris Day.

One of the leading men in several of Kenyon’s movies became the leading man in her personal life. Milton Sills was a major star of the era, and he and Doris had performed together many times. In May 1926, Doris announced she had purchased her brother’s camp, and a few weeks later came an update—she and Milt Sills would soon marry … on the shores of Silver Lake!
The ceremony took place amidst the October splendor of the leaf color change, creating a sensational backdrop at the camp Doris called “Moose Missie.” They honeymooned through the Adirondacks (two days in a suite of rooms in Agora at the Lake Placid Club), plus Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone Park. Meanwhile, workmen were completing a beautiful mansion on their sixty-acre estate in Hollywood, California.
The wedding had been announced in May 1926, but was delayed until October due to Doris being ill. (Seven months after the ceremony, she gave birth to a son, Kenyon Clarence Sills.) Following the wedding and lengthy honeymoon, Doris took some time off from acting, but returned soon to star in several movies with her husband. In effect, they were the industry’s “power-couple” of the day, starring in movies and receiving constant media coverage.
In 1929, they passed the summer at Silver Lake, where Milton was recovering from illness. Doris spent several weeks at the camp, but she also did about a month of vaudeville performances before the two of them returned to making movies. And, upon special request, she served in August as a judge for the baby parade and pageant in Lake Placid’s summer carnival.

In 1929, Doris gave a concert performance in New York City, confirming that she still had a great singing voice. At the same time, unlike many other silent-film stars, she smoothly transitioned into the world of “talkies,” remaining one of Hollywood’s top stars.

In September 1930, tragedy struck Doris’ life. Shortly after playing tennis with his family, Milton Sills, 48, suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack. Doris, just 33 at the time, was devastated by the loss, burying herself in work to help ease the pain.
She had been recognized in the past for other skills—writing, poetry, and as a pianist—but it was singing that Doris really missed. Plans had already been made for a return to regular concert performances, and after the death of Sills, Doris went on a world tour.
After many successful European shows, she returned to the United States with a renewed interest in her film career. Through the 1930s, Doris remained a major movie star, appearing in at least fourteen more films. She was also quite busy on the marital front. First came Syracuse real estate broker Arthur Hopkins in 1933, a union that lasted only a few months (annulled). Next, Doris was married to Albert Lasker in 1938 for a year (divorced). Finally, she married Bronislav Mlynarski in 1947 (that one lasted twenty-four years, ending with Mlynarski’s death in 1971).
Through the WW II years, Doris again supported the troops by singing with the USO. In the 1950s, she acted in television shows, sang on the radio, and performed two roles in radio soap operas. From silent films to the advent of television, she had done it all.
It was an incredible career spanning the Metropolitan Opera, stage, screen, vaudeville, concerts, radio, poetry, television, and writing. She was a success at everything she tried (even marriage, in the end). One of Hollywood’s lasting stars, Doris Kenyon passed away from heart trouble in September 1979, just a few days shy of her 82nd birthday.
Photos: Top―Poster from a Kenyon movie. Bottom―Doris Kenyon in A Thief in Paradise.
The Doris Kenyon story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Doris Kenyon: Famed 1920s Adirondack Actress


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Ausable Forks was once the favored respite of one of America’s most famed and beloved actresses of her time. During the prime of her career in the 1920s, to escape constant media scrutiny, this lady returned often to the Adirondacks, a quiet, peaceful place filled with the memories of childhood.

Doris Kenyon was born on September 5, 1897, the daughter of James and Margaret Kenyon. James, once a protégé of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was a person of some renown in his own right, achieving widespread fame and praise for his skills as a poet. Many of his works were featured in Harpers, the Atlantic, and other reputable magazines.
After writing two books, James remained in the literary world and became a publisher. His position would someday help open doors for his talented daughter.

The family lived for a time in Chaumont, New York, northwest of Watertown, and then moved to Syracuse, where Doris was born. Her brother, Raymond, nineteen years older than Doris, was a dentist and oral surgeon in both Philadelphia and Syracuse. Health issues and a deep love of hunting and fishing prompted his move to the Adirondacks in pursuit of a less strenuous life.

Ray Kenyon chose Ausable Forks as his new home, immersing himself in local life, business, and politics. He served in several key positions, including many years as chairman of the Essex County Republican Party, and several more as state assemblyman. Due to his great skill as a dentist and his affable nature, Raymond became a fixture in the community.

Young Doris was a frequent visitor and guest at her brother’s home—so frequent, in fact, that she has sometimes been claimed as an Ausable Forks native. She spent many summers at Fern Lake and was well known in the village, particularly for her singing ability.

When Doris was in her teens, her father became head of the publishing department of the National Encyclopedia of Biography. It was a position of prominence and power, earning James close ties with luminaries from many venues, including show business.

By this time, Doris had sung with different choirs and had developed a reputation for the quality of her voice. At a meeting of the Authors Club, which she attended with her father, Doris was invited to sing, delivering a very impressive performance.

Among the attendees was the renowned Victor Herbert, who had been a superb cellist in Europe, having played in the orchestra of Johann Strauss. In America, he worked at the Metropolitan Opera and became a famed composer and conductor. Like many other stars, Victor maintained a home in Lake Placid.

Her performance before the Authors Club wowed Herbert, and though Doris was only sixteen years old, he decided to cast her in the stage musical Princess Pat. The show opened on Broadway in the Cort Theatre, and Doris’ stage debut as the character Coralee Bliss was a big success. The movie industry soon showed an interest in her (apparently for her acting skills and not for her lovely voice. The silent film era wouldn’t give way to talkies for another 14 years.)

Doris couldn’t resist the opportunity. She left a promising stage career to appear as Effie MacKenzie in The Rack (Milton Sills was the leading star), which was released in December 1915. That performance earned her the lead role in Pawn of Fate, released in February 1916. Within a month, Worldwide Film Corporation signed Doris to an exclusive three-year contract at $50,000 a year ($1 million per year in today’s dollars) … and she was still a teenager!

Despite her youth, Doris displayed maturity with her newfound wealth, donating to projects like the Children’s Home in Plattsburgh. She supported the troops during World War I, subscribing to $50,000 worth of Liberty Bonds, the highest amount of any actress in show business.

Under her new contract, Doris played the leading role in many movies. In 1917, after making A Hidden Hand for Plathe Films, she formed her own company, De Luxe Pictures. The crew stayed at the Lake Placid Club while filming its first project, The Story of Seven Stars.

As life became more hectic, Doris returned frequently to her childhood roots in Ausable Forks, spending time with Raymond. She and her brother shared an affinity for fox hunting, a very popular pastime in those days. Raymond’s camp on Silver Lake was one of Doris’ favorite places, and there she hosted luminaries from show business and other industries.

Next week, the conclusion: Doris reaches the stratosphere of fame, but tragedy strikes as well.

Photo: A Doris Kenyon collectible tobacco card.

The Doris Kenyon story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Last of the Mohicans Outdoor Drama Seeks Volunteers


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The non-profit Last of the Mohicans Outdoor Drama is seeking volunteers and interns to assist with a variety of short term and long term assignments for their annual theatrical production in Lake George, NY this summer. This outdoor drama, which recently garnered the “Tourism Excellence for Cultural Heritage” from the NYS Tourism & Vacation Association, brings alive the pages of history through James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel.

Participants will have a chance to learn more about local history, support a local non-profit organization and assist in bringing the historical dramatic performance to audiences of all ages. This opportunity also provides a learning experience for college students seeking to enter careers in theater, design, fashion design, construction, tourism, public relations and marketing.

Volunteers and college interns are specifically being sought to assist with costume, scenery and set production, delivering of promotional flyers to surrounding businesses, etc., as well as some duties during the actual performance dates which would include ticket booth, ushers  and back stage helpers.

Training and supervision will be provided but experience with live performances is a plus. Any volunteers under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult. All volunteers will receive complimentary passes to a performance of the historical outdoor drama and will be recognized for their efforts. Performance
dates for 2012 are July 27 to August 18th, with nightly performances on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. There is one matinee performance on Saturday August 4th. Most volunteer assignments start in early June.

For more information about The Last of the Mohicans Outdoor Drama visit www.LastoftheMohicans.org. This summer’s production has received support in part by the Warren County Tourism Occupancy Tax Fund and with public funds from the New York Council on  the Arts Decentralization Program and administered by the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council.

Those interested in applying for volunteer work should email volunteer@LastoftheMohicans.
org or call 518-791-6342 or e-mail Maura Fox at volunteer@LastoftheMohicans.org by May 15.

A NY Classic: Drums Along the Mohawk


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After its first publication in 1936, Walter D. Edmonds’ classic historical novel Drums Along the Mohawk battled Gone With the Wind as the most popular historical novel of the ensuing years, and became a feature film in 1939 directed by John Ford, and starring Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda.

A New York Times review by Frank Nugent celebrated the film. “It is romantic enough for any adventure-story lover,” Nugent wrote. “It has its humor, its sentiment, its full complement of blood and thunder. About the only [John] Ford staple we miss is a fog scene. Rain, gun smoke and stockade burnings have had to compensate. The fusion of them all has made a first-rate historical film, as rich atmospherically as it is in action.” Those laudatory comments still suit the original novel just as well, but for those with an interest in the history of the Mohawk Valley, there’s more than just a good story.

Edmonds was born in 1903 in Boonville (Oneida County) and died in 1998. Edmonds was troubled by the presentation of the history of the American Revolution and used local primary sources to create life on the Revolution’s frontier. “Edmonds turned to ‘Working with the sources’,” Frank Bergman wrote when Syracuse University Press took over publication of the novel in 1997. “His knowledge of the facts enabled Edmonds to dye his narrative in the wool; his history is color-fast and guaranteed not to fade… His goal was not to establish ‘how it actually was,’ but to allow his readers to experience the past as if it were the present.”

“To those readers who may have felt some curiosity about the actual occurrences in the Mohawk Valley during the Revolution,” Edmonds wrote in the book’s “Author’s Note”, I should like to say here that I have been as faithful to the scene and time and place as study and affection could help me to be.” Edmond’s sources were varied, but he himself points to the importance of the Minute Book of the Committee of Safety of Tryon County “to understand what valley life was really like”.

This summer readers will have a taste of that life at an outdoor drama based on Drums Along the Mohawk that coincides with the British Brigade and Continental Line’s national Revolutionary War encampment at Gelston Castle Estate in Mohawk, NY. About 1,000 reenactors are expected to take part in honor of the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Nellis Tavern: War of 1812 Songs and Stories


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The historic Nellis Tavern museum east of St. Johnsville (Montgomery County) will present performer and researcher Dave Ruch on Saturday, May 5, in a special concert entitled “The War of 1812 – Songs and Stories from New York and Beyond.” The program will begin at 2 p.m.

With guitar, mandolin, banjo, jew’s harp, bones, and voice, Dave Ruch interprets the traditional and historical music of the New York State region. For this program, Ruch presents a ringing portrait of the War of 1812 through the songs and stories of the people themselves.


Ruch has dug deeply into archival recordings, diaries, old newspapers and other historical manuscripts to unearth a wealth of rarely-heard music which, alongside some of the classics from the war period, offers a rounded and fascinating picture of this “second war of independence.” Special emphasis is given to New York State’s important role in the conflict.

By the War of 1812, the Nellis Tavern, originally built about 1747 facing the Mohawk River, had been enlarged and faced the recently completed Mohawk Turnpike (NYS highway 5). The turnpike was an important thoroughfare during the war, and the tavern served a host of travelers, military and civilian alike. Ruch will perform music which might have been heard in the tavern two hundred years ago.

Ruch travels widely from his home base in Buffalo, giving hundreds of performances each year for schools, museums, historical societies, libraries, festivals, community events and more. He will appear at the Nellis Tavern as a Speaker in the Humanities sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities.

Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact the Palatine Settlement Society at 518-922-7051.

Woody Guthrie Centennial: Guthrie Archivist Interview


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Music legend and songwriting luminary Woody Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912, and this year marks his centennial birthday. To celebrate, the Grammy Museum, the Guthrie family, Woody Guthrie Publications and the Woody Guthrie Archives have planned an international program of events, including tours, concerts, festivals, and conferences.

Ryan Anthony Donaldson of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (ART) recently had the chance to ask Tiffany Colannino a few questions about the Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration. Tiffany is the Archivist with the Woody Guthrie Archives, currently located in Mount Kisco, New York, as well as the newly appointed ART Advocacy Chair.

ART: How did the centennial partnership between the GRAMMY Museum, Guthrie Family/Woody Guthrie Publications, and Woody Guthrie Archives come about?

TC: The centennial partnership between the GRAMMY Museum and the Woody Guthrie Archives has deep roots. For starters, we are both non-profit organizations committed to the history of American music. The Archives’ mission is to perpetuate Woody Guthrie’s life and legacy through the proactive preservation of his Archival material, whereas the GRAMMY Museum’s mission is to explore and celebrate the enduring legacies of all forms of music. Although these missions differ, with the Archives’ focus on preservation and research, and the GRAMMY Museum on public programs and activities, our two organizations can work together to use these archival documents to bring Guthrie’s life to a broad audience.

But it’s more than just our missions that link us together: Robert Santelli, Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum, is actually a former researcher at the Woody Guthrie Archives. Since 1990, Santelli has researched in the Archives in support of several Woody Guthrie book projects, including his 2012 work This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of the American Folk Song. He has maintained an active working relationship with Nora Guthrie – President of Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc and Director of the Woody Guthrie Archives – for over 20 years.

In a recent press release, Nora Guthrie comments on this partnership, remarking: “Because of its deep enthusiasm for Woody’s creative legacy as well as the underlying influence he’s had on so many musicians and songwriters in all genres of American music, the GRAMMY Museum is the obvious choice to help us celebrate the legacy that he created.”

The centennial celebrations will include concerts, conferences, and exhibits across the United States, Canada, and Europe. We’ve launched www.Woody100.com as a one-stop-shop for all of our North American events, and www.Woody100.de for our European events. In addition to the events we are planning with the GRAMMY Museum, these sites also list the Grassroots events that Guthrie fans and supporters are planning across the world, including lecture series, concerts, hootenannies, and exhibits. In addition, there are many new releases – books, films, and musical albums – including many based solely on material from the Woody Guthrie Archives, set to launch in 2012 to help celebrate Guthrie’s centennial, and perpetuate his legacy.

ART: In terms of centennial celebrations for Woody in the New York area, there will be a concert at Brooklyn College as well as a conference at Penn State University in September. What topics relating to Woody Guthrie would you like to see explored at the conference?

TC: That’s a tough question, because there are so many facets of Woody Guthrie’s life yet to be explored! However, the great thing about the academic conferences being planned for this year is that rather than focus solely on a specific aspect of Guthrie’s life, each conference will use Guthrie as the starting point to open a discussion on a broader, contemporary theme. The theme for each conference will be selected by the host institution, allowing them to decide on a topic that is of direct relevance to their local community.

The 2012 Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebrations will include four large academic conferences: Tulsa, Los Angeles, Penn State, and Brooklyn.

The Tulsa conference, Different Shades of Red: Woody Guthrie and the Oklahoma Experience at 100, used Guthrie as a stepping stone to discuss Oklahoma politics. At the University of Southern California conference, Woody Guthrie’s Los Angeles: A Centenary Celebration, we’ll talk about Los Angeles in the late 1930s, where Guthrie worked for several local radio stations and wrote for various newspapers after fleeing the Dust Bowl. Woody At 100: Woody’s Legacy to Working Men & Women, the Penn State conference in September, will use Guthrie to focus on the labor movement and unions, while the theme for the Brooklyn conference, also in September, is yet to be announced.

ART: It has been announced that the research collection of the Woody Guthrie Archives will be relocating from Mount Kisco, NY, to Woody’s home state of Oklahoma in 2013. How is the planning coming along for it?

TC: In 2013, the Woody Guthrie Archives will relocate from Mount Kisco, New York to a permanent home with the George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a native Oklahoman, this move will truly bring Guthrie’s life full circle!

The Archives will be located in a repurposed warehouse – the Tulsa Paper Company – along with other arts oriented organizations, and I have had the opportunity to walk through the building site several times. Work is already underway, and it is exciting to see the Archives’ new home come to life! I have had meetings with the building architects to review design plans and requirements, discussing the archival needs to be taken into consideration during the design phase. This relocation to Tulsa will ensure continued researcher access to the material in the collection, and the long-term preservation of over 10,000 pages of documents held in the Woody Guthrie Archives.

More information on Woody Guthrie centennial events is available online.

2012 Ellis Island Family Heritage Awardees Announced


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The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation has announced the recipients of its annual Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards, which honor distinguished Americans who trace their ancestry through Ellis Island, and the B.C. Forbes Peopling of America Award recognizing individuals who themselves immigrated to America. The Awards will be presented on April 19th at a ceremony to be held in the historic Great Hall on Ellis Island. The 2012 honorees are:

Angela Lansbury – The B.C. Forbes Peopling of America Award – Entertainment

This London-born actress, who returns to Broadway this year in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, began her ascendancy up the ranks of American entertainment ladder shortly after her family evacuated to New York City in 1940, just days before the London blitz. Her first of over 50 films, Gaslight, won her an Oscar nomination. Since then, she has been a star of film, stage and television for seven decades, garnering her five Tonys, six Golden Globes, three Oscar nominations, and over 15 Emmy nominations. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth II appointed her Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the dramatic arts. She is also a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000. Lansbury became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951.

Richard Meier – Ellis Island Family Heritage Award – The Arts/Architecture

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Richard Meier is a Pritzker Prize-winning architect who designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles. His distinct minimalist style of has garnered him 10 honorary degrees, numerous design awards as well as the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1997. He has taught at many universities including Princeton, Harvard and UCLA. With current projects underway in Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and his hometown, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the American Academy in Rome. His maternal grandfather – a leather tannery owner – Joseph Kaltenbacher, emigrated from Germany through Ellis Island in 1896.

Anthony “Tony” La Russa, Jr. – Ellis Island Family Heritage Award – Sports

Tony La Russa was born in Tampa, Florida, where his paternal grandparents had settled after arriving from Sicily thru Ellis Island in 1906. As an infielder, La Russa began his career with the Kansas City Athletics in 1963. Turning to managing in 1979, he became one of the longest tenured managers in the history of Major League Baseball. He spent 32 years at the helm of the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals, where he topped the Cards’ managerial win list with 1,408 victories. He ranks third in all-time major league wins by a manager, holding six league championships and three World Series titles, most recently with the Cardinals in 2011. A staunch advocate for animal rescue, La Russa, his wife Elaine and their daughters founded ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) in 1991, which aids homeless and abandoned animals and uses them to help people in need.

The ceremony will be hosted by journalist Meredith Vieira and will mark the 120th anniversary of the opening of Ellis Island on New Year’s Day 1892. Until it closed in 1954, Ellis would process 17 million immigrants. Forty percent of Americans today can trace their roots to an ancestor who was among them.

Throughout its 10 year history, the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards have recognized more than 40 individuals, among them Dr. Madeleine Albright, Irving Berlin, Yogi Berra, Lee Iacocca, Jerry Seinfeld, Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski, Mary Higgins Clark, General Colin Powell, Martin Scorsese, and Bruce Springsteen.

More information can be found online.

The Great Bare: The Celebrity of Adah Menken


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Adah Menken, dubbed “The Great Bare” by writer/admirer Mark Twain, was the first media celebrity, who was known around the world as “The Naked Lady” because her stage show featured her nude (in a sheer body stocking).

Her star power inspired poets like Walt Whitman and writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used Menken as the basis for the classic Sherlock Holmes supporting character of Irene Adler. Her popularity was fueled by a new advent of the period, mass circulation newspapers.

Their reporters couldn’t wait to write about her latest adventure, according to biographers Michael and Barbara Foster, who call her the originator of the modern celebrity femme fatale.

In a century remembered for Victorian restraint, Menken’s modern flair for action, scandal, and unpopular causes – especially that of the Jewish people – revolutionized show business. On stage, she was the first actress to bare all. Off stage, she originated the front-page scandal and became the world’s most highly paid actress—celebrated on Broadway, as well as in San Francisco, London, and Paris. At thirty-three, she mysteriously died.

“Menken was an original who pioneered in several areas we now take for granted,” said the Fosters, authors of the newly published A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835 – 1868 (Lyons Press, 2012). “Adah invented ‘stardom’ in the modern, media-driven sense, making use of the newly invented newspaper, the telegraph, photography, railroads and steamships to become the first global superstar — number one on Broadway, the rage of gold rush San Francisco, the toast of Victorian London and Paris. Onstage, Adah risked her life every evening in the Civil War sensation Mazeppa, in which apparently stripped naked she rode up a four-story stage mountain tied to a stallion. The mix of sexuality and danger made her the Civil War siren, the highest paid actress in the world, and caused her death at 33.”

Moreover, it wasn’t that Adah did these things to garner attention or as cheap publicity stunts. The Fosters believe that “Swimming Against the Current”–an essay she wrote in defense of Walt Whitman–was an essential part of her personality. There was nothing contrived about her.

A Dangerous Woman is the first book to tell Menken’s fascinating story. Born in New Orleans to a “kept woman of color” and to a father whose identity is debated, Menken eventually moved to the Midwest, where she became an outspoken protégé of the rabbi who founded Reform Judaism. In New York City, she became Walt Whitman’s disciple. During the Civil War she was arrested as a Confederate agent—and became America’s first pin-up superstar. Menken married and left five husbands.

Michael Foster is a historian, novelist and biographer. A Dangerous Woman is his fifth book. Barbara Foster is an associate professor of women’s studies at City University of New York.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama Planned


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Kyle Jenks, producer of Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama is a native of Albany, NY. His outdoor drama will pay homage to iconic American author Walter D. Edmonds, noted for his historically accurate novels, including the popular Drums Along the Mohawk (1936). This American classic was made into a highly successful Technicolor feature film in 1939. Directed by John Ford, it starred Hollywood legends Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Edmonds was born in 1903 in Boonville (in Oneida County, NY) and died in 1998.

The world premiere of Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama coincides with the British Brigade and Continental Line’s national Revolutionary War encampment at Gelston Castle Estate. Located at 350 Galina Lane, Mohawk, NY the estate will be home to an estimated 1,000 Revolutionary War reenactors. The theme of the weekend long festivities will be to honor the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany.

One hallmark feature of a great outdoor drama is the unique way in which the story and the site are inextricably intertwined. Historic Gelston Castle Estate is located at the epicenter of a hotbed of America’s Revolutionary War activity.

After moving to Ohio, Mr. Jenks found a concentration of outdoor historical dramas there. Once he attended a performance of Tecumseh!, in Chillicothe, OH, his vision to produce his own outdoor drama instantly materialized. According to the prestigious Institute for Outdoor Drama, outdoor dramas have the potential to make a significanhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gift impact on the local economy. Besides creating a way to increase total economic dollars to the Mohawk Valley, Mr. Jenks envisions the project to be an exciting way to connect the local citizenry with a feeling of ownership to this classic American story.

For more information about the drama, contact Kyle Jenks at 216 509 7502 or www.AmericanHeritageLivingHistoryProductions. Visit www.oriskany235th.org to learn more about the National reenactment weekend. Jenks is also offering an associated six day bicycle tour that visits the historic sites included in the plotline of the drama (See www.AmericanHeritageBicycleTours.com). Food, period sutlers (merchants), vendors and entertainers will also be present during the weekend.

Westport’s Historic Depot Theatre Looks to 2012


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The historic Depot Theatre in Westport on Lake Champlain will celebrate its 33rd year with a new managing director, a new volunteer guild and four shows for the 2012 season. The popular professional theatre company was founded in 1979 by Carol Buchanan, former President of the Westport Historical Society, which maintained stewardship over the historic Westport train station.

The Historical Society saw the potential for cultural activity in the partially renovated D & H Railroad station, and turned first to a Wednesday Night Bingo game to reach the goal. In 1985, the Depot Theatre stepped out from under the Historical Society’s umbrella to become its own separate not-for-profit entity (the theatre company turned professional in 1988 under an agreement with Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers. In 2006, the Depot Theatre also became a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for professional, non-profit theaters.

Since 1979, the Depot Theatre has produced over 170 plays in its handicap accessible, 136 seat performance space (the former D&H freight room, now fully air conditioned.) In 1995, the Depot Theatre was recognized with a Park Heritage Award from the Adirondack Council and in 2000 with an Adirondack Architectural Heritage Award which recognized major renovation and restoration work to the historical building.

Though Delaware and Hudson is no longer in operation, AMTRAK continues to service rail passengers on the Adirondack Line between NYC and Montreal. The Westport stop is a gateway to the Adirondack Park, and the train station and the Theatre have developed a unique partnership to keep this historical space maintained – the Depot Theatre serves as steward of the historical site.

The Depot has launched a national search to replace outgoing managing director Chris Casquilho who is moving to Ogden, Utah with his family to work for Weber State University.

The Board of Trustees has said it’s approaching this leadership transition as an opportunity to realign operations to focus on the Depot’s long range plan. “We’re looking for an individual who can help grow the operating budget in order to nurture our commitment to exploring new work alongside the canon of American Theatre,” explained Artistic Director Shami McCormick, whose involvement spans the organization’s history. The annual operating budget recently ranges between $300,000 and $350,000, but McCormick is says there is room and demand for growth.

“There’s something quite magical about being behind the scenes in a live theatre atmosphere,” said Kim Rielly, board trustee. “And in 2012, we plan to ramp up our Volunteer Guild, with new opportunities for community members to take a real hands-on role in the operation of our hometown Theatre, and earn some great perks to go along with it.”

The 2012 season will feature four main stage shows including a Country/Blues Love Story, a fast-paced comedy, a 1950‘s musical with classic favorites, a funny story of five full-figured women racing to meet nearly impossible production deadlines, plus a full season’s worth of mid-week and special events.

For more information, season subscriptions, tickets and a complete schedule, contact the Box Office at 518.962.4449 or visit depottheatre.org.

‘Keeping Up With the Schuylers’ Dramatic Tours


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Historic Cherry Hill and Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site present to the public, “Keeping Up With the Schuylers,” a dramatic house tour of both historic sites. It is part of the special series: Got Class? Status and Power in Early America presented by Historic Cherry Hill and Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site and funded by the New York Council for the Humanities.

The dramatic tour begins at Historic Cherry Hill in the year 1787. The public will meet the 18th century Van Rensselaer family inhabitants of the Cherry Hill home. The tour continues at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site where visitors will find the Schuyler Mansion household preparing for the approaching nuptials of General Schuyler’s son, John Bradstreet Schuyler to Catherine Van Rensselaer.

This unique dramatic tour will explore the subtleties of class within Albany’s 18th century elite. The public will be able to compare the households of two of Albany’s prominent citizens and determine for themselves what it meant to be a gentleman in the founding era of the United States. Dramatic tours will be offered to the public on Thursday October 20th at 3:00pm and 5:00pm and on Saturday, October 22nd at 9:30am, 12:00pm and 2:30pm.

The dramatic tour is a ticketed event. The cost of tickets is $12.00 per person. To purchase tickets for this event please call Historic Cherry Hill at 518-434-4791 or email mary@historiccherryhill.org.

Historic Cherry Hill, located at 523 ½ South Pearl Street in Albany, NY, is a non-profit historic house museum built in 1787 and was lived in continuously by five generations of the same family until the death of the last family member in 1963. The museum is currently undergoing a large restoration project and offers a Behind-the-Scenes Restoration tour from April through December, on Wednesday afternoons at 1, 2 and 3pm and Saturday afternoons at 2 and 3pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and college students and $2 for children between the ages of 12 and 18. An Architecture Hunt for Families is also offered on Saturdays between 1 and 2pm at the admission price of $2 for adults and $1 for children ages 6-11. Visit Historic Cherry Hill’s website at www.historiccherryhill.org for more information.

Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, located at 32 Catherine Street in Albany, NY, was once the home of Philip J. Schuyler, the renowned Revolutionary War General, US Senator and business entrepreneur. He and his wife Catharine Van Rensselaer descended from affluent and powerful Dutch families. Together they raised eight children in this home. Throughout the Schuyler family occupancy from 1763-1804, the mansion was the site of military strategizing, political hobnobbing, elegant social affairs, and an active family life. Guided tours are available mid-May through October 31st, and are offered on the hour, Wednesday through Sunday, 11:00am to 4:00pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and college students. Children under 12 are free. Visit www.schuylerfriends.org for more information about Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site.

Illustration: Schuyler Mansion.

Cayuga Museum Names Carriage House Theater


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The Cayuga Museum has announced the name of the carriage house theater currently undergoing restoration. When the theater re-opens in Spring 2012, it will be named Theater Mack in honor of the Maciulewicz family and their business, Mack Studios.

The Cayuga Museum has enjoyed a long association with Mack Studios. Casimir or Chuck Maciulewicz, founder of Mack Studios, was a long-time supporter and President of the Cayuga Museum Board of Trustees. Peter Maciulewicz, present owner and CEO of Mack Studios, has served on the Museum Board of Trustees for 12 years, and is currently President.

Mack Studios, now an internationally famed design company, has long donated all of the exhibit furniture and display work at the Cayuga Museum. Peter and Carol Maciulewicz have been the largest private donors to the carriage house restoration project. Since the Museum Board of Trustees decided to save the building in the 1990’s, the Museum has spent more close to $400,000 on rehabilitating the carriage house.

The carriage house, known for many years as the Cayuga Museum Annex, was a vital part of the cultural life of Auburn for decades. Installed through a collaboration between the Museum and the Auburn Community Players in 1941, the carriage house stage was home to plays, musicals, dance recitals, and more for more than 30 years. The company that is today the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse started in the carriage house in the 1960’s. The Cayuga Museum believes that the restored carriage house, Theater Mack, will once again become a vibrant community asset in Auburn.

“Carol and I are pleased to be able to help bring this project to fruition,” said Peter Mack. “We can remember coming to the carriage house for shows when we were kids. We are committed to seeing it brought back to life.”

Drivers on Washington Street will have noticed the vibrant exterior paint job that let passers-by know that something exciting was happening at the carriage house. The first phase of this renovation project, the restoration of the 1850 carriage doors, replacement of all 28 windows, and new stairways and exits was completed in 2010.

The Cayuga Museum will use Theater Mack for its own programming — lectures, slideshows, special events and more. The annual Theodore Case Film Festival, which has been held at both Cayuga Community College and the Auburn Public Theater, will come home to the Case property. And the Museum will rent Theater Mack to other organizations, creating revenue to support Museum operations. Theater Mack is one of the venues for the new Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival set to begin in Spring 2012.

Program to Explore Benedict Arnold Betrayal


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This Sunday, October 2, 2011, the Saratoga National Historical Park will offer a special theatrical performance called “Rendezvous with Treason: the Benedict Arnold Betrayal.” The free program will be held from 1:30 to 2:30 PM at the park, located between Rt. 4 and Rt. 32, just north of the Village of Stillwater, NY.

Benedict Arnold is perhaps one of the best-known names in early American history. A hero at the Battle of Saratoga, his later conspiracy with British Major John André to turn over defenses at West Point to the British forever branded his name with the word “traitor.”

This first-person theatrical performance, presented by educators and actors Sean Grady and Gary Petagine, will give audience members a unique view of Arnold and André and their attempt to bring down the cause of American Independence.

“Rendezvous with Treason” is sponsored by Friends of Saratoga Battlefield. For more information about this or other events, call the Visitor Center at 518-664-9821 ext. 224 or check the park website.

Illustration: a political cartoon, captioned “A Proper Family Re-Union” at the bottom. It depicts Satan welcoming Benedict Arnold and Jefferson Davis to Hell. Published in 1865.

Johnson Hall to Host Visit From Ben Franklin


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Johnson Hall State Historic Site will host “A Visit from Ben Franklin” this Saturday, September 17th at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. Paul Stillman will provide the first-person portrayal of Benjamin Franklin, including a performance on the glass armonica and presentation of scientific instruments of the period, an interest Franklin shared with Sir William Johnson.

Stillman has performed over 25 years as a first-person historical interpreter. He presents many characters to schools, libraries, museums and organizations, including Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, Civil War soldier Byron Scott and Revolutionary War soldier Thomas Stillwell. The performances feature ongoing question-and-answer opportunity to help the audience understand the vocabulary of the period. These performances, complete with visual aids, entertain and educate all ages by bringing history to life.

The presentation will be held inside the historic mansion, where seating will be limited. While there is no admission fee, donations to support the program will be appreciated. Due to this special program, there will be no guided tours of Johnson Hall on this day.

“A Visit from Ben Franklin” is made possible in part by a Decentralization grant of public funds awarded to The Friends of Johnson Hall by the New York Council on the Arts, administered by the Tri-County Arts Council.

Johnson Hall State Historic Site is located at 139 Hall Avenue in historic Johnstown, just off West State Street (State Highway 29 West). For more information on special events at Johnson Hall, visit www.friendsofjohnsonhall.org, or write darlene.rogers@oprhp.state.ny.us to be placed on the Site’s emailing list.

Olana Civil War Event: Rally ‘Round the Flag


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The 77th New York Regimental Balladeers will present a free concert of music popular during the Civil War along with letters and commentary from and about the war. The music starts at 2 PM on the East Lawn at Olana State Historic Site on Saturday, August 13, 2011. There is a $5 per car fee at the entrance to the park; bring your own blankets and chairs; the concert is from 2 – 4 PM.

The 77th New York has appeared many times at Olana, each time to an enthusiastic response. This year, their performance is part of the Sesquicentennial observances of the Civil War taking place throughout the country. The 77th New York will provide a look at the war from a musical perspective. Dressed in authentic reproductions of historic uniforms and costumes, the 77th New York provides a musical and narrative story of both sides in the painful and bloody conflict

The Civil War is of importance to Olana because of its relevance to Frederic Church, his art, and his family. While Church did not fight in the Civil War, he supported it financially; some of his greatest works, like Icebergs and Cotopaxi, were produced during this time. He and his family, like so many in this country, suffered the deaths of dear friends in the conflict. Long time friend and author Theodore Winthrop was lost in one of the first battles of the war; later friend and fellow Connecticut artist John Jameson died at the infamous Andersonville prison camp.

Currently, an exhibit, Rally ‘round the Flag: Frederic Edwin Church and the Civil War, is featured in the Evelyn and Maurice Sharp Gallery. The exhibit explores the Civil War connection to the artist and the country; it also provides a look at the paintings and a career cut short by the conflict, the works of Church’s young friend and artist, John Jamison.

Free August Music Series at Saratoga Battlefield


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The race track in Saratoga Springs may be quiet on Tuesdays, but Saratoga Battlefield will be alive with music. Friends of Saratoga Battlefield will sponsor four free lunchtime concerts at Saratoga National Historical Park’s visitor center located on Route 32 and 4 in Stillwater. Bring a lunch and listen to a different program each week: folk, classical and martial music.

August 2­ Rich Bala – Find out how waterways and canals shaped New York’s history from colonial times to the end of the 19th century on a musical tour by acclaimed folk singer Rich Bala.

August 9­ Elizabeth Huntley – How much more elegant can things get? Sublime music of the 18th century performed on the harp, sublime views of the Saratoga Battlefield from the Visitor Center lawn. Enjoy classical pieces played upon the Queen of Instruments performed by harpist Elizabeth Huntley.

August 16­ Dave Ruch – Dave Ruch presents Traditional and Historical Songs of New York. Lively presentations of songs and ditties from all corners of the Empire State. These are the songs of real-life “Yorkers” from the past – farmers, lumbermen, immigrants, children,Native Americans, canallers, lake sailors and more – collected through considerable research, and interpreted for all to enjoy with banjo, guitar, mandolin, bones, spoons and more. (This Speakers in the Humanities event is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New York State Legislature.)

August 23­ Fort Ticonderoga Fife and Drum Corps – Martial music at its best. The Fort Ticonderoga Fife and Drum Corps performs tunes that may have wafted over the landscape mingled with the gun smoke during the Battles of Saratoga.

Saratoga National Historical Park offers a variety of programs. For additional information call (518) 664-9821 ext. 224 or visit www.nps.gov/sara

Photo: Fort Ticonderoga Fife & Drum Corps (Provided).

John Brown Lives! Concert Promotes Cultural Exchange


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On Wednesday, July 20, 2011, John Brown Lives! (JBL!) is presenting “desert blues” musician, Bombino, live and in concert, at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. performance. Omara “Bombino” Moctar is a young Tuareg singer from Niger, Africa, on his first North American tour. He has received advance praise as a “guitar wizard” likened to Jimi Hendrix (KCRW), who plays “some of the most sublime guitar licks you’ll hear in 2011” (NPR).

The concert is an outgrowth of JBL!’s Dreaming of Timbuctoo Exhibition detailing a black settlement effort in the Adirondacks in the mid-1800s. It is also inaugurates the Timbuktu Sahara * Timbuctoo Adirondack Project, a cultural exchange initiative John Brown Lives! is developing to link schoolchildren and communities in the Adirondacks with a Tuareg village on the outskirts of Timbuktu, Mali. A share of proceeds from this concert will benefit the Scarab School in the desert village of Tinghassane.

The Tuareg, often called the “Blue Men of the Desert” by outsiders, are a nomadic people descended from the Berbers of North Africa. In his short life, Bombino, and many Tuareg, have endured drought, rebellion, tyranny, and exile. Fusing traditional rhythms of nomadic peoples of the Sahara and the Sahel with the drive of rock and roll and songs about peace, Bombino plays an influential role today in educating the Tuareg about the importance of the fragile democracy in Niger while maintaining their rich cultural heritage.

John Brown Lives! (JBL) is a freedom education project founded in 1999 to promote social justice through the exploration of issues, social movements and events, rooted mainly in Adirondack history, and their connection to today’s struggles for human rights.

Individual tickets are $18 in advance or $20 at the door. Children under 12 are admitted for $5. Sponsor tickets are also available at $160 for a book of 10 tickets. Tickets are available at the LPCA Box Office 518-523-2512. For sponsor tickets, please call 518-962-4758 or 518-576-9755.

For more general information, contact John Brown Lives! at mswan@capital.net or 518-962-4758. To learn more about Bombino and the Tuareg, check out these links (1, 2).