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Making the Stars Look Like Stars

While women are still poorly represented as playwrights or composers on Broadway (they fare slightly better Off and Off Off), it doesn’t mean they aren’t actively involved. It’s just that as is so often the case, they’re busting a gut behind the scenes, ensuring that the show looks as nice as possible as it goes on. In the exhibit “Curtain Call,” the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (which has to be one of the coolest places in the city, hands down) pays tribute to women who have created costumes, sets or lighting for the stage.

Of course there have been influential female designers in couture, from Coco Chanel to Rei Kawakubo and Ann Demeulemeester, but they are the trees hiding the forest because fashion is rather male-dominated, just like the world of high-end chefs. (I guess that some domestic tasks suddenly get a lot more interesting when they’re done outside the house.) Costume design, on the other hand, seems to have been somewhat friendlier to women.My two favorite classic Hollywod costume designers, for instance, are Edith Head and Irene Sharaff, and while Head was a pure product of the pictures, Sharaff got her start on Broadway. And others have followed her lead in dressing up actors: “Curtain Call” covers the contemporary likes of Theoni V. Aldredge, of course, but also goes all the way back to 19th-century designers whose names have been swallowed whole by the quicksands of time. The exhibit covers the nuts-and-bolts of the trade—the art? Discuss!—and of course displays a selection of actual costumes, like a Susan Hilferty number worn by Glinda in Wicked.

Even more intriguing perhaps is the peek into the work of set (Heidi Ettinger, Anna Louizos) and lighting (Beverly Emmons) designers, if only because those fields aren’t all that well known by the general public to begin with. (Of course if you’re going to really get into the women who make Broadway what it is, you’d need to look at general managers.)

Readers, by all means do bring your young girls along so they can see that there’s more than one way to get a career in the theater, and that their love for building stuff out of cardboard and taffeta may well pay off one day.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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