The tradition of telling theatrical anecdotes extends back in time almost as far as the theater itself. For much of its 2,500-year history, the stage has housed real characters and real stories as fascinating as any created by a dramatist. Ranging from the age of Aristophanes to the time of Tennessee Williams, this book offers a motherlode of tales about backstage rivalries, thespian eccentricity, the parsimony of producers, and indignities suffered on tour.
We encounter Judith Anderson's unique method of working herself into a frenzy for her first entrance in Medea, deliberately provoking her co-star and arch-enemy, Florence Reed. We come across Oscar Wilde's own assessment of the first performance of Lady Windermere's Fan ("The play was a great success, but the audience was a total failure"). And we learn of Shakespeare's wild oats and why Molière's grave had to be dug an extra four feet deep. These delightfully overflowing pages present David Garrick, Sarah Bernhardt, Noël Coward, Donald Wolfit, Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, Helen Hayes, and a cast of hundreds, along with directors, producers, critics, prompters, prop men, designers, and ghosts. Although the book brims with the glittering and the glamorous, Peter Hay does not neglect those legions of near-anonymous players and professionals, without whom the stars would not be stars and the theater could not exist.
Organized by topic, this richly entertaining and wonderfully edifying volume contains hundreds of tips for all theatrical professionals, directs scholars and students to a wealth of historical sources, and treats all lovers of theater to a feast of backstage secrets that will permanently enrich their appreciation of the art.
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