Taming the Paper TIger: Reliving Moments of Live Culture


24 May
24May

I confess that I am somewhat of a culture hound. I remember the first time I ever saw a Broadway play, “My Fair Lady.” It was 1962, near the end of its long run. Although Julie Andrews had left the show years ago, it was still magical. I was hooked. Musicals, modern drama, Shakespeare, comedies, improv, I loved it all.

During the current pandemic, I have a new appreciation for all of the cultural experiences I’ve had over the decades. There’s nothing like seeing a play, hearing live music, or visiting a museum. The online versions just don’t cut it for me. With the prospect of doing any of these things far in the future, I decided it was time to delve into my archives of programs collected from events I’ve attended and perhaps relive some of them, at least in my mind. I always marvel when I see a theater patron cavalierly toss their programs into the recycle bin after leaving a performance. Programs, even uninformative ones, are the only concrete vestiges we have of those singularly special events.

My programs, organized by approximate year, stretched over two deep file drawers. With each year, I add a few more inches worth. Several years ago, I began to tackle this project in spurts.

First, I created an entertainment spreadsheet as follows: year, month, event title, organization sponsored, location, and any other tidbits worth noting, such as appearances by well known actors. I was particularly taken with the opportunity to see someone whose work I knew only from film or TV.

In the first iteration of this project, my goal was to record this key information and then toss the actual program and any ticket stub. But I found that difficult. So, I decided to keep selected whole programs or just their covers and throw away the rest, particularly those without visually interesting covers.

When I returned to the program drawers recently, I found that I hadn’t been particularly discriminating in what I’d kept, and the drawers were still full. Most programs contain a lot of chaff—articles not related to the play, ads, patron lists, upcoming productions. My husband told me that his strategy was to keep the covers and the cast lists. After recording the event on my spreadsheet, I settled on a variation of that theme as follows:

  • For plays and operas: cover, cast list, cast member descriptions if actors/musicians were well-known, and back matter if pertinent.
  • For classical and dance concerts: pieces performed and key players.
  • For music festivals, schedules showing who played and any interesting back matter.
  • For art exhibits and folk/popular music concerts, keep the whole program if thin.

This approach results in a vastly reduced quantity of paper, and I could perform the needed actions while watching television. A decade’s worth of these reduced programs can be filed in one expanded folder. I’ve made it through the 1990s.

I know that one day most of my collection will need to be tossed. I’ll still have my spreadsheet to remind me the richness of my cultural past. I could skip the intermediary step and just throw away the programs now, saving myself a lot of time. Maybe when I can once again smell the greasepaint and hear the roar of the crowd, I’ll find that task easier. Right now, I want tangible evidence of that part of my life that’s important to me and that I can’t indulge in for the time being. What’s a few inches of drawer space?

But you can be sure that whatever I throw away in the future, I’ll always keep my copy of the program from the very first time I saw “My Fair Lady,” which was even more special than the time I saw it in the 1980s with Rex Harrison in his original role.

Here are a few memorable events from my program collection:

1970s: “Fiddler on the Roof” with Zero Mostel, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with Judith Jamison, Lily Tomlin, “Golda” with Anne Bancroft, “Tribute” with Jack Lemmon, “The Gin Game” with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, “Macbeth” with Albert Finney, “The Kingfisher” with Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert, Andre Segovia, “The Belle of Amherst” with Julie Harris,

1980s: Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party”, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 100th Anniversary concert with Seiji Ozawa conducting, Julian Bream, Pablo Picasso retrospective at the MOMA in NYC, Tanglewood concerts on the lawn, “Sweeney Todd” with Angela Lansbury, Edward Hopper at the Whitney, “’Night, Mother” with Kathy Bates,  “Another Country” with Daniel Day Lewis, “Don Quixote” with Rudolph Nureyev, “Master Harold and the Boys” with James Earl Jones, “A Prairie Home Companion,” “Mother Courage” and Her Children with Linda Hunt, “The King and I” with Yul Brenner, the Everly Brothers, “Camelot” with Richard Harris, “An Evening with Tom Rush at the Club 47” (with Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, and Livingston Taylor), “Follies” with Diana Rigg, David Hockney at the Tate, “Sweet Sue" with Mary Tyler Moore and Lynn Redgrave, Sarah Vaughn at Great Woods, “Lettice and Lovage” with Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave.

1990s: “Le Cirque Invisible” with Victoria Chaplin, Walking Tour of the Jewish East End in London, “Together Again” with Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar, Henri Matisse at the MOMA, Mark Morris Dance Troup, “Sunset Boulevard” with Elaine Page, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” with Chita Rivera, the Capitol Steps, Allison Kraus with Union Station, “A Raisin in the Sun” with Esther Rolle, several plays by August Wilson at the Huntington, “Twilight Los Angeles” by/with Anna Deveare Smith, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” with Diana Rigg, Gauguin at the MFA, Blue Man Group, “An Evening with Langston and Martin” with Danny Glover and Felix Justice, Club Passim’s 40th Anniversary Concert, the Lowell Folk Festival.

And more to come! I still have the 2000's and the 2010's!

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