USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘acting’
Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gypsy Robe

“I use to do community theater at this place called Starstruck. Theater people are just weird in general and we love weird traditions and culty kind of stuff, anything that nobody else might know about is great. A gypsy robe is a tradition with this theater company that you work on the show, you work really hard, and then everybody votes on who gets the gypsy robe. If you’re new, maybe somebody might tell you what it means, but probably not. You just have to figure it out when it happens. So we all load into the theater and it’s opening night and we all go to the stage to warm up. We do a group warmup: singing, dancing, weird theater shit. And then it comes the part when it gets really emotional and the director gives a speech like “You guys have done such a great job, we’re so ready, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be sold out.” Stuff like that; weepy weepy, cute, inspirational stuff. Whatever. So all that happens and its right before they let all the people in the house. The house is all the audience seats. We’re all on the stage and they can’t let the audience in until we get off. So then the director, as though she has a secret to tell, ‘Ok so some of you may know about this and some of you don’t know yet…’ I’ve been in their children’s shows and professional shows but when I first got introduced to it I was in high school so it was a really big deal. She points backstage and the stage manager would go and get this robe. It says ‘gypsy robe’ on the lapel and has trinkets on it from every show they’ve ever done. Well since they started the gypsy robe anyways. The trinket is embroidered onto the robe with the show name and attached is a prop, or a piece of the set or a piece of costume. It supposed to have something to do with the show but sometimes the things are random and then it’s like an inside joke and therefore even cooler, but doesn’t make sense. *laughs* So then the director takes a full sweep around the circle, showing off the robe, talking about the robe, saying what it means and gives the background, and says ‘One person has stood out and we all voted and came to the conclusion that _____(name)___ deserves the gypsy robe!’ She would then meaningful walk over the gypsy robe to the winner. It’s always a person who doesn’t have a really big role. It’s probably someone whose done a lot of shows with them already, put in your dues kind of shpeal, and you probably deserved a way better role than you got, but you stayed with the show and were in ensemble and didn’t really complain about it. It’s a prize but it’s pretty political now that I think about it. You’ve got the gypsy robe, you’re basically like MVP of the show/ Miss Congeniality of the show. So they put the robe on you and you’re so excited and then someone starts the gypsy robe song. I think it’s a real song but they put different words to it. “Cotton candy, sweet n low, let me touch your gypsy robe.” I can’t remember the rest of the song but, everyone is clapping, and stomping, dancing around the circle. The winner starts from their spot and run/dance around the whole circle. Everyone is supposed to touch you, like a pat on the back but some people use this as an opportunity to get weird. The winner makes it back to their spot and everyone is still singing and dancing. It’s like a dance party and then everyone cheers for the winner. The winner is suppose to wear the robe every night of the show, as they’re getting ready, before the show, every show. ”

Did you ever win the gypsy robe?

“I didn’t. I was ‘supposed’ to get it for Grease but then I didn’t. It was ok though, I liked the girl who got it. I was supposed to get it though so it was shit. It was extra political that year. Her mom was the costume designer.”

Have you heard of other theater groups doing this?

“I think they stole this idea from somebody else because I was with this performing arts center since 6th grade and they didn’t start it until 9th grade. ”

Even though you never technically won it, would you say this made it more fun and added to your experience?

“Mmm. Ehh. It was just kind of like a thing we did. It was just a nice thing we did on opening night. It’s nice to have tradition but it wasn’t an end all be all.”

I did some reserach and discovered the ‘gypsy robes’ are commonly given out in Broadway Musicals and goes back to the 1950’s. The ‘gypsy’ comes from “their continuous travel from job to job in show after show.” Some robes from popular musicals have even been housed in museums.

I thought it was interesting that she didn’t identify too personally with the tradition even though she was a member of this troupe for several years. It is most likely because she was snubbed and did not receive the award.

Game
Humor

Ghost Potato

Click Here for Audio file of Interview

“So, Ghost Potato is a game, that was passed on to me, uh when I lived in England, by a colleague. And I don’t know where he got it from, whether it’s an ancient game, I am uncertain about that. But in Ghost Potato, a large group of people are divided up into two possible roles: one is Ghost, and the other is Potato. Uhh, the game is then played blindfolded or with closed eyes. Nobody can see anything. And uh, the participants wander around a-a confined space. When they bump into each other, they must gently whisper their identity to one another. So for example, someone would bump into someone and then they’d just go ghost, or like that, or potentially potato. Now, and then the rules of the game state that if a ghost meets a ghost and they, exchange identities, then nothing happens. And if a potato meets a potato, then, nothing happens. But if a ghost should meet a potato, then the potato DIES! That is the rule of the game. And then all dead potatoes move to the side of the room, next to the sensei or referee who’s looking, who’s looking after the whole thing, and um, and then when potatoes, dead potatoes see live potatoes in danger of being caught by ghosts, they are encouraged to make the following sound: oohwoahohoh. Like that, thus warning the still living potatoes, or tubers, uh that they are um, potentially about to be caught. That’s ghost potato.”

“Well, I understand, all walks of life can attempt Ghost Potato, but it is a little dangerous. So I prefer to reserve it for, um, sophisticated, uh, actors, who understand, the dangers of, of the imagination. And uh, I think in my time only one or two people have tipped over the edge and, and sort of lost themselves in the spiritual abyss that awaits them, at the vortex which is Ghost Potato.”

 

This game allows the players to really have fun, and prevent them from taking themselves too seriously. The rules are extremely simple, and its very funny when Actors, many of whom try to come off as serious artists play something that was probably designed for kindergartners. Its also like a practical joke on the players, because the source, who moderates this game with his students, gets to watch a group of adults wander around a room, bump into each other and whisper.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Old age
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Theater Occupational Stereotype: Old Actress Versus Young Actress

Interview Extraction

Informant: “And then the last story is supposedly from Tallulah Bankhead who was in a play with a fairly snippy young actress who was basically telling her that she was old and irrelevant and that the world belonged to the young. At to which Mrs. Bankhead replied: ‘Honey, I can out act you and not even be on the stage.’ And the next night, in one of the scenes there was a party scene and prior to Mrs. Bankhead’s exit she was blocked* to put down a champagne glass on an end table as she exited. And she put her glass down and she set her glass so that it was like this, slightly more than half off the table and then she made her exit. And over the course of the scene the audience became aware miraculously balancing glass on the edge of the table and everyone was wondering when it would fall, and murmurs and rustlings were going through the audience. And then at the end of the scene when the stage crew struck* the glass they discovered a little piece of toupee tape under one edge of it to keep it from falling over.”

Analysis:

My informant’s story reflects an unfortunate custom that is prevalent in Hollywood, which is that the entertainment industry discriminates against people of an older age.  An aspect of the entertainment industry is escapism, and there is a desire to create a beautiful world in their films in which the audience can escape into and forget the troubles in their lives momentarily.  In the entertainment industry’s desire to do this, there has been too much emphasis put on young beauty and the sensuality that comes with it.  Therefore in this drive to create sensuality in films, older actors often have a harder time getting casted for production roles.  This has created a stereotype that older actors are not as important as their younger colleagues.

My informant heard this story from one of his colleagues at USC.  The popularity of this story suggests that the audience of this tale is revolting against the idea that only young actors are good actors.  This change in values of the entertainment industry can be seen in the currently popularity of actress Betty White who is 90 years old.  People today do not respond as well to the idea of a sensual Hollywood than they had in the past, which is part of a shift in cultural values that rejects the notion that beauty is only skin deep.  Thus the custom of shunning older actors is an idea that is currently changing, which reflects a more accepting Hollywood when it comes to age.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Blocked: The past tense of a term used in theater which means that an action has been planned.  When an actor moves on stage, their actions have been rehearsed prior to the performance and planned or ‘blocked’ in rehearsal.

*Stuck: The past tense of a term used in theater which means that a prop or object is being removed from stage.  At the end of every performance or during intermission, stage hands remove or ‘strike’ props or furniture that has been left on stage in preparation for the next performance.

 

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