Greetings, Arts Alive patrons! My name is Chris Thoren, and I’ll be the next to inherit the reins of dramaturgical blogging as our upcoming production of A Streetcar Named Desire gets underway.
Tennessee Williams in Louisiana
In 1947, established playwright Tennessee Williams was living in the French Quarter of New Orleans. “In New Orleans,” Williams said, “I found the kind of freedom I had always needed. And the shock of it against the Puritanism of my nature has always given me a subject, a theme, which I’ve probably never ceased exploiting.” The result was A Streetcar Named Desire. The play would go on to experience many revivals after director Elia Kazan’s famous Broadway premiere, including Kazan’s iconic Academy Award-Winning film version starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Critically acclaimed as a powerhouse of American theatre, Streetcar is set in 1947, in the hot and humid “City that Care Forgot:” New Orleans, Louisiana.
As of 1947, America has (for the most part) pulled itself out of the Great Depression. World War II has ended, and soldiers have returned home as national heroes. During the war, women experienced a new position in society. With so many of the country’s male work force fighting in the war, women took up manufacturing and factory positions to keep up with wartime production demands. They became paid workers rather than homemakers. After the war, when the men returned to their jobs, the economy experienced a dip as the nation transitioned from a wartime to a peacetime economy. Women were forced to return to their more submissive roles as housewives and homemakers after handling traditionally male societal roles.
Despite earning their freedom from slavery and technical legal citizenship, African Americans continued to face racism and segregation in the South. Jim Crow laws, along with the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling (separate but equal), kept African Americans from thriving or even living comfortably. Starting in the 1910s, many began to move North where there were more jobs and less discrimination. New Orleans, with its cultural freedoms, jazz roots, and sense of community seems immune to the harsh rules of the Old South. Williams makes this clear in the opening of the play, when a white and black woman open the play speaking as neighbors and friends. Blanche, with her caustic remarks about class, sexuality, race, and ethnicity, is typically seen as a representation of Old South ideals. Williams makes this clash a central theme of the play.
New Orleans was a unique place with its very own life and spirit. This was expressed through the music of the time–jazz. Known universally as the birthplace of jazz music at a time when the whole country was in the throes of big band and swing, culture was booming in New Orleans in the 1940s.
Buddy Bolden with his band – 1905
Influential jazz musicians include Buddy Bolden (pictured left with his band), Jelly Roll Martin, Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and more.
Check out this A Streetcar Named Desire Pandora station I made for the world of the play. Featuring the musical stylings of prominent jazz musicians and those inspired by them, this is a chance for you, the reader, to get a feel for the world the actors are living in. Create an account (its free) and settle in for some great jazz.
I’m excited to take this adventure with the cast, and even more excited to bring you loving readers along for the ride!