Press Archives: 1984 Raggedy Ann at ESIPA


Schenectady Gazette - ESIPA’s ‘84-’85 Season puts Emphasis on Development


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Two ESIPA shows will be repeat productions in the coming season.

“Raggedy Ann & Andy,” premiered last holiday season as a work-in-progress, continues its development as the 1984-85 season opener. The show, based on Johnny Gruelle’s stories of the adventurous rag dolls, has music by Joe Raposo, a new story by Tim Mason and is directed by Patricia Birch.

ESPIA Season Schedule Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts yesterday and the following performances at the Egg in 1984-65: “Raggedy Ann & Andy. A Musical." by Joe Raposo and Tim Mason, previews and performances. Sept. 22 to Oct. 5, main theater.




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A spectacular Broadway-style musical with a new book and new scenery to further develop ESIPA’s original hit show.


Schenectady Gazette


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Dec. 7-19 “Raggedy Ann and Andy.” a repeat from last season and a full scale musical based on the escapades of the storybook rag dolls, will be performed.


Schenectady Gazette - ESIPA Cast Tryouts Set


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Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts will hold auditions at 5 p.m. Monday for the role of Marcella in "Raggedy Ann," its holiday production at the Egg in Empire State Plaza.

A child actress who sings and looks no more than 12 is sought for the role. Rehearsals arc Nov. 5 to Dcc. 6 and previews and performances run Dcc. 7-20. Girls wishing to audition must call Chet Thalman at ESIPA to schedule a time.

“Raggedy Ann,” a new musical with book by William Gibson and music and lyrics by Joe Raposo, will be directed and choreographed by Patricia Birch.


Schenectady Gazette - William Gibson Puts New Meaning Into ‘Raggedy Ann' Musical


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Willlam Gibson has twice been called in to save a musical show in trouble.

The first time was in 1963 when Clifford Odets died while revising the musical adaptation of his play "Golden Boy.” The second is right now.

Gibson, best known for non-musicals such as “Two for the Seesaw” and “The Miracle Worker,” is creating a new plot for Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts’ forthcoming “Raggedy Ann.”

That title may have a familiar ring. Last season ESIPA produced the musical “Raggedy Ann and Andy” based on Johnny classic children’s stories. But the script proved unworkable and ESIPA Producing Director Patricia Snyder decided to start over.

“When Pat called me to do this, I said no,” the burly six-foot-two Gibson said. “I had said no when she asked me to write the play before the first production.”

It's not that Gibson dislikes Raggedy Ann or Pat Snyder or ESIPA, for that matter. He simply wasn't interested in the stories. “l never read them as a child. They were for girls,” he said almost belligerently.

But Gibson changed his mind upon learning that Gruelle had written the now beloved little tales for his 12-year-old daughter who was dying back in the 1920’s.

Suddenly the project took on meaning. Reflecting that “death is something you have to think about as you grow older.” Gibson became intrigued with the prospect of demonstrating to children and adults “what we can do with arts and fable while we are in the process of dying.”

Gibson looked at the stories, but decided “they're not for someone about to be 70 years old.” (Vigorous and hearty, he celebrates this milestone Nov. 13.) “I used the characters and (borrowed) the fact that Marcella, Gruelle’s daughter was dying.”

Obviously not a typical book for a musical. Gibson’s fictitious tale has Marcella and her dolls in conflict with the figure of death who comes to claim her.

“He's a six-foot rat named ‘General D’ who commands an underground army. The dolls come alive and band together to hold him off,” was all that Gibson would offer about the plot, except that it is “dreamlike and surrealistic.”

Not normally a rapid writer, Gibson finished this script in three weeks. In his previous experience writing a musical he worked even faster.

“‘Golden Boy’ was already in tryouts in Detroit when Odets died,” he recalled. “Sammy Davis, Jr. had the lead role and the show was foundering badly. The producer called, "I flew out and rewrote the entire book from the inside out in eight days.” It went on to a two-year Broadway run.

Odets was a close friend and had been the man from whom Gibson “learned everything I know about constructing a play” at the Actor's Studio in the 1950’s. Rewriting his play came easy.

“The cast performed the old script at night and rehearsed my version during the day while I kept making revisions. The hardest part for me was getting in and around the music that was already set.”

Gibson faces a similar challenge with Joe Raposo’s score retained from last year's “Raggedy Ann and Andy.” The music will be the same, with some additions, but many lyrics have been changed to fit the completely changed situation.

Creating that situation gives Willlam Gibson pleasure. He loves to write.

Gazing out of the glass-enclosed porch of his home in the Berkshire woods on a sunny fall afternoon, he reflected how one can have fun writing about anything – even sadness. Far from morbid, his altitude seems to celebrate life.

“Our experiences contain so much pain. Non-artists have to live with these painful episodes, but a writer can use them for a creative act. When you've used them, most of the time you've mastered them. You sublimate the pain.”

Asserting that death brings him to life as a writer, Gibson expressed the strong opinion that “kids shouldn't be shielded. Pets are dying. Relatives are dying all the time. We’ve got to educate kids to facts of life and death and let them learn to cope. It's there. To ignore it is stupid.”

Gibson certainly has not ignored the subject of human mortality. His most serious work, and the one of which he seems proudest, is a piece of non-fiction entitled “A Mass for the Dead.” It took years to write and Gibson says he doesn't know if he'll have the good luck to ever do anything as good.

In addition to treating death whimsically in “Raggedy Ann,” he recently wrote “Handy Dandy,” a comedy, bringing together a peace activist and a judge in a “non-sexual love story against the background of the nuclear situation.”

“That's death, too, in a way,” he admits. But Gibson feels he cannot overemphasize the subject’s importance. “After all, death has haunted mankind from time immemorial.”

While ruminating about death, Gibson keeps up a vigorous schedule. “Handy Dandy” is about to open in Boston and he spends part of each week attending rehearsals. “Raggedy Ann” is about to go into rehearsal in Albany and he’ll be at “just about every rehearsal there.”

Meantime he's frequently holed up in the little one-room studio he and a friend built alongside his Stockbridge home, revising both plays and undoubtedly working on another.

Local audiences will have an opportunity to see both of the thoughtful author's latest works. ESIPA presents “Raggedy Ann” at the Egg in Albany's Empire State Plaza Dec 7-19. “Handy Dandy” will appear April 22-26.


Schenectady Gazette - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. GIBSON


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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. GIBSON Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts Producing Director Snyder, second from left, pours champagne for playwright William Gibson at a surprise 70th birthday party. Gibson has written tho script for new version of thc musical “RaggedyAnn" opening at lhc Egg ln Albany Dcc. 9. Joining ln festivities hosted by the theatrical company arc Louls St. Louls, left, musical supervisor for 'Raggedy Ann," and Dr. Margaret Gibson, the celebrant's wife. Gazette Photo)


Schenectady Gazette - Design Team Adds Magic Touch To ESIPA ‘Raggedy Ann’ at Egg


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Gazette Reporter

ALBANY - The lighting and designers and the property man for Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts' production of "Raggedy Ann" all believe playwright William Gibson has a really devilish streak.

A bed turns into a boat, is attacked by a giant fish, later becomes a hot air balloon and is captured by a 12-foot-long black leather hand. These are just a few of the outrageous effects called for in Gibson's new version of the old Johnny Gruelle story opening Friday night at thc Egg in Empire State Plaza.

"Gibson certainty must have known that a lot of what he asked for really can't be done." smiled Richard Nelson, professional designer who is creating the lighting effects. "But we're doing them anyway and we're doing them live without trick photography"

Nelson, who lighted the recent Tony Award-winning Broadway hit "Sunday in the Park With George," is recreating the Aurora Borealis by projecting beams of colored light into clouds of slage fog, working with prop man Doug Lange in a show of fireworks and explosions that depict storms at sea and generally giving the musical show a "green and blue look that befits its scary atmosphere."

This "Raggedy Ann" is far different from the one produced last season.

The first production, said Producing Director Patricia B Snyder, was "a bit ot fluff, too light to have any meaning for youngsters.

"William Gibson has written a new fable that has all the clements of an old fashioned Grimm's tale." she explained. It's a classical story that takes the little giri Marcella and her dolls on an odyssey, like Odysseus' trip. They are searching for a way to keep Marcella. who has lost her mother, from dying of a broken heart. All kinds of obstacles get in their way"

According to Snyder, the musical play may have some scary moments, but it is not violent.

"To have impact any story has to have tension But in a million years Bill (Gibson) would not want kids to be harmed by seeing it," she said.

However, to prevent any problems with a story that might be difficult for the very young to comprehend, ESIPA recommends audiences be limited to children above third grade level.

Special effects will have a great deal to do with the impact of the show.
According to Gerry Hariton, who with wife Vicki Barel designed thc 10 different seis, no onc knew If lt would be possible to make Gibson's ideas come alive.

"If this were being done in a commercial house in New York, the sets alone could cost $1 million." Hariton sald. "But we're making it all happen with minimum expense ($15,000 has been budgeted for sets, according to Snyder). A lot of the explosions and exciting effects are really quite simple. There's one scene where the set explodes in full view of the audience. But scenery that looks like it's crashing isn't mechanical or electric. It's being moved by dancers. Most of the effect is lighting and movement."

Nelson and Hanton, both successful in commercial theater, say they are enjoying the challenge of working on a limited budget.

“We may have less money, but we have more time working here." Nelson said tn a brief break from supervising focusing hundreds of spotlights.

"In New York everything must be done as fast as possible. Rehearsals have already happened, we just move in and do our job.

Here all the people are together. There’s time to confer with the other designers, to see how things look in rehearsal, to make changes.

Nelson, whose Broadway credits include dozens of hits and who has worked in every large regional theater in the country, finds the Egg’s main theater “a delight.

“It’s so easy to do things here physically,” he commented, eyes on a ‘cherry picker’ lifting one technician high above the stage to focus a spotlight while several others moved ladders, pulled wires and called cues. “The old theaters in New York City don’t have accessibility to the lights and all this equipment.”

In addition to Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theater, Nelson has worked with top dance companies.

“That happened after I quit school. I was studying rocket engineering at a small private college when the Russians launched Sputnik. My dreams of a fantastic other world were shattered,” he recalled.

At loose ends, Nelson visited theater friends and, without previous experience, worked on lighting their show. He was lucky. That piece of work was so successful it led to a job with the Merce Cunningham dance company.

“I started really learning lighting there from Nick Cernovich, the best lighting designer in the world,” Nelson said.

After Cernovich left he stayed with Cunningham for 20 years and “a whole new world of fantasy opened up for me.”

It’s a fantasy world that Nelson and his co-designers are creating for the new “Raggedy Ann,” where dolls come to life, people sail through the air on clouds, and an evil general can see everything that happens through a magic ring as he tries to prevent a happy ending.

“This is a little girl’s nightmare,” Nelson explained. “Marcella dreams all these fantastic things. Some of it is a little shocking, but we know that all children have this happen. We want to show them that they can have fun and overcome those frightening moments.

“Joe Raposo has written music for the show that makes that point. I hope that my lights will help make them understand.” Nelson, who has a new musical called “Harrigan and Harte” opening at New York City’s Longacre theater next month, said he feels “Raggedy Ann” has potential beyond Albany.

“It surely would make a good touring show, television special, film or even a Broadway show,” he said.” “Raggedy Ann” plays Friday through Wednesday, Dec. 19. Tickets are available at the Egg box office.


Metroland Magazine


Link that B. A. Nilsson included in his own review of the show (below)

ONE OF THE PROBLEMS THAT BEFALLS writers of material for children is the tone of voice. As a youngster, I was convinced that my parents were forced to undergo a weird transformation that wiped their brains clean of any recollection of childhood’s actuality: Dad’s “When I was a boy ...” tales always had as protagonist a precocious adult.

What are the most enduring of children’s tales? It seems that stories written with adult readers in mind will best hold a child’s fancy. Robert Louis Stevenson’s books still work their magic; Penrod is a more believeable fellow than the Hardy Boys.

When ESIPA was looking at the possibility of getting its ambitious musical “Raggedy Ann” rewritten, playwright William Gibson was approached. He turned it down at first; upon learning of the background of the original stories by Johnny Gruelle, Gibson found a focus.

Gruelle invented the Raggedy Ann stories to tell his daughter, Marcella, during a time when Marcellas’s health had declined (leading to her death at age 14). Gibson “imagined the dolls coming to life to make an alliance with Marcella against death.” And so a very adult concern came to be at the center of this musical fantasy.

“It sneaks up on you,” says Ivy Austin, who is playing the title character. “The story starts by appealing to the adult in you, but before you know it, it catches the child in you, too.

“There’s a lump-in-the-throat feeling to it, as well,” says Austin, putting on a distressed face and drawing her fingers down her cheeks to mime the flow of tears.

In a world where incredible hype is shoveled at audiences in order to build the career of each talentless nine days’ wonder, Austin is a startling contrast. She is an actress who has achieved success through talent and hard work; it’s the talent that makes her success seem easily achieved.

“It wasn’t easy,” she insists. “I’ve been to the auditions – worn out shoes doing so. It’s taken me a while to get where I am.” She attended the famed High School for the Performing Arts, then “you’d think I’d go on to a college for theater, right? That’s not what happened. I went to Colgate and graduated with a biology major. It satisfied a particular need at that time. But then I came right back to New York and started in with the auditions again.”

Her face is familiar to TV viewers as the fast-talking pitchwoman for Airborne Express. “Everyone got interested in how I could talk so fast. I wound up on the Today Show to explain it. The exposure is great for my career, but it’s amazing what people are interested in. And they remember you too. Not long ago, I was in a department store eyeing a present for my mother. Too expensive to buy: I decided. The saleslady said to me, ‘Don’t worry, just do another commercial and you can afford it.”

Besides commercials, Austin’s background includes a part in the movie Grease II, working with choreographer Patricia Birch, who also is responsible for the dance in “Raggedy Ann” (marking the sixth collaboration for the two). She is a soprano with the New York City Opera and toured in “They’re Playing Our Song.” Other work in TV, theater and movies completes her resume; another recent collaboration with Birch was a rock video.

“There’s nothing terribly glamorous about the life of an actress,” she insists. “It’s the work you do that deserves the recognition. You eat, sleep, go shopping the same as anyone else; but when I’m onstage, I’m giving you a chance to live out your fantasies through me. I guess that’s why it’s important to think that everything I do is special.

“The reason a show like ‘Raggedy Ann’ is so wonderful is because of the fantasy aspect. It’s right out there in front, inviting you in for something magical and even a little sentimental. So you see, this offers me a chance to do my best work.”

Of course, what she’s doing is acting the most devious role in an actress’s repertory: that of an everyday person, trying to distract you into thinking she’s not so special. It’s a compelling performance, but she leaves you with the feeling: that something wonderful just happened, like a balmy summer day creeping into the middle of winter.

ESIPA’s production of “Raggedy Ann” also features the songs of Joe Raposo, set design by Gerry Heriton and Vicki Baral, lighting by Richard Nelson (who won a Tony award for his work on “Sunday in the Park with George”) and costumes by Carrie Robbins.

The show opens Friday evening at 8, with additional performances at 8 PM Saturday, a Sunday matinee at 2 and at 10 AM Monday through Wednesday. Tickets, priced from $4 to $9, are available at CBO outlets and at the ESIPA box office at the Egg.


New York Times - Musical About Raggedy Ann Opens at ‘The Egg’ in Albany


Link on the New York Times website.

A new play by William Gibson, a musical version of the children's stories about "Raggedy Ann" with music and lyrics by Joe Raposo, opens tonight in Albany. It will be performed in the oval-shaped theater called "The Egg" in the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza through Dec. 19.

"I regard it as a family play," Mr. Gibson said. "It appeals to kids on one level and there's another level for adults. I hope it works on both levels."

The book, based on the stories that Johnny Gruelle told to his ailing daughter Marcella, who died at the age of 14, is about dolls coming to life to make an alliance with Marcella against death.

Mr. Gibson, the 70-year-old author of "The Miracle Worker" and "Two for the Seesaw," got involved with the Albany theatrical company, the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts, when he came over from his home in Stockbridge, Mass., to watch a production of "The Miracle Worker." In addition, the Albany troupe put on a reading of one of his newer works, "Handy Dandy," a comedy about opposition to nuclear weapons that Mr. Gibson said he was deliberately keeping out of New York City because he first wanted to give it a chance around the country. He said he did hope that "Raggedy Ann" might find a place in New York.

Costs Prohibitive in New York

Mr. Raposo, who also wrote the lyrics and music for "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" and "House of Flowers," said he was in Albany because "the costs of working on a new musical in New York City are prohibitive.

"Working here allows us to see if there is merit in proceeding," he said. "A musical must have size, characters and an orchestra. Here we have time, we have actors and we have places to rehearse, all of which are difficult and expensive in New York."

The lead role of the floppy doll with moppy hair is being played by Ivy Austin, who is a graduate of the High School for the Performing Arts in New York City. Patricia B. Snyder, director of the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts, is the producer. The director is Patricia Birch, who directed "Happy End" and "Really Rosie," in New York City. The sets were designed by Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral, the costumes by Carrie Robbins and the lighting by Richard Nelson.

After tonight's opening, at 8 P.M., performances are scheduled for tomorrow at 8 P.M., Sunday at 2 P.M. and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 A.M. Tickets range from $4 (for children under 12) to $9. Information: (518) 473-3750.


Schenectady Gazette - ‘Raggedy Ann’ One of ESIPA’s Best


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It's Not a Kiddie Play -

"RAGGEDY ANN" by William Gibson. Music and lyrics by Joe Raposo. Directed and choreographed by Patricia Birch. Starring Ivy Austin. Set design by Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral. Costume design by Carrie F Robbins. Lighting design by Richard Nelson. Musical direction by Ross Allen. Produced by Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts. Performances in the Main Theater of the Egg. Empire State Plaza Performing Arts Center, today through Wednesday, 10 am.


“Raggedy Ann" is one of the most spectacularly staged, professionally directed and universally well-performed shows that Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts has mounted

Playwright William Gibson has taken characters from the classic children's stories, which author Johnny Gruelle created in the 1920's for his dying daughter, and fashioned a startling, surrealistic impression of a critically ill child's dream. The themes are death and the fear of it lurking inside every human being, and everyone's needs for friendship, love and compassion.

However. Gibson treats his material in sophisticated, metaphysical manner using the children's story only as starting ground.

Herein lies a problem.

Metaphor piles upon metaphor “General D." a sort ot combined Caplain Hook and Wizard of Oz, is the death figure hidden in the closet of the child's mind. His constant companion, a sensuous black bat, must be her dead pet “tweety bird," a lecherous werewolf - the dog, who killed the bird. A “fallen" woman who appears in the woods, clad in 1920's clothes, apparently is her runaway mother, whom the child probably remembers only from a picture. When Raggedy Ann gives up her candy heart to Marcella, the little girl, sacrificing her own claim to "real" life, is this not the transmigration of a soul?

This is adult material. It is definitely not a "kiddie play."

But public perception of "Raggedy Ann" stories is such that the mere title evokes an image of appeal to small children. ESIPA might have been better disposed to give it another title and simply attribute the source to Johnny Gruelle's "Raggedy Ann and Andy" stories.

However, misconception aside, with the wonderful musie of Sesame Street composer Joe Raposo and the inventive staging of director Birch, the production can be suitable for older children as well as adults. ESIPA has recommended it for children above third grade (9 years old). Having observed a combined audience of adults and children at the show on opening night, I feel this is fair. They will appreciate it on a different level from the adults, certainly not an uncommon experience.

As a piere of theater, "Raggedy Ann" is chock full of excellent performances, combining the skills of visiting artists from the New York theater with ESIPA regulars.

Ivy Austin, who created the red-haired rag doll in last year's version of the play, is an absolute delight. Leading the dolls in the campaign to save Marcella from the clutches of General D she dominates every scene. With vitality in every floppy inch. She makes makes "Rag Dolly" a number to remember and later joins Marcella's long-lost mother in a poignant duet "What Did I Lose?"

Austin is the catalyst in keeping Marcella's hope of recover alive and in the end saves the little girl when, after a long and treacherous journey, the troupe of dolls finally gets her to a doll doctor. It is an enchanting performance.

In wonderful ensemble performance with Austin, proceeding through an explosion, a shipwreck after attack by a giant fish, capture by the General's evil henchmen to an eventual happy ending, are Scott Schafer, an irrepressibly mischievous Raggedy Andy; Carolyn Marble Valentis, a marvelously astute thumbsucking Baby Doll, and Jeanne Vigliante, a Chinese Panda with the wisdom of Confucius. They rescue Joel Aroeste, an elderly Camel With Wrinkled Knees, from a barbed wire pen where he has been left to die and include him in their crew.

Aroeste, a talented comic performer, sings "Blue," the lament of everyone who has ever been "low-down, saggy and blue," in superb style. It's a song whose life will certainly not be limited to this show.

Tricia Brooks, a student at Shenendehowa Central School, plays Marcella, terrified to die, wanting only to return to her loving Daddy, Played with tenderness and compassion by Maclntyre Dixon.

The production does have drawbacks. There is a tendency at times for the script to have a schizophrenic nature, particularly where the characters of the the General and his companions are involved. They are very heavy-handed and not clearly defined.

While the figures of the bat and werewolf are well-played by Pamela Sousa and Tom Pletto, a Las Vegas-type dance number, sensually suggestive, seems unnecessary.

Too, characterizing Marcella's father as an alcoholic and then having him miraculously disclaim alcohol in the last scene as a too-pat treatment of a serious problem. He could have been just as depressed and discouraged with his problems of little money, ill child and runaway wife as motivation. If thc alcohol problem had not been introduced, it would not have been necessary to dispense wilh it so cavalierly.

While singing and dancing were exemplary, one whole sequence slowed down the first act and added nothing to the proceedings. When Marcella and the dolls land in pink clouds in their make-shift hot air balloon, sudden appearance of singing "stars" and tutu-clad ballerinas changes the focus from exciting adventure to glitzy movie-like musical. It was an unnecessary and tedious intrusion into the plot.

“Raggedy Ann" is a brand-new script. Such pieces invariably require reworking. The production values here are excellent. With some changes, lt should have further theatrical life.


The Berkshire Eagle - Gibson's 'Raggedy Ann'


Metroland Magazine - Ragging Annie


Link to author's website

By B. A. Nilsson

DERIVING A FULLY-STAGED musical fairy tale out of the classic stories of “Raggedy Ann” seemed like such a good idea that the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts has done it twice, the most recent attempt a revamping of last year’s unsuccessful staging.

With a new book by a different playwright – in this case, the renowned William Gibson – and a revised score and lyrics by Joe Raposo, a wholly new show has emerged, with a completely different thrust: Gibson has wisely put the idea of making this a no-holds-barred fairy tale to the forefront, and the result is a vivid dream-cum-nightmare in which dolls come to life, a bed floats and flies and a young girl undergoes a series of confrontations with problems that are literally killing her during her waking hours.

As a starting point, Gibson borrowed the real-life fact that Raggedy Ann’s creator, Johnny Gruelle, invented the stories for his sickly daughter, Marcella. It is Marcella who becomes the focus of the show; a trio of doctors cannot diagnose her malaise, and her dipsomaniacal father tries to soothe her with a rag doll, to which he affixes a heart.

Nothing more is needed to bring that doll to life, and the dream begins. Marcella (Tricia Brooks) is escorted by Raggedy Ann (Ivy Austin) and friends into a world dominated by a closet, the door of which is flung open by the mischievous Raggedy Andy (Scott Schafer) to reveal the horrible forces of General D (Paul Haggard).

The General wants Marcella for his bride, and will claim her in a few hours; during that time, she and her friends devise various ways of getting to the doll doctor, who surely can do better for her than three quacks.

Gibson’s book makes no attempt to “play down” to the younger audience this show will attract, not should it: that’s a terrible insult to deal a child. Symbolism abounds, not the least of which is the figure of the evil General D himself. The quickest interpretation of him, of course, is Death, which is supposed to claim poor Marcella at any moment; the image of marriage adds the loss of another kind of innocence to the horror. But the D can stand for Dad, too, who’s made himself inaccessible to the girl; and he also could he taken for Dullness: “You have to outwit the ordinary,” Raggedy Ann declares. “You need .a talent to live!”

What’s missing is stronger characterization of the good guys. Marcella and Raggedy Ann, really two sides of the same soul, don’t seem to operate from the kind of self-determination that makes fairy-tale heroes so attractive. The quest for the doll doctor is hardly different from Dorothy’s search in “The Wizard of Oz,” yet the latter emerges as a distinct personality.

Much of the blame for this should lie with the music and lyrics. Gibson and Raposo could have been writing two different shows: all energy seems to come to a stop when each song starts up, and the flavor of the songs is all sugar-coated catch-phrase. A song allows the author to present a quick, deft character study – as did Arlen and Harburg in “Oz” when presenting each of Dorothy’s companions. Raposo seems to be underestimating his audience, agressively tailoring his material for youngsters: the lyrics lack power words in favor of plugged-in rhymes, and the music rarely supports either lyric or mood.

Even a youngster deserves better, and got it from the likes of Arlen and Harhurg and the Sherman brothers (“Mary Poppins,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”).

The production bursts with fantastic special effects, none of which is necessary on the stage. Leave it to the movies, an industry obsessed with such things, and concentrate on the immediacy of characters. Think of Laurel and Hardy’s wonderful “Babes in Toyland,” which has the lousiest possible costumes and effects, but where your imagination fills in what’s missing.

“Raggedy Ann” is well acted, especially by Ivy Austin and Tricia Brooks; the direction and choreography, by Patricia Birch, is terrific, even when she’s working with a gratuitous chorus, which seems to serve the function of giving available talent something to do. As it stands, this musical offers a fun time at the theater, but it could do so much more if such a grand spectacle weren’t made of it. Perhaps there will be an even better third time around.


Metroland Magazine - The Horrors of Raggedy Ann


Link to author's website

By B. A. Nilsson

SIMPLY BECAUSE A PERSON is physically capable of bearing children, that person isn’t accorded a divine right to determine what’s best for a child’s welfare. You and I believed that when we were kids, smarting under yet another seemingly arbitrary ruling by our parents. But have you ever occasioned to thank them for the punishment they inflicted while promising you that someday you’d thank them for it?

During the preview week of ESIPA’s production of Raggedy Ann, a surprising controversy erupted, sparked by a combination of a parent’s hysteria and overzealous TV journalism. This snowballed into the sort of thing which, if allowed to go unchecked, could create an unnecessarily restrictive climate in the arts community. This is particularly terrible when it involves an organization dedicated to arts education, as is ESIPA.

After one of the show’s previews, a woman complained to Patricia Snyder, ESIPA’s producing director, that the musical was unfit for children. The woman then took her complaint to a local television station, which put her on camera the following night to repeat her complaint. Over a shot of the woman, Ellen Allen of Albany, at home with her children, the reporter summd it up for her: “She says there were portrayals of gruesome characters, a mother deserting her child, death and even suicide.”

No response from ESIPA was included in the clip: the reporter was told that a spokeswoman “was busy backstage with the production and could not talk to us.”

Two minutes of TV time packs more authority than a day’s worth of newspapers; rarely is TV challenged and never is TV news. There used to be a time when an informed source was so labeled: “Ed Smith, college professor,” for example. If anyone were to speak on the subject of Raggedy Ann and its effect on children, I would prefer someone acknowledged as an authority in that field; for example, Bruno Bettelhelm, child psychologist.

And address that subject Bettelhelm did, in his book The Uses of Enchantment (Random House, 1975). He argues that through fairy tales, a child is enabled to come to terms with a problem that dogs us all: the workings of the unconscious. “However, the prevalent parental belief is that a child must be diverted from what troubles him most: his formless, nameless anxieties and her chaotic, angry, and even violent fantasies. Many parents believe that only conscious reality or pleasant and wish-fulfilling images should be presented to the child – that he should be exposed only to the sunny side of things. But such one-sided fare nourishes the mind only in a one-sided way, and real life is not all sunny.”

In Raggedy Ann, playwright William Gibson has tackled the most elusive of subjects: death and dying. Literally, the show is a dream; at times it’s a nightmare, and thus frightening. But I suspect that it’s the parents who are frightened the most: only as adults do we begin to fear death and repeatedly witness its reality. A child’s conception of it is different, much simpler, And who said being frightened is such a terrible thing? All of the best stories offer tension: it makes the release more satisfying. The same goes for music and for sex.

What’s really frightening is that this hysteria was taken up by such supposedly responsible people as David Brown, superintendent of Albany schools, and Nancy Sartore, director of instructional services at the Rennselaer-Columbia-Greene County BOCES. Brown canceled the Albany public schools’ reservations for the show. Sartore was quoted as saying that “the themes of alcoholism, suicide and murder were not appropriate for children.” Non-school audiences, however, did not diminish, according to an ESIPA spokesman.

Should either of the two education officials crack the volumes of Grimm or Andersen – which, it is hoped, their children own and which, in fact, the parents should be reading aloud – they’ll be in for some shocks. Horrible happenings abound.

The gut reaction of wishing to protect your kid from adversity is not to be sneered at, but to carry it into a field of literature that achieves a valuable psychological function is damaging. Bettelheim’s argument is a good one, and should be considered before reacting to works like Raggedy Ann on purely a gut level.


Schenectady Gazette - Blockbuster Shows Were Scarce Among Area Theatrical Offerings


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But Attendance Was High—

Blockbuster Shows Were Scarce Among Area Theatrical Offerings


Gazette Reporter

Where have all the great shows gone? Wherever they may be they certainly were not in the Capital District during 1984.

Out of almost 100 theatrical productions reviewed, a mere handful stand out as worthy of a second glance.

But despite the absence of any real “blockbuster" entertainment, there were enough good ones in that handful to keep a reviewer from giving up this line of work. In addition, audiences seemed to like what was offered...

...The best of the rest were musicals.

On the professional side, a weeklong engagement of "Camelot" and a redhot and bluesy “Sophisticated Ladies" both at Proctor's, and the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts’ controversial "Raggedy Ann" were high-powered professional shows with lots of entertainment value.

Albany Civic Theater's "Man of La Mancha," Schenectady Light Opera's "Annie," and Russell Sage College's "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" also made their musical marks on the community and college scene.

Probably the most talked about theatrical production this year was ESIPA'S "Raggedy Ann." It is a new work by William Gibson, with music by Sesame Street's Joe Raposo. Mistakenly assumed to be a children s play by most potential audience members. "Raggedy" came in for a lot of pre-show criticism. Another flawed script, but one given spectacular treatment, it is one of several well-produced shows presented by this year, that should have appeal for older children and adults. Among them were the expertly-staged Agatha Christie classic "Ten Little Indians," Arthur Miller's "Thc Crucible" and Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House."...

AFLOAT AT THE EGG - Empire Stale Institute for the Performing Arts presented a new musical "Raggedy Ann" at the Egg early this month. Floating in a makeshift boat in the spectacularly staged musical are Ivy Austin, right, as the Raggedy Ann, and Tricia Brooks as Marcella, the real little girl.

- (Photo by Timothy Raab)


Schenectady Gazette - Moscow Troupe to Perform- ESIPA Plans Exchange With Soviets


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Schenectady Gazette - Bettelhiem Calls Fairy Tales Factor In Child's Dealing With Anxiety


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Gazette Reporter

ALBANY - Fairy tales are the medium through which children learn to with their anxieties and overcome them, says psycologist and author Dr. Bruno Betelheim.

Before an audience of 500 in the main theater of the Egg this past weekend, the Viennese native who escaped from a concentration camp to become one of tho world's foremost child psychologists, spoke approvingly of parents who read or tell children fairy tales or take them to dramatized versions of those that have stood the test of time.

But he was most adamant in his condemnation of unsupervised and unrestricted television as a detrimental influence on a childs psyche.

Betelheim's talk on "The Child's Understanding and Uses of Fantasy" was co-spon-sored by the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts and Albany State University where the 82-year-old educator received an honorary degree at commencement exercises Sunday.

Betelheim, whose 1975 book “The Uses of Enchantment The Meaning und Importance of Fairy Tales" won the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, had high praise for the work of ESIPA, an organization whose work he first encountered last December when a local controversy arose over its production of playwright William Gibson's new play ‘Raggedy Ann."

The play, dealing with death and dying, was accused of creating anxiety in children and caused violent reaction among some parents and school groups. Conceding that he had not seen lhe play, but had read it and conferred with Gibson, Betelheim was critical of those reactions.

He stated that all children have nightmares. Fairy Tales (such as this) create "manageable anxiety."

"We cannot go through life without anxieties," Betelheim continued. "Parents want to protect children, but the role of fear im imagination is a cathartic one. One of thc most constructive experiences children can have is to find out (their) anxieties are not justified."

But it is important that parents discuss stories and plays with children. Betelheim believes they must be encouraged to develope their imaginations and react to what they see and hear.

This is his quarrel with television.

"A child cannot take time to ask questions or digest the problem. The passivity television promotes in kids is a more serious impediment to their lives than what goes on on the screen." Betelheim believes adding that most parents too often do not supervise their child's television viewing.

"It is different when a child sees a play," he elaborated in a post-lecture interview. "He knows that these are human beings, not images, and he will later act out what he has seen."

Praising ESIPA for encouraging and cultivating children's imaginations through the type of theatrical programming it produces, Betelheim quoted a favorite essay which states " 'happiness is all in imagination. What we perform later in life is inferior to what we imagine' I would much have children run the risk of using imagination for escape than not have them use it all"

Betelheim pointed out imagination is like any other powerful force. It can be used for good or evil. For example, just because medicine can be used to bad advantage doesn't mean we shouldn't use it.

Stating that "in these days of war and threat of nuclear holocaust, nothing is more important or therapeutic than instilling hope to children," he assured the audience the best way to accomplish this is by the use of fantasy and imagination.

Citing hts own experience as survivor of the Nazi holocaust. Betelheim said, slowly in his soft German accent, "on concentration camps only imagination sustained hope. Those without it perished."


Resident Legit Reviews - Raggedy Ann


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