Monday, July 19, 2004

Changing Cultural Standards of Beauty

Pretty deep title, huh?

Actually, while watching a rehearsal the other day I was struck by the character of Evelyn Nesbit.

She is referred to in the show (and was regarded in her day) as "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World."

There is a picture of the real Evelyn painted on the set of "Ragtime." Here it is, albeit a little blurry:

Notice she is, well zaftig, for one thing. But also, her features just don't fit today's standards of beauty.

Yet, our Evelyn is a slender, willowy gal, much more in keeping with today's standards of beauty. here's a shot (and a much nicer one) of here:

This is a common consideration when producing shows, not just historical ones even. How do you accommodate what the reality may have been in the time the play was originally produced vs. what today's audiences can commonly accept?

Here's a different example.

Have you ever watched a play set in some foreign country where the characters are speaking in British accents? Not only that, but you've got the more upper class characters represented by clipped, veddy-veddy-upper class British accents, while the working class characters use a Cockney dialect.

Well, it's a convention that stretches the bounds of realism, but the audience can easily assimilate it, so it's a common tactic.

Another example, closer to home in this production, is the non-use of a historical accent by Sarah- a turn-of the-century Harlemite whose family was from the South. Her enunciation is excellent by 21st Century standards. If we were able to step into a time machine and listen to a similar person in her character's setting, we might have great difficulty understanding the dialect. Still, a little drawl might be a nice addition.
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