10 Trailblazing Women
In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, Silhouette Stages is proud to highlight a few of the countless women who have been trailblazers in the American Theater. These women helped shape our imagination and establish the ways we do theater today. We remember them for their skill and tenacity, and how their work has continued to make us laugh, sing, think, and consider. From acting, writing, producing, and teaching, women have always been an integral part of theatre history.
Cheryl Crawford - Teacher & Producer
Cheryl Crawford was an American theatre producer and director. In 1931, she helped found the Group Theater in New York City, where she trained a group of young actors and helped select and produce the group’s plays.
The Group helped establish the theory known as “method acting,” which is still respected and observed today. They also helped many actors, directors, and playwrights make their start, including actor Lee J. Cobb, actress and acting teacher Stella Adler, and playwright Lee Strasberg.
In 1947, Cheryl founded The Actor’s Studio, which provided training for actors. The Actor’s Studio is still active today, and is a renowned group that has trained many of America’s most respected actors, including Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino, Jane Fonda, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, and many more.
Cheryl was inducted to the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1979.
Willa Kim - Costume Designer
Willa Kim was the first Asian American to win a Tony Award. She won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Costume Design in a Musical for Sophisticated Ladies. She earned a second Tony for Best Costume Design for The Will Rogers Follies. She received an additional four Tony Award nominations and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design twice.
Kim designed costumes for the American Ballet Theatre as well as other dance companies, including more than 50 works for Eliot Feld.
In 2005 she received the Distinguished Achievement Award for Costume Design from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology and in 2007 Kim was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, making her one of only a handful of costume designers so honored. Kim lived until the age of 99.
Her works included; Bosoms and Neglect, Sophisticated Ladies, Grease, Victor/ Victoria, Tommy Tune Tonite!, The Will Rogers Follies, Legs Diamond, Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Music Man, & Call Me Madam.
Margo Jones - Director & Producer
Nicknamed the "Texas Tornado", Jones was best known for launching the American regional theater movement and for introducing the theater-in-the-round concept in Dallas, Texas. In 1947, she established the first regional professional company when she opened Theatre '47 in Dallas. Of the 85 plays Jones staged during her career, 57 were new, and one-third of those new plays had a continued life on stage, television, and radio.
Jones played an important role in the early careers of a range of playwrights, such as Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Joseph Hayes, Jerome Lawrence, and Robert Lee
Julie Taymor - Director & Designer
In 1998, Julie Taymor is known for a distinct visual style, with extensive use of puppets and masks, developed largely from her time in Indonesia working with Teatr Loh. Taymor is most widely recognized for her production of The Lion King, which opened on Broadway in 1997. Taymor won Tony Awards for Best Director and Costume Designer for The Lion King giving her the distinction of being the first woman to receive the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical. She also received a Tony Award for her original costume designs for the production. Taymor co-designed the masks and puppets, and wrote additional lyrics for the show. Prior to The Lion King, Taylor worked on several other projects, including The Haggadah at The Public Theater, and several shows with Theatre For a New Audience, including A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, Titus Andronicus and The Green Bird by Gozzi.
Stella Adler - Actress & Acting Teacher
Stella Adler was best known as the founder of the renowned Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City. Throughout the 30s and 40s, Adler acted on Broadway, studied under Konstantin Stanislavski, and worked alongside Sanford Meisner, Elia Kazan, and others with The Group Theatre.
In 1949, Adler founded Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and went on to teach some of the greatest actors of all time, including Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Dolores del Río, Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch, Martin Sheen, Manu Tupou, Harvey Keitel, Melanie Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich, Warren Beatty and more.
Lynn Nottage - Playwright
Playwright and screenwriter Lynn Nottage is the first -and currently the only- woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice, the first being in 2009 for her play Ruined (the second was in 2017 for Sweat). One of Nottage's best-known plays, Intimate Apparel, had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2004. The play received the 2004 AUDELCO Viv Award for Playwriting, and is now one of the most produced plays in the country. Ruined, in addition to the Pulitzer Prize, won the 2009 AUDELCO Viv Award for Dramatic Production of the Year. In 2009, Lynn Nottage spoke at the United Nations as part of the Exhibit CONGO/WOMEN Portraits of War: The Democratic Republic of Congo.
Knottage's work often focuses on the experience of working-class people, particularly working-class people who are Black.
Nottage is the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship and was included in Time magazine's 2019 list of the 100 Most Influential People. She is currently an associate professor of playwriting at Columbia University and an artist-in-residence at the Park Avenue Armory.
Agnes De Mille - Choreographer
Agnes De Mille changed the role that dance played in musical theatre, having choreographed the dream ballet in Oklahoma! on Broadway in 1943, Bloomer Girl in 1944, Carousel in 1945, Allegro in 1947 (she was the director as well as choreographer), Brigadoon in 1947, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949.
De Mille was born in New York City into a well-connected family of theater professionals. Her father William C. DeMille and her uncle Cecil B. DeMille were both Hollywood directors. She had a love for acting and originally wanted to be an actress, but was told that she was "not pretty enough", so she turned her attention to dance. She did not seriously consider dancing as a career until after she graduated from college.
Agnes De Mille was the first co-winner of the inaugural Tony Award for Best Choreography for her work on Brigadoon.
Ethel Merman - Actress
Actress Ethel Merman is fondly referred to as the “First Lady of Musical Comedy.” Known for her powerful voice, Merman captivated her audiences for decades. Merman is most remembered for her performances in Anything Goes (1936), Annie Get Your Gun (1946), Gypsy (1959), and Hello, Dolly! (1964).
One fun fact about Ethel Merman is that she began her acting career before microphones were widely used on stage. Most musical theater actors had to get voice lessons to learn how to project for the audience. However, Ethel’s voice could always be heard loud and clear, despite never receiving lessons.
Theatre critic Brooks Atkinson said of Ethel that “she makes a song seem like a spontaneous expression of her personality, which may be regarded as the ultimate skill in the art of singing songs.”
Among many awards and accolades, Merman received:
Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical - Call Me Madam
Grammy Award -Gypsy
Drama Desk Award - Hello, Dolly!