STEP RIGHT UP AND MEET
JOHN CULLUM IS THE INTERLOCUTOR
INTERLOCUTOR: The Interlocutor served as the Master of Ceremonies for the traditional minstrel show. Typically played by a white man, the interlocutor conducted the proceedings, often portraying the fictionalized persona of a genteel southern plantation owner.
Minstrelsy is a uniquely American art form, built on racial stereotypes and blind bigotry. In the 1930’s, when the Scottsboro trials took place, the minstrel show was considered mainstream entertainment, especially in the south. The musical “The Scottsboro Boys” uses the free-for-all atmosphere of the minstrel show to provide a fitting backdrop for the racially charged media and legal circuses that surrounded the real Scottsboro Boys trials. The American Historical Review wrote that the rhetoric of the Scottsboro case was “deeply entrenched in the racial stereotypes derived from the legacy of minstrelsy in American culture.”
For nearly 100 years, the minstrel show was one of America’s most popular forms of entertainment. It emerged in the 1840s, reaching the peak of popularity around the Civil War. It was one of the primary sources for popular music, introducing such songs as “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” Over the years, the form evolved, adapting to local traditions, geography and prevailing tastes. Traditionally, the minstrel parade announced the arrival of the troupe in town. Often, the players performed on the steps of the theater in order to gather a crowd. The troupe then led the audience into the theater. The players arranged their chairs in a semi-circle and the interlocutor began the action by grandly announcing, “Gentlemen, be seated!” The interlocutor called on the performers to tell their stories and sing their songs. The evening culminated in a grand production number – often the cakewalk.
By mid-century, the Minstrel shows became a relic of the past, a reminder of the anguish and racism that inspired the American civil rights movement.
JOHN CULLUM Tony Awards: On the Twentieth Century and Shenandoah. Tony nominations: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Urinetown, 110 in the Shade. Drama Desk nomination: Sin . Broadway: Camelot, 1776, Doubles, All My Sons, Old Money, Burton’s Hamlet (Laertes), The Boys in Autumn, The Trip Back Down, Man of La Mancha, Show Boat, August: Osage County. Television: “Northern Exposure” (Holling, the bartender), “ER” (Mark Greene’s father), “Law & Order: SVU” (Attorney Moredock). Film: Night Listener, Bettie Page, Secret Life of Algernon, 1776, Sweet Charity, Marie, All the Way Home and Hawaii.
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS begins performances October 7 and opens October 31 at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street).
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