West Side Story Table of Contents
Performance Policies and Procedures
Audience Role and Responsibility
One-Minute Etiquette Reminder
Dramatic Criticism: Why We Go to Theatre
Understanding Technical and Dramatic Elements
About West Side Story
About the Creators
The Creation of West Side Story
How I Wrote That Story: Librettist Arthur Laurents
Some Thoughts About West Side Story from the Director
A Note on Puerto Rico
Youth Violence, Then and Now
Arthur Miller Meets the Gang
Dramaturgical research prepared by Pat Pederson, Education Associate.
Syracuse Stage 2002/2003 Education Partner
PERFORMANCE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES WHEN TO ARRIVE AT THE THEATRE: We recommend you arrive at the theatre at least 30 minutes prior to the performance to allow time for seating. This is a professional theatre production and will start at the scheduled time. Student matinees begin promptly at 10:30 am. BUS DROP OFF AND PARKING: Busses not staying may load and unload at the Centro bus stop on East Genesee Street. Bus parking is available along East Genesee Street at the bagged meters. Cars must make arrangements in parking facilities as they will be ticketed if parked at the bagged meters. SEAT ASSIGNMENTS: As each seat at Syracuse Stage is reserved and performances are often standing room only, students must sit in their assigned seats. For reasons of convenience, efficiency, and courtesy, we request that students do not trade seats. Regardless of the number in your block of seats, we request that this rule is respected. We ask that chaperons and teachers do not sit together but sit evenly distributed throughout the students. LATECOMERS: Latecomers will be seated at the discretion of the Management. There is no late seating below Row F. BACKPACKS, CAMERAS, WALKMANS AND FOOD: Backpacks, cameras and tape recorders (including Walkmans) are strictly prohibited in the theatre, as is food of any kind. As we do not have storage facilities for these items at Syracuse Stage, we ask that you leave them at school or on the bus. PHOTOGRAPHY: Cameras (flash or otherwise) are strictly prohibited in the theatre. Union rules do not allow the taking of pictures during a production and flash cameras are a distraction to both the acting company and audience. Any camera used in the theatre will be removed for the duration of the performance. FOOD, DRINK AND GUM: Absolutely no food, drink, or gum is allowed in the theatre. Please leave snacks and lunches on the bus. Students will be asked to leave the theatre to remove any food items or the items will be taken and not returned. INTERMISSION REFRESHMENTS: Soda will be available during intermission for $1.00 (exact change will be appreciated). Reminder: You must dispose of all snack items before reentering the theatre. AUDIENCE ETIQUETTE: Live performance theatres require behavior different from that required in the movie theatres. Please review theatre etiquette with your students before attending the performance. If any student becomes disruptive to the point of interference with the performers or other audience members, a chaperon will be asked to remove that student.
POST-SHOW FOLLOW UP: Performances at Syracuse Stage are funded by grants, corporations, and individuals. They do want to hear from you. We ask students and teachers to write the sponsors with your likes and dislikes and to let the sponsors know that the student matinees are an important program. (Do write to us too!) Please: 1] Write thank you letters to the sponsors to let them know that this is an important program. (Names and addresses can be obtained from the Education office.) 2] Write to Syracuse Stage with suggestions to improve your theatre experience. 3] Call the Education office if you have any questions or if there is an issue that requires immediate action. Thank you in advance for the work you put into helping Syracuse Stage present the student matinee program. We hope that the season entertains and enlightens you and your students.
Part of the art of living is living with the arts.
PEOPLE YOU SHOULD KNOW Education Associate……………………………… Group Sales Coordinator........................................ House Manager...................................................... Producing Director................................................. Artistic Director.....................................................
Pat Pederson Tracey White Lisa Doerle James Clark Robert Moss
IMPORTANT NUMBERS Syracuse Stage Administration Offices: 315/443-4008 Education Department: 315/443-1150 Group Sales: 315/443-9844
AUDIENCE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY As audience members, your students have a distinct role and responsibility. The success of any performance depends on the actors on the stage as well as the people in the seats. For those students enjoying their first exposure to a live theatre production, we encourage some discussion of theatre manners before you attend the play, as some movie-, video- and television-watching behaviors are not always appropriate in the theatre. We have included two pages to assist you: the first lists discussion questions or topics for the classroom (with some suggested answers in italics) while the second is a ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER to read on the bus before you arrive. (You might also review the essay on Dramatic Criticism on page 13.) Thank you for helping us help your students get the most out of the performance. [ 1 ] What are some of the differences between a live theatre production and a movie? Movies can be filmed in any sequence and scenes can be redone as many times as needed to get a “good scene.” The scenes are then composed into the movie by editors and the director. Each scene in a live theatre performance is presented once only, in sequence, as written, the performance being created anew each time by the actors, stage manager(s) and backstage staff. The audience’s noise level, activity level, and attention level do not affect the movie actor’s performance. BUT, all of these things are heard and noticed by the actors of a live performance and have an immediate effect on the performance, which may be positive or negative—if the audience laughs at funny lines or is leaning forward in anticipation of the action, actors respond with energetic performances; if the audience does not respond to the actors, responds at inappropriate times or is restless, actors find it difficult to give their best performances because their concentration, their “trains of thought,” as it were, have been disrupted . Special effects in a movie are often be generated by computers or camera angles while special effects in the theatre often rely on the audience’s imagination to enhance or help create them. Movies provide realistic images while live theatre provides images of reality.
[ 2 ] What is the best way to approach viewing a live performance of any art? Audiences attending a live performance must be willing to “suspend their disbelief”; that is, they should be prepared to use their imagination to fully enter into the ideas of the play/musical composition/dance, etc. Live performances are in ways television and movies are not: try to be open to the passion and emotion behind the actions, words, movements and/or music presented. Because each performance is affected by audience response, audience members will never see the same performance twice. Though the piece’s meaning remains the same, each performance may have its own underlying interpretations due to factors such as the performer(s) and/or audience’s state of mind, performer(s) physical readiness, and even the comfort level in the performing space.
[ 3 ] What is the audience’s role during a live performance? How do you think audience behavior can affect a performance? Audiences ready to observe naturally connect with the performers and appropriately respond to the performance, by laughing, gasping, applauding, or quietly listening. Even when this is so audience members should remember that, for live performances, paper rattling, watch alarms, cell phones, beepers, and talking will distract the performers, thereby disrupting the connection between stage and auditorium and weakening the performance. Just as importantly, those around noisy audience members will miss hearing or seeing elements of a live performance that will not be repeated.
ONE-MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER Please read to students on the bus prior to entering the theatre. Stay in the group to be seated. Your school or class will be called and seated as a group. Sit in the seat to which you are assigned. If you move or refuse to take a particular seat, you will delay our seating other members of your group as well as other groups. No food, drink, gum-chewing, headsets, or backpacks in the theatre. Please leave lunches, snacks and backpacks on the bus. NO TALKING OR GETTING UP DURING THE SHOW. This includes whispering. Every live performance is a unique experience, created jointly by actors and audience members present for a specific presentation. Live performances vary greatly from recorded TV programs or movies because the audience’s reactions are not only obvious to the performers but are relied upon by them as signals that they presenting the best performance possible, regardless of the type of reaction—applause, laughter, crying or even quiet but responsive attention— because the actors can see and hear you. Please do not talk, act or distract attention from the stage. Please use the restrooms before the show or at intermission only. If you have any problems or questions, please ask the ushers for help. Enjoy yourself!
DRAMATIC CRITICISM Why We Attend Theatre Oscar Brockett, from The Theatre: An Introduction Art is one way whereby mankind seeks to understand the world. . . .Our search for meaning . . . is always directed toward discovering those relationships that reveal order within what would otherwise seem to be chance events. Art, then, . . . shapes perceptions about human experience into . . . patterned relationships that help us order our views about mankind and the universe. . . . The artist . . . works primarily from his or her own perceptions and seeks to involve the audience's emotions, imagination, and intellect directly. A playwright consequently presents events as though they are occurring at that moment before our eyes; we absorb them in the way we absorb life itselfâ€”through their direct operation on our senses. Thus, as art differs from life by stripping away irrelevant details and organizing events to compose a connected pattern, so a play illuminates and comments (though sometimes indirectly) on human experience even as it seemingly creates human experience. But, just as we do not mistake a statue for a real person, we do not mistake stage action for reality. Rather, we usually view a play with what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called a "willing suspension of disbelief." By this concept he meant that, while we know the events of a play are not real, we agree for the moment not to disbelieve their reality. . . This state in which we are sufficiently detached to view an artistic event semiobjectively is sometimes called esthetic distance. [However], the distance must not be so great as to induce indifference. Therefore, while a degree of detachment is necessary, [audience] involvement is of equal importance. This feeling of kinship is sometimes called empathy. Thus, we watch a play with a double sense of concern and detachment. It is both a removed and an intensified reaction of a kind seldom possible outside esthetic experience. Another way of putting this is that art (that is, a statue, a musical composition, or a drama) lifts us above the everyday fray and gives us something like a "god's-eye" view of human experience. . . . Art lays claim . . . to being serious (in the sense of having something important to communicate), but because its methods are so indirect (it presents experience but does not attempt to explain it fully) it is often ambiguous . . . . Special Attributes of Theatre as an Art. Even within the fine arts theatre holds a special place; it is the art that comes closest to life as it is lived from day to day. Not only is human experience and action its subject, it also uses live human beings (actors) as its primary means of communicating with an audience. Quite often the speech of the performers approximates that heard in real life; the actors may wear costumes that might be seen on the street; and they may perform in settings that recall actual places. Not all theatre attempts to be so realistic and at times it may even approximate other performing arts (such as dance and music), but nevertheless it is the art most capable of recreating mankind's typical experiences. Such lifelikeness is also one of the reasons theatre is often insufficiently valued: a play, a setting, the acting may so resemble what is familiar to spectators that they fail to recognize how difficult it is to produce this lifelikeness skillfully. To a certain degree all people are actors; they vary the roles they play (almost moment by moment) according to the people they encounter. In doing so, they utilize the same tools as the actor: voice, speech, movement, gesture, psychological motivation, and the like. Consequently, most persons do not fully recognize the problems
faced by a skilled actor. Even those within the theatre often differ in their opinions about whether artistic excellence depends primarily on talent and instinct or on training and discipline. Theatre further resembles life in being ephemeral. As in life, each episode is experienced and then immediately becomes part of the past. When the performance ends, its essence can never be fully recaptured. Unlike a novel, painting, or statute, each of which remains relatively unchanged, a theatrical production when it is ended lives only in the play script, program, pictures, reviews, and memories of those who were present. Theatre resembles life also in being the most objective of the arts, since characteristically it presents both outer and inner experience through speech and action. As in life, it is through listening and watching that we come to know characters both externally and internally. What we learn about their minds, personalities, and motivations comes from what they say and do and from what others tell us about them. Thus we absorb a theatrical performance the way we do a scene from real life. Additionally, theatre can be said to resemble life because of the complexity of its means for, like a scene from life itself, it is made up of intermingled sound, movement, place, dress, lighting, and so on. In other words, theatre draws on all the other arts: literature in its script; painting, architecture, and sculpture (and sometimes dance) in its spectacle; and speech and music in its audible aspects. In some ways, then, theatre encompasses all the other arts. Furthermore, theatre is psychologically the most immediate of the arts. Several contemporary critics have argued that the essence of theatre—what distinguishes it from other dramatic media such as television and film—lies in the simultaneous presence of live actors and spectators in the same room, and that everything else is expendable. . . . Live performance has important attributes that television and film cannot duplicate, most significantly . . . the three-dimensionality of the theatrical experience and the special relationship between performers and spectators: in the theatre, . . . since the full acting area remains visible, the audience may choose what it will watch, even though the director may attempt to focus attention on some specific aspect of a scene. [But, and] perhaps most important, during a live performance there is continuous interaction between performer and spectator; even as the actor is eliciting responses from the audience, those responses in turn are affecting the actor's performance. Thus, a live performance permits the audience a far more active role than television and film do. Ultimately, there is a fundamental difference in the psychological responses aroused by electronic media and theatre because the former presents pictures of events whereas the latter performs the actual events in what amounts to the same space as that occupied by the audience. This difference results in one unique characteristic of theatre: its ability to offer intense sensory experience through the simultaneous presence of live actors and audience. . . . The Audience. Until the public sees the material performed we usually do not call it theatre. For all the arts a public is imperative, but for most this public may be thought of as individuals—the reader of a novel or poem, the viewer of a painting or a piece of sculpture—each of whom may experience the work in isolation. But a theatre audience is assembled as a group at a given time and place to experience a performance. Why Does an Audience Attend the Theatre? One of the most powerful motives for going to the theatre is the desire for entertainment, which implies suspension of personal cares, relaxation of tensions, and a feeling of well-being, satisfaction, and renewal. But although everyone may believe that the theatre should provide entertainment, not all agree on what is entertaining. Many
would exclude any treatment of controversial subject matter on the grounds that an audience goes to the theatre to escape from cares rather than to be confronted with problems. . . . Other persons look to theatre for stimulation. They too desire to be entertained, but argue that the theatre should also provide new insights and provocative perceptions about significant topics, advocate action about political and social issues, or increase awareness of and sensitivity to others and surroundings. . . . Both points of view are valid in part, but adherents of neither point of view should attempt to limit unduly the theatre's offerings. The whole range of drama should be available to audiences, for the health of the theatre depends upon breadth of appeal. In America today the success of a play is frequently judged by its ability to attract large audiences over a considerable period of time. But is a play to be considered a failure if it does not achieve financial success? Not necessarily. A dramatist has a right to select his or her audience just as much as an audience has to select a play. Actually, dramatists do so when they choose the subject matter, characters, and techniques to be used, for, consciously or unconsciously, they have an ideal spectator in mind. Although playwrights may hope for universal acceptance, each desires the favorable response of a particular group. Consequently, a play may be deemed successful if it achieves the desired response from the audience for which it was primarily intended. . . . The Problem of Value. It is difficult to defend art on the basis of its immediate utility. Art ultimately must be valued because of its capacity to improve the quality of life: by increasing our sensitivity to others and our surroundings, by sharpening our perceptions, by reshaping our values so that moral and societal concerns take precedence over material well-being. Of all the arts, theatre has perhaps the greatest potential as a humanizing force, for at its best it asks us to enter imaginatively into the lives of others so we may understand their aspirations and motivations. Through role-playing (either in daily life or in the theatre) we come to understand who and what we are and to see ourselves in relation to others. Perhaps most important, in a world given increasingly to violence, the value of being able to understand and feel for others as human beings cannot be overestimated, because violence flourishes most fully when we so dehumanize others that we no longer think of their hopes, aims, and sufferings but treat them as objects to be manipulated or on whom to vent our frustrations. To know (emotionally, imaginatively, and intellectually) what it means to be human in the broadest sense ought to be one of the primary goals of both education and life; for reaching that goal no approach has greater potential than theatre, since humans are its subject and living beings its primary medium. ... Unfortunately, qualityâ€”unlike quantityâ€”is not measurable except subjectively. And subjectivity takes us into the realm of taste, judgment, and a host of variables about which agreement is seldom possible. There are many levels of taste, many degrees of complexity, and a wide range of quality. But, if we cannot expect ever to achieve complete agreement, we all can sharpen our own perceptions of the theatre and its processes. To do this, we need first to understand the theatre and how it works. Second, we need to develop some approach through which we can judge the relative merits of what is performed and how it is performed. Then, we should work to encourage those theatrical values that seem important to us. In this way we may acquire understanding and judgmentâ€”that is, we become critics of the theatre. . . .
Understanding/appreciating the Technical Elements A performance does not just happen; it is the product of a great deal of teamwork. The technical elements of a production support the characters the actors create to present the audience with the illusionary reality that is theatre. Sets, lights, sound, props, and costumes create the environment in which the play lives. These elements combine with the audienceâ€™s imagination to fashion a theatrical reality that is different from our day-to-day lives yet recognizable by all involved. The following discussion questions are intended to help students focus on each of these technical elements and analyze its part in a production. Section A: Scenery Before the performance began, what were your first impressions of the set design? How did it make you feel? Which of your senses were involved by the set design? What was the physicality of the stage? Did the set incorporate any theatrical devices such as a rake, a thrust, ramps or stairs onstage, or the voms or pit in the audience? What type of action did you expect? As the performance progressed, did the set change from scene to scene or did it remain the same for the entire play? Were the changes of location made by actual set alterations or by the actorsâ€™ use of the set? How was the stage used? Did the action take place across the whole stage or was action contained in small areas? What could you tell about each environment and the time period of the used area? Was movement between areas fluid or rigid? Did the actors move around the set in purposeful motion or did action flow from one area to another? What materials and color schemes were used for walls, the deck (stage floor), set pieces? Did the materials and colors fit the time and location of the play? Did the colors suggest a mood or atmosphere to you? Were you able to concentrate on the action and characters or did the elements of the set attract your attention? After viewing the performance, do you feel the set design supported the play? Did it make sense to you? Would you have done anything differently? What and why? Section B: Costumes What could you tell about each of the characters based on his or her appearance before any action took place? Did the costumes influence your expectations or opinion of each character? Did the costumes put you in the appropriate time period and geographical setting (if any)? Did the style of the costumes match or enhance the charactersâ€™ personalities and social situations and the mood of the play? How did the colors and materials used compliment or contrast with the colors and materials of the set? Did the colors and materials group the characters in any way? Were there any parts of the costumes you found distracting or out of place? Section C: Lighting What clues did the lighting give you about the mood or emotional tone of the play? Was the lighting from an identifiable source or did it blend into the setting? Was the lighting supportive of the action or distracting? Was it ever supposed to be distracting? Could you identify the colors that were used? Why do you think these particular shades were chosen? Did any one character have a particular shade or degree of lighting?
Sometimes lighting is used together with suggestive scenery or certain pieces of furniture to imply that a certain area onstage is always perceived as a specific place. Did you see this in this performance’s design? Section D: Sound What types of sounds were used? Were the sounds environmental noise or in response to specific character actions (for example: crickets chirping in the summer or a gunshot)? Was sound or music used to create or enhance the atmosphere, or to foreshadow events? Were certain sounds or musical motifs associated with certain characters or repeated situations? Did the sounds fit the situation or distract you from the performance? Were the sounds correct for time period and location, or did they comment on the time and place? Section E: Props Were the props appropriate to the time period and setting? Were they in keeping with the rest of the setting (including color choices in setting and costumes)? Did some or all of them comment on the setting as a whole? Did the characters have all the props they needed for the scenes? Did they have too many props? Did they have fewer props than you expected? What did you learn about the characters’ situation or background from their possessions? Remember that props include furniture, books, purses, wagons, plates and silverware—anything an actor touches. Section F: General What non-actor aspect of the performance impacted you the most? Was this aspect more textual or physical? Did the technical elements of the performance enhance or detract from your enjoyment of the play? Would you have changed anything about this production? How would you have changed it? Why? Understanding/appreciating the Play in Performance Suggested by: Katherine Ommanney’s The Stage and the School The following questions may help you to view shows intelligently, but don’t let them spoil your enjoyment of the theatre or turn you into a commentator during the performance! Real enthusiasts of the theatre free their imaginations and emotions while seeing a play or a picture, while using their intelligence and discrimination to heighten their appreciation of this great art. Section A: Theme In your opinion, is the fundamental idea of the play true or false in its concept of life? Is the theme consistent with the setting, plot and characters presented in the play? Do you agree with the author’s philosophy? In your opinion, should the general public be encouraged to see the play?
Section B: Plot Is there a clear-cut sequence of events? Do they rise to a gripping climax? Were you held in suspense until the end or did you realize what the ending would be beforehand? Were you as emotionally stirred as the author apparently wanted you to be? Are you satisfied as to the final outcome? Are you chiefly interested in the events, the people, or the place? Section C: Characterization Are the characters true to life? Are they consistent throughout the action of the entire play? Are the characters in keeping with the social and geographical background of the play? Do they arouse such feelings as sympathy, affection, disgust, admiration, or hatred on the part of the audience? Are their actions in keeping with their motives? Are the situations at the climax and conclusion the result of their inherent natures? Section D: Style Did the dialogue retain your interest throughout the play? Is it consistent with the characters and the setting? Is it an end in itself or an adequate means of plot advancement and characterization? Did it make you think about the author or the characters themselves? Did or do you remember lines after having seen the play because of their appropriateness or beauty? If a dialect or dialects are used were they correct? Did the actors use them consistently? Would people of the class represented talk in real life as they do in the play? Is the power of expression worthy of the ideas expressed? Section E: Acting Were the actors’ interpretations of their roles correct from the standpoint of the play itself? Did each actor make his or her role a living individual? Were the actors artificial or natural in their technique? Were you conscious of the ways they sought to create effects? Did they grip you emotionally—did you weep, laugh, suffer, and exult with them? Were their voices pleasing and their presence magnetic? Did they remain in character every moment? Did or do you think of them as the characters they were depicting or as themselves? Did the actors use the play as a means of self-glorification, or were each of them an intrinsic part of the action at all times? Did each cooperate with the other actors, the director, and the author in interpreting the play: by knowing his or her lines, helping to focus attention on the center of interest, and by losing himself or herself in the part? Section F: Audience Reaction Was the audience attentive or restless during the performance? Was there a definite response—gasps, laughter, applause?
Did the audience express any immediate appreciation of clever lines, dramatic situations, and skillful acting? Was the audience apathetic or animated, bored or buoyant, serious or scoffing? Was the applause spontaneous and whole-hearted, or politely perfunctory? Did it seem to you that some audience members enjoyed the play more than others? Do you think this was because of their own personal background, or some other reason? About West Side Story From: the Music Theatre International webpage West Side Story, which opened on September 26,1957, is a landmark in American musical theatre history. Directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the show was written by composer Leonard Bernstein, librettist Arthur Laurents and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. West Side Story, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, transplants the young lovers to the violent streets of [1950s] New York where they are doomed by social conditions they cannot control. The powerful, swiftly moving plot is driven by turbulence and tension. The musical covers a period of only two days; scenes blend into one another as the inevitable progression of events unfolds. Shakespeare's feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets, have become two feuding neighborhood gangs: the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets consider themselves "American”: white and of European origin. The Sharks are dark-skinned Hispanics, some black, all from Puerto Rico. The Jets are fiercely loyal, proud of who and what they are, and determined to keep their turf (the neighborhood). The Sharks are just as loyal, proud and determined to establish their identity by staking out their claim to turf in the neighborhood. The authorities—police, social workers, parents—don't realize the intensity of the feud, the depth of the hostility among these “kids." They are too willing to be fooled by superficially acceptable behavior on demand. But just as these teenagers are capable of loving with a surprisingly deep, tender passion, they are equally capable of hating with an uncontrollable, volcanic passion that boils over and explodes. The result is tragedy. The world that West Side Story plunged into in the ’50s is still with us today. Gangs still war brutally for a piece of neighborhood turf. Bigotry and racism still trigger murder. Love still struggles to survive in a violent world. In writing Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare created a timeless tale of love destroyed by senseless hatred in feudal Verona for his Elizabethan audiences. Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim transformed that tale into a monumental, classic work of American musical theatre with a powerful message for audiences around the world.
About the Creators Leonard Bernstein (Composer) — One of this century's geniuses, the composer, conductor, pianist and writer Leonard Bernstein was equally at home in the concert hall and popular theatre. . . Bernstein was considered one of the most talented musicians of his generation. He was a pianist, lecturer, television personality, and author. He was the first American to serve as musical director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic (1958-1969). His works for the theatre included On The Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, West Side Story, Mass and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. His operas included Trouble In Tahiti and its sequel, A Quiet Place [though some consider his Candide more opera than musical theatre]. He also composed symphonic works, choral works, ballets and the score for the film On The Waterfront. The son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant who had worked himself up from nothing to become a successful businessman, Leonard Bernstein was born in Massachusetts in 1918. He became interested in music at age 10, when a relative sent an upright piano to the Bernstein household. The young Bernstein badgered his father until he agreed to let the boy take piano lessons. From the first, his father discouraged him from taking music seriously. Where Sam Bernstein came from, musicians were “the lowest of the low.” He sent his son to Boston Latin, one of the most academically demanding schools in America, where the boy excelled at everything, effortlessly. During high school, Bernstein succeeded at academics and athletics, but it wasn't until his years at Harvard University that he began to pursue music as a career. From 1935 to 1939, he studied piano with Heinrich Gebhard and composition with Walter Piston and Edward Burlinghame. [During his college years he also occasionally performed as a pianist, a practice that carried over into his conducting career; he was known to conduct from the keyboard.] Bernstein also spent two years, after college, at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied conducting with Fritz Reiner and continued studying piano. Upon graduating from Curtis, he created his first published composition, "Clarinet Sonata," in 1942. Summers Bernstein spent at Tanglewood, a musician’s school and colony established by Russian-born Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor and composer Serge Koussevitsky, who was, like composer Aaron Copland, a mentor to “Lenushka”; at times Koussevitsky treated Bernstein more like a son than a student, and, in fact, when Koussevitsky died his widow gave the young conductor a cape and other articles of clothing from her husband’s wardrobe. Bernstein accepted an offer from Artur Rodzinski, in the summer of 1943, to be assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra. In November of that year, much sooner than he ever dreamed, a culture hero was born. On the 14th of that month Bernstein learned that the scheduled guest conductor, Bruno Walter, had come down with the flu and could not conduct. Bernstein, who had no chance to rehearse, had to step in for the evening's coast-to-coast CBS Radio broadcast performance. Nervously, he stepped into the fray and conducted a thrilling performance that amazed the audience and landed the 25-year-old on the front page of The New York Times. Happily, Bernstein’s
parents were in attendance. Two months later, Bernstein presented his first symphony, the Jeremiah Symphony, a work that won the New York Music Critics' Circle award. The ballet, Fancy Free, choreographed by Jerome Robbins to Bernsteinâ€™s score, made its debut three months later and was an enormous hit. In fact, its popularity sparked the decision to transform it into a musical. Bernstein suggested to Robbins that Betty Comden and Adolph Green be hired to create the libretto and lyrics, and so, with the legendary George Abbott producing, Fancy Free became On the Town, a joyous musical about three sailors on a wild 24-hour leave in New York. The production debuted on December 28, 1944. Bernstein worked as conductor of the New York City Center Orchestra from 1945 to 1948. During his time here, he created his trademark style of conducting, including theatrically thrusting his arms and erotically twisting his hips. Music critic, Harold Schomberg, described Bernstein as "the most choreographic of all contemporary conductors." In 1959, he composed his second symphony, The Age of Anxiety, inspired by a W.H. Auden poem. The next decade took Bernstein on a journey through a variety of pursuits. In 1951, Bernstein married the actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn, and two years later, he became the first American to conduct the orchestra of La Scala opera house. The following year, 1954, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his score for On the Waterfront. He also wrote the score for the Broadway musical, Candide, which opened in December 1956; the libretto was by playwright Lillian Hellman, based on French Felicia, Alex, Bernstein, Jamie philosopher Voltaireâ€™s novel. In the spring of 1957, Bernstein won an Emmy for "Best Musical Contribution to Television" for his performance in Omnibus on CBS. Fall of that year brought the smash, West Side Story, for which he created the score, to the National Theatre. Leonard Bernstein took the musical to new heights of seriousness in his 1957 production West Side Story, based loosely on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Its true subject was the growing menace of gang warfare (or "juvenile delinquency" as it was known then) in the context of racial tensions created by clashes between whites and Puerto Rican immigrants. Consciousness of racism was very much on the rise in the U.S. of the late Fifties; and Bernstein, a life-long liberal, wanted to portray the issue in an uncompromising fashion. The subject is treated in a fairly complex fashion. Note especially "I Want to Live in America" [see The Lyrics, below] which expresses the ambiguous feelings of the immigrants about their homeland while forthrightly condemning American white racism. By the time West Side Story was first produced in 1957, Bernstein was at the peak of his career. Though not yet 40, he had already composed two full-length symphonies, a ballet and scores for three Broadway musicals. For the next 20 years, feeling he had paid his theatre dues, he abandoned the stage and pursued a hectic career of conducting, recording, lecturing and composing for the concert hall. In 1958, he [was offered the position of] music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. . . . Bernstein published his first book, The Joy of Music, in 1959, the same year he began his position as musical director of the New York Philharmonic; his second book, The Infinite Variety of Music, came in 1966. He stayed with the Philharmonic for 11 years, stirring and enrapturing audiences with his vibrant showmanship and the passionate music he extracted from his musicians. In 1969, when he left the Philharmonic, he was named Laureate Conductor for life, an unprecedented honor. Over a 10-year period, he recorded all the symphonies of Mahler, Brahms
and Beethoven, and several operas. In 1963 in Tel Aviv, he conducted the world premiere of his symphony, Kaddish. More an oratorio than a symphony, it involved massed voices, a narrator and elaborate jazz effects. [His daughter Jamie recently sang one of the major roles of this piece.] The dramatic choral fugue from his work was much praised when played in Boston the following year. Two years later he also produced his Chichester Psalms, an altogether simpler, more tuneful work: Bernstein's slow music at its best. During the 1970s, Bernstein involved himself in a number of artistic projects. He composed Mass, a theatre piece for singers, players, and dancers, in 1971. The next year, he returned to Harvard to lecture as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry. In 1976, he led the Philharmonic on a gala bicentennial tour of Europe and the United States. Also, that year, he won an Emmy for Outstanding Classical Music Program for a PBS show called Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. New York presented him with the Handel Medallion in 1977, recognizing him for his many achievements and for his magnificent contribution to the culture of New York City. Bernstein was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1980. Throughout his life he was influenced both by 20th-century classical composers, such as Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Mahler and Copland, and by jazz, which he felt was the single most important musical phenomenon of the 20th century. Manhattan, where he lived for much of his life, formed the setting for three of his five musicals (On The Town, 1944, Wonderful Town, 1953, West Side Story, 1957). The result is aggressive music, which excites and inspires. In 1989, Bernstein conducted an orchestra of international musicians to celebrate the struggle for independence in Eastern Europe, then appealed for brotherhood in East and West Germany. The concert was broadcast live in more than 20 countries. All his life Bernstein was determined to prove that an American musician, taught entirely within America, could be acclaimed and respected throughout the world of classical music. Two years before his death in 1990 he received Germany's highest music award, the Siemens Prize, something which must have made him feel he had achieved this. . . . He was working on the final stages of Arias and Barcarolles when he died in October 1990. Arthur Laurents, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, and stage director, was born July 14, 1918, in New York City. After studying at Cornell University [he was a freshman at 16] and a stint in the Army writing radio plays for soldiers, he began a civilian career writing scripts for such radio shows as the Lux Radio Theatre. In 1945 Laurentsâ€™ first stage play, Home of the Brave, a drama exploring the anti-Semitism encountered by a Jewish soldier serving in the South Pacific, was produced to some acclaim; it was filmed in 1949 with a casting change: a black soldier was the center of the prejudice. That effort was soon followed by: The Bird Cage (1950), The Time of the Cuckoo (1953, filmed by David Lean in 1955 as Summertime), A Clearing in the Woods (1957), Invitation to a March (1960, also directed), The Enclave (1973, also directed), Scream (1978, also directed), The Radical Mystique (1996), and My Good Name (1997). His latest work includes Jolson Sings Again (1995) and Venecia (2001, adapted and directed). He has written the books for the musicals West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), Anyone Can Whistle (1964, also directed), Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965, based on his play The Time of the Cuckoo), Hallelujah, Baby! (1967, Tony Award for Best Musical) and Nick and Nora (1991). His other directorial credits include I Can Get It For You Wholesale (1962, Barbra Streisandâ€™s Broadway debut), two revivals of Gypsy (1974, with Angela Lansbury, and 1989,
with Tyne Daly), The Madwoman of Central Park West (1979), La Cage aux Folles (1984, Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical), and Birds of Paradise (1987). His film screenplays include Rope (1948), The Snake Pit (1948, uncredited), Caught (1949), Anna Lucasta (1949), Anastasia (1956), Bonjour Tristesse (1957), The Way We Were (1973, based on his 1972 novel), and The Turning Point (1977; Golden Globe Award, Screen Writers Guild Award, Writers Guild of America Award, National Board of Review Best Picture Award). Asked why his films [and, for that matter, his plays] often feature a romance between people from different social backgrounds he replied, “I am a Jewish boy from Brooklyn who came up against anti-Semitism. That has an enormous effect on your life. . . . That makes you very aware and, at a [certain] time, overly sensitive.” Similarly, in Backstory 2, a collection of interviews of well-known screenwriters, Pat McGilligan notes that The Way We Were is the kind of romantic movie Laurents is most identified with— not only a funny, sentimental, broadly appealing love story, but one that is ultimately star-crossed, tragic, bittersweet. The trajectory of a character melodrama set against the exigencies of a particular social milieu has been the territory of much of his writing: the attraction of peculiar opposites, poignant ideals in conflict with hard reality, the collision of emotions against the boundaries of class. These ideas mirror, to a certain extent, his own upward striving, but one of the things that people admire most about Laurents is his ability to weave a script that is, above all, a grand entertainment. He has been honored by awards from many organizations, among them the National Institute of Arts and Letters, Writers Guild of America, Antoinette Perry (Tonys), Golden Globe, Drama Desk, National Board of Review and the Sydney Drama Critics. He is a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame, P.E.N., the Screenwriter's Guild, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences and is an emeritus member of the Council of the Dramatists Guild. Stephen Sondheim (Lyricist) - Stephen Sondheim is the father of the modern American musical. He took the classic form bequeathed to him by Rodgers and Hammerstein and reinvented it to reflect and analyze the anxious mood of this country throughout the last three decades without losing any of the brio and originality that has made the American musical perhaps the most cherished product of our popular culture. Sondheim wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, Gypsy and Do I Hear A Waltz? He wrote lyrics and music for (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The) Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, The Frogs, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods and Assassins. He wrote additional lyrics for Candide. Side By Side By Sondheim, Marry Me A Little and Putting It Together are anthologies of his work as a composer and lyricist. Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born in 1930, the son of a successful New York dress manufacturer. An intense and curious child, he showed exceptional talent from an early age—skipping kindergarten and reading everything he could get his hands on by the time he was five.
The first and most profound influence on Stephen Sondheim was the great Oscar Hammerstein II, a family friend and neighbor in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Sondheim lived with his mother after his parents were divorced. At the age of 15, Sondheim wrote his first musical, By George, for his school and proudly showed it to his mentor. Hammerstein not only told him it was one of the worst things he had ever read, but also showed him why. Sondheim claims: "In that afternoon, I learned more about song writing than most people learn in a lifetime." Hammerstein also let Sondheim fetch coffee and type out scripts during rehearsals for Allegro, South Pacific, and The King and I [choreographed by Jerome Robbins]. His education continued at Williams College where he majored in music and graduated magna cum laude in 1950; on graduating college, Sondheim won the Hutchinson Prize, which enabled him to study composition with Milton Babbitt, the avant-garde composer and tutor at Princeton University. While Broadway was always his destination, he began his career in Hollywood as a scriptwriter for the comedy series Topper. It wasn't long, though, before he had met Arthur Laurents and then Leonard Bernstein . . . Bernstein was 39 and already a world-respected musician; Sondheim was 27 and an almost unknown composer and lyricist; his talents were raw and undeveloped, and yet he received an offer to act as co-lyricist with Bernstein. But Sondheim didn't want to be seen only as a lyric writer [and] he complained to Hammerstein that he couldn't write lyrics for a people and class (underprivileged Puerto Ricans) of which he had no personal knowledge. Fortunately, his mentor advised him to work with the top professionals who had approached him. Bernstein was supportive of the young man's budding talent, claiming that working with him was like being with an “alter ego.” Just before the show's New York opening, Bernstein insisted on having his credits as co-lyricist removed. He felt that the young man had earned his spurs and should receive sole credit for the work. After West Side Story, Sondheim went on to write the lyrics for Gypsy, on which he worked with yet another great Broadway composer, Jule Styne. Then came a string of Broadway shows for which he wrote both music and lyrics. He was to work again with Bernstein—albeit briefly—on the 1973 revival of Candide. He also wrote lyrics for Richard Rodgers (Do I Hear a Waltz?) in 1965, although it was not a success. Sondheim's other major musicals include Pacific Overtures (1976), a piece about American colonialism in Japan, and Sweeney Todd (1979). . . . [In 1988] Sondheim wrote three songs for the film Dick Tracy, directed by and starring Warren Beatty, for the character Breathless Mahoney, played by Madonna. . . . Sondheim was made professor of musical theatre at Oxford University in 1990, the first person to be appointed to the position; in the following year his Assassins opened Off-Broadway and was seen in London in 1992. He has won five Tony Awards for his scores of Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods. Probably no one else on Broadway has composed scores more perfectly suited to the plays for which they are written than Sondheim, whose music evokes moods of emotional ambivalence and complexity demanded by his characters and their situations. His lyrics are universally acknowledged as musical theatre's best: clever, razor-edged light verse laced with puns, literary allusions, and playful rhymes. This mastery of form earned Sondheim a Kennedy Center award in 1993. "I write generally experimental, unexpected work," says Sondheim and certainly his work had come from generally unexpected sources: Greek and Roman playwrights (The Frogs, Forum), Swedish film comedies (A Little Night Music), Victorian penny dreadfuls (Sweeney Todd), Kabuki (Pacific Overtures), impressionist paintings (Sunday in the Park with George),
fairy tales (Into the Woods), and the twisted lives of presidential assassins (Assassins). "I've never been conscious of trying to further the theatrical language," claims Sondheim. "It comes from a feeling of not wanting to cover the same material twice." . . . Jerome Robbins (Director) - Dancer, director, choreographer, producer and writer Jerome Robbins started his career in 1930 as a ballet dancer. With the ballet Fancy Free (1944), he became a major choreographic force. His works are currently in the repertories of the world's major ballet companies. Between 1944 and 1956 he created, directed and/or choreographed fifteen musicals, all inventive and varied in subject matter and tone. These productions included Peter Pan, Pajama Game, Call Me Madam, On The Town, Billion Dollar Baby, High Button Shoes, Miss Liberty, The King And I, Wonderful Town and Bells Are Ringing. He followed West Side Story with Gypsy, and Fiddler On The Roof. He also directed the Tony Award-winning retrospective of his work, Jerome Robbins' Broadway. He was born Jerome Rabinowitz, October 11, 1918, son of Jewish immigrants. As a child he studied the piano and violin as well as dance. In 1935, the young man who was to become Jerome Robbins (he changed his name to suit a professional career) graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School and spent a year at New York University before leaving to pursue a career as a dancer. He studied ballet with Ula Duganova, Eugene Loring, and Antony Tudor; modern dance with the New Dance League; interpretive dance with Sonya Robbins; Spanish dance with Helene Viola; and Asian dance with Nimura, and in 1940 he joined American Ballet Theatre as a dancer. Robbins joined the American Ballet Theatre in 1940 and made his solo debut there as Petrouchka in 1942. Two years later, he created and choreographed his first ballet, Fancy Free. Leonard Bernstein composed the music for the smash hit, a performance that received 20 curtain calls on its opening night in April 18, 1944. In 1945, Robbins choreographed Interplay, a ballet that intermingles ballet and jazz dance [with motifs from childrenâ€™s games]. His first serious work, Facsimile, with a score by Bernstein, broke radically with ballet tradition by having one of his characters, a woman being mauled by two men, cry out for help. In 1947, he both directed and choreographed Look Ma, I'm Dancin', becoming only the second choreographer to perform both roles simultaneously. From early on in his career, Robbins was known as a fiercely determined man uninhibited by the usual standards. In 1948, he joined the New York City Ballet as a dancer and choreographer, then the following year he became the associate artistic director under George Balanchine. One of his first pieces was The Guests, with music by Marc Blitzstein. Essentially it presented two groups that never mixed socially at a masked ball, during the course of which one male and female from each group fell in love, to the shock and dismay of their peers (when all were unmasked). It was presented in January 1949, the same year Robbins expressed his notion of adapting Romeo and Juliet to Leonard Bernstein. He won a Dance Magazine Award in 1950 for his title-role performance in Balanchineâ€™s The Prodigal Son. For the next few years, his choreographic output was very random. His ballet, Age of Anxiety, based on a W.H. Auden poem and accompanied by Leonard Bernstein's music, won a Dance Magazine Award for "outstanding creativity in the field of American ballet." The next
year, he choreographed Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I. Three months later, his ballet, The Cage, a disturbing production about predatory females, opened. In 1953 . . . fearing blacklisting in the entertainment industry, Robbins testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and denounced former colleagues as members of the Communist party. Because of this he received the unforgiving hostility of some artists and fellow co-workers for many years to come. . . . In 1954, Robbins helped exhilarate a whole generation of theatregoers when he choreographed and directed the legendary production of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. One year later, he won an Emmy for a television version of the show. Three years after the enormous success of Peter Pan, Robbins, along with Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Oliver Smith, and Stephen Sondheim, brought West Side Story to [Broadway]. This electrifying musical about rival street gangs featured Bernstein's jazzy street-tempoed score and classic Robbins dancing—young American kids filling the stage with turbulent movement. Once again, Robbins won a Dance Magazine Award for "extending the expressive range of the Broadway musical theatre." Three years later, Robbins recreated the show's "Cool," "America," "Jets," and other dance numbers for the film version of West Side Story. He won two Academy Awards, one for directing and one for his "brilliant achievement in the art of choreography on film." The film won 11 Oscars in all. As reported by Lawrence Thelen in The Show-Makers, “The opening number of a show was particularly important to Robbins. He saw this to be crucial in establishing the parameters and rules under which the evening would unfold. For West Side Story the opening confrontation between the Sharks and the Jets told through ballet not only established an immediate conflict between rival gangs (which ultimately led to the climax of the musical) but also announced that dance would be instrumental in telling the story.” Robbins formed his own ballet company in 1955, called Ballets USA, for which he created Moves, an abstract ballet without music; in 1959, he directed and choreographed Gypsy for Ethel Merman. In 1962, he directed his first non-musical play, Arthur Kopit's Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad. The following year, he directed Brecht's Mother Courage, starring Anne Bancroft. In 1964, Robbins again directed and choreographed for Broadway with the captivating Fiddler on the Roof. The musical won nine Tonys the following year, two of them for Robbins' direction and choreography. During the 1970s, Robbins created such radical and original works as The Golden Variations, The Watermill, Dybbuk Variations, and Chansons Madecasses. He remained with the New York City Ballet until 1990—after the death of George Balanchine in 1983, he shared the post of artistic director with Peter Martins—when he gave his official farewell at the Festival of Jerome Robbins' Ballets. “Robbins did not pre-block his shows,” Lawrence Thelen notes, “nor did he prechoreograph the dances of ballets within those shows. Although he approached rehearsals with a strong physical sense of how the show should look, he believed theoretical preparation was inadequate and preferred working out the specifics of the staging in the rehearsal hall. ‘I can’t work it out ahead of time. How can I work out what thirty people are going to do without having them there in front me?’ [Robbins explained]. . . . Believing it is the director’s responsibility ‘to get the most out of the script.’ Robbins would often try a scene several different ways, not stopping until he achieved the right look and interpretation he was seeking.” In 1981 he received a Kennedy Center Award. He returned briefly to Broadway in 1989 with an anthology of past hits entitled Jerome Robbins' Broadway. Jerome Robbins proved his never-ending creativity throughout his career by continually pushing the conventional bounds of
dramatic and balletic expression. He was an extraordinary showman and a major force in the world of theatre and dance. His dedication to dance will live on in his ballets. Jerome Robbins died of a stroke in his home in New York City in July of 1998. Setting: The streets of New York City, the 1950s. In the course of two frantic days Maria and Tony meet and fall in love but fall prey to the violent prejudices held by their respective peer groups. Characters The Jets Riff - the leader, Tony’s best friend. Tony - his friend, Maria’s beloved. Action, A-rab, Baby John, Snowboy, Big Deal, Diesel, Gee-tar, Mouthpiece, Tiger Their Girls Graziella – Riff’s girl Velma – Graziella’s best friend. Minnie, Clarice, Pauline Anybody’s – possibly a feminist undercover, but way too far ahead of her time. The nickname undoubtedly refers to the fact that neither the boys nor the girls want to spend time with her. The Sharks Bernardo - the leader, Maria’s big brother, Anita’s main squeeze.. Chino - his friend, Maria’s fiancé by arrangement, not choice. Pepe, Toro, Indio, Luis, Anxious, Nibbles, Juano, Moose Their Girls Anita - Bernardo's girl, Maria’s friend and coworker. Maria - Bernardo's sister, beloved of Tony, not Chino. Rosalia, Consuelo, Teresita, Francisca, Estella, Margarita The Adults Doc – Tony’s boss, the drugstore proprietor, who tries to look out for him like a surrogate parent. Shrank - a police lieutenant who dislikes what the Jets do with their turf, but dislikes the Sharks because they exist in his world. Officer Krupke – the cop on the beat who tries to keep the Jets in line ineffectually (on a good day). A figure of fun in their eyes. Glad Hand – a wannabe social worker who doesn’t understand the young people or take their troubles seriously, like the police officers. Vocabulary PRs=Puerto Ricans. I’m a casual – A-rab means he’s a casualty because of the Shark attack on him, “piercing” his ear.
That makes you a P.R. tomato – Snowboy is teasing A-rab, calling him a Puerto Rican party girl now that A-rab’s ear has been “pierced.” My old man says them Puerto Ricans is ruinin’ free enterprise – Actually, Baby John’s father is upset that Puerto Ricans are participating in free enterprise, opening corner stores and seamstress shops like the one Anita and Maria work in; his father doesn’t like the competition. Protocality calls for . . . – Riff means that there is a protocol, a procedure to be followed in arranging the rumble. I understand the rules—Native Boy – Bernardo is calling Riff black as tension escalates between the two gangs. Callate! – Maria is shushing Tony in Spanish: callar means to silence, so, in its command form it means quiet! Ya vengo – Maria tells her Papa that she’ll be in in a minute. Buenos noches – Good night. Te adoro, Anton – I love you, Tony (literally, I adore you). Who is really a Polack – Bernardo is deriding the American point of view that U.S.-born children of immigrants are Americans while Puerto Ricans, though born U.S. citizens, are foreigners, and he’s doing that with the ethnic slur polack, instead of Pole. Vamonos, chicos, es tarde – Let’s go, boys, it’s late. Hoodlums – criminals, gangstas. Tin-horn (immigrant scum) Slang A petty braggart who pretends to be rich and important, from the horn-shaped metal can used by gamblers for shaking the dice; or, a political shill, from the metal horn one added to his cane through which one shouted slogans about one’s candidate of choice. d.t.’s – delirium tremens. A-rab’s father is accused of being an alcoholic. Bruja – Sp: witch. Querida – Sp: dear. Buenas tardes – Good evening; it’s too early for “Good night.” It’s just his neurosis that ought to be curbed – Freudian psychology still held sway in America in the late 50s, early 60s.
Headshrinker – a psychologist, psychiatrist, analyst. Psychiatry is somewhat familiar to many Americans but its terms sound mysterious, so its practitioners were often portrayed as exotic. My grandma pushes tea – Grandma is selling marijuana, the active chemical ingredient being THC, thus, “T” or “tea.” I got a social disease – Well, in those days the phrase social disease referred to sexuallytransmitted diseases. Riff is making a dark pun. Be a schmuck - A clumsy or stupid person; an oaf. Wotta buncha Old Man Rivers: they don’t know nothin’ and they don’t say nuthin’ – Anybody’s refers to the song “Old Man River” from the Hammerstein-Kern musical Showboat: Ol' man river, Dat ol' man river He mus' know sumpin' But don't say nuthin', He jes' keeps rollin' He keeps on rollin' along. Por favor – Sp: please. No comprende – Sp: You don’t understand. Di nada – (or de nada) Sp: It’s nothing; don’t mention it. Greaseball – The Jets are commenting on Anita, accusing her of looking unkempt. They would say the same of any PR and most Italians, Greeks, etc. Jive Slang Cut the frabbajabba – chatter. Gassin’, crabbin’ – talking/spreading hot air; complaining for the sake of complaining, not to effect change. Daddy-o – a precursor to man and other generic words applied to any male held in your esteem. Spics – Micks – Wops — Latinos, Irish, Italians, i.e., not Americans. Glory Osky – a socially acceptable exclamation used in place of “God!” or “My God” when those were not necessarily permitted out loud. Buggin’ – (bug) v: to react with extreme or irrational distress or composure. Note: usually only used in the past progressive tense. ("I was bugging after she got home.")
And, of course, COOL. Michael Quinion, in the World Wide Word section of his webpage, relates some of the history of this well-known word in response to the following question: From Stephanie Matthews: "I'm interested in the history of the word cool as a slang word. Apparently it was first used in the musical West Side Story by Bernstein, [et al.]. Is this true? Can you enlighten me any further?" Cool has had several meanings, nearly all of them older than West Side Story. Its history is more than a little complicated, because several of its senses overlap, and it's hard to be sure when the rather ill-defined modern slang term came into the language. Also, it's not always possible to understand how it was being used in some older examples. One slang sense is "controlled, cautious or discreet," which was fashionable in the early 1950s in the phrase stay cool. This is first recorded near the end of the 19th century, but it's really a subtle transformation of a standard English form that goes back to Beowulf, in a rather literary metaphor for being unexcited, calm or dispassionate. This turned up in the 18th century in the slangy expression cool as a cucumber that is still with us, and in the mainstream language as keeping a cool head—being unemotional or in total command of oneself. Some researchers suggest that at about the same time a second sense grew out of this standard English meaning, to refer to something that was superlative, exciting or enjoyable (or less strongly, something merely satisfactory or acceptable). The older English meaning was sometimes rather negative, since to be unemotional and in control might imply you were also withdrawn or depressed, lacking warmth, or unenthusiastic (as in someone getting a cool reception). Black American English, it is suggested, could have turned this on its head to make something cool its very opposite. If this is true, it would be the first example of a type of slang construction common in modern American Black English—for example bad or wicked. This use of cool only really caught on in the 1930s, but is still common (and is well known, for example, among young people in Britain as well as America, even though a few now insist on spelling it kewl [especially online, right?]). This overlaps somewhat with another slang sense, recorded from the beginning of the th 19 century, that referred to somebody who was assured, audacious or impudent. This turned up in phrases like a cool customer or a cool fish and is also recorded in American English from the 1840s onwards. Yet a fourth sense, of something sophisticated or fashionable, is first recorded from the middle 1940s but is probably rather older. (There are other senses, but let's not make an already complicated story even more difficult to understand.) Elements of all these ideas came together in the jazz world in the 1940s, especially in cool jazz—for example Charlie Parker's Cool Blues of 1947; jazz aficionados used the term to distinguish this style from the hot jazz then in vogue, but also with undertones of at least some of these earlier meanings. It's with jazz that the slang term was most closely associated and out of which it became more widely known throughout the English-speaking world. In the Fifties cool could variously mean restrained, relaxed, laid-back, detached, cerebral, stylish, excellent, or other affirmative things. It became the keyword of the Beat generation and in the 1960s it moved into teen slang—where it has largely stayed. What is surprising about cool is how long it has been around. Even if you ignore its prehistory, it has stayed in fashion for 50 years or more, a long time for a slang term. And it has remained slang, and not moved into the mainstream. Today it's just as commonly encountered as it was in the Fifties and Sixties. Now that's cool . . .
The Creation of West Side Story In 1949, dancer and choreographer Jerome Robbins suggested to composer Leonard Bernstein that they join forces on a modern musical version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (See Robbins’ bio, above). He thought the love story, set against a background of family feuds, had universal appeal. Robbins proposed that they update the plot using a Jew and a Catholic as the main characters. He named the project East Side Story and called in writer Arthur Laurents to work on the libretto. Bernstein, though initially enthusiastic, decided he had too many other commitments and the project was put to one side. Six years later, meeting by accident in Los Angeles, Bernstein and Laurents again discussed the project. On this occasion, Laurents fired Bernstein's imagination by suggesting that they use a black and a Puerto Rican as the hero and heroine caught in the middle of street gang rivalry. Laurents took out his old libretto and Robbins was contacted. Stephen Sondheim was enlisted to write the song lyrics, despite his protestation, “I've never even known a Puerto Rican.” The creative team was now in place. . . . [They] did not want to create an opera, an operetta, or a musical tragedy. Between 1955 and 1957, they worked to create a form of musical theatre “unlike anything done before.” . . . According to Robbins, the motivating creative challenge of the West Side Story collaboration was to bring highbrow artistry into the commercial theater. "The aim . . . ," he said, "was to see if all of us—Lenny [Bernstein] who wrote 'long-hair' music, Arthur [Laurents] who wrote serious plays, myself who did serious ballets, Oliver Smith who was a serious painter—could bring our acts together and do a work on the popular stage. . . . The idea was to make the poetry of the piece come out of our best attempts as serious artists; that was the major thrust." West Side Story was surely a daring, innovative experiment, seemingly ahead of its time; yet the Rehearsing during auditions: Bernstein show also represented the culmination of the at right, with Carol Lawrence (Maria) integrated concept musical that traced back to behind him; Sondheim at the piano Oklahoma! Under the driving, authoritarian force of Robbins' direction, all the elements of book, score, choreography and design would be woven seamlessly to support what he defined as the show's central theme: "the futility of intolerance." There was to be more music and more dancing than ever before, with a lean, gritty book that borrowed more plot than poetry from Shakespeare's tragedy. . . . Working with Bernstein on the lyrics, Sondheim sought "to bring the language down to the level of real simplicity [while still expressing the serious themes]." According to Bernstein, the key to his edgy, feverish music was the tritone interval, as was apparent in the melody of "Maria" and throughout the score “in that the three notes pervade the entire piece, inverted, done backwards. I didn’t do all this on purpose. It seemed to come out in 'Cool' and as the gang whistle [in the 'Prologue']. The same three notes." Bernstein suggested that while he and Sondheim were working on music and lyrics, "We raped Arthur's playwrighting. I've never seen anyone so encouraging, let alone generous, urging us, 'Yes, take it, take it, make it a song.'” This was certainly the case with Tony's first-act song, "Something's Coming," which lifted its title from Laurents' scenario and incorporated his lines, "it may be around the corner, whistling down
the river, twitching at the dance—who knows?" Links between songs underscored the fervent passion of the lovers, as with the strain of woodwinds connecting "Tonight" and "Somewhere." Bernstein also borrowed, or cannibalized in his fashion, unused music from his work on Candide, including "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "One Hand, One Heart." . . . While past efforts to turn Shakespeare into musical theatre had always involved adaptations of the Bard’s comedies, West Side Story was the first attempt to use one of his tragedies as the basis for an American musical. Laurents chose to let the story wind its own way, using the original as a reference point [though sticking] as closely as he could to Shakespeare's original plot: the star-crossed lovers became native New Yorker Tony and Puerto Ricanimmigrant Maria; Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets became rival gangs the Jets and Sharks; and the great love scene was transposed from balcony to fire escape. According to Carol Lawrence, who played Maria in the Broadway premiere, at first the collaborators thought Maria should die, as Juliet does, but when Laurents broached the idea to Richard Rodgers—he and his partner Oscar Hammerstein knew Laurents, Robbins, Bernstein and Sondheim—Rodgers replied, “You know, the moment that Tony dies, Maria is dead already. Her life is over. You don’t need to kill her. It’s sadder if she has to live on alone.” So Maria lives. To make the characters timeless yet realistic, Laurents invented a special street language, as he felt contemporary slang would date the piece. He even pre-empted the widespread use of cool, which was not modified into its slang form until several years later. Laurents planned the musical numbers very carefully. With the exception of “Gee, Officer Krupke,” which is pure light relief, every song arises from one of the three dramatic situations in the show: the feud between the Jets and the Sharks, Tony and Maria's mutual love and Anita's remonstrations with Maria. Robbins too wanted his work to be as integrated as possible with the other elements of the show. The routines he The dance at the gym, on Broadway developed were street-wise and vibrant with alternately crouching and leaping dancers performing athletically to Bernstein's Latin American-inspired cross-rhythms, mambos and cool jive. . . . [Speaking about her experience on the film,] Rita Moreno said, “What [Robbins] did that was so unusual was that he choreographed for character. He choreographed the way a writer writes.” . . . The production was not without problems. The original producer, Cheryl Crawford, dropped out six weeks before rehearsal and Hal Prince [not yet the Broadway producer/director] took over at the last minute. Robbins hired young dancers who, while fitting the age profile of the piece, had little acting experience. To make them act like real street gangs, he encouraged them to live out their stage roles, even to the extent of not socializing with members of the other gang. It worked so well that one cast member complained that no one would eat with her. The show opened in Washington, DC, to mixed reviews from the critics. When it moved to Broadway, though, it was an artistic triumph and was commercially successful. The qualities
of West Side Story made a profound impression on critics and audiences alike, who were amazed by a show that was both rough and tender, realistic and haunting, old-fashioned but as current as tomorrow’s news. . . . As Bernstein wrote in his diary on the day of the Washington opening, “what made it come out right is that we all collaborated, we were all writing the same show.” West Side Story ran on Broadway for 734 performances before embarking on a national tour. . . . After the tour, in a daring move, Prince brought the production back to Broadway, kept ticket prices low, and the show ran for a further 249 performances, bringing the total to just under 1,000. In 1961, producer Robert Wise made West Side Russ Tamblyn (left) & the Jets rehearse Story into a memorable film, which Sondheim credits with Jerome Robbins’ dances for the movie transforming the show from a cult favorite to a smash hit. Starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and George Chakiris, it is widely acknowledged as one of the finest movie musicals of the 1960s. The film was awarded 10 Academy awards, including Best Picture, and a special award went to Jerome Robbins “for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” The film also made stars of Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, a member of the original London stage cast. Both received Best Supporting Actor Oscars, while Irene Sharaff was honored for her costumes. How I Wrote that Story Arthur Laurents From: Original Story by: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood [Laurents began his writing career creating radio scripts, first for the Army during WWII, and, after the war, for CBS. When asked by the network if he could come up with original stories continuously,] I said Yes too easily, with too much confidence that I could come up with an original story whenever one was wanted. I couldn't, of course, but I invented a method for devising plots. It was so wondrously simple that it made me laugh but it worked. What I did was list the twists and turns in successful mainstream movies and number them from 1 to 15. For a new plot I would choose at random Plot Devices 3, 7, and 13, for example. The necessity to link them together gave me a sense of the story line needed to support twists and turns and, more important, of the nature of the characters who could do the twisting and turning. Then I would twist at least one or two the turns. It was fun and I learned. First, a basic insight into plot: A good plot depends on character. Then economy, which is best learned on radio because radio time, unlike stage or screen time, is not flexible. There is a precise number of minutes to be filled on a program; there cannot be more or less, it can’t be too short or too long. What must be said has to be said in that precise amount of time which never seems enough but is enough. On the other hand, there is almost nothing on stage, screen or the printed page that isn't too long, largely because of the notion that length equals importance.
From being limited to one of the six senses, hearing, I learned how to establish character through words and how to propel action through dialogue. The more I wrote, the more exciting the whole process was, and most exciting of all was the day my father took me to open a bank account. I had justified his faith in me: I was a professional writer! . . . Amazingly, unexpectedly, [writing radio plays for the Army] started me on my career as a playwright, the career I had been headed for since I was a kid and wrote a short story entirely in dialogue. Published in the grade school magazine, it was about Sleeping Beauty and what happened after the Prince kissed her awake. Since she’d been asleep for a hundred years, she was out of touch and bored the Prince who sent her off to Reno. Where did a ten-year-old kid lean that cynicism? I don’t know. What I do know is that dialogue came easily: plays seemed the natural form for me. Ironically, what I learned writing radio plays for an Army I thought was going to end my writing career, I used in writing Home of the Brave, a play set in a South Pacific jungle I never saw in a war I never fought [Laurents never left the US though he served for several years]. I could never have written that play had I not been in the Army. I would have lacked the technical knowledge, I wouldn’t have understood soldiers, I wouldn’t even have thought of writing a war play. But a war play was my beginning as a writer for the theatre. . . . The central character of Home of the Brave becomes psychologically crippled because of bigotry, then finds and accepts himself. When I read play again the other day, there was no identification; the character was a stranger to me. Where was I in him? The theme of discovery and acceptance, that was familiar; it informs much of my work, but so do prejudice and betrayal. Anti-Semitism crops up now and then but peripherally; it's central to Home of the Brave, but how central was it to me when I was writing the play? My concentration appears to have been more on the dramaturgy: how to use anti-Semitism as a dramatic element to propel the story and to justify the conflict in the central character, a Jewish GI trapped in a South Pacific jungle in World War II. . . . [Some time after Jerome Robbins had suggested to Leonard Bernstein and Laurents that they collaborate on an update of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—originally Robbins proposed the young lovers come from Jewish and Catholic families living in a mixed neighborhood on Manhattan’s east side, hence, East Side Story—the playwright and composer found themselves in Hollywood.] Lenny was . . . conducting at the Hollywood Bowl and staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We sat at the edge of the pool there, just talking, but it was that conversation that began West Side Story [as it came to be]. . . . He brought up Romeo. One on one, Lenny was at his best, as endearing as a child, a listener as well as a talker. . . . His ache to compose something for the theatre was so exposed, I wanted to please him. I also wanted to work with him. Legs dangling in the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel across from the moguls and the beauties in their cabanas, we discussed the recent phenomenon: juvenile delinquent gangs. They were in the headlines of the morning's Los Angeles papers: “More Mayhem From Chicano Gangs.” Lenny began chattering away in half-Spanish (he dropped foreign phrases like names), but no comic strip lightbulb went off, no “Ole!” in a little cloud over his head. “We could set it out here," Lenny mused, hearing Latin music. I loved Latin music, I loved to dance the mambo and the meringue, but any Chicanos I wrote would be movie Chicanos. The actual were as foreign to me as downtown Los Angeles beyond Olvera Street. But New York and Harlem I knew firsthand, and Puerto Ricans and Negroes and immigrants who had become Americans. And however it turned out, the show wouldn't be Abie’s Irish Rose [a long-running comedy about a Jewish man who marries an Irish Catholic woman despite disapproval from their own communities]. It would have Latin passion, immigrant anger, shared
resentment. The potential was there, this could well be a Romeo to excite all of us. We called Jerry. Lenny was jumping with excitement—if Lenny was excited, Lenny jumped. We had the concept, we were convinced the writing would pour out, any problem would be minor . . . [Lenny] was leaving soon but Jerry [Robbins] was coming out to [Hollywood to] do the dances for The King and I [and] Jerry and I could talk until all three of us were in New York again at the same time with enough time to produce a work of [what we called] Lyric Theatre. . . . Instinct told me the juvenile delinquent gang concept was right. The racial mixture was a plus that made the project even more attractive . . . . [Shortly after Laurents returned to New York he attended a party to which many theatre people came.] Steve Sondheim [came over to say hello.] He knew more theatre gossip than anyone and had since he was sixteen and a quasi Hammerstein. He knew “East Side Story” was now West Side Story because the locale had been moved from the Lower East Side with its religious mix to the Upper West Side with its racial mix. The only thing he didn’t know was who was doing the lyrics and that he didn’t know because Lenny, Jerry and I didn’t know. . . . Steve relished telling how he had never seen anyone actually smith his forehead until he asked me, “Who’s doing the lyrics?” and I smote mine, saying, “Why didn’t I think of you?!” Because he was ideal. I was sure Lenny would love him; I would call the maestro in the morning. Not asking Steve, mind you, but assuming he would be pleased, probably flattered. He wasn’t. He wasn’t even at all sure he wanted the job. What he did want was a score all his own on Broadway before he reached the terminal age of thirty. "Score" meant both music and lyrics; this wouldn’t even be writing all the lyrics: he'd be collaborating with Lenny [so] it took . . . Steve's adored mentor Oscar Hammerstein to convince him he might learn, perhaps even benefit from working with Lenny and Jerry, and me. They met and immediately Lenny's enthusiasm, like any Lenny emotion, was extravagant: he adored Steve. They were both wild about words—double acrostics, anagrams, Scrabble, any word game old, new or self-invented. Then Steve met Jerry, who also impressed and who also loved games. . . . It was Steve's gift of language that impressed him. The happy result of the collaboration on West Side Story owed as much to the nature of the collaboration as to the talents it comprised. We enjoyed being together as well as working together: we liked each other, we played bridge together—Steve, Jerry, and I, not Lenny. Lenny played double piano with Felicia, his wife. We admired, we challenged each other, we respected each other's opinion as well as each other's work. No one was odd man out. . . . With the applause came inflated claims that we had made history, influenced the course of musical theatre, changed the history of the American musical theatre by being courageously innovative. Jerry lapped it up. Lenny had proclaimed it himself even before we began writing but said it louder during and louder after. He also kept a journal in which he jotted down the progress of the work long after the events occurred. But that was Lenny: outrageous talk, grandiose claims, but the composer of the most electrifying theatre music ever heard on Broadway. And no one was a better or more generous collaborator. As for those inflated claims, if West Side Story influenced the musical theatre, it was in content, not form. Serious subjects—bigotry, race, rape, murder, death—were dealt with for the first time in a musical and as seriously as they would be in a play. That was innovative; style and technique were not. They had all been used piecemeal in one way or another before. West Side Story had more and better dancing but the innovative use of dance to further a story was begun by Balanchine with "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" in On Your Toes in the Thirties, and then developed and expanded by Agnes de Mille in Oklahoma and Carousel in the Forties. Similarly,
the music in West Side, though more demanding of the singers, is not used in any basically new way; the “Quintet,” while extraordinary, is straight out of dreaded opera. The music for the dances is extraordinarily exciting; that music and the basic story are the lasting strengths of the show. The difference between the music of West Side Story and other shows, however, is in quality, not in purpose. The book is the shortest on record, yet the last third of the play doesn't have one musical number, neither song nor dance. That was new for a musical but it was an accident. The last scene culminates in a monologue in which Maria threatens everyone with a gun. The monologue was intended to be an aria sung by Maria; the speech I wrote for her was a dummy lyric. But Lenny never found music that satisfied him and so to this day, West Side Story innovatively ends with a speech that is a dummy lyric. What we really did stylistically with West Side Story was take every musical theatre technique as far as it could be taken. Scene, song and dance were integrated seamlessly; we did it all better than anyone ever had before. We were not the innovators we were called but what we did achieve was more than enough to be proud of. . . . Every musical, like every play, begins with the word—no matter how much music it is set to or muffled by. We began with an outline I put on the table . . . . I divided the play into two acts, detailing in each scene the characters, action, and musical elements. The story line followed Shakespeare's fairly closely, although I eliminated and changed to suit contemporary time and place, and to allow song and/or dance to tell as much of the story as one or the other or both could. L to r: Jerry Robbins, Arthur Laurents and stage The first change I made was early, in manager Ruth Mitchell in WSS rehearsal in D.C. the opening scene, in fact: I threw out Rosalind. Heresy, but I think Shakespeare should have. His prologue establishes Romeo as lovesick for Rosalind but two minutes later, one look at Juliet and he is lovesick again. Making him callow and explaining why Juliet is so much the better role. Love at first sight for her is her first love; I made it his as well. Jerry's suggestion that each have a short, introductory scene before they meet added to the effectiveness of both roles but his staging of the meeting [at the dance] did more than any words could. It was theatre magic, a literally breathtaking example of why he was without peer in staging a musical. No one else could have or would have taken a murderous knife fight and an attempted gang rape and choreographed them so vividly and theatrically that the impact was emotionally devastating. The parents of both lovers I also eliminated because the play no longer centered on a family feud but on a tribal feud: ethnic warfare between juvenile gangs. The impartial, civilized Duke who ruled the territory became the police who ruled the streets. Bigoted and brutal themselves, they encouraged and promoted bigotry and brutality among the kids they controlled. Shakespeare’s Prologue sets up lovers and love, West Side Story’s Prologue sets up a world of violence and prejudice in which the lovers try to survive.
My first play and my first musical [both] center on prejudice. Possibly a coincidence, probably not, but no matter: a decade after [Home of the Brave], I still had more than enough anger at prejudice to fuel and fire the musical. The music always came first for me. My task, as I saw it, was to drive as eloquently and economically as possible to the musical moment, be it song, dance, or both. Although West Side was my first musical, I think my love for the form enabled me to adapt to it quickly: swift, brief lead-ins to songs came easily. In the second act, I needed only two short lines to slam into a highly dramatic duet for Anita and Maria. Anita bursts into Maria's bedroom and yanks back the bedcover, exposing the rumpled sheets on which Maria and Tony have made love. "All right: now you know!" Maria says. "And you still don’t know! Tony is one of them!" Anita says, and sings: "A boy like that, who'd kill your brother," her next line in the scene. I doubt any lyricist other than Steve Sondheim would have seized that line and known how to expand it into a lyric that works both dramatically and as a song. Matched by music I doubt any composer other than Lenny could have written. . . . I made other changes: no potion for Maria (Juliet) to fake death with . . . and no suicide for her, either; this girl was too strong to kill herself for love. The change I was most proud of was the reason that prevents Tony (Romeo) from getting the message that Maria is alive. In Shakespeare, it’s a convenient plague; in West Side, it’s prejudice—the factor basic to the story and the theme. . . Language was a tricky problem. Four-letter words were rarely used in the theatre in the Fifties but would have jarred [our] Lyric Theatre anyway. Current idiomatic slang was useless because most of it would be dead by the time the show got on . . . My object was to raise the level of language and heighten it, without letting it slip into purple prose, so that what was spoken could move seamlessly into what was sung. What I did or tried to do was invent street talk that sounded like real street talk but wasn’t. That meant inventing words and phrases—cut the frabbajabba, for example, meant cut the bs—and trendy words I thought would last but giving them a new meaning—cool, for example. There was no rule for this, I simply depended on my ear. Cool was given a new meaning in West Side Story, doesn’t meant today what it did then, and will, according to my ear, be around tomorrow with yet another meaning. It’s a word that will always sound contemporary. ... Using only the outline, Lenny wrote bits of lyrics as well as sketches of music without waiting for the first scene to be written. Not Steve. I always wrote ahead and he waited because before Steve Sondheim wrote a lyric, he had to know the characters, their diction, the situation. That known, he wrote lyrics that could be sung only by the characters they were written for at that moment—one of the many reasons he is unsurpassed as a lyricist. The totality of the collaboration left both Lenny and Steve free to do what Steve called "raiding the dialogue." When it was realized just before the first run-through for an audience that Tony needed a song, they took a long speech from his first scene in which he said, "Something's coming, around the corner, down the river," and turned the lines into a lyric. The finished song gave the character an impact stronger than any speech could in a musical. For the second act, there was the "Officer Krupke" dispute. I'd had to talk them and Jerry into the Krupke scene. There was a need, I thought, for comedy relief which, by lessening tension, would increase the impact of the tragedy that followed. After getting nowhere with dramaturgical arguments, I invoked Shakespeare's use of clowns, his porter scenes, etc. Pretentiousness, however shameful, can be useful: it worked. The song did everything it was
supposed to and more. In the movie, the song was shifted to the first act where, since there was no tension to relieve, it contributed to the depiction of the gang as lightweight chorus boys. . . . Whatever disagreements we had about the songs were minor. There was a tough, crackling version of the "Jet Song" that I preferred to the version eventually used but Jerry didn’t. I thought "America," witty as it was, had too many words that came too fast but I was alone on that. Love lyrics are always difficult—it's very hard to avoid the platitudinous—but West Side’s were a mismatch not made in heaven: Lenny, a master of extravagance, went overboard, feet first; Steve was still, at that time, influenced by his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, a master of candy-colored trompe l'oeil in both book and lyrics. I objected to "One Hand, One Heart" for the balcony scene as being too pristine for hot, passionate young lovers. Lenny and Steve liked it because it was pristine until Oscar came to a rehearsal and disagreed with them. "Tonight" was then written and "One Hand, One Heart" was shifted to the bridal shop wedding scene. (Recently, Disney proposed an animated West Side Story with a cast of cats. "One Paw, One Heart"?) . . . . "I Feet Pretty” was prototypical Hammerstein and a puzzle. Hardly what a Puerto Rican girl would sing, out of the style of the show, but the audience loved it. They still do and it still doesn’t belong. Another song, "Kid Stuff," which might have been similarly successful with the audience, was written in Washington immediately after we opened there. Steve and Lenny played it for Jerry, me and the producers, we all agreed it was terrific and it was. Then, regretfully, I pointed out it would tip the show over into musical comedy. No discussion, no dissent, no protest: the song was out before it went in. It was the last time the show came first for each of the four of us. That was in August 1957 in Washington, D.C. . . . Some Thoughts about West Side Story From Director Anthony Salatino West Side Story truly demonstrates how dancing, singing, acting and design can merge into a single means of expression. The dance elaborates the story’s themes and moods, and contrasts the differences between the opposing gangs. The Sharks’ body language is more martial arts-like and represents the pride of the Puerto Rican people. The Jets have a free spirit, a youthful sense of abandonment, a carefree style. Both the Sharks and the Jets have urgency about them . . . impulsive, a sense of ownership. When they clash, their hatred toward each other exposes a physical sense of chaos. Each of their styles is a visual symbol of who they are and how they relate to each other. Motion, emotion and thought are integrated in the movement, emotions, songs, acting and combat scenes. Themes of identity, territory and power are focused in this work. This is a restless time. The music by Leonard Bernstein, which I believe is his strongest work for the Broadway stage, is full of specific musical motifs, rhythmic tension and descriptive tonalities that weave American jazz and Latin rhythms in a powerful descriptive and emotional way that drives and informs the characters and story line. There is such energy in this score, sometimes impulsive, lyrical, passionate, tragic, dream-like, sinister . . . . always creating the musical fabric of the story.
A Note on Puerto Rico From: A Brief History of Puerto Rico and Encyclopedia.com The Foraker Act of 1901 established the relationship of the United States with Puerto Rico and many of its provisions are still in force. During this period the Puerto Ricans were in a citizenship limbo as they weren't citizens of Spain and the title "Puerto Rican citizen," although it applied, meant little, as Puerto Rico was not a free country or legally part of another. This ambiguity was finally solved by the Jones act of 1917 by which Puerto Ricans became American citizens and Puerto Rico became an unincorporated territory of the United States. . . . Partial selfgovernment was granted in 1947, enabling citizens to elect their own governor for the first time. In 1952 a new constitution made Puerto Rico an autonomous part of the United States called the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico. . . . Puerto Ricans now have most of the benefits of American citizenship, including federal welfare aid but Puerto Ricans are unable to vote in United States presidential elections despite being subject to service in the armed forces. There is great public interest in resolving the political status issue and the main difference in the political parties is their differing views of the status issue. The Partido Independista calls for total independence as a nation-state, the Populares support the present commonwealth status, and the Partido Nuevo Progresista advocates statehood, hoping to see Puerto Rico become the 51st state of the United States. The people of Puerto Rico have a love of their country, or patria, that accepts the free association with the mainland but emphasizes loyalty to their own culture, way of life, spirit, folklore, hospitality, and ways of getting along with others. Many Puerto Ricans move between the island and United States mainland to get the "best of both worlds": culture, identity, and a familiar environment in the former; material wealth, education, acquisition of skills, and opportunities for their children from temporary residence in the United States. Many return to the Puerto Ricoâ€™s Las Rocas mountains
Caribbean; some stay in the United States; and the constant circulation of Puerto Ricans between homes is now an enduring feature of the island's experience. Economically Puerto Rico has a greater variety of industrial, commercial, and financial service activities and a better developed Cueva del Indio, coastal lava formations
transportation network than other Caribbean islands. Statistics show that it has some of the most favorable economic and demographic conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean. In comparison to the United States, however, Puerto Rico's position is still quite below that of the poorest state of the Union, Mississippi. . . . Puerto Rico's fertile soil supports one of the densest populations in the world. The Puerto Ricans are descended from Spanish colonists and also from Native Americans and Africans. Spanish and English are the official languages, although Spanish is predominant. Roman Catholicism is the main religion. Spanish is the medium of instruction, but English is studied as a second language by all students. Youth Violence, Then and Now What follows are excerpts about youth violence from 3 books that span nearly 50 years: A Cycle of Outrage is a study of the great concerns about youth culture including gangs that is the immediate background to West Side Story’s original period of the 1950s; American Youth Violence looks at the public’s sense that youth crime was on the rise in the ’70s and ’90s; Kind and Just Parent is based on its author’s time observing young men in a detention hall in the early to mid-‘90s as well as his responses to what he saw.
From: A Cycle of Outrage [The mid- 20th century American high school was] an institution [newly] awash with peer culture, some of which was socially approved and much which was not. Because of its contradictory functions, the high school became a battleground of clashing values and customs. Many parents and experts worried about the youth culture rampaging through large urban comprehensive schools because they associated [the culture’s] mores with lower-class values. As a report from the Midcentury White House Conference on Children put it: "There arises the possibility that the standards of the lowest class can through the children reach some of the boys and girls of other social groups." . . . Infiltration of lower-class and criminal values into youth culture . . . was actually a hotly debated question for sociologists and criminologists who explored the relationship between youth culture and delinquency. Social class had become, by the end of the 1950s, a major element in both structural and cultural interpretations of delinquency. It is not surprising that assessments of youth culture inspired the same sort of explanation. As [one expert] remarked: "The problem posed by popular culture is finally, then, a problem of class distinction in a democratic society." Sociologists generally approached the problem of class by dividing American society into a series of subcultures. But whether "subcultures" or "classes," these groups met and mingled in the modern high school. Although not always democratically organized, and often divided into college-bound and industrial training segments, high schools fostered the interchange of youth cultures. Significant changes in who went to school and who stayed there after World War II increased the possibilities of cross fertilization between middle class and working class [whites] and blacks. This opportunity arose from a dramatic shift in the high school population after the war. In 1930, for example, about 50 percent of [white] working-class students attended high school. By the early 1960s, this figure was estimated at over 90 percent. . . . In 1957 the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare concluded that schools were retaining "more and
more students through high school, continuing the long time trend in this regard in American education." As the center of population gravity in the American high school shifted downward in the social scale, it also broadened in terms of race. The percentage of black students who finished high school doubled between the early 1940s and the late 1950s. By the early 1960s the percentages of blacks and whites completing high school were very nearly equal. Although this equality did not yet translate into college attendance, the high school clearly had become a more heterogeneous institution. Certainly, these figures do not imply that each high school contained a proportionate mix of classes and races. Far from it. Discrimination by race and class continued. Yet the social reward system in these schools reflected youth culture values that viewed the high school as synonymous with adolescence, not just a way station or preparatory institution for college. Hence athletic prowess, social skills, popularity, belonging to fraternities and sororities (all indicators of present success) far overshadowed good grades as status indicators.. . . The misbehavior of youth took place in a general context of heightened attention to young people. It was a partâ€”if a confused partâ€”of the public response to the new teenage culture that emerged during and after World War II. As young people became more independent and relatively more affluent, as their peer culture grew more influential, and their parents less so, delinquency emerged as a kind of code word for shifts in adolescent behavior that much of adult society disapproved. This was, of course, over and beyond an understandable reaction to real crimes perpetrated by youth. Secondly, during the war and, to some extent afterwards, the issue of delinquency became intertwined with opposition to mothers' working. The war disrupted families and transformed fathers into soldiers and mothers into laborers. Absent working mothers in particular were named a major component in increased delinquency. Inevitably, some of the agitation against delinquency took aim through this issue at working women. . . . And after the war the same crusade against delinquency continued to tinge the campaign urging women back into the home. It was, in other words, one element in the postwar disciplining of the family. If the principal reaction to delinquency during the war and afterwards grew out of expectations of family disruption, there was a vague, war-induced fear that originated in events outside the United States: . . . the fear that totalitarianism would infect youth. The National Delinquency Prevention Society in 1946 accordingly invoked doom for American society and a fate similar to that of "Germany, Russia, Italy, and Japan" if delinquency were not stopped. As late as 1951, in a pamphlet by one of the distinguished researchers into delinquency, Sheldon Glueck warned: "Anyone who has had contact with Nazi, Fascist or Communist leaders will recognize the parallel with the personalities of such men." The most striking document to warn of the fascist tendencies in delinquency had a curious and important echo in the 1950s. This was the book Rebel Without a Cause, published in 1944 by Robert Lindner, and the basis of at least the title for the later movie starring James Dean. The book was a grim biography of an antisocial personality, a psychopathic youth who transferred hatred for his father to society. Linden caricatured this frightening "triumphal heavybooted march of psychopathy." The psychopathic delinquent in his words was an "embryonic Storm-Trooper." Should this personality merge itself with a cause or find a leader, should scores of such distorted persons be tossed up by society, then the result might be fascism. The war years thus bequeathed to a peacetime society so complex a set of assumptions, expectations, and institutions that many observers fully expected to suffer a wave of delinquent misbehavior. What happened was not so much the ironic fulfillment of predictions as genuine confusion about what changes in the behavior of youth really meant. Prepared for the worst of
new worlds, many observers feared they had discovered its ominous silhouette in rapidly changing teenage culture. Although the line between youthful misbehavior (according to adult expectations) and youthful crime (according to laws applying to adults also) has never been clear, it was particularly blurred after World War II. One of the reasons for this is undoubtedly the agitation against delinquency during the war. If indeed it was partly a symbolic term, delinquency represented a projection of uneasiness, a measure of the discomfort that adults felt about the social and cultural changes that touched them too. Despite a relatively easy time for the United States, there was more than a hint of doom in victory. The war rendered the extremes of human depravity commonplace. Propaganda, mass society, atomic warfare, Communism, Fascism, became words infused with immediate and urgent content. Youth more than adults bore the imprint of these changes. They were the harbingers of a new society, and adults were prepared to punish the messengers so much did they wish to avoid the message that the family was rapidly changing, that affluence was undercutting old mores, that working women were altering the sexual politics of the home and workplace, and that the media were transforming American culture into a homogenized mass that disguised local distinctions and prepared the way for a new sort of social order. Thus the attention devoted to delinquency during the war years was in part the response of society to the immense cultural and social changes initiated in this period. Those changes continued undiminished into the postwar world. And the response to delinquency rose and fell with the shifting argument about the nature of adolescence in American culture. . . . Upon the shoulders of children, these changes seemed extreme. Their garish clothes, unruly behavior, explosive music, and their ambiguous adult/child status may have reflected deeper modifications in behavior that touched the whole society. But, articulated in rebellious terms and thrust upon the American public by a communications media that emphasized everything new and threatening, the culture of teenagers could easily be mistaken for a new form of juvenile delinquency. And the mass media that helped spread this youth culture appeared to be at fault. Weren't radio, films, and especially comic books, responsible for the frightening changes in the behavior of American youth? . . . For ten years beginning around 1950, the [Childrenâ€™s] Bureau sought to improve the relationship between police and local social experts working with street gangs. Bureau personnel also acted as consultants for private groups concerned about delinquency [such as] the American Legion, the Congress of Parents and Teachers, and United Church Women . . . The Bureau's clout with concerned groups also derived from its annually published statistical profile of delinquency. Both the FBI and the Children's Bureau collected these statistics differently. The FBI solicited voluntary police tabulations of arrests. While these were incomplete, they were no less so than figures for adult criminals, and Hoover confidently used them to warn of crime waves. Children's Bureau figures tallied a very different sample: the cases that appeared before the Children's Court. Court cases representing the other end of the incrimination process were no more reliable an index to crime than arrests, but at least the Bureau admitted the untidiness of its sample. In fact, throughout the entire period, the Bureau strove to improve its reporting and record keeping. But when speaking to experts in the field, it generally confided that no sure nationwide statistics on juvenile crime were available. In 1948 the federal government's Interdepartmental Committee on Children and Youth established a subcommittee to suggest ways to improve delinquency statistics. But four years later, the Bureau was still worried about the accuracy of its national surveys. As Bertram Beck, Bureau employee, wrote in 1952: "There is a danger that by making full use of our inadequate statistics, we will encourage people to believe that our statistical procedures are better than they
really are." The problem, however, could not be solved, for it stemmed from local and often inaccurate reporting. Nonetheless, the public needed information, accurate or not, and so the Bureau published annual figures that, like the Uniform Crime Reports, showed a rise in delinquency during most of the 1950s. . . . A study of figures from 1952 to 1957 revealed a 55% increase in arrests of minors under eighteen and only a 22% increase in the size of that population group. The 1959 [Uniform Crime Report] estimated that by "directly comparing percentages of the rise in delinquency and the growth in the young population, we find that juvenile arrests have increased two and one-half times as fast.â€? Yet even the FBI was well aware of the tentativeness of its figures. The annual report contained a warning that statistics could be inaccurate. And a special study committee appointed by the Justice Department to recommend changes in reporting techniques suggested lowering estimates of juvenile crime. For example, it advised the Bureau not to include "joyriding, which comprises a very substantial portion of auto thefts" in its figures. . . . ===================================================================== Comparative Arrests: New York City Year 1907 1915 1935 1942 1950 1959 1964
Arrests Under 16 10,325 9,818 4,489 3,691 3,424 11,365 13,751
Arrests 16 to 20 20,520 NA 23,774 10,736 31,581 81,423* 116,611*
*includes traffic violations and misdemeanors [Quoted in Cycle of Outrage from] New York City Police Department, Annual Reports (1907, 1915, 1935, 1942, 1950) and Statistical Reports (1959, 1964). ===================================================================== Figured on the ratio of arrests for children under sixteen at the 1907 rate [from the table above] and allowing for population growth of the City, there should have been 18,000 arrests in 1950. But the very small number of arrests in 1950 suggests that the crime rate had been five times higher in 1907 than the crime rate in 1950. Even taking the year 1959, the crime rate for children under sixteen is only about 60% that of 1907. Only in the age group sixteen to twenty is there any comparability, and this suggests about an equal ratio in 1907 and 1950. After the mid1950s, the addition of new crimes to the list (automobile infractions, for example) make any comparison impossible. Does this indicate that 1907 New York was a more violent city than in 1950? Perhaps, but it is probably only safe to say that the behavior of law-enforcement agencies as well as the youthful population changed, and changes in the behavior of either or both groups could result in different sorts of figures. Since delinquency is partly a question of definition and the intensity of surveillance, the problem of statistics is also a problem of the social context. Why does a society wish to arrest and incarcerate a population? What behavior does it desire to curb? And how do these change?
Inevitably, then, the problem of delinquency is also the problem of definition. For beyond the hard core of acts that society has traditionally considered criminal for any age group (murder, assault, burglary, rape, and the destruction of property) is a shifting category of acts that are sometimes considered criminal and sometimes not. This is particularly the case in juvenile crime because many delinquents were charged with status crimes or acts considered criminal simply because of the age of the perpetrator. These can include underage drinking, sex delinquency, breaking a curfew, or driving an automobile without a license. During the 1950s status crimes had a particularly important impact on general delinquency statistics. This is suggested by the report of the American Municipal Association in 1956. On the basis of a survey of 143 cities, the Association reported a substantial increase in teenage crimes. Of these, thirty-nine reported a marked increase in auto thefts, burglaries, and other serious crimes. Yet other cities reported increases that were largely confined to status crimes. [Whether incidents like curfew violations were included in serious crimes depended] entirely on whether or not a law exists in a given locality. And others, of course, would be considered crimes if committed by any age group. . . . [In a WWII to the nation FBI director J. Edgar Hoover expressed his opinion that juvenile delinquency was on the increase due to] an "undercover army" that had betrayed American respect for law and order. "That's the word I've been seeking," he said, "â€”the traitor, the vile enemy in our political family which seeks to disrupt our institutions of government; who knifes from within; who has only selfish purposes; who is the antagonist of everything that is honorable in our present-day form of government." Such strong words reverberated through the postwar period also. Hoover sketched a terrifying vision of a juvenile crime wave once the children born during the war and in the subsequent baby boom reached the dangerous teen years. And his words were not confined to public addresses. They also went out to police officials. For example, in 1953, he sent a special message to "all law enforcement officials." Commenting on the baby boom, he warned: "The first wave in this flood tide of new citizens born between 1940 and 1950 has just this year reached the 'teen age,' the period in which some of them will inevitably incline toward juvenile delinquency and, later, a full-fledged criminal career." Failure to recognize this "onerous development," he ended, would amount to a "social crime." Two years later, he denounced America's nay-sayers as contributing to this social crime in an article for the American magazine. These "debunkers," he warned, had included in their targets "everything from patriotism to conventional moral codes, and from national heroes to our business institutions and our system of justice.â€? In 1958 Hoover sent another of his periodic delinquency messages to law-enforcement officials. By this date he was no longer predicting a juvenile crime wave, he believed himself leading a charge against it. Popular culture, he raged, was flooded with productions that "flout indecency and applaud lawlessness." Not since John Dillinger's enshrinement as a popular outlaw had America "witnessed such a brazen affront to our national conscience." The proper response to such developments, he said time and again, was to gird society with traditional values, respect for the law, parents, and local officials. Hoover's sentiments and language were not an isolated instance of worry about delinquency, however. What he said of wayward children he also said about adult criminals and Communists. The language and the appeal was almost the same. And at base, the counterattack was always similarâ€”refurbish and strengthen family, home, church, and local community
institutions. Hoover stressed time and again the outside pressures on these institutions and their threatened failure. [Hooverâ€™s] words struck a responsive chord, particularly his defense of strong local institutions. His fears were, apparently, shared by other Americans. The Gallup poll confirms this impression in various surveys it conducted throughout the 1950s. For example, in 1954 and 1957, when interviewees volunteered reasons for increasing delinquency, they almost always blamed the family or a decline in community. Although the phraseology differs, these five reasons are basically the same: they all place responsibility upon the parents. ==================================================================== Reasons for Delinquency Increase: Gallup Poll, 1954 The question was: "There's been a lot of discussion recently about our teenagers getting out of hand. As you see it, what are the main reasons for their acting up?" Answers in order of importance: 1) Parents not strict enough, give youngsters too much freedom. 2) Parents do not provide proper home life, training in the home. 3) Parents have too many outside interests. 4) Parents are too indulgent, give youngsters too much money. 5) Parents both work, mother needed at home. [Quoted in Cycle of Outrage,] George Gallup, The Gallup Poll, Vol. 2, (1972): 1516. ===================================================================== Outside the Justice Department and beyond the language of popular fears, juvenile experts said much the same thing. As Herbert Beaser of the Senate subcommittee on delinquency wrote for the Washington Post in 1954, children were susceptible to the uncertainty of the times and the stresses of the "atomic age." "Family life," he concluded, "cannot help being affected by these added stresses and strains and adult tensions are inevitably communicated to youth." America magazine put it starkly in 1953: "A disordered society will strike at the child through a disordered and insecure family.". . . [The film Up the Down Staircase (Glenn Ford was the new teacher stunned by student behavior; I think Sandy Denny was a fellow teacher he consulted with) was very controversial, even before its release, due to its portrayal of teens openly defying adult authority.] Still cautious, the studio opened the film with a disclaimer. It also used a policeman as a voice of authority who explained postwar delinquency in this way: "They were six years old in the last war. Father in the army. Mother in a defense plant. No home life. No church life. No place to go. They form street gangs. . . . Gang leaders have taken the place of parents." Despite this protective sermonizing, the film aroused substantial opposition. It did so for many reasons, but principally because it pictured a high school with unsympathetic administrators and teachers in the grip of teenage hoodlums. Given contemporary fears of just such a situation, and the belief that such was the case throughout the United States, the film's realistic texture was shocking. But other elements distressed some audiences. For example, the leading adolescent character is a black student, played with enormous sympathy and skill by Sidney Poitier. And the clash of cultures and generations, which later became standard in juvenile delinquency films, was in this, its first real expression, stated with stark and frightening clarity. For example, in one crucial scene, a teacher brings his precious collection of jazz records
to school to play for the boys, hoping, of course, to win them over. His efforts to reach out to them fail completely. The students mock and despise his music and then destroy his collection. They have their own music, their own culture, and their own language. Public response to Blackboard Jungle provided a glimpse of the audience division between generations and cultures. Attending a preview of the film, [one producer] was surprised, and obviously delighted, when young members of the audience began dancing in the aisles to the rock and roll music. This occurred repeatedly in showings after the film opened. But other reactions were more threatening. For example in Rochester, New York, there were reports that "young hoodlums cheered the beatings and methods of terror inflicted upon a teacher by a gang of boys" pictured in the film. But box office receipts in the first few weeks indicated a smash hit, and in New York City the first ten days at Loew's State theatre set a record for attendance. Nevertheless, the film caused an angry backlash against the film industry. Censors in Memphis, Tennessee, banned it. It was denounced by legal organizations, teachers, reviewers like Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, and even by the Teenage Division of the Labor Youth League (a Communist organization). The National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the Girl Scouts, the D.A.R., and the American Association of University Women disapproved it. The American Legion voted Blackboard Jungle the movie "that hurt America the most in foreign countries in 1955." And the Ambassador to Italy, Clare Booth Luce, with State Department approbation, forced the film's withdrawal from the Venice Film Festival. . . . [This disapproval notwithstanding, in general], by the end of the 1950s, Hollywood had ceased to treat the subject with any seriousness. Instead, youth culture films relied on stereotypes developed from more serious films, but voided of any content. Formulaic explanations took the place of complex or ambiguous portrayals. The generation gap and parental misunderstanding or inflexible authority figures were blamed for transforming the legitimate behavior of youth into criminality. As a result of the industry's gradual abandonment of the concept of the family film, studios began to use the delinquency/youth-culture theme as a subject exclusively for teenagers. Notions that had at one time been developed in serious films were reduced to formulas pitched to gain attention from younger audiences who delighted in the music, dancing, and daring of young film stars, and the apologetic behavior of parents and school officials. By the early 1960s the delinquency or youth-culture film had become a genre like the Western with expected elements that could be varied or reformulated to sustain interest. . . . [For example, ] High School Confidential, filmed in 1958, sampled delinquent stereotypes such as drag racing, drugs, sex, teenage jive language, rebellion against authority, and even incorporated a section featuring Beatnik philosophizing in a number entitled "Tomorrow is a Drag." But despite these serious subjects, the film lacked depth. Its moral position condemning drugs and misbehavior was merely a pretext to celebrate these and other facets of teenage culture. . . . There were other indications in the film industry that delinquency had lost some of its controversy, even for adults. In 1961 United Artists released West Side Story, one of the most successful musicals ever produced. Based on [the] 1957 Broadway hit, the film closely followed the original play . . . . The most essential element of that story is the theme, borrowed from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. West Side Story divides the ill-starred lovers by ethnicity and gang, not family. Tony and Maria fall in love but cannot overcome the hatred and misunderstanding of the rival ethnic gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. Ultimately, Tony is swept into a fight that sets off a rumble that destroys him.
An immense critical success, the film was, nonetheless, sometimes criticized for employing Natalie Wood as Maria [but] she had been identified with [similar] roles in earlier delinquency films. So was Russ Tamblyn, leader of the Jets, who had played the undercover narcotics snitch in High School Confidential. The most pleasing part of the film was the singing and dancing. The action—even the violence—was highly stylized. The two gangs sang of their hatred for each other. But when [Leonard] Bernstein set this action to music, he avoided the current teenage idiom of rock and roll; instead he used jazz. It was as if he chose to pitch the film to adults, not teenagers. Perhaps most important, the whole issue of juvenile delinquency is satirized—even the notion that crime comics caused delinquency. Thus, as the Jets wait for a rumble, one of them sprawls on a concrete stoop to read a comic book. Another remarks: “See them cops; they believe everything they read in the papers about us cruddy J.D.s [juvenile delinquents]. So that's what we give 'em. Something to believe in.” Then follows the hilarious song, "Gee, Officer Krupke," which satirizes the leading theories of delinquency. First claiming, "We ain't no delinquents. We're misunderstood," the gang moves through a mocking presentation of popular theories. The final reprise sums up these explanations of why a gang member is delinquent: Judge: The Trouble is he's crazy. Psychiatrist: The Trouble is he drinks. Social Worker. The Trouble is he's lazy. Judge: The Trouble is he stinks. Psychiatrist: The Trouble is he's growing. Social Worker: The Trouble is he's grown! All: Krupke, we got troubles of our own. Gee, Officer Krupke, we're down on our knees, Jet: ‘Cause no one wants a fellow with a social disease— Gee Officer Krupke, What are we to do? Gee Officer Krupke, Krup you! Thus Bernstein [and Sondheim, of course] undercut one of the most powerful attacks upon youth culture: the therapeutic model of explanation. . . . It may be interesting to compare the above description of 1950s delinquency with this very statistical look at youth violence in the Seventies and Nineties.
From: American Youth Violence, 1998 On two occasions in the past thirty years, the particular focus of public worry has turned to youth crime and youth violence. The first crisis began about 1975, in the wake of a substantial expansion in both crime rates and the youth population over the previous decade. This period lasted about three years. Its legislative impact was profound in New York State, where two separate layers of automatic transfer legislation were passed in 1976 and 1978, but more modest in most other places. The United States is currently [as of 1998] in the midst of its second crisis about youth crime. This time the focus is on deadly violence, or young males who carry guns and not infrequently discharge them. Concerns about youth violence came to center stage in the early
1990s. The amount of attention and legislation has remained high and shows no sign of abating. . .. "The Coming Storm" Juvenile violence in the United States is frequently depicted as a difficult current problem that will inevitably get worse. United States Representative Bill McCollum, chair of the House Subcommittee on Crime, touches all the usual bases in testifying before a House Committee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families in 1996: In recent years, overall crime rates have seen a modest decline—nevertheless, this general decline masks an unprecedented surge of youth violence that has only begun to gather momentum. Today's drop in crime is only the calm before the coming storm . . . It is important to keep in mind that [the current] dramatic increase in youth crime over the past decade occurred while the youth population was declining. Now here is that really bad news: This nation will soon have more teenagers than it has had in decades. In the final years of this decade and throughout the next, America will experience an "echo boom"—a population surge made up of the children of today's aging baby boomers. Today's enormous cohort of five year olds will be tomorrow's teenagers. This is ominous news, given that most [sic] violent crime is committed by older juveniles (those fifteen to nineteen years of age) than by any other age group. More of these youths will come from fatherless homes than ever before, at the same time that youth drug use is taking a sharp turn for the worse. Put these demographic facts together and brace yourself for the coming generation of "super-predators.” (emphasis in original) . . . McCollum’s statement is by no means extreme either in its rhetoric or in its substantive conclusions. It collects and repeats themes and terms quite common in the current round of alarm. His remarks will serve here as an archetypal warning about youth violence in the mid1990s. The three themes that form the core of the statement are found in a large number of political and policy analyses. The sequence in which these themes are usually presented is this: 1. The stability or decline in rates of violence is juxtaposed against increases in rates of violent crime by young offenders. 2. It is then asserted that the volume of violent offenses will increase even more dramatically with the expected growth of the number of teenagers in the period 1995-2010 and the increases in various measures of social disadvantages among children. 3. A further increase in serious violence is regarded as all but inevitable. The argument is not usually that prudent policy can avoid the crime wave on the horizon but that "we must prepare for the coming storm of violent youth crime." . . . In 1975 Time tells its readers:
The youth who are terrorizing the cities often belong to gangs, but gone are the old style rumbles with switch-blade knives and zip guns. Even criminals are frightened to work the streets in big-city areas. "I myself walk light when I am in the ghetto," says a Chicago holdup man. "I know the value of life has no weight. These younger criminals, they're sick." ("The Crime Wave") Twenty years later, both the medium and the message are the same in The Weekly Standard: We're talking about kids that have absolutely no respect for human life and no sense of the future. . . . In a typical remark, one prisoner fretted, "I was a badass street gladiator, but these kids are stone-cold predators!" (DiIulio 1995) The conviction that the current crop of young offenders is distinctively malevolent is important to the rhetorical case for a new policy. No matter how many additional youth crimes or young criminals are counted in a given year, the moral case for harsher punishment is better made by showing that the individual offender demands a different penal response. An account of how the individual robber, burglar, or killer is more dangerous thus meets the need of distinguishing the cases that were disposed of under traditional principles of juvenile and criminal justice; these were, after all, different and less serious offenders. Another rhetorical function of describing the especially vicious young criminal of the new age is to present an image to the audience that is far from that of a normal adolescent. The easiest way to make a case for more punitive responses to young offenders is to completely disassociate the offenders from other youths and to disassociate the policies toward young offenders from other policies toward youths. Renaming the class being described is one method of disassociation. "Stone-cold predators" and "younger criminals" have connotative meanings quite distant from terms like "child," "youth," "adolescent," and "kid." For most citizens, it is much easier to crack down on a "younger criminal" than on a "youth.". . . The Revolving Door The second part of the shared imagery of crisis in the 1970s and 1990s was the assertion that lenient treatment by the juvenile justice system was a major cause of high rates of youth crime. Two descriptions written eighteen years apart are typical: So many juveniles avoid arrest and prosecution that in a city like New York "the courts probably deal with less than 5 percent of the crimes against the person committed by juveniles." ("Upsurge in Violent Crime by Youngsters" 1978) The modern day reality, critics charge, is that too many are arrested, held and released time after time in a revolving-door process that ends only if a heinous crime is committed. (“Crime Time Bomb,” U.S. News and World Report, 1996) The usual culprit in the "revolving door" account is the juvenile court: "Nowhere does the revolving door of justice spin faster than in the juvenile court system. Nearly one-quarter of all juvenile arrests are dismissed immediately and only 10 percent result in detention of the offender. " (Paul J. McNulty, “Natural Born Killers?” Policy Review, 1995). . . In this view, the central problem with revolving-door justice is its failure to restrain and deter juvenile offenders
from further crime: "The kindergarten boys of today will be tomorrow's violent thugs unless America gets serious about punishing juvenile criminals" (McNulty 1995). An editorial in the Wall Street Journal is unqualified in its claim that leniency is a cause of violence: "Violent crime by juveniles soared in the '80s and '90s for one reason: Kids kept getting away with it" (1997). The arguments for harsher juvenile sanctions do not use the typical language of crime control. In the usual plea for sterner policy, terms like "general deterrence" and "incapacitation" do not appear. Instead, the key terms are "consequences for actions" and "accountability" (Senate Committee on the Judiciary 1996). . . . The most striking contrast between the 1970s crisis and that of the 1990s concerns the type of worries about the future and the evident theories of the causes of youth crime. There was, to begin, less emphasis on likely future developments in the 1970sâ€”things were bad enough in the present for even the most pessimistic observers. If conditions in 1975 cast shadows over the future, it was the fear of the future development of current young offenders. If the then current cohort of 15-year-olds had more than its share of nasty characters, the same bad dispositions that created special trouble in their teen years should also cause larger than usual problems in early adulthood. This is one variety of what sociologists call a cohort phenomenonâ€”a natural outgrowth of worries that the youth population of the present had more than its share of major offenders. The crime crisis of the 1990s placed much more emphasis on future trends than the earlier crisis, but the heavy emphasis was not put on the cohort effects to be expected as the 1990s generation of 15-year-olds grew up. The major problem of coming decades was . . . the trouble that would probably arise from the larger group of adolescents expected in the United States in the period between 2000 and 2010. Thus, Representative McCollum (1996) tells his colleagues that current conditions are only the calm before the coming storm [above]. The numerical basis for this concern is a projected increase in the adolescent population from the relatively low levels of 1990 and 1995. But how do we know whether and to what extent the teens of 2010 are likely to commit serious crimes of violence? Those who worried in 1975 that a group of adolescents aged 15 to 18 who have higher than average rates of violent crime might continue to cause above-average trouble based their concerns on the demonstrated propensities of a population group that already has a track record for misbehavior. The extent of cohort effects is difficult to estimate because predicting future behavior from past conduct is a tricky business. But a projection of future trends based on past conduct is not a novel or shocking element of social theory. The mid-1990s predictions of major crime explosions are not based on the demonstrated propensities of a population group. The teenagers of 2010 were either unborn in 1995 or under 4 years of age. Believing them to be almost certainly a coming storm of juvenile violence must imply that the causes of serious juvenile violence are fixed and objective circumstances, such as the number of children in a population group, family status, place of residence, and other characteristics determined at a very early age. Only a rather extreme version of a deterministic view of the causes of juvenile violence can give support to the notion that homicide rates fifteen years in the future can be predicted for a group of children currently between 2 and 4 years old. So talk about "270,000 juvenile superpredators coming at us in waves" in 2010 depends on a belief in fixed relationships between population characteristics and rates of serious violence. Two further points merit mention. As a tactical matter, the threat of future crisis might be thought necessary to attract public attention during a period when crime and violence are going down. As a political tactic, predicting a future crime wave in 2010 is almost riskless, if only because predictions fifteen years in the future do not often haunt those in political life.
As a strategic matter, however, arguing that the later course of criminal careers can be predicted long in advance seems inconsistent with doctrines of free will and moral accountability, which are important to the case for adult punishment and responsibility. The term "stone-cold predator" seems designed for persons who elect to violate the law when a life of crime might easily be avoided. Yet long-range predictions of juvenile behavior work well only if the outcome of choices between criminal and noncriminal life styles is highly predictable. There seems to be substantial tension between predicting with confidence that newborn babies in bad neighborhoods will produce a fixed quota of street predators and putting the full weight of moral blame that animates the machinery of criminal punishment on the products of this predetermined process. . . . The climate of concern in the early 1990s has produced a bumper crop of legislative responses at every level of government. Indeed, the most striking characteristic of the years since 1992 has been the universality of legislative responses to the youth crime crisis. . . . The following was written by William Ayers, who is admittedly of the belief that the young men involved in youth crime can be led away from that life through education and firm but consistent support. He also quotes Mr. DiIulio, as the author of American Youth Violence did, though from his own perspective.
From: A Kind and Just Parent, 1997 Crime is a standard media event and a heated political issue. Respondents in a recent  New York Times/CBS poll identified violent crime as "the biggest problem facing the nation." Yet the big news in 1995—from a Time cover story to a New York Times series—was that violent crime was down substantially. In New York the murder rate was down a whopping 31 % in six months. Politicians from left to right claimed credit, of course, while academics, criminologists, and policy-makers theorized: all the criminals are finally locked up; potential bad guys are scared straight by three strikes legislation, the massive prison building program, and the reinstitution of the death penalty everywhere; community-policing is a kinder, gentler, more effective approach to fighting crime. Somehow the good news fails to spell relief. After all the good news is distant, academicsounding, statistical. If we believed statistics we'd never play the lottery. Statistics are black and white, while the anecdotes and the nightly news are all in technicolor. . . . Bruce Shapiro, in an incisive analysis in The Nation called "How the War on Crime Imprisons America," reports that an organization called the Council on Crime in America, cochaired by former drug-czar William Bennett and former attorney general Griffin Bell, is touring the country with an alarming message: the decrease in crime is illusory, a misguided and weakwilled criminal justice system is putting dangerous criminals on the streets who continue to prey on our communities; and—most important—"a ticking time bomb" of young urban males is in our midst. As the number of teenagers peaks, the bomb will explode and "make the . . . Bloods and Crips look tame by comparison." The intellectual force behind the Council is . . . John DiIulio, Jr., who has written that "superpredators" are the biggest threat facing civilization, and that "all that's left of the 'black community' in some pockets of urban America is deviant, delinquent, and criminal adults surrounded by severely abused and neglected children, virtually all of whom were born out of wedlock." For DiIulio crime is a convenient racially coded word. [Ayers believes] the least
thoughtful, most draconian solutions feed and are fed by racial prejudice, assumptions of racial inferiority, and a strong sense of superiority. DiIulio describes prison as "socially beneficial and cost-effective," a “crime-restraint tool." He argues for expanding the already expansive prison construction effort, and for putting "more violent and repeat criminals, adult and juvenile, behind bars longer." There is little doubt who he intends us to lock up. . . . [Ayers thinks of his] own three boys—Zayd, Malik, Chesa. . . . I remember my anxiety and occasionally my anger when I saw them treated as things: a learning disability, a threatening teenager, a behavior problem. . . . I imagine them here [at the Nancy B. Jefferson School at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center]—lined up, controlled, pushed around, and mostly not allowed their little-boyness. Of course, . . . they are unlikely ever to set foot in this place [but] I can’t entirely resist the obvious and powerful similarities between [the boys at the School] and ours: the adolescent bravado, the sense of invulnerability, the natural narcissism, the precariousness, the frightening lapses in judgment. They are kids, after all, and nothing that they did can possibly change them into adults. The fourteen-year-old who pulled a gun is a kid with a gun; the sixteen-year-old in the gang war is a kid in a gang. . . . "What hinders your free will?" Frank [Tobin, a teacher at the Detention Center] asks, and [his] students' minds lock on the particulars of detention: "lights out," "wake up,” “the attendants." Frank acknowledges the limits here, the ways the institution takes away your ability to choose, but moves the conversation to before here, and after here. He offers imagined scenarios, but they are close to home and students add details and vignettes to elaborate: • A kid is hanging with his group, and it's his turn to get some money. He's going to steal a wallet, and a friend gives him a gun just to scare the guy. The guy reaches into his pocket, and the kid shoots him. • Another kid goes into a gas station and demands cash. He's not planning to hurt anyone or get killed himself. The guy has a gun. Bam! • One day some guys beat up a kid. Driving around with his crew, they spot the guys and the kid grabs a baseball bat. A friend warns him that they may be armed so he puts a pistol in his pocket, just in case. "Under certain circumstances every one of us will do the wrong thing," Frank says. "The point is to keep your head clear, to make good choices so you don't find yourself trapped by a string of stupid choices." Writing about the horrors of war and humanity's gaudy tendencies toward cruelty, Clive James notes that, while it is tempting to construct a political or psychological theory, "finally you are faced with the possibility that, however deeply buried, such nefarious capacities are within all of us." And so, Frank continues [to Ayers], "I know I'm capable. With the wrong influences, without love and support, with rage and frustration and drugs and guns . . . So I'm in no position to judge. That's up to God. All I can do is create an environment to bring out their goodness, to display it for them and for me. I want them to experience being loved, being good, and to feel a more peaceful, happier way of living." For Frank Tobin the criminal act, the violence, is one thing. The circumstances are a second thing. And the person still another. "People say you're criminals," Frank tells the students one morning. "And if you believe that, you're doomed. Oh, you may have committed a crime, you may have done something terrible. And you need to account for that, and sometimes that
accounting is heavy. But everything you do is not criminal. You are more than a single act, and you have a life ahead of you that is more than that one bad act. Your job is to find a way to live beyond the worst thing you ever did." . . . . And now, a “blast from the past”: in the course of researching Arthur Miller for The Crucible as well as the community-wide effort to get everyone to read Mr. Miller’s work, I came across the following description of his own time observing young New York City gang members during the same historical period as West Side Story.
Arthur Miller meets the Gang From: Timebends Throughout his career, and no doubt in part due to his journalism training, Miller would observe specific people in their situations to inform pieces he was working on. The following excerpts from his autobiography chronicle his time around a gang of young men and Vincent Riccio, a man who had grown up in the same circumstances without “succumbing.” Of particular interest is the “fair fight” Riccio arranges in place of a “rumble.”
It was an ironical summer packed with powerful images that I would never forget. Many mornings I spent with Marty and [producer Kermit] Bloomgarden planning the new production and meeting actors for the remaining parts, or in [designer] Boris and Lisa Aronson's Central Park West apartment studying his endlessly revised set designs for the two plays, my soul only half there, but still exhilarated with life and at the same time ridden by guilt, a spinning whirl in my head, a drunkenness with the blasted, limitless beauty of existence. In the late afternoons I would be out in Brooklyn, in the Bay Ridge hotbox where I had attached myself to Vincent Riccio, who was teaching me how to maneuver in an area exploding with some of the worst violence in the city. The summer nights were the best for war, and the mindlessness of it all somehow reflected my own humbled pretensions to an ordered life. The part of Bay Ridge where Riccio was based was a white slum made up of Irish, Italians, and some families of German and Norwegian background, and the houses did not look bad from the street. The vast black ghetto of Bedford-Stuyvesant was not far away, but race conflicts were not the problem. Occasionally, in fact, black boys would take long subway rides to join in a white rumble, just to see some action when things got too quiet back home. Of course, all-black gangs were warring with each other no less than the whites were, and for no better reasons. The strife was so bewildering partly because it seemed utterly profitless; a tall, goodlooking black eighteen-year-old, a physician's son from the Bronx, who had traveled all the way to Bay Ridge to join a fight, simply shrugged when I asked him why and gave me an opaque look edged with contempt for my powerlessness to penetrate his mind. They drew a certain perverse sense of dignity from the very purposelessness of their wars, a gallant kicking over of society's tables of loss and gain. The spirit's logic was the mind's irrationality. With Riccio my guide, it was not hard to map what from the outside seemed a sealed-off jungle. Fairly soon it was obvious that tribal organizations with boys instead of adults at their head were being substituted for weak or absent fathers. These youths had reverted to an age of chivalry whose misread pennants fluttered in their confused heads. But they were not without pathos. The gang had its president, treasurer, secretary of war—a government in miniature, but one based on respect, especially for their leaders, rather than on any material motive. In America they believed in nothing, in the gang they doubted nothing. Guys might suddenly decide to go over to Fulton Street to rob some passerby on the street, but they went as individuals, not as gang
members, and did not look for gang support in these forays. As gang members they were a shadow military who saw themselves fighting for something like honor and the sublime spoils of victory. The problem, it soon seemed to me, was that in trying to suppress these gangs society had assumed that gain was the only real motive for human action, while the gang, albeit in a distorted and desperate way, considered itself useful to the community. The gang members longed for pride; money was something each would try to get on his own time. Like all idealisms, theirs made it difficult to figure out what they really wanted and what would satisfy that want. A former slum kid himself, the youngest of twenty-one brothers and sisters brought up in respectable poverty, Riccio understood this. In his mid-twenties, he was a graduate of St. John's, a subway university, had no advanced degrees or prospect of earning any, and at least in his own mind was in a demeaning conflict with the more intellectually sophisticated leadership of Mobilization for Youth, which was administering this infiltration program. He had boxed as a lightweight in the navyâ€”"where I won my dentures," as he put itâ€”and his handy combination punches more than anything else had won him respect among the boys. His approach was theoretically simple: "They've got no fathers, so I'm the role model, so they keep testing me for the soft spot where I cave in to their threats or join in some gang bang. They'd like me to turn phony on them, and at the same time they secretly hope I don't; it's like you'd like to be good without you have to stop being bad." And so there was a keen tension between their incipient cynicism toward him and a touching hope for their own salvation through his example and help. Riccio had a very fine line to walk between his roles as society's representative and the boys' trusted ally. The police had never really accepted Mobilization's demand that its street workers not be required to divulge knowledge of a crime, although there had been an agreement on that touchy point. In effect, the police wanted the street workers to act as informers, something that clearly would crush the boys' confidence in them. Some individual cops understood and respected this confidentiality, but most resented it; it gradually eroded; and for this among other reasons the program was eventually undermined. A tide was turning in 1955, and one felt it even then: for one thing, it was the first time narcotics were noticed in the neighborhoods, though I thought this only symptomatic of a wider but impossible-to-define disorientation that far transcended the gangs. One evening at dinner with Jim McCarthy and Mobilization's chief theoretician, Richard Cloward of the Columbia University School of Social Work, the question arose as to how this generation of youth differed from our own of the Thirties. We were sitting in a spaghetti joint on the Lower East Side next to a housing project where a particularly destructive outbreak was taking place. Fires were being set in hallways, elevators sabotaged, windows smashed, feces strewn on stairways. But relatively few attacks were directed at people. The police were overwhelmed and had asked McCarthy to come in and make suggestions, since he by now had had some publicity as Mayor Wagner's troubleshooter on youth problems. Tall, overweight, and cheerful, now and then wearing a baseball cap when he approached the gangs, McCarthy was quick to laugh, but his rather innocent Irish eyes never lost their seriousness; during a conversation, he would keep nodding and saying, "Right, right." He thought there was some connection between the vandalism and events of the past few months in the project. A tenants' union had been organized, with committees that were put in charge of keeping order on each floor, the members visiting families whose kids were troublemakers and generally acting as adjudicators of disputes between one apartment and another. It had been working very well until the district's state assemblyman launched an investigation of the union as a Red [i.e., Communist] front and within a short time managed to disband it, searing off the
membership. The political organization of the buildings, Jim theorized, had lifted the morale and sense of responsibility of the tenants, many of them menial workers and some periodically unemployed. Of course it was understood among us at the table that Mobilization, a city agency, could hardly come to the defense of the tenants' union, which indeed might be a left-led organization, even if in this instance it had done socially useful work. What, we wondered, could substitute for it? The Democratic and Republican parties were hardly about to organize tenants' committees in housing projects; it wasn't their style. In a word, this particular outbreak, and perhaps some others, could be traced to the frustration of self-expression. The depoliticalization of the project led to the broader question of what social ideals would be moving people in the immediate future, for the Fifties were baffling, a time, at least so far, without a dominant accent or form. The three of us had grown up during the Depression, when it had been all but impossible to think of one's individual fate apart from that of society. The rise of this obscure tenants' union seemed like a throwback to a perfectly normal and ordinary reaction, Thirties-style, of a community of people caught in a common problem— namely, to deal with it by mutual action and responsibility. It might well be that Communists were behind this union, but if collective action itself was to be forbidden, then collective responsibility would obviously have no community support, and things would inevitably end with every man for himself and desperate phone calls to the overwhelmed or indifferent police. We sensed that we were at the edge of a gulf that would have to be crossed. "If common action of this kind is out, how are people going to visualize their evolution?" I asked Cloward in particular, since he was more the theoretician than McCarthy or I. "The question is going to be lifestyle," he replied. I had never heard the expression before. "What's that mean?" "There will be competing styles of life, symbolic and essentially meaningless differences in clothing, speech patterns, tastes in food, cars, and so forth. The class struggle is over for now, and maybe even the conception of rank-and-file organizing. People are less and less interested in common action, which even now is getting to seem strange and kind of pointless. Identification will be more and more in terms of style—the self-image will be politically neutralized that way. It's going to be style-conscious, not class-conscious." It seemed an empty idea to me, but it returned to mind early one evening in July when I saw Billy, a boy I knew, slumped in a Bay Ridge doorway, unconscious. He was one of six children of a longshoreman, Tommy Flaherty, a small man who lived with his family above a bar and who loved to stand out on the sidewalk and challenge anyone who showed up to a footrace around the block. He never lost, even against young guys. His fast feet were his pride. More than once I saw Billy and his older brothers forcing their father upstairs against his will because his childishness was an embarrassment to them, and for the sake of their mother, a startlingly lovely and dignified woman now nursing her sixth infant. They were a handsome family, blue-eyed and flaxen-haired, the boys tall and straight, and Margaret, the mother, a proud woman still in her early forties. Billy was the apple of her eye, the one who had never stolen and never been arrested and seemed destined, with his delicate hands and fine features, for something like his uncle Raymond's career as a successful stockbroker on Wall Street, whose clean towers across the bay could be seen beyond the end of the street. To me, as to his friends, Billy's behavior during the past weeks had begun to seem weird; he had become furtive, with an absent look, and no one could understand his sudden transformation. Then he began disappearing when the gang went to war, and it was finally realized that drugs—once they had learned he was on a drug—made a guy useless to them. Beer was something else, it unshackled you sometimes, but heroin encased a man within himself. Of
course it wasn't a question of their disapproving of narcotics but a matter of the practical loss of a good fighter. Narcotics menaced even their subculture with its ultimate privatism, and they consciously understood the threat quite soon. My memory of this in the Sixties made it seem untrue and absurd when the new revolutionaries began touting drugs as a challenge to society and a pathway toward liberation. Billy died of an overdose, the result either of poor information or of despair, but hardly of protest, I thought; it was an end still so novel that it did indeed seem arbitrary. Its fundamental pointlessness, the unredeemed waste, connected with Cloward's speculation about "lifestyle," how accurately I could not yet fully understand. At Billy's wake, in the family's small apartment above the bar, his beautiful mother sat with her youngest infant on her lap, staring into space with a fixed dead smile and neither bitterness nor anger in her eyes, for she was beyond those feelings. The sons, all in their best clothes, sat sighing with boredom but protective of their mother, while their father, his performer's instinct fired up as he faced the little crowd of a dozen or so mourners, went around showing off a new tie he had bought for the occasion. He leaned over me, stroking it. "Like the tie, Art?" His ineptitude clouded his sons' faces with hopeless pain. In his open coffin Billy looked his old surprised self, with skin too fair to bury and a face hardly marked by his eighteen years. I would not have been able to believe then that he was only the first victim of a scourge. After three or four weeks in the streets with the gangs, I became cautiously optimistic about being able to write a film script. For one thing, I loved their mangled English. . . . That spring, . . . some thirty . . . boys had been bussed up to a YMCA camp near Peekskillâ€”their first time out in the country. Here, where they were immeasurably safer than down in the neighborhood, they were frightened of being alone and insisted on sleeping several to a cot. Mungy alone seemed content, . . . , wandering off by himself to peer up at a bird in a tree or lose himself staring at the running brook. There he captured a large painted turtle and tied a string around its neck, waiting patiently for it to move and taking a few steps at a time beside it as if it were a dog on a leash. Looking up at me, he said, "I'm commutin' with nature." The YMCA camp was normally closed so early in spring but had been especially opened for the gang's weekend at a time when no other children would be there, the management having been apprised of the boys' reputation. Gang boys in Harlem in the Twenties had usually been pretty good athletes, and I expected the same now, but when these boys managed to hit a ball they were breathless by the time they got to first base and had to lie down. In the lake they floundered about, none daring to go out over his head, and they refused to play the outfield except in a mob of half a dozen at a time, afraid of derision should they miss a fly ball. They would protectively conceal whoever missed the catch, even here moving together like a gaggle of geese. A busload of girls from some middle-class Manhattan school showed up unexpectedly, and the camp manager quickly summoned Riccio to tell him to get the gang on its bus and out as fast as possible. But Riccio guaranteed him peace and tranquility, which I thought was distinctly in danger when the girls suddenly appeared around the swimming pool, bursting out of their skin-tight swimsuits. Rape was one of the occasional sports the gang indulged in, and I glanced around for signs of trouble. The gang had magically disappeared, and the pool was entirely given over to this female visitation. Imagining a council of war going on, I went off looking for the boys. Only a few yards into the surrounding shrubbery, I found them crouching like a band of frightened aborigines on an uncharted island peering out through the foliage at incredible invading creatures. I had never seen them so serious, so awed, as when a girl made a high arching dive from the board, followed by others slanting into the water in racing form and
speeding up and down the length of the pool. Here were two civilizations, divided between those who could breathe and those who could barely do so, between the fed and trained and the deprived and ashamed. . . . “A character is defined," I once wrote in a notebook, "by the kinds of challenges he cannot walk away from. And by those he has from that cause him remorse." But what I had omitted out of inexperience was the overwhelming power of the past to overflow the dam of lifelong restraints so that choice it self floats off in the debris. In the Bay Ridge streets life had burst the last respect for rule in the gang boy's brutal revolt against such specious moral rationalizations as his school and parents had bothered to give him. . . . One night on an abandoned pier from which the Wall Street skyline could be seen, two gangs assembled for a new kind of battle that Riccio had invented. A war had been brewing between the had gangs, insults had been exchanged, satisfaction refused, and Riccio had convinced the leaderships (replicating the knightly jousts of individual horsemen, a tradition he knew nothing about) that each side should elect a champion to represent it and stage a "fair fight." Weeks of negotiation followed, culminating in this night, when some fifty guys, ages twelve to eighteen, congregated on the splintered pier. There were to be no weapons, only fists and feet. Few could box well; they were street fighters who always handled weapons, chains or knives or sometimes a bag of steel bearings. There was no moon, and it was hot even beside the river. A few freighters lay out in the roads, and from one of them a Puerto Rican radio commercial could be heard floating across the water. “This music I heard across the water," I thought, incorrectly recalling a lovely line so separate from this ugly time. Kenny Costello—a thin boy of sixteen with an uncontrolled temper, already an ex-jailbird, and a fair player of the guitar, an instrument he had taken up after stealing it from a Fulton Street pawnshop—came dancing among his cohorts in the lights of a police cruiser that obligingly appeared just as he and his opponent, a much heavier, clumsy Italian boy whose name I never got, faced each other with Riccio between them as referee. Costello broke open a bees' nest of short sharp jabs that sent the larger guy falling backwards, and the fight was finished in a minute, no more. The relief was almost wide open on all sides that something had been settled, no one knew quite what. Riccio made a charming speech beginning with “Listen, fellas, I gotta say this—you make me proud," praising all of them for inventing a worldshattering new way of settling disputes. Calling the leaders together to shake their hands and congratulate them for their wisdom in safeguarding the honor of their troops he shortcut any smoldering objections of the frustrated young brawlers by promising both gangs nothing less than a city-paid-for mass bus ride to Coney Island the following evening, with a free hotdog and a soda for each guy, and maybe more if there was money left over. I caught a glimpse of the two cops in the cruiser as it turned and majestically moved away into the darkness. They were not amused by Riccio's display of an authority that had always been exclusively theirs. They had been accustomed to prowling the neighborhood and, on finding a clot of boys on a corner, getting out and batting them around for a few sporting minutes to "disperse an unruly crowd. It was about then that strange men began appearing on those same corners, unmolested by the police, men who would take a curious boy into an alleyway and make him a present of powder he might want to try. What was in those glassine bags would make this time of the gangs seem like high good health, the last period of dignity that many such neighborhoods would ever know. They were boys nobody wanted, that much was as clear to them as to any observer. They were excess, and in the bars after they got out of jail they would pridefully unfold their
newspaper clippings, accounts of their arrests and trials, which they carried around carefully folded in an envelope, like actors with their notices. Everything was publicity; if your name was in the paper you existed, and your photo on top of that was immortality—you had made it out of this throttling anonymity, this nothing. . . . Discussion Questions\Activities • Write an essay comparing one of the following similarities between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story: Young people fiercely loyal to each other The importance of a social dance Love at first sight Secret wedding Friend killed and the compulsion to retaliate Family-approved suitor vs. personal choice Sympathetic, yet ineffective adult figure Worlds that do not allow for the innocence and beauty of love • What are the causes of the tragedy in West Side Story? • Does the fact Tony and Maria act hastily and impulsively contribute to their tragedy? • Does the fact Tony and Maria disobey the wishes of their families and social groups contribute to their tragedy? • Is the tragedy of West Side Story a tragedy of fate? • Which actions make the outcome of the plot unavoidable? • Do you find the fact Maria lives on without Tony more or less tragic than the death of both Romeo and Juliet? • Nationalities and cultures around the world have different, often opposing views of love and marriage. Maria is expected to enter into a marriage with Chino arranged by her family. However, she finds herself romantically attracted to Tony. What are the benefits of arranged marriages? What are the drawbacks? • Would you be willing to enter into an arranged marriage? Why? Why not? • Explore the history of arranged marriages. Why have they occurred at certain periods of history and not in others? In certain cultures and not in others? Do they still exist today? • Do you believe in the kind of love at first sight experienced by Tony and Maria? Write an essay in which you discuss whether or not love at first sight can be the basis of a lasting relationship. • Maria and Tony come from two distinct cultural backgrounds. Why was their relationship a threat to both groups? • How are interracial and interreligious marriages viewed in our own society? What forces in our society preserve negative attitudes towards such marriages? • What is the attitude in your own community towards marriages between members of different religious, racial, or social groups? Do you agree with these attitudes? How have they been formed? Have they changed in the last twenty-five years? Do you think they will change in the future? Why? Gangs, Peer Pressure and Values
• The belief systems of the Sharks and the Jets set the tragic events of West Side Story into motion. What are some of the expressed values and principles of the two groups? Do you think these values and principles are good or bad? • How does adhering to these values contribute to the tragic outcome? • Why do young people feel the need to belong to gangs? • Why does Riff want Tony to be present at the rumble? Why does Tony attend? • Could Tony's thoughts and actions surrounding his confrontation with Bernardo have been handled differently? • Anita is proud of her affiliation with the Sharks and of her cultural heritage. She is also a good, caring friend to Maria. How do these two qualities create a conflict for her? How do they affect her actions in West Side Story? • Write a description of what you think would have happened to Tony and Maria if the Jets had not assaulted Anita in the drugstore and she had delivered Maria’s true message to Tony. • How does Chino's loyalty to Bernardo affect the action? • Write about an experience you have had that involved peer pressure. How did you react? How do you feel about the outcome? • Read a book or group of articles on gang culture in the United States today [the Post Standard ran some articles about local gangs this past summer]. Report on a contemporary gang culture. • The role of women in the gangs of West Side Story is very peripheral. What is the current and emerging role of women in gang culture? How do female gangs differ from male gangs? • Discuss the character of Anybody’s. Create a history for her character that explains her allegiance to the gang and her need for acceptance by them. • Discuss the causes of violent behavior among young people in contemporary America. Research the possible involvement of television in causing violent behavior. • The morality of the Sharks and Jets centers around group loyalty and protection of turf by any means. Discuss this concept. • Loyalty to other gang members seems to have a greater value to the Sharks and the Jets than the value of an individual life. What is the value of life in our society? Are the attitudes the same in different economic classes? • What is the pattern in America today for settling social disputes? By rational means or through violence? How effective is the law in settling disputes? Cultural Conflict in West Side Story • Friction between groups of diverse backgrounds is part of American history. What factors in contemporary life contribute to this problem? What can be done to control it? • Imagine yourself as an immigrant today. How would you feel about leaving your homeland, about learning a new language, about making new friends? • What causes the members of one group to dislike and distrust another? What happens when these attitudes are officially sanctioned? • What is stereotyping? Why is it dangerous? • Different nationalities came to the United States to escape poverty, civil unrest, and political repression. In their search for a better life, like the Puerto Ricans in West Side Story, these immigrants often encountered problems and antagonisms. Briefly trace immigration to the United States from the 1820s to the present day from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and the West Indies.
• Research the immigration of Puerto Ricans into the New York City area. What kinds of problems and antagonisms existed for the new arrivals? What is the status quo of the Puerto Rican community in New York City today? • Do the events depicted in West Side Story relate to current problems of more recent immigrants? Pick a specific group, such as Hungarians, Haitians, Cubans, Vietnamese, or Koreans, and research their reasons for coming to this country, as well as the problems they have faced since their arrival. Cover such areas as housing, jobs, discrimination, or difficulty in entering the country. • What is an immigration quota? How have these quotas changed over the years? Are there certain groups which seem to get preferential treatment? Why? What are some of the reasons for immigration authorities for refusing immigrants entry to the United States (i.e. politics, health, race)? • Write about the role of prejudice in the settlement of this country. Are there groups in American society today that experience prejudice? Why? What can be done to change this situation? • Select a contemporary conflict at home or abroad that has its roots in religious, racial or class prejudice. Why does it exist? Cultural Identity • What is cultural identity? • What problems do the Puerto Ricans in West Side Story or any minority group have in retaining cultural identity while living in another dominant culture? • Assimilation is the acceptance of the dominant culture (in the case of the United States, the white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon culture) by an emigrant group. What are the advantages of assimilation? The disadvantages? • Some immigrant groups retain the strict cultural heritage of their homeland through religion, custom, and language, even if the group is living in another dominant culture. What are the advantages of such retention? The disadvantages? • Amalgamation is blending of certain traditions of a minority culture and those of the dominant culture into a dynamic unity. What are some examples of cultural amalgamation in our country? In your community? • What comment does the song "America” make about cultural identity? • What groups in America have been prevented from total assimilation? Why? • Trace the history of Native Americans assimilation (or non-assimilation) into the dominant culture of the United States. Is this history similar to that of the immigrants? What are the problems of the Native Americans today with respect to cultural identity? The Generation Gap • The adults in West Side Story seem powerless to prevent the self-destructive actions of the young people in their community. Why do you think they are powerless? What could any of them have done differently to change the outcome? • Doc seems closest to understanding the gang members, yet he cannot influence them. Is this entirely his fault? • What are the Jets expressing in the song “Officer Krupke"? • Do parents play any role in West Side Story? Could they have made a differences?
• Is a gap in understanding inevitable between generations? Do you have a generation gap with your parents? With your teachers? With other adults in your life? Who is responsible for these gaps? Why? Can these gaps be lessened? How? • Write a description of a social problem in your community involving young people or older people. • Are the leading figures in your community sensitive to the problems of young people? Are the police? General Questions • If you were going to produce West Side Story now, would you set it in the present or in 1957? What changes would you make and why? • Watch the movie version West Side Story. Write a critical essay comparing the film to the show. • Is there a character in West Side Story you admire or with whom you identify? Give your reasons. • Trace the development of Tony, Maria and Anita through the show. How do they grow and change? • Do you think the creators of West Side Story sided with either the Sharks or the Jets? Defend your answer. West Side Story as Musical Theatre • Look at each song in West Side Story. What do you think inspired or “launched” specific songs? • In modern American musicals songs may express a mood or describe a person place or thing but many songwriters try to advance the plot through song also. Identify which songs fit these different categories. • What do we learn about the world in which West Side Story takes place from “America,” or any other song? • Can you think of another place in the show where a song might have been placed? What would be a title for this new song? What would it be about? What kind of music would it have? Try to write a few lines of the song lyric or melody. • Music, lyrics and dance are effectively integrated in West Side Story. Identify the places in the show where dance is used. How is dance used to express emotion? Where is dance used naturalistically? Why is dance more powerful at certain moments than words might be? • Listen for examples of how composer Leonard Bernstein used rhythm to create mood, atmosphere and emotion. • At the very end of the show, as the two gangs appear to be cooperating to carry Tony's body, a peaceful-sounding high chord alternates with a ominous-sounding low note. Yet this dissonance between these two sounds never resolves. By ending the show without a musical resolution (a traditional tonal cadence), what comment do you think Bernstein is making? • For the musically inclined: A tritone is considered to be one of the ugliest and harshestsounding melodic intervals (from C to F-sharp, for example). Play a tritone on a piano keyboard. Bernstein adapted this interval—one that's usually avoided by composers—into many of the songs in West Side Story. Find the tritones in the melodies of "Cool"; “Maria"; the Prologue; or the Finale. Why did Bernstein use this interval? Where else does the tritone appear?
Create Your Own Musical • Select a classic play that could be turned into a musical. Why would this play make a good musical? How would it “sing”? What role would music play in it? What kind of music will your characters sing? Will the musical include dance? • What elements of this classic play make it relevant today? Where would you set it in terms of time and place: its original setting, a contemporary setting, etc.? • Outline your musical, scene by scene. • Make a list of the characters you would include. • Make a list of the songs you would include. • Write the first scene, a turning point scene, and the final scene of your musical. • Write a lyric or a melody for one of the songs. -And/Or• Create a plan for a totally new musical theatre adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Using the basic plot and situation, think of a whole new world in which to place it. If you were going to tell this story today where would it take place? Why? What social issues would still be relevant? Which social issues would you add? •What kind of music would your characters sing? Would the musical include dance? What kind? • Discuss the ideas presented in the show and their contemporary relevance. Sources Consulted American Youth Violence. Franklin E. Zimring. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Backstory 2: Interview with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. Pat McGilligan, ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991. Bernstein Revises Bernstein. Janelle Gefland. 23 May 2002. The Cincinnati Enquirer. 22 July 2002. http://enquirer.com/editions/2002/05/23/tem_a_Bernstein_revises.html Brief History of Puerto Rico. No editor. 21 January 1997. Geocities.com. 23 July 2002. www.geocities.com/TheTropics/3684/history.html Conversations about Bernstein. William Westbrook Burton, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Cool. Michael Quinion, ed. 26 August 2000. Quinion.com. 24 August 2002. http://www.quinion.com/words/qa/qa-coo1.htm A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent n the 1950s. James Gilbert. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins. Greg Lawrence. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001.GV 1785 R52 L39 2001
Elena’s Travel Guide [to Puerto Rico]. Elena Harley. No date. Dialupnet.com. 23 July 2002. www.rainforestsafari.com/history.html History of Puerto Rico. No editor. ©2002. Encyclopedia.com. 23 July 2002. www.encyclopedia.com/html/section/PuertoRi_People.asp A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court. William Ayers. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997. 364.36 AYE The Leonard Bernstein Collection. Albert Tucker. 14 Feb. 2002. The Library of Congress. 22 July 2002. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/lbhtml/lbhome.html Leonard Bernstein: A Life. Meryle Secrest. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. ML410.B566 S43 1994 The Making of West Side Story. Keith Garebian. Toronto: ECW Press, 1995. Original Story by: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood. Arthur Laurents. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000 . The Show-Makers: Great Directors of the American Musical Theatre. Lawrence Thelen. New York: Routledge, 2000. Spotlight on Jamie Bernstein Thomas. No editor. ©2001. WQXR FM/The New York Times. 22 July 2002. www.wqxr.com/cgi-bin/iowa/cla/spotlight/article.html?record=273 Stephen Sondheim. No editor. ©1994-2002. Sondheim.com. 3 May 2002. www.Sondheim.com/shows/chron.html Stephen Sondheim: A Life. Meryle Secrest. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. ML 410 S6872 S43 1998 Tin horn. No editor. ©2000. Bartleby.com. 19 August 2002. http://www.bartleby.com/61/58/T0225800.html
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