UW News

September 23, 2014

‘Celebrity and its Discontents’: The 2014 Performing Arts Lecture Series

From Helen of Troy to the Kardashian sisters, celebrities have fascinated the public for centuries. Why? And what is the effect on those in the spotlight?

This year’s Performing Arts Lecture Series, presented by the University of Washington School of Drama, explores the power of celebrity from unique perspectives at 7:30 p.m. on three autumn Tuesday evenings in the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre. The series is titled “Celebrity and its Discontents.”

Oct. 7: Odai Johnson, “The Predatory Gaze of Looking.” In this first talk, Johnson, professor of drama and director of the school’s doctoral program, will examine the relationship between celebrity and the artist it feeds upon. “Sometimes it feasts upon the private life, but usually it begins with the choice bits — the artistic impulse itself,” Johnson said.

Oct. 21: Ruby Blondell, “Advertised for 2,700 Years and Now You Get Her! – Helen of Troy on the Silver Screen.” In an era that believes beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Blondell, professor of classics, asks how one can possibly cast any performer as the most beautiful woman in the world? This talk, she said, explores “how harnessing the glamour of stardom is the most persuasive means of capturing Helen of Troy’s mythical celebrity on screen.”

Blondell is the author of “Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation” (2013) and is at work on a project exploring Helen in modern cinema and culture.

Nov. 4: Cathy Madden, “Pioneering Spirit in the Celebrity of the Discontented Everyman:  F.M. Alexander.” Madden, principal lecturer in drama, teaches the Alexander Technique, an educational process used by actors that seeks to calm unnecessary movement and provide balance, named after Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955).

Madden noted that one function of celebrity is “to hold up to us what is possible.” She said Alexander’s type of celebrity “reminds us that we can pioneer our lives, responding to discontent with constructive desire and steadfast in our ability to be a celebrity in our own world.” Madden is at work on a book about the process, to be published in 2015.

The three lectures will provide insights into the phenomenon that once prompted radio comedian Fred Allen to say, “A celebrity is a person who works hard all of their life to become well known, and then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.”

The cost for each evening is $10, but students get in free. Tickets are available online.