Many talented performers bring works to life on a stage or in film. But a select few artists are so distinctive they become icons, defining for audiences – often for many years beyond their careers – the art they serve. Marlon Brando defined a “new” kind of American acting. Sidney Poitier broke the color barrier for leading man movie stars. Maria Callas showed that opera was an equal parts theatre and music. Greta Garbo helped us understand the visual power of a film image. Frank Sinatra defined in song the male voice of the 1950s. Today, Laverne Cox is paving the way for transgender actors.
This seminar course will focus on iconic performers. It is part analysis (interpreting in detail what it is these artists do), and part cultural study (why it matters, and also seeking to understand the larger circumstances at play in forging an icon). In addition to the performers mentioned above, we’ll also study Mae West, Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, and other historical figures – as well as some more contemporary artists that the class will choose together. To support our work, we will use film, audio recordings, scripts, criticism and analytical essays, biography, and more.