Actors from EMU's Theater Program will bring words to life in this staged reading of Houdini at the Sponberg Theater free of charge.
EMU Theater Professor Lee Stille is the director of the production. The Houdini play was graciously funded by Michigan Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, EMU's Center for Jewish Studies, the English Department, and YpsiWrites.
Elisabeth Däumer is a professor of English and women and gender studies. She is the administrator that came up with the idea to put on the production.
“We think performing Rukeyser's long-neglected play on the legendary escape artist Harry Houdini is the perfect vehicle for making EMU and southeast Michigan audiences aware of Rukeyser's work and the way it speaks to our current historical moment as we face political, environmental, medical, and social crises, all of them impacting mental health and communal well-being,“ Däumer said.
Muriel Rukeyser, the author of the play, is a Jewish American writer and known poet. She is best known for her political themes since in many of her writings she responded to the events of her time.
“She incorporated poetry into popular forms, like her musical on Houdini, to make it accessible and fun,” Däumer said.
In these staged readings, actors use scripts, relying on language, movement, and the audience's imagination, to recreate Rukeyser's telling of Houdini's story.
Harry Houdini is a legendary escape artist and illusionist that was known for doing near-death tricks but always managing to escape them.
Rukeyser’s musical dedicated a whole scene to Houdini’s narrow escape from death during one event in 1906.
“He leaped from Belle Isle Bridge, handcuffed, chained, and leg-ironed, into the icy Detroit River,“ Däumer said. “As legend has it, the river was frozen, and he entered it through a small hole in the ice."
Twenty years later, in 1926, Houdini performed his last show in Detroit, despite suffering from a burst appendix at the time, and died a week later in Detroit's Grace Hospital.
“We also want to make the EMU campus community, and the larger community of southeast Michigan, aware of EMU's resources for studying and teaching Rukeyser,“ Däumer said. "The Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive has works that have been donated to the Halle Library Archives and will be made available, both physically and digitally to the public soon.”
There will be three performances for this event, one at Riverside Arts Center on Thursday, March 24, at 7 p.m. and two at Detroit's Matrix Theater on Saturday, March 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 27, at 3 p.m.
For more information on Muriel Rukeyser visit The Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive.