Lecture recognizes women of early theater

 

By Hilary Igl

 

Broadway, to some, is a renowned and specialized art form. While careers in the theater range from actors, stage managers, directors, hidden deep are the Broadway dance arrangers.

Giving light to these arrangers was the focus of a recent lecture in the Fairhaiven Series. “The Craft of Broadway Dance Arrangers” focused on the careers of Broadway dance arrangers Trude Rittman and Genevieve Pitot.

On Monday Dr. Jane Ferencz, an associate professor of musicology, gave insight to the trials of being a woman in theater during the 1930s and ‘40s.

Rittman was from Germany and trained as a composer at a conservatory. She moved to the U.S. after Adolf Hitler came to power.

“Rittman is probably the more famous of the two because she worked with Rogers and Hammerstein,” Ferencz said. “So she did dance music for a lot of the famous musicals of the time [including] ‘South Pacific’ and ‘The King and I.’”

Pitot, the main focus of Ferencz’s research, was discovered by a French pianist in her hometown of New Orleans. She studied music in France after World War I and upon her return to the U.S., began writing songs for musicals.

The lecture was part of UW-Whitewater’s annual Fairhaven Lecture Series. As a part of the series, each fall and spring semester UW-W faculty and occasionally guest speakers (such as business owners or authors) give speeches at the Fairhaven Retirement Community.

The lecture series originally was created in the 1970s as a way to share the knowledge and expertise that is generated on the UW-W campus. Despite starting out small, the series has grown to host 10 to 14 lectures each semester.

Since its creation over 600 lectures have been delivered to over 20,000 people in the community, according to lecture series organizer Kari Borne.

Borne said this spring’s theme “Remarkable Women” was chosen because there hadn’t been a series completely focused on women in the history of the Fairhaven Lecture series.

“We certainly have a lot of faculty here on campus who can talk about a lot of different women,” Borne said. “We also have a lot of female faculty themselves who do incredible research.”

Borne chooses speakers six months before each semester’s series begins by extending invitations to faculty members in all different departments and colleges across campus. She said she likes to select a diverse set of lecturers so that audiences can grasp all of the different fields of research conducted at UW-W.

Based on her research, Ferencz spoke about the lack of recognition and disrespect that Rittman and Pitot faced throughout their careers in the theater.

“Trude Rittman spoke about how sometimes she was the only woman in the room,” Ferencz said. “She had to be assertive and make sure her voice was heard. Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t.”

Both Rittman and Pitot often went uncredited for their work on musicals – Pitot more often than Rittman.

Borne sees the lecture series as an opportunity for the community to learn something new.

“We’re committed to lifelong learning,” Borne said. “We want [community members] to feel connected to UW-W. We want them to think of us as a place they can continue to learn from throughout their adulthood.”

The last lecture in the “Remarkable Women” series, “Women and Water: 21st Century Challenges and Opportunities,” will be Monday, April 27 at 3 p.m. The lecture will be presented by Linda Reid, finance and business law associate professor, at Fellowship Hall of Fairhaven Retirement Community. There is no charge for admission.

For past lecture videos and news about the next lecture series, visit: www.uww.edu/ce/fairhaven.