George Contini as Julian Eltinge
2005-2006 ICE Project Grant
Theatre and Film Studies
An original one man show about the life of famed vaudevillian performer Julian Eltinge, premiered at the historic Morton Theatre in downtown Athens.
Eltinge, all but forgotten today, is one of the most colorful characters in American theatre history. At one time the highest paid performer in the United States, he earned the prestige of having his own theatre built and named for him on Broadway. His list of accomplishments on stage and early silent films are extraordinary especially considering that his talent was female impersonation. Written by and starring George Contini, a professor in the UGA Department of Theatre and Film Studies, the play traces Eltinge’s career from his first performance impersonating a young girl for the Boston Cadet Academy in 1898 through his years of international fame on Broadway and Hollywood during the 1920s to his eventual decline into debt and obscurity by 1940. Contini explains, “Put It In the Scrapbook refers to a number of things; it is the name of a song from one of Eltinges very first appearances in drag, also most of what we know about Eltinge is from various scrapbooks housed in archives throughout the country, and finally, a scrapbook serves as the entry to Julians memories in the play.”
Mr. Contini is a professional actor, director, and playwright. As a professor of theatre he specializes in acting on camera, characterization, and queer theatre and film, all of which come into play in this unique multi-media theatre piece. Mr. Contini spent four years researching and writing the play in which he recreates some of Julian Eltinge’s lost performances from vaudeville, Broadway, and film. In recent years, leading theorists in Performance and Gender Studies have been responsible for a resurgence of interest in Mr. Eltinge as he is seen as the progenitor to the gender bending performances of RuPaul, Dame Edna, and Eddie Izzard. There has never been a play written about this fascinating performer and it is hoped that this unique project will reintroduce to modern audiences a forgotten theatrical legend.
The play is constructed so that Contini plays over 20 characters throughout the narrative, sometimes playing opposite himself. This is accomplished through the use of new and archival video, animation, and other media. This particular project highlights the unique work the UGA Deptartment of Theatre and Film Studies does in combining the area of Performance with Digital Media. The research and mounting of this premiere production is the result of Mr. Contini being granted funds through ICE, the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
Kristin Kundert-Gibbs, also a professor in the Theatre and Film Studies Department, is serving as Director of the piece. Two former graduate students from the department are also involved; Joelle D’Arp Dunham is media designer and T. J. Greenway is set designer. Rachel Townes from UGA School of Music is Music Director and Mark Wheeler from the UGA Dept. of Dance is Choreographer. Jennie Alvernaz is costume designer.