Henry I. Schvey, Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature, has been awarded a 2016-2017 Harry Ransom Center Research Fellowship in the Humanities for work on his book, "The Might of Design, the Mystery of Colour": Tennessee Williams’s Visual Theatre. Dr. Schvey was also awarded a Summer Seed Grant from Washington University's Center for the Humanities to work on the project. Tracing Williams’s ongoing preoccupation with color, light and spatial form, The Might of Design, the Mystery of Colour illuminates his theatrical achievement in holistic terms for the first time. The book argues that both late and early plays are all expressions of a single, evolving aesthetic. Indeed, even at the height of his fame in the mid-to late 1940s, Williams was an experimentalist—engaged in taking his own psychic temperature in compelling new ways. As he absorbed the lessons of contemporary non-realistic dramaturgy and incorporated the influence of Abstract Expressionism, the plastic theatre he envisioned as a young man became realizable.
Brief Summary of the project:
Many scholars of American drama have little or no idea that Tennessee Williams (1911-83) painted throughout his life, or that his drawings and paintings bear an important relationship to his plays. Moreover, Williams was not merely an avid painter, his visual orientation (including detailed stage directions and allusions to specific works of art found in the plays) offers an important new way of interpreting his work—connecting early masterpieces like The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire with obscure and virtually unknown work completed just before he died. This intermedial study examines Williams’s work in the context of recent scholarship on literature and the visual arts, and incorporates the playwright’s own aesthetic theory calling for “a new, plastic art,” (as proposed in the Production Notes to The Glass Menagerie) applying it to his theatrical work written across five decades. The result is an innovative new approach to this remarkable and versatile artist, accessible to both advanced scholars and students.