“Showing Us Our Own Face”: Performing Arts and the Human Experience

Performance is a uniquely human quality. Humans – the only creatures on earth able to conceptualize realities other than the present one – over the millennia have followed the urge to present these realities to each other in a multitude of ways. This need to witness and empathize with the joys, struggles, triumphs, failures, and lives of others through performance has led to the creation of some of today’s most widely loved art forms, collectively known as the Performing Arts. In Special Collection Research Center’s (SCRC) Spring 2020 exhibition we present six of these art forms: Opera, Ballet, Theatre, Musical Theatre, Dance, and Music. Whether viewed in a traditional theatrical venue or not, the performing arts touch both the lives of those who witness them, and those who dedicate their lives to them. They give us the opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, hold up a mirror that reflects our biases, strengths, and weaknesses, or simply escape from the humdrum into the fantastic. As the great Zelda Fichandler once said:

The theater is capable of showing us our own face, plumbing for us the human heart, leading us to the edge of our own mind.”

Through this exhibition, SCRC examines the power of the performing arts, and its ability to “show us our own face.” The exhibition includes photographs of performers in practice and studio settings. Playbills and programs chronicle a performance in location and time; through the chosen actors, costumes, and settings these pieces of papers provide comment on the interpretation of the content. These items, along with books, posters, etc., are selected from over thirty collections from one of our strongest collecting areas. SCRC’s origins can be traced to George Mason University’s first acquisition of performing arts materials via a loan from the Library of Congress in 1974. Acquiring the Federal Theatre Project collection required the University to create a unit within the University Libraries to preserve, care for, and create access to them. From that first theatre collection, SCRC staff have worked with faculty, librarians, students, and donors to build collections that document the performing arts at Mason, in the Washington, D.C., area, and beyond.

We hope you’ll stop by and enjoy “Showing Us Our Own Face”: Performing Arts and the Human Experience.

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts in our Travel Series on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts.  To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.