Performances of The Christmas Windows of 1937, a musical that explores the life of Dorothy Shaver, one of the country's first female CEOs, will take place Thursday through Saturday, November 17, 18, and 19, in the Suzanne Werner Wright Theater on the campus of Sarah Lawrence College.
Dorothy Shaver led Lord & Taylor during the 1940s and '50s and developed "The American Look" in fashion. Earlier in her career at Lord & Taylor, she had created the iconic, spare, store windows at Christmas that resonated with shoppers during the Depression. In 1937, Shaver decided on a dramatic change to the windows outside the clothing store's famed Fifth Avenue windows, which were traditionally chock full of the latest winter fashions during Christmas.
With money scarce, Shaver removed the clothes from the windows, and replaced them with a deep red backdrop, large bells, and piped-in carillon music. The simplicity struck a chord with New Yorkers yearning to sense the spirit of Christmas.
The musical, directed by Jackson Gay, who has staged productions at the Yale Repertory Theater, Sundance Theater Institute, and The Public Theater, will be performed with Sarah Lawrence student actors. "We developed the play with students, from the floor up," says Gay.
Gay was in discussions with playwright Cheri Magid about the musical when she received a call from Robert Lyons, creative director of the theatre program, asking if she'd be interested in directing a student production this fall.
Magid hatched the idea for the production when developing an idea for a family-oriented Christmas play. During that research, she discovered Shaver's story, which unfolds in a musical that focuses on her activities in the 1930s as she worked her way up Lord & Taylor's corporate ladder.
"Instead of selling something, Dorothy was giving them something," says Magid. "They stopped, looked, and felt what Christmas was all about: goodwill for all, no matter what the struggle, with a feeling of communal warmth," said Magid.
Sarah Lawrence College's Theatre program, ranked as one of the best in the country by The Princeton Review, creates theatre artists who are skilled in many disciplines: actors who write; directors who act; theatre makers who create their own projects; sound, set and lighting designers who are well versed in new media and puppetry.