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November 7, 2002 When dancing was hell: Marathon ‘33 revisits Depression



Marathon ’33: Jeanne Bowser is in the background; in the foreground are Amanda Kellock and Joseph Mesiano.

Photo by Jeremy Pinchuck

by Nora Gombos

The cast of Marathon ’33 spent their Sunday under gruelling hot theatre lights during their technical rehearsal, perfecting the timing for each scene so they will be ready to go when the play opens this Friday.

“We have worked very hard to tell the story in the most powerful way theatrically,” said director Lise Ménard, who also directed Les Belles Soeurs by Michel Tremblay for Concordia in 2000.

The cast of 18 actors, who have been rehearsing since Oct. 8, are second- and third-year students in Concordia’s theatre program. They auditioned for Ménard last spring.

Marathon ’33 was written by June Havoc, a celebrated actress and dancer in vaudeville and later in Hollywood, based on her own experiences. It was originally staged on Broadway by The Actors Studio in 1963.

The play is based on the dance marathons of the Great Depression of the 1920s and ‘30s, when people would do literally anything to eat.

Marathon ’33 is about money and the exploitation of human beings,” Ménard said.

It’s a cruel spectacle of human desperation. People participated in the dance marathons for the money prizes, but also for the glory, and many participants resorted to dirty tricks to win.

A dance marathon could go on for months. “People were dancing to exhaustion,” Ménard said.

“They only got 11 minutes break every hour to rest. They slept while they were dancing. One was on the job, holding up the other, but they always had to keep their feet moving.”

This was possible as long as the music played was slow, but once or twice an hour they would pick up the beat.

Ménard explained that these “sprints” were designed to eliminate people from the competition.

Of this production, she said, “It’s a conceptual show. We’re supposed to be dancing for approximately 3,000 hours, and illustrating the passage through time was challenging to take in as an actor,” said Amanda Kellock, who plays Jean, a character loosely based on Havoc.

Though the play reflects Havoc’s own experience as a marathon dancer and comments on a unique period in history, Ménard believes it deals with issues still valid today.

“We don’t dance for the jazz of it in our world,” she said.

“We don’t dance for the beauty, we dance for the profit.”

Marathon ’33 will run from Nov. 22 to Dec. 1 in the D.B. Clarke Theatre. Tickets are available from the Box Office, 848-4742. General admission is $10 and students pay $5.