Today the exhibition Alice Live! opens at Lincoln Center. I’ve been working on curating this exhibition for the past three years, assembling a collection of material from my own collection and elsewhere that documents the history of Alice in Wonderland in performance on the 150th anniversary of the publication of the book. The exhibition if free and open to the public and runs through January 16. It includes not only theatrical memorabilia from 1886 to the present day, but also original letters from Lewis Carroll and even Lewis Carroll’s own typewriter. If you can get to the exhibit be sure to tweet your photos to me @CharlieLovett42 for a chance to win a signed copy of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Alice, for which I wrote the introduction. Here’s the opening text from the exhibition, just to whet your appetite:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland began as a performance—a one-man improvisational story-telling show given by the Oxford mathematics lecturer Charles Dodgson to three little girls named Alice, Lorina, and Edith Liddell. Dodgson told them the story on July 4, 1862, while rowing leisurely up the river Thames near Oxford. Three years later (and 150 years ago) he published a much-expanded version of the tale under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, calling the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, followed six years later.
Soon thereafter Dodgson, a natural entertainer and a passionate theatregoer, entered into a series of discussions with playwrights, theatrical managers, and potential collaborators (including Arthur Seymour Sullivan) hoping to bring Alice to the professional stage. These efforts did not meet with success until 1886, when the dramatist and newspaper editor Henry Savile Clarke asked for Dodgson’s permission to adapt the Alice stories. Savile Clarke’s Alice in Wonderland: A Dream Play for Children was the hit of the Christmas season and toured well into the next year. The play, which featured both child and adult actors and songs by Walter Slaughter, was revived in 1888.
Over the next decade amateur groups mounted several productions of Alice, but it was not until after Dodgson’s death in 1898 that the stages of the world saw an proliferation of Alice entertainments that has only increased as the years have gone by. Plays, musicals, ballets, operas, and music from popular songs to symphonies have all drawn their inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice and are all represented in this exhibit.
Alice has proved perennially popular in New York, from traditional stagings like those produced by Eva Le Gallienne to the experimental theatre of Andre Gregory to the music hall madness of a Public Theatre production starring a young Meryl Streep. The bizarre characters, witty dialogue, and infinite mutability of the Alice stories have attracted performing artists for nearly a century and a half, and Alice herself is certain to tread the boards in the centuries to come.