For detailed descriptions of the techniques in green, see METHOD
The inspiration for Woolworth’s was on the major cross streets of Manhattan as well as the
Main Streets of America – the five-and-ten-cent stores that had been a fixture of American
life for 100 years, with their strange smells and intriguing mixture of necessities and novelties.
The process began when Iris Rose, Melanie Monios, and Richard Gray (Iris’ playwright friend
from California) visited a variety of Woolworth’s stores, taking copious notes of their
observations. notes from Iris’ notebook Sometimes they were accompanied by artist Dan
Schmidt, who was enlisted to create a setting for the performance. In addition to their field
trips to various Woolworth’s, the team also met to discuss and record their memories of
visiting Woolworth’s stores in other cities and later to Jam on those collected memories,
playfully altering them. During the same period, Iris was engaged in research into the history
of the stores and their founder, Frank Winfield Woolworth.
The observational field trips were also shopping trips. Each of the performers wore items in
the show that they purchased in their visits to Woolworth’s: Richard bought a straw hat and
a patriotic vest; Iris collected a flower hair clip, a synthetic blouse, a button that said “I
(disgusted face) housework,” button from Woolworth’s and classic, fabric-covered, wedge-
heeled Woolworth’s shoes; Melanie purchased a clip-on hair bow and a navy blue smock
covered with large white polka dots.
Dan was also making purchases for things from which to assemble the set pieces, primarily
a translucent shower curtain that served as the backdrop and a variety of bandanas to be
displayed on two revolving wooden structures that flanked the stage.
A brief moment in a PBS travel show about China provided the inspiration for the style of the
piece. On the show, a tea house presented a compact, seated version of a Chinese opera
with the expected broad expressions and gestures but without the traditional costumes and
makeup. Iris evoked this in Woolworth’s by using a small, Chinese gong to punctuate the
sections and by retaining the very expressive facial and gestural style but the nearly total
lack of ambulatory movement.
Within the purposely limited range of movement of the piece, each of the three types of
sections in Woolworth’s – history, memory, and observation – had its own signature style. The
sections based on field observations were further divided into lists and people. The ones
based on lists had no movement at all but employed a specific vocal style dictated by the
contents of the list. For example, a list of phrases found on packages, a few of which
included the word “your,” was read in a warm, reassuring tone with a distinct emphasis on
the most reassuring word; text for reassuring list a list of prices was delivered in a matter-of-fact
voice like an accountant. For the observation sections that described people, one
performer embodied an exaggerated version of the person being described using only his or
her face to create a mask, while one or both of the other performers gave the description.
text for people
list of masks for people
The movement for the memory sections was created in two steps: first, seated Emblems for
specific images from the transcribed memories were created; second, a seated version of
Bodies in Space was used to distort and meld them. Since the dialogue that accompanied
the movements was also altered through Jamming, these sections were by far the most
abstract, active, and creative. text for memory section
The histories of the three main characters – Frank W. Woolworth (Richard), his reclusive wife
Jennie Creighton (Iris), and their granddaughter, heiress Barbara Hutton (Melanie) – were
distinguished by three distinct storytelling postures. For Frank, all three performers leaned
forward with their hands on their knees, fingers pointing in and elbows out; for Jennie, their
forearms were crossed over their chests, their hands gripping the opposite bicep; for
Barbara, their legs were crossed and arms draped to one side of their laps. After a gong
clang and the announcement “The Story of Frank Winfield Woolworth” (or “Jennie Creighton”
or “Barbara Hutton”), each character was introduced by a Frankenstein that succinctly
summed up the character. This was one of the very few times the performers ever left their
chairs. Frankenstein for Jennie Creighton
Throughout the rest of the history sections, another performer served as narrator – Melanie for
Frank’s story, Richard for Jennie’s, and Iris for Barbara’s – and also shared responsibility with
the third performer for portraying all the minor characters in these life stories. Emblems and
Abstractions were used as needed to illustrate the story.
Woolworth Building text
The history of Woolworth’s proceeded in chronological order but was broken up by the
observation and memory sections, used thematically to underscore or contrast with the
narrative. For example, the last four sections of the show – a piece of the history,
observations, continued history, and a memory – all differed in writing style, but all
contributed to an overall wistful tone.
death of Barbara Hutton text