No brief sketch can give justice to the richness of Ruth Draper’s life. She began performing in her early youth, mimicking her family’s tailor and seamstress. Her talent was encouraged by no less than Henry James and Paderewski, and her fame as a gifted amateur from New York’s high society was earned at private parties for kings and presidents.
Her first professional performance, in 1920, took London by storm. She began her extensive tours soon after (following a tame seal at the Hippodrome in Brighton). From the Court of St. James to Albuquerque, from Broadway to Bangkok, she performed only in plays she wrote for herself, developing a repertory of more than fifty pieces in which she appeared on-stage alone.
In 1956 she died in her sleep after a matinee and evening performance on Broadway. She left behind the words that, unnoticed, had been supporting her performances for five decades.
In the real sense, Ruth Draper had glamour. She threw a spell over her audiences, convincing them that they were watching, not monologues on a stage, but life itself. Like all magic, Ruth Draper’s had a hidden technique: the practiced skill of her writing. She perfected and revised the monologues with every performance without ever copying them down. On stage, she subtly improvised and there are many versions of each monologue. When she was 70 years old, at her producers’ insistence, a stenographer was hired to finally transcribe them.
Late in her life, on tour in California, a college student found her crying backstage. When asked why, she said; “who will do these sketches when I am gone?”. So perhaps she had come to consider her writing in and of itself.
Ms. Norcia invited me to work with her on these monologues in the belief that they stand on their own. They do. Ruth Draper’s witty, compassionate observations of other people, though firmly set in her time and place, are still in fact timeless. In our thirteenth year rehearsing and performing them, they still surprise us with the depth of their artistry and humanity. If we think we know something of Chopin though we never heard him play, then not by imitation of her performance but in celebration of this extraordinary woman and her writing, we have come to share the world of Ruth Draper.
– David Kaplan, Director