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“A flapper doesn’t like to be told what to do.” (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )
“A flapper is no longer a flapper when she goes back in hiding and being afraid to show their true personality.” (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )
“A flapper likes to show her knees and silk stockings a little bit.” (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )
“A flapper is a girl who celebrates.” (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )
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The Goodspeed Opera House season opener this year is the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore, about a young aspiring actresses experiencing new-found social freedoms in New York City in the ’20s during the age of jazz, bathtub gin, the Charleston, and “the flapper”.
But what’s a flapper to a 2017 audience and especially to young women of today?
We asked two actors in the show—Amy Van Norstand and Darien Crago, who have worked together in eight shows over the past four years, including Holiday Inn at Goodspeed—how they viewed this type of “modern” woman of nearly a century ago.
“As a young independent woman living in New York City, I relate whole-heartedly—especially her ambition as actor in the city,” says Crago, “which is one of the reason why I love this show so much.”
“Oh, I’m absolutely a flapper,” says Van Norstand. “That’s because I like to think I’m fearless. But more than that I know that I’m really good at celebrating life and I’ve certainly picked the best career in the world to do that. I get to constantly sing and dance and show my personality through my job and it’s thrilling. Being in theater is one of the most freeing things you could possibly do. Plus, women who are in theater are celebrated.
“But I don’t have bobbed haircut,” says Van Norstand, laughing. “It’s long and curly and definitely a 2017 look. And I rarely wear skirts past my knees. But both Darien and I both enjoy coming to rehearsal and transforming ourselves into 1920s chorus girls.”
“I’m a vintage geek and often wear vintage clothes anyway,” says Crago.
So what defines a flapper?
“A flapper is a fashionable feminist,” says Crago. “By definition a flapper is a young woman in the ’20s who defied pre-existing social behaviors and customs. Everything was conservative and proper before then, even the clothes with long dresses, large hats, parasols, and corsets, And then the ’20s happened and, along with women being allowed to vote, there’s suddenly a little more freedom. The skirts got shorter and the hair got cut. It’s all about a carefree, independent mentality. That’s why I see them as early feminists because they are empowered do and say what they want.”
Says Van Norstand, who played “Millie” in a high school production: “A flapper is a girl who celebrates.” That resonates now, she says. “Much like the women of the ‘20s, a flapper of today is a girl who celebrates her sexual, political, and social independence.”
Fill in the blank: “A flapper likes to...”
“...Show her knees and silk stockings a little bit,” says Crago. “It’s all about showing off the leg, especially when dancing. The dresses worked functionally as it provided movement and capability doing these athletic and mobile steps like the Charleston.”
“...Dance!”, says Van Norstand. “She also loves music, and to experiment with fashion and, of course, dating. She’s a person who is unafraid.”
“And stay on top of the current fashion,” says Crago.
Fill in the blank, part two: “A flapper doesn’t like...”
“...To be told what to do,” says Crago. “They have this carefree, independent mentality and just live life spontaneously.”
Says Van Norstand, “She doesn’t kow-tow in any way—to men, society, or social norms. She knows her value, both sexually and her value as a person.”
And finally, “a flapper is no longer a flapper when....”
“...When she abides by society’s expected rules,” says Crago.
“And when she goes back in hiding and being afraid to show their true personality,” says Van Norstand.
“I think we’ve come a long a way,” says Crago. “Women are getting a stronger voice in our country and each year it becomes easier. And it’s an exciting time we live in now. I think Millie would be super-excited what was ahead for women in the future. But we’ve still got a long way to go still. We’re definitely not there yet for sure. But we’re still pushing.”
Thoroughly Modern Millie plays through July 3.
Frank Rizzo is a freelance journalist who lives in New Haven and New York City. He has been writing about theater and the arts in Connecticut for nearly 40 years.
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