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    Posted October 13, 2015

 

An Equity Tradition Turns 65

For many Equity members who have worked on the Broadway stage, the magical Gypsy Robe ceremony is synonymous with opening night. A theatrical staple, the Robe and its extraordinary ritual turned 65 on October 12, 2015.

“Actors love traditions and backstage superstitions,” said David Westphal, Equity Business Representative and official “Keeper of the Robe.” And according to Westphal, the Robe, for many members means “realizing that all of your hard work in rehearsals and previews has finally brought you to this point — and you are now part of Broadway history.”

Bill Bradley, in the chorus of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, wearing Florence Baum's dressing gown.

The ritual of the Gypsy Robe takes place every opening night on the stage of every Broadway musical with a chorus. It began in 1950 when Bill Bradley, in the chorus of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, persuaded Florence Baum, a chorus member, to let him have her dressing gown. Jokingly, Bradley sent the gown to a friend in the chorus of Call Me Madam on opening night —with the addition of a pinned cabbage rose; the Robe was then sent to the chorus of Guys and Dolls on its opening night. Rather quickly, the passing of the gown became custom.

Now, with added show-centric eccentricities, once a chorus member receives the coveted Robe, he or she must run around the ensemble counter-clockwise three times followed by a visit to each dressing room to fully bless the show before its momentous curtain. 

More than that, however, the Robe symbolizes an historical lesson of showcasing and recognizing talented chorus performers. Chita Rivera and Casey Nicholaw, just to name two, have donned the artistic gowns.

“I believe it’s important for Broadway actors to be made aware of the contribution of ensemble members — as they add a lot of texture, detail and support to the stories being told on stage,” said Betsy Struxness, who garnered the Robe for this first time this year with the opening of Hamilton.

“On one of the most exciting, important nights that happen in theater, everybody stops to recognize a hard working chorus person,” said six-time Robe recipient Lisa B. Gajda.

For those who have earned the Robe or witnessed one of the treasured ceremonies, the Gypsy Robe continues to represent 65 years of Broadway, and theater, history.

Tediously, happily, decorated with the shows that have played the Great White Way, each gown tells a story of every Broadway season, complete with memories of the crew and Equity members that played those stages knitted into the fabric.

“To me,” said Struxness, “the Gypsy Robe symbolizes hard work, diligence and legacy.”


Watch this lookback at the past 65 years.

 

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