Kiss Me Kate: Keeping It Contemporary

Strange to tell, there are spanking enthusiasts in the world who don’t really enjoy Kiss Me Kate.

01 KMK02 KMK 2013 River Valley High chool03 KMK 1998 Sacred Heart High School

Not even when the spanking entails…

04 KMK05 KMK German 201106 KMK 2010

Really? What’s not to like?

The answer is that some people simply don’t care for spanking in period costume: they like the immediacy of contemporary clothing, or at least something recognizably recent. What they need is a different kind of Kiss Me Kate production, one that’s staging its version of The Taming of the Shrew in a different time period. Maybe like this Wild West one from Morningside College, Iowa, in 1990:

07 KMK 1990 Morningside College

Or, if only full modern dress will do, this one from Key West, Florida, in 2012, with Susan Powell as Lilli:

08 KMK 2012 Key West Susan Powell09 KMK 2012 Key West Susan Powell as Lilli10 KMK 2012 Key West

Or how about Andreas Lichtenberger spanking Ann Mandrella in the 2011 production at the summer festival in Kittsee, Austria?

11 KMK 2011 Kittsee12 KMK 2011 Kittsee13 KMK 2011 Kittsee Ann Mandrella14 KMK 2011 kittsee

But I’m guessing what they’d really enjoy would be a Kiss Me Kate like this one from East Stroudsburg University, Pennsylvania:

15 KMK East Stroudsburg University rehearsal

The snag there is that the actors aren’t performing: they’re rehearsing.

It is a fact that, through most of the rehearsal process, actors wear their own clothes. So let a photographer into the rehearsal room, and you’re going to get pictures of a Kiss Me Kate spanking in contemporary dress. ‘Contemporary’, of course, has a very flexible meaning when you’re dealing with a play whose stage history goes back more than half a century…

16 KMK 1967 Southern Massachusetts Technological Institute17 KMK 1969 E E Root High School18 1970 KMK Lexington High School20 KMK 1980 Soquel High School21 KMK 200722 KMK Providence day school23 KMK Milton rehearsal25 KMK 2011 Hartley Arts Group rehearsal24 KMK 2009 Summer Place Matt Whalen & Julie Bayer

It is especially pleasing when the contemporary clothing is like that worn by future Broadway star Patti Cohenour when she was spanked during rehearsals for her high school production of Kiss Me Kate in 1970:

26 KMK 1970 Valley High Patti Cohenour

But it is also a fact that, as opening night approaches, many actresses will start to wear longer skirts, to give themselves the feel of their eventual stage costume.

27 KMK Western Stage rehearsal28 KMK29 KMK 2007

But not always. In 2013, the amateur production by Banbury Operatic Society got as far as the ‘tech’ – the technical rehearsal for lighting and sound – and still had Lilli/Kate in her own clothes.

30 2013 Banbury Operatic Society tech

So even if Kiss Me Kate usually looks like this on stage…

31 2013 Lyric Musical Society Aberdeen

… you can be reasonably sure that it also usually looks like this in rehearsal.

32 2013 Lyric Musical Society Aberdeen

(Those are both the 2013 production by the Lyric Musical Society of Aberdeen.)

For a fuller comparison, let’s take the 2008 production at the City Theatre of Independence, Kansas, starring Brad Wright and Marcie Ramirez:

32a 2008 Independence City Theatre32b KMK Independence publicity

Here they are, working onstage at a late stage of rehearsals. Notice how the set is still being built around them.

33 2008 KMK Independence rehearsal34 2008 Independence rehearsal35 KMK 2008 Independence rehearsal36 KMK 2008 Independence rehearsal

And in costume, with the set finished but not yet painted:

37 2008 Independence City Theatre38 2008 Independence City Theatre39 2008 Independence City Theatre40 2008 Independence City Theatre41 2008 Independence City Theatre42 2008 Independence City Theatre

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that there were actually three different versions of the spanking in that production. The point bears repeating, with reference to the 2005 amateur production at Devizes, England. Here’s a rehearsal:

43 2005 Devizes rehearsal

In costume for the dress rehearsal:

44 2005 Devizes dress rehearsal

And posing for a press publicity shot:

45 2005 Devizes 2005 press

And they wear something different each time. My point is the obvious one that actors don’t always sport their actual stage costumes for the publicity photographs, perhaps to save wear and tear, or perhaps because the final costumes may not yet be ready at the time of the photocall. And on occasion, that means they may not wear costumes at all. (No, I don’t mean they do it in the nude!)

Let’s look at an off-the-wall example featuring the original Broadway Fred, Alfred Drake. It’s a publicity shot, but not strictly for Kiss Me Kate. In 1961, he starred in the television variety show The Bell Telephone Hour, and in the March 17 edition, the guest star was Patrice Munsel, and the central theme was Kiss Me Kate. The publicists decided that the best way to advertise the program was:

46 1961 Bell Telephone Hour Alfred Drake & Patrice Munsel

But that bears no relation to the show itself, in which Patrice wore an ‘hourglass’ black dress – think Morticia Addams with a bouffant – and, most importantly and regrettably, did not get spanked, because the whole thing was a showcase for Cole Porter’s songs, with none of the surrounding action.

And from time to time something similar happens in mainline Kiss Me Kate productions: there are no period costumes available, so the actors make the best of it and pose for the photographer in their own clothes. Step forward, Patrick Tucker and Rachel Sherlock of the Chelmsford Amateur Operatic Society!

47 Chelmsford AOS

And when you also want to feature the spanking on the poster, but have only a modern-dress rehearsal shot to work with, the result will be something like this, from Pennsylvania in 2006:

48 2006 Pennsylvania

Let’s hope nobody went to the show hoping in vain for a non-period spanking scene!

2 thoughts on “Kiss Me Kate: Keeping It Contemporary

  1. jimc says:

    Thank so much for sharing all the different spankings and costumes ( I have to admit I like the rehearsal pics the best as I like candids and the feeling you are seeing something backstage like much of the play itself) I like your extensive research and esp. your commentary on all the different places and people. I like knowing who is getting spanked and who is spanking them. Very well done. Thanks again and have a great day.


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