Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive brings 'Houdini' discussion to stage

The Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive is organizing four staged readings of Rukeyser’s musical "Houdini" with the help of a generous grant from the Michigan Humanities, as well as the support of EMU’s Center for Jewish Studies and the English Department.

Under the direction of EMU Theatre Professor Lee Stille, the talented actors of EMU’s Theatre Program will bring the musical to life in each of four staged readings, two in Ypsilanti and two in Detroit.  

11 a.m. March 20: Webinar on Rukeyser's "Houdini" will feature talks and conversation with three experts: Stefania Heim, Jan Freeman, Matthew Solomon. Register for the webinar

2 p.m. March 20 at Sponberg Theatre, EMU: Staged reading will follow the webinar. It will also be live streamed for those who cannot attend in person.

7 p.m. March 24 at Riverside Arts Center, Ypsilanti: Staged Reading of "Houdini." In collaboration with YpsiWrites, a writing-focused nonprofit serving the Ypsilanti area, this event invites the participation of a younger audience. Submit poetry for the event on the Poetry Wall Submission Form

3 p.m. March 26 and 8 p.m. March 27 at Matrix Theatre, Detroit: Staged Reading of "Houdini," followed by conversations between the director, actors, and audience.

This series of staged readings of "Houdini" is intended to increase awareness among Southeast Michigan residents of Rukeyser's prolific body of works and EMU's Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive. For more information about the events, contact Elisabeth Däumer at [email protected].


More on Muriel Rukeyser and Houdini

Red and yellow illustrated play for Houdini musicalElisabeth Däumer, Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at EMU, says Rukeyser's archive spotlights an often overlooked poet. 

The living archive is Däumer's brainchild, facilitated by faculty and students from EMU, and was designed to provide a lively and comprehensive resource for reading, exploring, and teaching Rukeyser’s multi-faceted work and broad range of interests, from poetry and the visual arts to religion, history, science, and technology.

Rukeyser began developing her play on Harry Houdini at least as early as the late 1930s, when the world was in dire need of superheroes to defeat the atrocities of fascism. To the consternation of critics, her musical combines biography and fantasy to challenge, as Jan Freeman writes, “the locks and constraints that imprison us all.” 

First performed in 1973, with Christopher Walken as Houdini, the musical combines singing and dancing, comedy and pathos.  

It explores the tension between the mythic escape artist, who can break any lock, and the man who is inescapably bound to his mother, to his wife, Bess, and ultimately to the very myth he helped create.  

The musical’s simple and witty poem-songs will appeal to cross-generational audiences.  


For more information, please go to Locks, Keys, Freedom: Houdini Comes to Southeast Michigan