By Catalina Righter
Elm Staff Writer
On the weekend of April 4, Washington College kicked off the first annual Jason Rubin American Musical Theater Film Festival with showings of “Peter Pan” and “Hairspray.” Jason Rubin is a former associate professor of drama, who served at WC for 27 years before retiring in 2013. One of his departing projects was to serve as director for the College’s production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” last spring.
However, the legacy established in his name centers closer to home, in the realm of American Musical theater rather than Elizabethan drama. The film festival is sponsored by the Miller Library, the Drama alumni, and the Friends of the Miller Library. It comes in conjunction with the Jason Rubin Musical Theater Collection, housed in the Miller Library. According to the program for the festival, this is “an outstanding collection of American musical theater films and books…officially established in 2013 following Rubin’s retirement.”
One common theme that tied this year’s films together was the presence of characters traditionally played by actors in drag. The character of Peter Pan is usually played by a woman on Broadway, while Edna Turnblad from “Hairspray” is usually played by a man in drag.
“In the  screen version the role of Tracy’s mother, Edna was expanded because John Travolta was such a big star. The role was originally played by John Water’s friend Divine, and if you know anything about him, he was very bold, very flashy. This role of the frumpy housewife was quite different for him,” said Rubin in his introduction to the film. “These castings bring up interesting questions about our ability to suspend disbelief. Can a grown woman play an eternally youthful little boy? Can we have sympathy for a maternal figure that is played by a man?”
The version of “Peter Pan,” which was shown on Saturday, is the 1960 TV adaption of a 1954 Broadway production, was based on the classic children’s story by J.M. Barrie.
The particular version, however, has close ties with WC. The actress Mary Martin, who stars as Peter Pan, is the grandmother of WC alum Matthew T. Weir, class of 1990. According to a press release on the College’s website, the Jason Rubin collection in the Library was “bolstered with additional funding” by Weir. Along with Rubin, he introduced the showing of the movie.
Freshman Shelby Flippen, who attended the event, said, “The actress who played Peter Pan in this version was delightful; watching her made me want to act more like a kid …[and] encouraged me to continue being who I am- a future teacher of children.”
On Sunday afternoon, the festival finished with the 2007 version of “Hairspray.” It was based off the 1988 John Waters musical. This musical holds a special significance for Rubin, who grew up in 60 Baltimore where the show is set. In his introductory remarks, he talked about watching the Buddy Deane Show as a teenager, which is what the fictional Corny Collins show was based off of. “Many of the things John Waters focused on were intentionally low-brow, trashy subjects. But with the subsequent Broadway and movie adaptations, things have become very shiny and polished,” he said.
An alumna and former student of Rubin, Tamanya Garza, also spoke before the film. She praised Rubin’s work at the College, and reminisced on some of her experiences with Rubin as a thesis advisor.
“At one point I was taking a set dressing class where we spent three months painting a backdrop to look like wood,” she said at the start of one of her anecdotes. “And after three months, it got to look remarkably like wood. But if you missed a spot, [Rubin] would come over and say ‘Looks like a holiday.’ And you would ask what he meant. And he would say ‘Well, either the paint is on a holiday, or the person painting is.’”
According to his bio on the C website, Rubin was also a professional set dresser since the 1970’s, according to his bio on the WC website.
The audience for the Sunday matinee was small and enthusiastic. At one point during the final number, several members of the audience got up and began to dance down the aisles of the theater. It seemed to fit very well with the inclusive themes of the movie. As members of the audience left the theater, they were sent off with an enthusiastic “Thank you for coming” from Rubin.
This festival is slated to be an annual tradition at the College. Hopefully WC will continue to benefit from Rubin’s teachings, even in his retirement.