What is a Lintel?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

By Publications Manager Dan Rubin

Playwright Glen Berger writes, "Though we rarely recognize the place, underneath the lintel is where we stand every day, every moment, of our life." In this passage, the wordsmith is exploring the idea of the lintel in relationship to the word sublime, which means a sense of awe in the presence of vastness and can be broken down into sub ("under") and limen (which is derived from "lintel"). Accordingly, we are emotionally "underneath the lintel" whenever we are overcome with a sense of the sublime.

The Temple of Horus at Edfu is an example of
Egyptian architecture, including the post-and-lintel
doorway seen at the center of the photo.
But in a more literal sense, we pass underneath lintels every day. Lintels are the top beams of most entryways, although they have become less structurally essential in modern architecture. Lintels are the limit of the threshold, which is defined not only as the space around a doorway, but also as a place or point of beginning. The lintel is the point from which we set out: on trips as mundane as our commute to work, on journeys as epic as an international adventure, on treasure hunts as winding as the Librarian's pursuit after a man who had the audacity to return his library book 113 years late, the lintel is our point of origin. It is our origin story, and has been since the dawn of architecture.

Stonehenge is an example of Neolithic
post-and-lintel construction.
A fundamental element of Neolithic, Ancient Greek, and Ancient Egyptian architecture, the horizontal lintel is held up by two vertical posts or columns. Seen in its purest form in colonnades, the post-and-lintel system was the basis for all structural openings. Such ancient structures as Stonehenge (built between 3000 and 2000 BCE), in Britain, were constructed on the post-and-lintel system, as were the interiors of Egyptian temples and the exteriors of Greek temples.

Because of its prime location, the lintel became a frequent canvas for artists and visual storytellers. Below are examples of lintels that have survived hundreds of years to give us a glimpse of the past.

This limestone door lintel, with lion-griffins and a vase with lotus leaf, dates back to second and third-century Mesopotamia. Once part of a decorated doorway in the north hall of the so-called Main Palace at Hatra in northern Iraq (which was a major trade city heavily fortified against Roman attack and populated by a mixture of peoples), this lintel stone was originally positioned so that the carved surface faced the floor. The naturalistic modeling of the creatures' bodies and the form of the central vase reflect Roman influence, but the symmetry of the composition, the pronounced simplification of the plant forms, and the lion-griffin motif are all characteristic of the Near East.

This fragment of a Byzantine lintel from 400–550 CE with its deeply carved decoration resembles that on the door and window frames of early monumental churches in Syria. From The Metropolitan Museum of Art: "The  symbol that divides the central roundel was understood as both a cross and a Christogram, the monogram for Christ's name formed from the first two letters of his name in Greek, chi (X) and rho (r). The alpha (A) and omega (Ω) that flank the cross, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, were widely used by Christians as symbols of the eternal nature of God. Their use was inspired by John the Evangelist's vision on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:8): 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'"

The Mexican city of Yaxchilán was founded in the Early Classic period (250–600 CE) and became a major center of Mayan culture in the Late Classic period (600–900 CE). Its buildings were known for their elaborate decorations, particularly the sculptural door lintels that were commissioned by the city's rulers and are believed to document their history. This lintel from 681 CE was located above the central doorway of a palace structure. The image, carved in relief on limestone, depicts Lady K'ab'al Xook performing a bloodletting ritual that has manifested a vision of a serpent. From the mouth of the serpent, a warrior, carrying a shield and spear, emerges.

Click here to buy tickets and learn more about Underneath the Lintel.

A Thrilling Pre-show Performance at 1776’s Student Matinee

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Posted by Catherine Hendel, Marketing/PR Fellow

Teacher Peter Stroka and A.C.T.'s special SMAT helped Bessie Carmichael students find joy in history, music and theater.

"It's as beautiful as I remember," an enthusiastic fifth grader from Bessie Carmichael Elementary School commented as she walked into A.C.T.'s Geary Theater, excited to perform there for the second time.

Thursday, October 3, marked a very special date on A.C.T.'s 2013–14 season calendar. The entire fifth grade of Bessie Carmichael—almost 70 students—performed Voice of the People, a mini musical created just for the occasion by San Francisco Unified School District Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) instructor Peter Sroka, on the Geary stage immediately before the Student Matinee ("SMAT") performance of 1776, the popular Revolutionary War musical that opened A.C.T.'s mainstage season. Following the success of last spring's Stuck Elevator SMAT event, this is the second time A.C.T. has partnered with Sroka and Bessie Carmichael to present an engaging and educational preshow performance inspired by a production in our mainstage repertory.

Dressed in patriotic red and blue, the eager Bessie Carmichael students paraded onstage carrying hand-made cardboard signs portraying important social and political leaders throughout U.S. history.  Accompanied by Sroka on the piano and drum, they enthusiastically sang four original, history-inspired tunes to a theater packed full of young people, ranging from grades five through twelve. Each song related to 1776, covering such topics as the three branches of government, the power of education, the exclusion of particular groups (e.g., women and people of color) from the political process during the early days of democracy in America, and the courageous individuals throughout our country's history who have spoken up for the rights of those groups. During the preshow's final number, "The Voice of the People," each student excitedly held up a cardboard sign as their person's name was announced in song: "Sojourner Truth!" "Frederick Douglass!" "Elizabeth Stanton!" "Cesar Chavez!" "Harvey Milk!" "Martin Luther King, Jr.!" "Ruth Asawa!" etc.

Poised and practiced, Bessie Carmichael 5th graders
stand ready to dazzle a full audience.
Some of the kids could not stop themselves from dancing onstage to Sroka's catchy tunes, smiles plastered on their faces and full of pride. The audience (which included several Bessie Carmichael parent chaperones, dedicated fifth grade classroom teachers Mrs. Ebalo and Mrs. Salva, and Principal Lawrence Gotanco) cheered as the fifth graders performed solos, cracked jokes, and thoroughly entertained a sold-out audience of nearly one thousand young people from 19 schools from across the Bay Area and beyond. The adult cast of 1776, equally charmed by the students' dedicated performance, and by SMATs in general, found the whole experience inspiring and energizing. Sroka says, "One of the most surreal moments was when we were exiting the stage after the performance, and all the colonial congressmen were waiting in the wings applauding the youth of the future." Cast member Andrew Boyer, in full Benjamin Franklin costume, hair, and makeup, delighted the student performers by high-fiving each one as they passed on their way offstage and back into the audience, where they remained to watch the full afternoon performance of 1776.

A.C.T.'s Education and Outreach Department has facilitated a partnership with Bessie Carmichael Elementary School as part of the theater's ongoing efforts to deepen our relationship with the Central Market neighborhood, where our newly renovated Strand Theater is slated to open in 2015. When the VAPA leadership team introduced her to Sroka two years ago, A.C.T. Director of Education Elizabeth Brodersen asked him what he needed most. "A place for my kids to perform," he replied. A.C.T. has been able to give him exactly that, on our own Geary stage. Sroka, with fellow VAPA drama instructors David Greenbaum and Linda Ruth Cardozo, also attended (on full scholarship) A.C.T.'s acclaimed summer educator institute, Back to the Source, which is designed to help teachers develop strategies for using theater techniques to enhance creative learning in the classroom.

Bessie Carmichael Elementary School students having a blast entertaining the SMAT audience with educational songs about American history.
Sroka integrates fundamental aspects of classroom curriculum into original works of musical theater that engage students' creativity, intellectual curiosity, and self-expression. Voice of the People and 1776 offered the Bessie Carmichael students (96% of whom are children of color and 80% are Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Youth) the opportunity to research the origins and evolution of U.S. democracy, as well as to find their own place in that history, while offering them the rare opportunity to perform on The Geary's grand stage, which has hosted the theater's greatest professional artists for more than a century.

 In the 1776 SMAT audience was SFUSD Arts Education Master Plan Implementation Manager Antigone Trimis, who was heard to say, "This is the Master Plan at work. San Francisco is the campus," as well as SFUSD Artistic Director Susan Stauter, who added: "There can be no more beautiful classroom than the stage of this historic theater, which has seen the likes of Laurence Olivier, the Lunts, Tennessee Williams, and now, for the second time, Peter Sroka and his talented young students from Bessie Carmichael. Thank you, A.C.T.!"

A cornerstone of our ACTsmart arts education initiative and one of the oldest student matinee programs in the country, A.C.T.'s SMAT program has introduced more than half a million young people to the power of theater over the past 40+ years with discounted tickets, workshops, postshow Q&A sessions with the cast, and in-depth study materials.  For many, attending an A.C.T. SMAT is their very first chance to experience live performance firsthand. Brodersen says the most rewarding aspect of student matinees is "seeing young people light up when they enter the theater for the first time." Speaking of his Bessie Carmichael students after their performance last week, Sroka adds: "Those kids will never forget that experience.  For some of them, it will be a formative block in their foundations as they build their life."

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