Wilson, Garff B. Three Hundred Years of American Drama and Theatre. Prentice-Hall, 1973.
Hughes, Glenn. A History of American Theatre: 1700-1950. Samuel French, 1951.
Brockett & Findlay, Century of Innovation
19th Century Origins
"By the end of the 18th Century dramatic companies enjoyed the novel luxury of freedom to perform openly and honestly in almost every city of the nation==the nation then being confined largely to the east coast."
Four theatre cities in America:
- Philadelphia — Chestnut St. Theatre: Wignell and Reinagle
- New York — Park Street Theatre; Old American under Wm. Dunlap
- Charleston — Charleston Theatre: Placide and Solee
- Boston — Federal Street Theatre
Each town developed a territorial touring area with regular visits (except New York).
All American towns of any size had some theatre activity, resident or touring.
- 1800 5 cities over 8000 population
- 1850 141 cities over 8000 population
- NYC: 515,000
- Philadelphia: 340,000
- Boston: 137,000
- New Orleans: 116,000
- Cincinnati: 115,000
- San Francisco: 50,000
- Chicago: 30,000
- Los Angeles: 11,000
- 1850: 9000 miles of rail
1810 Began succession of English stars to U.S.
THUS BEGAN THE STAR SYSTEM
- George Frederick Cooke was first: Brought in to promote attendance by Cooper and Dunlap at NY Park Theatre.
- First really eminent English actor in America
- When sober he was a forceful and effective performer
- Created publicity and legends because he was temperamental and unpredictable.
- Very profitable for theatres. "Henceforth, America was to be a gold mine for many foreign visitors==and many of the visitors, in turn, were to earn large profits for astute American managers."
American theatre 1850-1900
Theatres in major cities by 1850:
-Moved toward long runs to recoup costs.
-Became specialized in type of fare
-Built dominant star system
-Principally relied upon fewer and fewer playwrights.
Distinct lack of production unity during period in popular theatres.
- -Stars refused to submit to director.
- -Designers resisted attempts to subvert their authority.
Some early directors were eventually successful in making inroads; began using stage business, moving into more varied and directed stage pictures.
Significant advances in stage technology.
- Electricity feasible with Edison's incandescent in 1879.
- By 1900 nearly every major theatre electric-lit due to gas fires.
1856 First American copyright law. Attributed to the efforts of Dion Boucicault. It actually only protected the title of the play.
Growth of The Road.
1860 Dion Boucicault began promoting "combination companies". The company with players would travel with scenery for 1 play.
- 1860: 50+ resident companies operating
- 1880: 8 resident companies remained
- 1900: over 500 road companies.
By 1869 there were 21 theatres in New York, 6 in Boston.
By Turn of 20th Century:
Popular entertainments and showboats very popular.
-Dominance of second-rate plays in regular production, primarily melodramas.
-Larger cities still had a few productions of "the classics"
-Considerable non-English-speaking theatre in larger cities and immigrant communities.
-Well-established American actors.
In Late 1870s Realism began to compete with melodrama, but only in stage technique.
With advent of early realism, the regisseur or strong director began developing.
- No longer resident companies.
- No longer hired by lines of business.
- Companies assembled for single production touring.
- Need to control the production to protect the material.
- Realism demanded central control of concept and ensemble playing.
David Belasco: Apprenticed in San Francisco, 1882 moved to Madison Square Theatre in New York as stage manager, and became independent producer in 1895.
- Required realism in everything, was very popular, and relied heavily on electric lighting.
- Also a dramatist, but was not concerned with the "theatre of ideas," but wanted to "appeal to the heart." Followed Boucicault's melodramatic construction.
- Critics said he practiced "the most up-to-date stagecraft with the most out-of-date plays".
Theatrical lighting with electricity began about 1885.
American Theatre: New Century
- 1850: 23 Million in 31 states
- 1900: 76 million in 45 states
Playwriting: Lots of writing, much of it bad
Business Management: Mass production of popular fare.
- Modern Drama: Ibsen Chekhov, et al.
- Independent Theatre Movement: Moscow Art Theatre, Theatre Libre, Independent Theatre, Freie Bühne
- Concept based, image focused stagecraft: Edward Gordon Craig, Adolphe Appia.
Drama League of America:
- Founded in 1910 to organize audiences and improve appreciation for good dramatic literature.
- Stimulated interest in dramatic arts in colleges and the community theatre movement.
- Since 1736 some production ongoing; generally outgrowth of dramatic literature studies, never curricular.
- 1904-05: George Pierce Baker established a course in playwriting at Radcliffe and then Harvard. Famous English 47 Workshop, which produced plays, was extracurricular, established 1913.
- Attracted many brilliant students who became leaders in American Theatre for next 40 years. Included Eugene O'Neill, Kenneth Macgowan, Robert Edmund Jones.
- Harvard was not supportive; moved to Yale in 1925, which established the Drama School as a graduate program committed to providing American theatre with gifted artists of superior training.
- Other early significant programs at Columbia, Carnegie, University of Pennsylvania, University of Wisconsin.
Community Theatre Movement:
- General development beginning about 1910.
- Aspired "to produce significant thought-provoking plays and to involve the maximum number of participants from the communities they served."
- Attempt to counter popular commercial fare which was all that was available except in New York and few other major theatrical centers.
Three particularly significant groups established in 1915:
- Washington square players. Lasted 3 years. Many participants were later leaders. Fostered the Theatre Guild.
- Provincetown Players. Summer group to produce plays written by members. O'Neill joined in the second year, and it moved to New York year-round in third year.
- Neighborhood Playhouse. Served Lower east side in New York; lasted 12 years.
-By end of 1920s there were over 1000 non-commercial theatres including college and community theatres in the U.S.
-Increasing plays about blacks and foreign language theatre.
-Some prominent communistic and socialistic propaganda theatre companies established.
-1930s saw significant development of summer theatre.
Major Counter-commercial Theatres of the 1930s:
Independent theatres prospered and declined:
- American Laboratory Theatre (1923) Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya, from Moscow Art theatre
- Theatre Guild:
- Designed as a professional theatre for quality production and introduction of European stagecraft and dramatic styles. Eventually built its own playhouse. Established touring production through 1960.
- Established season subscription.
- Group Theatre:
- Established in 1930s by Theatre Guild. Formed to produce social protest works. Members were generally committed to largely communal projects.
- Heavily influenced by Moscow Art Theatre, Stanislavsky, and "method" acting. Included Harold Clurman, Lee Strassberg, Elia Kazan, Morris Carnovsky, Sanford Meisner.
- Federal Theatre Project:
- Established by Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 under the leadership of Hallie Flannagan. Lasted 4 years. Employed over 30,000 theatrical artists and workers.
- Produced phenomenal variety and quality of productions all over, with different kinds of ongoing projects and companies. Eventually congress challenged the content of productions as subversive propaganda and dangerous.
Fantastic rise in theatre costs.
Musicals most popular form.
- -Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein production of Oklahoma in 1943 marked consolidation of much gain in musical theatre and served as springboard for next 30 years.
Principal approach to production:
- "a theatricalized realism compounded of acting, which emphasized intense psychological truth, and of visual elements, which eliminated nonessentials but retained realistic outlines."
- Mode popularized by Elia Kazan and Jo Mielziner in 1947 production of Streetcar and 1949 production of Salesman.
Actors' Studio (1947) by Kazan, Strassberg, others.
- -Concentrated on emotion memory aspect of method, occasionally to sacrifice of technical skills (Brando, Faulk, Gazarra, Stack)
1949: Only 150 legitimate professional theatres serving entire U.S.
1949: 70 TV stations serving 2 million receivers (in urban areas, as were remaining theatres).
By 1958 Television penetration reached 85% of population.
1947: Weekly movie attendance 90 million
1957: Weekly movie attendance 28 million.
Growth in some theatre during 1950s:
- Children's Theatre
- College and University Theatres
- Community Theatres
- Off-Broadway theatre in early 1950s: smaller houses, more experimental, less risk.
Off-Off-Broadway developed. Countered increasing costs of Off-Broadway with experimental amateur avant-garde productions.
- Joe Cino – Café Cino (1958) began coffee-house performances (following model for Beat coffee-house poetry).
- -Ellen Stewart – La Mama ETC (1961)
- -Al Carmines – Judson Poets Theatre (Judson Memorial Church – 1961)
- -Ralph Cook – theatre Genesis (St. Marks, Bowery, 1964)
- -Ronald Tavel – "Theatre of the Ridiculous" (beyond absurd, now preposterous). Pop culture fantasies, pornography without guilt.
- -Gave opportunities to many new writers and directors and companies toured with grants.
- 1966-67: 300 Off-Off-Broadway productions, equaled total Broadway productions for decade.
Joseph Papp, producer
- -Began in 1950s with New York Shakespeare Festival, then got public subsidies and built empire on classics for people concept.
- -Free Shakespeare in the Park; Neighborhood tours of Shakespeare; transformed Astor Library into Public Theatre with 5 performance spaces.
Black theatre Movement
- -Black Arts Repertoire Theatre School (1964)
- -Negro Ensemble Company (1968)
- -New Lafayette Company (1967)
- -playwrights: James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, LeRoi Jones, Douglas Turner Ward, Ed Bullins.
- -Bread and Puppet (1961) Peter Schumann
- Expressionistic, propagandistic; uses puppets and masked actors; ritually offers bread to audience.
- -San Francisco Mime Troupe (1959) R. G. Davis
- Dropped mime and radicalized in 1966; agitprop.
- -El Teatro Campesino (1965) Luis Valdez, for National Farm Workers Association
- Dramatize and educate farm laborers in California.
- -Free Southern Theatre (1963) John O'Neal and Guilbert Moses
- Originally to raise cultural awareness of blacks through white tradition, but move on to address black problems.
- Ford funded regional theatre program in 1959, later diminished due to lack of continuing funding)
- Tyrone Guthrie built regional theatre in Minneapolis in 1963, encouraged building of other art centers.
National Endowment for the Arts – 1965
- Began period of development of federal public support for major regional arts institutions.
All original content protected by copyright © Arthur L. Dirks, Taunton, MA., 2005.