A Prairie Stage Companion - Current Structure And Development of Professional Theatre in the United States


Textbook, 2007
183 Pages

Excerpt

Contents

Summary in German

Foreword

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER 1: The Heartland – Great Lakes and Great Plains
1.1. The Appalachians, the Rockies and the Ohio River –The Embedded Midwest
1.1.1. Finding A Definition
1.1.2. Frontier, Lewis & Clark and American-Indians – History of the Midwest
1.1.3. Pioneers, Farmers and Johnny Carson – Socio-cultural Development of Midwestern Communities
1.2. US State Repertory – Brief Introduction to the Sampled Regions
1.2.1. Illinois – Prairie State and Windy Cities
1.2.2. Minnesota – The Land Of 10,000 Lakes
1.2.3. Iowa – The Hawkeye State
1.2.4. South Dakota – Great Places. Great Faces
1.2.5. Montana – Big Sky Country

CHAPTER 2: Theatre in the United States – The Review
2.1. From Ban to Broadway - History of American Theatre
2.1.1. Hallam and Dunlap – The Colonial Years
2.1.2. Beginning Star-system, Melodrama and Frontier
2.1.3. Vaudeville and American Realism
2.1.4. The Rise of Commercial Broadway
2.1.5. Avant-garde vs. Big Business – Ascending Off-Broadway And Regional Theatre
2.2. Equity and LORT – Contemporary United States Theatre System
2.2.1. Money, Money, Money or Zero Balance – Commercial vs. Non-Profit Theatre
2.2.2. The Geographical Clash - Broadway vs. Regional
2.2.3. US and European Style - Repertory vs. Repertoire
2.2.4. Actors Unified and Unionized – The Actors’ Equity Association
2.2.5. Broadway, what? – The League of Resident Theatres

CHAPTER 3: Broadway. Regional. Community. Professional Theatre in the Midwest
3.1. Midwest Theatre – A Statement for Progress
3.2. Touring Companies and Regional Gemstones – The Different Kinds of Theatres in the Midwest
3.2.1. Make A Living From Performing - Professional Theatres
3.2.1.1. Avant-garde and Popular - The Regional Theatre
3.2.1.2. Musicals and Hit Plays – The Big Commercial Theatre
3.2.1.3. How I Learned To…Act - The Small Non-Profit Theatre Company
3.2.1.4. Broadway Road Trip – The Touring Company
3.2.1.5. Suddenly, Last … Summer Stock Theatre
3.2.1.6. Theatre Non-Stop – Theatre Festivals (Fringe)
3.2.1.7. Off The Top One’s Head – Improvisational Theatre
3.2.1.8. Eating And Enjoying – Professional Dinner Theatre
3.2.2. After Work Yet Passionate – Non-professional Theatre
3.2.2.1. Community Theatre. From People for the People
3.2.2.2. Development of Community Theatre in the United States
3.2.3. Somewhere In Between – Educational Theatre

CHAPTER 4: Our Town – Case Studies
4.1. Performing The Loop. Theatre in the Windy City, Chicago, Illinois
4.1.1. House of Directors – The Goodman Theatre
4.1.2. House of Actors – The Steppenwolf Theatre
4.1.3. House of Improvisation – The Second City
4.1.4. Theatre in the Water Tower Water Works – The Lookingglass Theatre
4.1.5. “Dramatically Different” – About Face Theatre Company
4.1.6. “Theatre so close, it touches you” – Victory Gardens Theatre
4.1.7. Broadway in Chicago
4.2. Thank You, Mr. Guthrie. Performing Arts in the Twin Cities, Minnesota
4.2.1. And so it begins… - The Guthrie Theatre
4.2.2. “Time for Something New” – Theatre de la Jeune Lune
4.2.3. Ethnical Theatre – Mixed Blood, Penumbra, Theatre MU
4.2.4. “Fresh Art Delivered Daily” – The Minnesota Fringe Festival
4.2.5. Fitzgerald Theatre – Residence of the Prairie Home Companion
4.2.6. Orpheum, Pantages, State Theatre - Broadway in Minneapolis
4.2.7. “Love. Listen, Wonder, Excite” – Children’s Theatre Company
4.2.8. The Oldest and Largest of its Kind - Chanhassen Dinner Theatre
4.2.9. “Experience the Unforgettable” – History Theatre
4.3. Theatre in Iowa
4.3.1. Two Equity Houses – Both Alike in Dignity
4.3.2. New Ground, Repertory Theatre of Iowa, Theatre for a Change and Stage West
4.3.3. The Commercial One – Lamb Theatre
4.3.4. Festivals – Iowa Fringe and Pella Shakespeare
4.3.5. Quality in Community – Des Moines Playhouse and Actors Inc
4.4. Theatre in South Dakota
4.4.1. Waterfalls and Prairie. Theatre in Sioux Falls, SD
4.4.1.1. The Washington Pavilion
4.4.1.2. Theatre For and By Strong Women – Ephemeral Productions
4.4.1.3. Shakespeare At the Falls – Bare Bodkins Theatre
4.4.1.4. “Pros] Not Only for Kids” – The Children’s Theatre Company of Sioux Falls
4.4.2. Ah, Wilderness. Summer Stock Theatre in Custer, South Dakota
4.5. True West. Community Theatre in Montana
4.5.1. The Roots of Community Theatre in Western Montana
4.5.2. The Current State of Community Theatre in Butte
4.5.3. In Search of Issue-Oriented Community Theatre: Expedition to Helena

CHAPTER 5: The Lewis & Clarks Of The Performing Arts. A Survey on Theatre Artists in the Midwest

CHAPTER 6: The Midwest Audience. An Impact Survey

CHAPTER 7: Conclusion - You Can Take It With You

APPENDIX
A) List of Theatres in the Sampled Regions
B) Works Cited
i) Print Sources
ii) Electronic Sources
iii) Pictures and Figures

Summary - Zusammenfassung

“Ich bin überzeugt, dass in einer großartigen Stadt, sogar in einer Kleinstadt oder einem Dorf, großartiges Theater ein äußerliches und sichtbares Zeichen einer verinnerlichten und glaubhaften Kultur ist.”1 Das amerikanische Theater lebt nicht nur, wie weit verbreitet, in der glitzernden Welt zwischen Broadway, Off-Broadway und Off-Off-Broadway in New York City, sondern pulsiert vor allem im Herzen der USA. Der Mittlere Westen der Vereinigten Staaten ist mannigfaltig in seiner Geographie, Ökonomie und sozialem Umfeld. Neben endlosen Weiten, Farmen und Bergen existieren und wachsen amerikanische Metropolen wie Chicago, Minneapolis oder Detroit. So vielfältig wie dieser Teil Amerikas ist auch dessen Theaterlandschaft. Professionelles Schauspiel, sowie Amateurtheater sind gleichenteils anerkannt und beliebt.

Obwohl sich diese Magisterarbeit größtenteils mit Berufstheater beschäftigt, wird auch das Verhältnis zu nicht-professionellem Theater untersucht. Dabei fällt auf, dass das generelles Vorurteil vom ‚Theatermekka New York,’ die Allgemeinheit lediglich durch dessen Glamour blendet. Diese Einseitigkeit wird unter anderem auch von der existierenden Literatur zum amerikanischen Theater widergespiegelt. Findet man eine Vielzahl von Nachschlagewerken und Sekundärliteratur über die Theaterszene in New York, vermisst man eine umfassende Darstellung zur zeitgenössischen Theaterkultur im Mittleren Westen. Somit stellt diese Arbeit eine Erforschung und ein Resümee über das Midwest Theatre dar, die es so vorher noch nicht gab.

Im Zuge dieser Magisterarbeit werden die Bundesstaaten Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa und Montana in besonderem Umfang bearbeitet. Diese repräsentieren stellvertretend die Vielfältigkeit des Mittleren Westens.

Durch Feldforschung konnten empirische und statistische Daten erhoben, analysiert und ausgewertet werden. Dazu dienten vor allem Internet-Befragungen die an Theaterkünstler und Zuschauer gerichtet waren. Zudem wurden in Montana und South Dakota Repräsentanten der hiesigen Theaterlandschaft interviewt.

Die große Tiefe an gesammelten Daten, Zahlen und Aufstellungen beschreibt nicht nur die Vielfältigkeit des Mittleren Westens sondern auch dessen Theater.

So zeigt diese Arbeit, dass in den Metropolen Chicago und Minneapolis eine qualitativ hochwertige professionelle Theaterszene seit Jahren lebt und wächst. Schauspieler, Theatermacher und Personal hinter der Bühne benutzen seit langem diese Städte nicht mehr als reines Sprungbrett zum Broadway, sondern bauen ihre Karriere teils ganz bewusst dort auf. Dabei gelten Chicago und Minneapolis als zwei der einflussreichsten und fortschrittlichsten Theatermärkte in den Vereinigten Staaten. Es gedeiht dort unter anderem durch den konstant starken Rückhalt und Unterstützung durch des Publikum und die Gemeinde. Allerdings ändert sich die Theaterlandschaft je weiter westlich die Untersuchungen gehen. Gibt es in Iowa und South Dakota noch eine gewisse Ansammlung an lokalen professionellen Theatern, verringert sich die Anzahl in Montana auf Null. Es findet sich allerdings verschiedene Formen des Amateurtheaters. Community- und Universitätstheater kommen dort am häufigsten vor. Diese Arten des Theaters lebt von seiner Gemeinde in der Freiwillige das Theater produzieren, bewerben und spielen. Hierbei werden einfache Stücke aufgeführt, die meist nur von unterhaltenem Charakter sind.

Somit ist zu erkennen, dass das Theater des Mittleren Westens in seiner Form und Größe so vielfältig ist wie das Land selbst. Diese These versucht diese Arbeit aufzugreifen und kann somit als Leitfaden zur temporären Theaterlandschaft dieses Gebiets angesehen werden.

Foreword

The curtain falls the same way on Broadway as in a local theatre in Montana. The basic elements of producing a play are not influenced by the size of the theatre, audience or location. Yet, the American theatre is generally defined by Broadway standards.

After attending various plays in the supposed ‘Mecca’ of the American performing arts on the East Coast, I had the chance to meet a professional performer who had been in the theatrical business for many years. By giving away the path of his career, I was educated about the variety of the American theatre and more importantly its geographical range. Until I had this conversation, I was unaware of the existence of quality theatre beyond New York.

On a vacation trip to Butte, Montana, I decided to take the chance of visiting a non- professional play. The theatrical experience was different, but just as exciting. The theatre was small and old, the stage simple, the audience casual, the ticket price very low. However, the play was performed with great passion and intensity as if it was a professional Broadway production I soon enough became a fan of the ‘smaller theatre’ outside of New York. When traveling through the Midwest and attending plays of all branches of theatre I decided to study the scene. This was difficult because I discovered that literature about theatre other than Broadway is rare and thin.” In a pioneer sense of research, this paper is supposed to be understood as a guide through the wonderful theatrical scene of the American Midwest.

I would like to thank the theatres supporting my research in Montana and John Cliff, the professional performer, who motivated me to go outside of Broadway.

Marco Koenig

Berlin, in March 2007

While studying abroad in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 2004-05, I became acquainted with the local theatre scene through the Augustana College Theatre Department. What struck me first was the kind and welcoming nature of all people involved in the theatre program, either faculty or students. Over the course of the year I was introduced to many local theatre artists and became an active member as an actor, scenic artist, stage manager and assistant director. The passion and dedication of the few performing artists in Sioux Falls was infinite.

I was lucky enough to experience all kinds of theatre recitals in all of South Dakota, including performances from first and foremost Augustana College Theatre, University of Sioux Falls Theatre, University of South Dakota Theatre, the Black Hills Playhouse, the Children’s Theatre Company of Sioux Falls, Ephemeral Productions, Bare Bodkins Theatre Company and Olde Towne Dinner Theatre. I further attended shows in the Sioux Falls Orpheum Theatre and the Washington Pavilion. After I had been infected with the theatre bug, I came back to Germany only to find myself struggling with prejudices against Midwestern people and culture, but also against its theatre landscape.

While this thesis paper is first and foremost an academic paper that tries to collect facts and figures on Midwest theatre, therefore describes and analyzes them and makes an effort to find the spirit afterwards. It is also meant to be some sort of a guideline and inspiration for professional theatre companies to form and grow in the Midwest. Its potential in the creative energy of its artists, the eagerness, curiosity and zeal of its audience, combined with the generosity of donors and sponsors, is incessant. This paper is supposed to inspire theatre artists in the heartland and shall give them hope and new faith in the capability of their region and to further enrich the cultural studies of literature on the Midwest and its sundry theatre landscape.

I would like to thank the Augustana College Theatre Company Sioux Falls, South Dakota for their support, and especially Dr. Julia Bennett and her husband Tom, for their hospitality, assistance and advice. Further, I would like to thank all individual participants in my two surveys and the managing directors who made them available to all their artists and those who were willing to give me an interview. Without their contribution, a great deal of this thesis would have failed.

Janek Liebetruth

Berlin, in March 2007

Mr. Koenig executed the work on chapters 1 and 2, except 2.2., as well as chapters 3.2.2 and 4.5.

Mr. Liebetruth executed the work on chapters 2.2. and 3, except 3.2.2. as well as chapters 4, except 4.5., 5 and 6.

Summary, Foreword, Introduction, Conclusion and Appendix were executed as a cooperative work.

Introduction

“In some ways it's a well-kept secret. People on the coasts don't seem to know that such a vibrant theater and arts scene exists in the Midwest.”2

This is how an anonymous survey participant described the unique quality of theatre in the Midwest, which illustrates the essence of this thesis paper. While the following work is focusing primarily on professional theatre in the Midwest, it also catches a glimpse on community theatre, especially in Montana, as their major form of theatre.

In general, American theatre is often equated and centered with theatre that is produced and staged on Broadway in New York City. Yet, the American theatre scene is much more diverse and widespread than commonly believed.

“I have come to appreciate theater as a valuable, local entity. As a child and young adult, I maintained the perspective that true quality theater and film only happened with the professionals in New York and Hollywood. I have realized this is not true.”3

The common misconception about American theatre outside of New York is supported by the lack of literature about Midwest theatre. Information on Midwest theatre for instance is mostly covered in American theatre biographies, however, current studies on the variety and structure of contemporary Midwest theatre are rather rare to non-existent.

Therefore, empirical and statistical research for this paper in form of field and Internet studies were essential.

In order to gain information on professional theatre in the Midwest, several methods of data gathering were used and the sample communities of Chicago, Illinois, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Montana chosen to provide representative data for the Midwest.

During the phase of field research in Montana and South Dakota, two online surveys were conducted among theatre artists as well as the theatre audience and several interviews were executed with theatre professionals, such as producers along with artistic and managing directors.

The range of data, figures and statements captured the genuine essence of not only the multiplicity of different communities in the Midwest, but also the mixture of its theatre landscape.

The structure of the paper in some way reflects the diversity of Midwest theatre and landscape, starting by defining the Midwest as a region, followed by a brief history of American theatre in general and its basic current structure. A description of all established theatre branches in the Midwest, case studies of exemplary theatre companies in Chicago, Minneapolis, Iowa, South Dakota and Montana, are preceded by individual perception on Midwest theatre by performing artists as well as audience members.

“ I was surprised by the professionalism and wide variety of theatre opportunities for people in the Midwest region (Chicago areas especially) after being raised in New York, where "everyone who is anyone" should flock to for theatre experience. The Midwest and others regions offer a wide span of experience and opportunity for many aspiring talented theatre professionals and amateurs alike.”4

This exploration proves there is indeed a wide variety of theatre in the Midwest, ranging from highly professional companies, to highly motivated, quality amateur theatre, and that there is much more potential in creative energy and ambition than commonly believed.

CHAPTER 1 The Heartland – Great Lakes and Great Plains

1.1. The Appalachians, the Rockies and the Ohio River–The Embedded Midwest

“The general opinion is that we aren’t educated and work the farms only, but only a few know that the University of Chicago brought out most Nobel Prize winners in the United States. People in the Midwest don’t mind that [general opinion], because they love the opportunity to prove everybody wrong”5

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Fig. 1 An Iowa Farm6

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Fig. 2 Chicago skyline by night7

1.1.1. Finding A Definition

By the beginning of the twentieth century the term Midwest was established for the area referred to in the following paper, after it was originally being called Middle West. The United States Census Bureau defines the Midwest consisting of twelve States. It divides the region into the East North Central States, also called Great Lake States and the West North Central States further known as Great Plains States.8

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Fig. 3 Census Regions and Divisions of the United States9

The Great Lakes States, the Old Northwest Territory, are bounded by the Ohio River, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Valleys. The Northwest Ordinance created the Northwest Territory in 1787 as the first organized territory of the United States. The Ordinance defined the boundaries of the states, excluded slavery and religious discrimination and required that 60 thousand inhabitants be present for statehood.10 In addition, the Ordinance introduced the Public Land Survey System in Ohio first, which described property lines based on local markers and bounds drawn by humans. Road networks and county shapes are an indication for this system throughout the Midwest.

Table 1 Great Lakes and Great Plains States

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With the Great Frontier, settlement began in the prairie area resulting in the new term. The Great Plains States were North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, which later annexed them unofficially to the Midwest. Along with Missouri and Iowa they were part of the Louisiana Purchase, when America acquired several States from Napoleon in 1803.

According to Nichols, before the Civil War the largest cities of the Midwest were Cincinnati and St. Louis11. After the war the unofficial capital of the Midwest became Chicago, as the largest city of the region and now third largest in America. There are several other important cities in the heartland. This cities include: Cleveland, Indianapolis, Wichita, Des Moines, Madison, Omaha, Kansas City, Detroit, Sioux Falls, Minneapolis- St. Paul, Detroit, Milwaukee and Columbus.

Today, people argue about the nature of the Midwest. Some say the Great Plains with their small towns and farming communities in Iowa, South and North Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas are the definition of the Midwest. While others say the Great Lakes cities with their history of manufacturing base, nineteenth and twentieth century immigration and strong Catholic influence are Midwestern cultural representatives. The true definition of the Midwest is principally a little bit of both. Furthermore the culture of the Appalachian region as well as the more southern influence of Missouri defines the Midwest.

Today, several parts of eastern and western regions offer a Midwestern orientation. Montana, western Pennsylvania and western New York share culture, history and identity with the Midwest. However, New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians never announce themselves as Midwesterners. People from Montana, Colorado and Wyoming most often consider themselves Midwesterners, especially since they have so much in common with the Great Plains States in economics, politics, and religion.

1.1.2. Frontier, Lewis & Clark and American-Indians – History of the Midwest

The French and British were the first settlers in the Midwest. French explorers settled in the Midwest along the Mississippi River system and the Great Lakes. Most of them were fur traders or belonged to the Jesuit missions. After the French and Indian War in 1763, however, the French lost control over the area. British colonists arrived in the 1750’s and expanded via the waterways of the Great Lakes and the Appalachian Mountains. Early pioneers who settled inland via the overland routes were Daniel Boone and Spencer Records. After the Revolutionary War the number of settlers coming from the East increased rapidly. Veterans of the war, by United States law, were granted land in the Midwest starting in Ohio, which also led to an increasing number of settlements.

European immigrants settled directly into the Midwest by the time of the Civil War. “Swedes and Norwegians settled in Wisconsin, Minnesota and northern Iowa and German Lutherans and Jews settled in Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa [….] most Midwestern cities were found by Hungarians, Poles, German Jews and Catholics”12. German Catholics also settled around the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. Over the next years the spirit of freedom and a high developing economy urged more people and groups to move to the Midwest.

The Northwest Ordinance region prohibited slavery in the 1830’s and was responsible for the freedom sense of the Midwest. The only state not following this spirit was Missouri, which adopted slavery from the south. The Midwest in the 1850’s was mainly influenced by the founding of the Republican Party, which partially originated in the Midwest, and the famous Midwestern writer Mark Twain, who did not only influence the heartland, but the entire nation. His Novel the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the great American books and surely shows the freedom spirit of the Midwest at this time.

Several factors increased the economy of the Midwest rapidly in the nineteenth century and gave power to the heartland. One factor came in 1860 with Russian settlers, when they introduced the “Turkey Red Winter Wheat” to Kansas, which grew extremely well and gave soon the Midwest the term “Breadbasket of the Nation”13.

Another factor for the boost were the waterways. The Ohio River and its connection

to the Mississippi, and the Great Lakes network are the most important waterways in the Midwest, which have been very significant for the development in this region. These routes were essential for the economy of the Midwest, especially after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which also brought a wave of people from New York and New England, who became predominant in the economical and political hierarchy. However through these waterways, transportation of Midwestern goods like iron ore and particularly agricultural products was quick and safe.

Additional factors were the mines and pineries. The pine forest belt stretched from New England to Canada. At a time of booming immigration, wood was much needed to build houses, resulting in a heavy exploitation of the pine belt in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. By “1890 Minneapolis was the premier lumber market in the world,”14 which would later shift to the Pacific Northwest.

Copper and iron was heavily mined in the nineteenth century. The ethnicities in the mining area offered sharp contrasts to patterns further south. Swedes and Finns were heavily represented and later Croats and Slovenes.

By the end of the century another key of the economic boom was established through Henry Ford and the large-scale production of the automotive industry, yet marking the beginning of the Rust Belt15. The Detroit area became predominant of that vast industry and is known as the Motor City today. The beginning of the automotive industry in the Midwest also meant a shift of migration from the farm towns to the big cities around the Great Lakes. Until the 1980’s this industry would boom in America, but today a lot of factories have closed, since the once proud slogan “Made in America” redeemed itself not to be profitable anymore and several American car companies build their cars now in other countries where labour is much cheaper.

1.1.3. Pioneers, Farmer and Johnny Carson – Socio-cultural Development of Midwestern Communities

The number of Catholics in the Midwest was counted at 39,3% in 200216, yet marking the largest religious group in the heartland. Baptists and Lutherans are widely spread in the states of Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri. These two groups mark the second and third largest religious groups in the Midwest and trace back to the Scandinavian and German settlers in that area. Only 1% of the population is practicing Islam or Judaism17. However, the largest concentration of Muslims in America can be found in the suburbs of Detroit. About 15% of the population does not belong to any religious group. Yet, it is the Christian religious heritage partially responsible for the culture and values of the Midwest.

Another reason for the development of Midwestern culture is the pioneers and their inculcation of agricultural values. The heritage of the Northwest Ordinance with their spirit of freedom and antidiscrimination are probably a factor why Midwesterners are viewed as open and friendly.

Authors like the later mentioned William Inge and Mark Twain and the movie The Wizard of Oz are American icons of the Midwest and partially gave the heartland a bigger popularity in the United States.

Furthermore, different music genres of the nineteenth century were created in the Midwest. A Cleveland disc jockey first identified Rock N’ Roll as a new genre and the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is now located in this city. Also, Motown sound and Techno came from Detroit, Michigan as well as the today’s very famous and scandalous rapper Eminem. Protest singer and American icon Bob Dylan was born in Minnesota. There are many more famous artists from the Midwest, who contributed to the American culture with their very own style. This moreover demonstrates the Midwest cannot be seen as backwards.

When the Midwestern population slowly shifted from the rural to urban area, the political trend has shifted as well. Today Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are Democratic, whereas Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana and Ohio proven themselves to be Republican. In the 2004 presidential election out of the eleven very close states, five of them were from the Midwest18. The Republican dominance is partially responsible for the stereotypical view about the Midwestern population being very conservative.

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Fig. 4 Electoral College Map, 2004 Elections19

1.2. US State Repertory – Brief Introduction to the Sampled Regions

1.2.1. Illinois – Prairie State and Windy City

Illinois, also known as the ‘Prairie State’, became the twenty-first state in 1818. The history of settlement is similar to other Midwestern states. However, today Illinois is not only the most ethnically diverse state in the Midwest, but also the most populated. U.S. Census estimated its population to 12,763,371, whereas 79.4% is white. This is the lowest percentage in the Midwest20.

The state economy is somewhat different to other Midwestern states. In Illinois all the different branches and areas of business and economy can be found, such as agricultural productivity, heavy industry, retail sales, service based industry, manufacturing and mining. Because of the diversity of the Illinois economy, it has one of the largest gross state products in the United States.

The political direction of the state has transformed to Democratic standpoint throughout the last five presidential elections21.

Chicago is the cultural center of Illinois. It ranks with New York and Minneapolis in terms of its flourishing theatre scene.

1.2.2. Minnesota – The Land Of 10,000 Lakes

Minnesota, also known as the ‘North Star State’ or ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’, became the thirty-second state in 1858. Minnesota’s cultural heritage is mainly Scandinavian, with large Swedish and Norwegian populations that settled the state in the second half of the 19th century. Yet, Minnesota also became a home to many German, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Slavic immigrants settling around the ‘Twin City’ area.

About 60% (approximately 3 million) of Minnesota’s population lives in the metropolitan area of the Minneapolis today22. The Twin City area is a major center of culture, so much so that some artists refer to it as ‘The Artistic Capital of the Midwest.’

The mixture of urban and rural, of factory and farm, makes the state similar to the economy of Illinois. Minnesota also shares its political direction with Illinois and is known for a politically active citizenry.

1.2.3. Iowa – The Hawkeye State

Iowa, also known as the ‘Hawkeye State’, became the twenty-ninth state in 1846. The first European settlers were the French. They were followed by German, Swedish, Danish, Dutch and British settlers coming from eastern half of the United States23. Today, Iowa’s population is 2,982,08524 and is slowly increasing.

As a Midwestern farm state, Iowa is one of the most important producers of agricultural goods for the United States “In 2005, Iowa led the nation in the production of pork, corn, soybeans and eggs [...] is ranked second in the nation in red meat production [...] About 89% of the land area in the state is in farms.”25. Iowa is a major corn producer, making it the largest ethanol producer in the United States.

Iowa’s political direction is equally divided between blue and red, which is atypical for a strong ‘farm state’ with a very high percentage of white inhabitants. However, its political opinion is naturally Midwestern.

1.2.4. South Dakota – Great Places. Great Faces

South Dakota became the fortieth state in 1889 and is one of the six states of the Frontier Strip. Acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, the region became part of the Dakota Territory in 1861 and was split off from North Dakota at the time it achieved statehood. The state consists of four major land regions: The Great Plains, the Black Hills, the Dissected Till Plains and the Drift Prairie. The landscape varies from farmland, over rolling hills and buttes to a range of low mountains. The Black Hills are important to South Dakota’s economy, since they are rich in minerals.26

Settlement in South Dakota began with the establishment of a fur trading post in 1817. After a fast growing number of settlements in the region, the Indian tribes of Yankton, Dakota, and Sioux left most of eastern South Dakota to the United States by signing the 1858 Treaty. After the largest present-day cities Sioux Falls and Yankton were founded in 1856 and 1859, the United States recognized the Dakota Territory (consisting of North Dakota, South Dakota, and parts of Wyoming and Montana)27 in 1861.

After the eastern railway link to the capital of Yankton in 1872 and the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874, a swarm of German, Scandinavian, Irish and Russian settlers entered the territory. However, the Black Hills did not belong to the territory, but to the Sioux tribes, who did not want white people to start mining. Because of this a war between the Indians and the United States Army broke out. The tribe’s fighting abilities was inferior to the U.S. forces and many Native Americans starved to death because the buffalo, their main food source, was hunted to near extinction.

In the following year the population of Caucasians tripled and the last major incident of this war occurred on December 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee Creek, when the “U.S. Army massacred three hundred Lakota, mostly women and children”28.

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates South Dakota’s population at 781,919 people29. Although South Dakota also faces the population shift from the rural to the urban area, the population increased steadily (U.S. Census: 754,844 in 2000). German is the largest ancestry group followed by Scandinavian and Irish. Behind New Mexico and Alaska the state has the highest proportion of Native Americans in the United States. Five counties lay entirely within Indian Reservations30. Only five counties in South Dakota are Democratic leaning, most of them belong to the counties lying within the Indian Reservations.

Various Pow Wows attract many tribes as well as tourists in the summer, yet marking South Dakota’ second major economic growth area: tourism.31. Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills is one of the main American attractions and a National Monument in the United States.

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Fig. 5 Mount Rushmore32

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Fig. 6 The Badlands of South Dakota33

1.2.5. Montana – Big Sky Country

Montana is located in the Great Plains region, yet once again partially proving that many consider Montana as Midwestern, than in the Pacific Northwest. The state is the fourth largest in the United States, but has only 944,632 inhabitants and a very low population density. The eastern 60% of Montana is prairie and farmland; the western 40% is covered by the rugged Rocky Mountains. The mountains give Montana its name, derived from the Latin word for mountain, montaanus34.

Nine Indian tribes were the original inhabitants of Montana. They are Crow, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Gros Ventres, Assiniboine, Kalispel, Kootenai, Salish and the Pend d’Orielle35.

Much of Montana was purchased in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase and explored by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806.

On May 26, 1864, Montana became a United States territory. Soon after, three forts were established in the state, due to gold and copper findings in the area. Located to the west of Great Falls, Fort Shaw was built in 1867. In south central Montana Territory, Camp Cooke and Fort C.F. Smith were established.

Nine years later one of the biggest battles between Native Americans and Americans occurred at Little Bighorn River in the eastern Montana Territory. Here the Seventh Cavalry of the U.S. Army fought against the three local Indian tribes consisting of the Lakota, the Arapaho and the Cheyenne. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer led the Seventh Cavalry and the most famous leader of the Indian combined forces was Crazy Horse. The battle occurred out of an order by the government to bring back thousands of Indians who have slipped away from their reservoirs. The attempt in 1876 failed, when “Custer’s regiment was outnumbered at a ratio of three to one. Approximately 270 soldiers were killed including Lt. Col. Custer.

Casualties on the Indian side were about two hundred”36. Even though the tribes came out victorious, other regiments hunted them down and by 1880 all tribes were under the total control of the U.S. government. On November 8, 1889, Montana became the forty-first state of America.

Two years later all Forts were closed. However, the government reopened Fort Shaw, as a converted industrial school for Native Americans in 1892.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the Homestead Act of 1862 was renewed and revised; now allowing settlers to buy or claim 320 instead of 160 acres for themselves and their families37. Most settlers came from the Midwest, especially Minnesota, bringing the Midwestern character to Montana.

For a long period of time Montana’s economy primarily relied on agriculture.

Products produced in Montana included wheat, beans, potatoes, honey, cattle, and lumber. Mining also played an important role in the state economy. After numerous mines were emptied, Montana’s economy shifted to a tourism and service based economy. The state’s national parks are the main attractions for visitors.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 7 Custer’s Last Stand- Battle of Little Bighorn38

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Fig. 8 Near Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana39

CHAPTER 2 Theatre in the United States – The Review

2.1. From Ban to Broadway - History of American Theatre

“The history of theatre gives us a new perspective on the growth and development of the nation. We are accustomed to think of the history of the United States in terms of political events, economic crises, and social changes. As we follow the theatrical history of the country, we view the same developments from a sharply different angle - from a position inside the stage door. We begin to realize that political, economical, and social events all influence the theatre, in turn, influence the complex social structure around it. Now and then, theatre history and political history join in a moment of shattering crisis, as they did on the evening of April 14, 1865, when a demented actor assassinated Abraham Lincoln while Lincoln was sitting in a box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.”40

2.1.1. Hallam and Dunlap – The Colonial Years (1665 – 1800)

English actors, managers and playwrights built the foundation of the American theatre, as it is known today. When the New World was settled in the seventeenth century, a rough setting welcomed anyone daring to have made the long journey. Ironically, the first theatrical activity can be found in a police record from 1665, in Accomac, Virginia. Three men who performed a play called Ye Bare and Ye Cub were arrested for entertaining the public. However the judge who might have been a theatre admirer himself found those actors not guilty of fault.

About fifty years later, in 1714, the first play published in America, Androboros, appeared. Between 1716 and 1745 the first American playhouse was established in Williamsburg, Virginia. Only a few plays were performed in this theatre until it was converted into a town hall in 1745.

In 1750 a play called The Orphan was performed in a coffee house in Boston, but was shortly thereafter forbidden by the Massachusetts authorities coming up with a law against any theatrical activity.

Only two years later the first frontier company was found. The famous Hallam Company “was organized by a bankrupt but enterprising theatrical manager from London, William Hallam”41.

“The provincial ground of Thespis was duly occupied throughout Britain. Like another Columbus, he bethought him of a western world. The English colonies of North America, yet in the cradle of suckling childhood, were supposed to be uncivilized in all social relations; yet a California fame (as at the present day pertains to that El Dorado) tingled in the ears of Bull's subjects, and promised ample scope for all kinds of enterprise. In this mood of reflection, Wm. Hallam planned a theatrical voyage of discovery, the conducting of which adventure he confided to his brother, Lewis Hallam, an actor, and who was reputed to be an excellent low comedian.”42

When Hallam reached America he found something different than he expected. At the time every colony except for Virginia and Maryland had restrictions against theatrical activities. This is due to the fact that most colonies were very different from another. In New England for example the church had more power than in Virginia, thus leading to a more conservative cultural lifestyle with more restrictions and harsher rules.

However, Hallam overcame to some extend these restrictions and led his troupe to successful performances in New York, Philadelphia, Virginia, and Jamaica between 1752 and 1758.

When the company reached Jamaica, Lewis Hallam, William Hallam’s brother and sole manager and sponsor, died. Nonetheless, Davis Douglass, a manager of another English troupe, took over Lewis Hallam’s position and merged his company with the Hallam Company. Furthermore, he also married Hallam’s widow and reorganized the company with Mrs. Hallam as leading lady and her son as leading man. Douglass himself became the new sole manager of the unified companies - The Hallam-Douglass Company, later renamed American Company. It was the most successful theatrical company in the United States for the next twenty years.

Douglass success started in New York, where he built a new theatre on Cruger’s Wharf and had performances on several nights. At the same time, the governor of Pennsylvania granted him permission to erect a new theatre outside of the city limits. The Southwark Theatre, Philadelphia, was the first permanent theatre in North America in which comedians from London performed for six months.

Throughout his theatrical career, Douglass constructed other theatres in Annapolis, Newport and Charleston. His second most important theatre next to the Southwark Theatre was the John Street Theatre of New York.

Douglass’ frontier spirit would not even come to a halt in the North, where the theatrical restrictions were still in place. Yet he came up with a solution of still managing to perform by disguising his theatrical acts as a ‘moral dialogue’. In 1761 he performed Shakespeare’s Othello as a ‘Series of Moral Dialogue’ at King’s Arms Taverns.

This can certainly be seen as a breakthrough of boundaries assembled by the law of many colonies. After this disguise had proven itself, it was used multiple times again, not always tolerated but accepted since it was not illegal.

After this sensational move in theatre history, Douglass’ American Company presented The Prince of Parthia in Philadelphia, in April of 1767. This play was extraordinary since it was written Thomas Godfrey from Philadelphia. It was low in quality, but it marks the sensation of first professional play written by an American.

Also in 1767, the Douglass Company hired the first American professional actor named Mr. Greville43. With presenting an American play and having a true professional American actor, the company unconsciously followed the patriotic spirit developing in the United States around this time.

After the Continental Congress passed a law to discourage all entertainments in the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the company returned to Jamaica after many successful years in the continental United States in 1774. Douglas and his group were perhaps the most important pioneers in the history of professional American theatre.

The theatrical tolerances increased after the war and therefore the ban and restrictions on theatre soon came to an end. After the number of colonists continuously increased the need for more theatrical companies grew. More talented actors came over from England and American playwriting began to blossom.

In 1787 Royall Tyler, who earned degrees from Yale and Harvard, wrote the first American comedy ever professionally played, The Contrast, in remarkable three weeks.

Only two years later, with the play The Father, or American Shandyism the so-called father of American drama was born. William Dunlap was not only a writer, but also theatre manager and eventually the first historian of American theatre. He overall wrote fifty-six successful dramas.

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Fig. 9 Lewis Hallam jr.44

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Fig. 10 Father of American Theatre, William Dunlap45

The end of the century does not only show huge improvements in theatrical acting and writing, but also a larger demand for theatre in the colonies thus resulting in more and more playhouses being built. The most important ones: Federal Street Playhouse, Boston, 1794; Haymarket Theatre, Boston, 1796; Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, 1791; Park Theatre, New York, 1798.

The Chestnut Street was the first theatre in the United States constructed from the ground up as a professional venue and was opened three years after construction started. “The new structure had a handsome interior, in contrast to an unimpressive exterior, and boasted a pit and three tiers of boxes with a seating capacity usually reported as two thousand.”46 The theatre had to be reconstructed after a fire in 1820 and was closed in 1856.

In New York the Park Theatre was built in 1798. Thirteen businessmen financed the construction. Coincidentally it had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1820 just like the Chestnut Street Theatre.

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Fig. 11 The late Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia47

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Fig. 12 The Park Theatre, New York48

2.1.2. Beginning Star-System, Melodrama and Frontier (1800-1850)

The nineteenth century promised even more improvements and better times for the professional theatre, as a new wind of freedom blew through the United States. At the beginning of the century, according to Garff B. Wilson, there were only 150 professional actors and by 1850 there were 50 professional companies49. Professional criticism began to influence the audience, actors and their companies. The character of a star system, as known from Hollywood today, developed in the theatrical scene in America.

Foreign stars came to U.S. companies to perform as well as some native stars on the rise. It happened that the visiting stars, natives and foreigners, were booked for a number of plays by different companies. The lead role, which was played by the company’s own actor before, was in this case given to the ‘star’ who acted his favorite scenes. Yet the star system, although very profitable, made companies rely on the visiting stars in order to draw big audiences and finally drove local resident companies out of business. However, this time period also describes the beginning of ‘The Golden Age’ of actors, which implements not only the star system but identifies a time where the actor was most powerful, eventually using his talent to bring theatre forward and make it more national.

Many actors also happened to be the group managers and therefore had the authority to announce what plays to play and which other actors to hire. Very patriotic actor-managers offered cash prizes for native plays to stimulate American playwriting.

Edwin Forrest was one of those very talented actor-managers who paid an enormous sum for plays written by Americans. He always played heroic roles and was a star in early American theatre. His popularity led to the Astor Place Riot in 1849, which “grew out of a petty quarrel between the hot tempered Forrest and the English tragedian, William Charles Macready, a vain, snobbish man.”50 Forrest’s biggest fans, the Bowery ‘hoys, howled down Macready at a performance at the Astor Place Theatre in New York City. When he played a second time, several thousand people gathered in front of the theatre and threw stones at the building. An infantry regiment was called to disperse the angry mob and was instantly stoned as well. Eventually the regiment opened fire and killed twenty-two people resulting in Macready’s decision to never perform in America again51.

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Fig. 13 The Astor Place Riot on May 10 th , 184952

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Fig. 14 Edwin Forrest53

With the beginning of the nineteenth century, melodrama had its start in America as well as in other countries. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines melodrama as “a sensational or romantic stage play with interspersed songs and an orchestral accompaniment”54. However, melodrama as we know it today did not develop before the end of the century and will be covered in the following chapter.

James Barker, a playwright of this genre, had a major influence on the development of American drama. He was an enormous patriot and therefore wrote ten plays with American material and themes in which everything European was ludicrous whereas everything American was glorious. With the beginning of melodrama on the American stage, new character types developed showing “American manners, spirit and characters like the American Negro, the Yankee, the Red Indian, the Irish immigrant, the fire laddie and many more”55.

The nineteenth century also marked the beginning of popular theatre, which includes vaudeville, minstrelsy, burlesque and circus. The big cities like New York, Charleston, Boston and Philadelphia still set the mark for theatre in the United States. Companies in these cities were responsible for new innovations like the first playhouse built for and by African- Americans in 1821. However, as the nation moved to new territories, theatre in its pioneer sense came along. The frontier theatre describes the movement to the West and follows the pioneer character set by early companies like the Hallam Company on the East Coast. Actors followed the settlers and performed in taverns, barns, warehouses etc. Every place that could serve as a stage was used no matter if it was on land or water. William Chapman built the first showboat in 1831. This new invention was copied by many others and was used not only as a transportation device for the company, but also as a full playhouse. With these vessels, theatre was brought to the people living on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and was well received until the beginning of the Civil War.

Of course when referring to frontier theatre the state of California has to be mentioned as it marks the premier frontier state. It all began with a few soldiers of the United States Army performing for the troops. The first theatre of California was a lodging house in Monterey, which was converted to a playhouse by soldiers who were stationed there. The first real theatre built only for the purpose to serve as a playhouse was constructed in 1849 in Sacramento and twenty years later the California Theatre was established in San Francisco, which set high standards throughout the country.

After theatre began to spread and flourish in California other frontier states began to establish theatre as well. In 1857 John McVicker built the first playhouse in Chicago. Later Chicago should become the capital of theatre in Midwestern America.

As the population grew in all territories of the United States, theatre became an integrating part in the lives of many Americans. Native plays achieved huge successes and classical European plays lost their supremacy on the American stage.

2.1.3. Vaudeville and American Realism (1850-1900)

American theatre, in the second half of the nineteenth century, starts with the first copyright law in 1856. The law was created to partially protect the interests of playwriting. However, it was still fragile and did not serve the purpose as the copyright law does today. Dion Boucicault had an influence on this law, but with his idea of a single group traveling from city to city performing a single play he started a period, which decreased resident companies all over America. Furthermore, productions decreased per year, because successful plays were performed longer than ever before.

The comedian Boucicault was also responsible for introducing fireproof scenery to the stage of American theatre. Furthermore he also directed playwrights, trained hundreds of players, directed several productions promoted realistic furnishings and supplied Great Britain and America with 130 of the most popular plays of the century56.

The period between the years 1860 and 1880 also brought an increase of quality in American drama with the classic school of acting to which first-class actors belonged. In their performances these players “tried to transform their personalities so as to project the illusion of separate dramatic characters, and they sought to feel the emotions of their role without losing control of their bodies or voices and without wallowing in their emotions.”57

One of the players of the classic school of acting was Edwin Booth who is seen by many theatre historians as maybe the best American actor of all times.

The school of emotionalism originated during this era and describes a special kind of acting whereas the actor, women actors only, surrenders herself entirely to the emotions and feelings of her character. This meant crying, screaming, trembling and totally disregarding any discipline and control.

All great actors of these schools, however, stand for quality theatre, and plays only and never performed in the genre of popular theatre. This genre came to life in the nineteenth century and was blessed with huge success, because “show business included the exhibition of a monkey-and ten thousand other little variety acts, burlesque skits, minstrel shows, animal exhibitions, and circus performances. These forms of popular theatre were the common theatrical activity which […] ‘bathed the globe’ in the nineteenth century.”58 Popular theatre can also be defined as mob theatre, which does not mean anything else as theatre for the people or mass theatre.

[...]


1 Sir Laurence Olivier

2 Anonymous survey particpiant

3 Anonymous survey participant

4 Anonymous survey participant

5 Harry Weigel, personal interview, 17 October 2006

6 “Iowa.Farm,” Palmer for Iowa

7 Hill, “Chicago Skyline by Night,” Flickr

8 “Census Regions and Divisions,” US Census Bureau

9 “US Census Regions,” Energy Administration Information

10 Nichols 63

11 Nichols 71

12 Garland 28

13 Garland 42

14 Garland 163

15 The Rust Belt is a line of cities in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, which economy includes heavy industry, manufacturing, and associated industries.

16 “Religion and Public Life in the Midwest.” North American Religion Atlas

17 “Religion and Public Life in the Midwest.” North American Religion Atlas

18 “Electoral College Map,” The Washington Post Online

19 “Electoral College Map,” The Washington Post Online

20 “Illinois Quick Facts,” US Census Bureau

21 “History of U.S. elections,” Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

22 “Metropolitan Population finder-Minneapolis,” U.S. Census Bureau

23 Schwieder, Iowa Publications Online

24 “Population Finder Iowa.” U.S. Census Bureau

25 “Iowa Agriculture Facts,” Iowa Department of Agriculture

26 South Dakotas Slogan

27 Garland 132

28 Garland 189

29 “South Dakota Population” U.S. Census Bureau

30 “South Dakota Counties,” South Dakota Association of County Officials

31 Garland 11

32 “Mount Rushmore,” Ben’s Guide

33 Dempsy, Photoseek

34 “Introduction to Montana,” Netstate

35 “Brief History of Montana,” State of Montana Government

36 Burlingame 439

37 Burlingame 478

38 “Battle of Little Big Horn,” American History 102

39 “Glacier National Park,” Bulgar

40 Wilson 1

41 Wilson 6

42 Hewitt 5

43 Mr. Greville’s first name is unknown to theatrical history.

44 “Lewis Hallam Jr.,” AmericanTheatre History

45 “William Dunlap,” NNDB

46 Wilson 22

47 “Chestnut Street Theatre,” Philadelphia Print Shop

48 “Park Theatre,” Musicals101

49 Wilson 37

50 Wilson 53

51 Wilson 55

52 “Astor Place Riot,” Wilsons Almanach

53 Brady “Edwin Forrest,” Library of Congress

54 Merriam-Webster 897

55 Wilson 79

56 Hornblow 361

57 Wilson 95

58 Wilson 112

Excerpt out of 183 pages

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Title
A Prairie Stage Companion - Current Structure And Development of Professional Theatre in the United States
College
University of Potsdam
Authors
Year
2007
Pages
183
Catalog Number
V120206
ISBN (eBook)
9783640237012
ISBN (Book)
9783640238859
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29721 KB
Language
English
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Prairie, Stage, Companion, Current, Structure, Development, Professional, Theatre, United, States
Quote paper
Janek Liebetruth (Author)Marco König (Author), 2007, A Prairie Stage Companion - Current Structure And Development of Professional Theatre in the United States, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/120206

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