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Theatre Symposium, Vol. 22: Broadway and Beyond: Commercial Theatre Considered

Theatre Symposium, Vol. 22: Broadway and Beyond: Commercial Theatre Considered

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Theatre Symposium, Vol. 22: Broadway and Beyond: Commercial Theatre Considered

217 pagine
3 ore
Nov 30, 2014


That theatre is a business remains a truth often ignored by theatre insiders and consumers of the performing arts alike. The essays in Theatre Symposium, Volume 22 explore theatre as a commercial enterprise both historically and as a continuing part of the creation, production, and presentation of contemporary live performance.
The eleven contributors to this fascinating collection illuminate many aspects of commercial theatre and how best to examine it. George Pate analyzes the high-stakes implication of a melodramatic legal battle. Christine Woodworth recounts the difficulties encountered by British actresses near the turn of the twentieth century, while Boone J. Hopkins considers newly found images of Margo Jones along with the commercial appeal they represent.
The volume continues with articles that follow developments with ties to commercial theatre, such as the interplay between Broadway companies and regional theatres, musical productions in communist Poland, and the influence of Korean popular culture on theatre and the unique production arrangements that have resulted. Other essays investigate alternative concepts related to commercial themes with regard to audience interaction and the burgeoning world of geek theatre.
Edited by David S. Thompson, this latest publication by the largest regional theatre organization in the United States collects the most current scholarship on theatre history and theory.
Nov 30, 2014

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Theatre Symposium, Vol. 22 - Dean Adams



David S. Thompson

There’s no business like show business.

—Irving Berlin

You can make a killing in the theatre, but not a living.

—Robert Anderson

FOR SEVERAL YEARS, I have maintained a list containing bits of advice and pearls of wisdom gleaned from friends and colleagues pertaining to careers in theatre. Along with my personal counsel, I share the list with students who find themselves at a crossroads and come to me seeking guidance about possible directions and appropriate steps. At the top of the list I include a prefatory warning that some perfectly good ideas contradict other sound notions. Thus, the first item on the list comes from a colleague who described acting as either the worst profession in the world or the best, and maybe both. Naturally, the same sentiment could apply to theatre more broadly. Depending upon what is happening on any given workday, it might also apply to a great many professions.

The prefatory quotations, above, framing these remarks similarly serve as reminders of the divergent views of theatre. Regardless of our connection to theatre, whether as creators or consumers, we need not look far to encounter a dreamlike world, or someone in pursuit of a dream. The dream collides with reality when we turn to the commercial side of the venture, whether our concerns involve ticket prices, salaries, management, or, as Robert Anderson suggests, making a living. Even Anderson’s famous quotation, referring in part to the overwhelming triumph of Tea and Sympathy and the varied success that followed, has its own duality. The image of making a killing at the box office or achieving fame and fortune retains its own dreamy quality whether applied to renowned impresarios of yesteryear or the suspect title characters of The Producers. To be fair, Irving Berlin’s celebrated paean to performance also has a dark side; Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold is included as a lyric. (Still you wouldn’t trade it for a sack of gold.)

Despite many fine studies dealing with the business of theatre, a survey of publisher’s catalogs will yield far more anthologies, biographies, histories, and technique manuals. Yet those seeking to apply the lessons in such volumes cannot ignore the fact that theatre is a business. For several years beginning in 2000, I had the opportunity to see compassion for art tempered with recognition of practicalities. I was fortunate enough to immerse myself in an annual theatregoing marathon of Broadway productions in conjunction with coverage of the Tony Awards in the popular press. Between performances I attempted to meet as many industry professionals as possible, hoping to broaden my perspective. In nearly every meeting, whether I approached the conversation as a scholar or a fan, I was reminded of the commercial structure supporting the endeavor. I met the musical director who talked with me while walking to union headquarters to vote on a new contract, the actor who could not possibly accept a speaking engagement and risk losing a paycheck, the company administrator who worried about shifting audience demographics, the assistant artistic director who had to balance new play development with theatre rental costs, and various critics and press representatives who confronted a changing landscape for publication and journalism; all impressed upon me the fascinating story that often went untold.

When I returned to the classroom, I discovered that my students frequently expressed as much fascination for the commerce of Broadway, and the commerce of theatre more generally, as they displayed for lessons in dramatic structure or performance methods. Perhaps they had already anticipated some of the advice that they would receive when asking me about careers. One may well argue that theatre has always borne the challenge of balancing dreams and practicalities, art and commerce. Using Broadway as a term in the title of this volume provides a convenient understudy for the concepts balancing on either side of the fulcrum.

Consistent with the practice of this journal, the published articles herein began as presentations at a symposium, an event, in keeping with the more traditional sense of the term, held on the campus of Agnes Scott College near Atlanta, April 5–7, 2013. The scholars who presented papers at our symposium were fortunate to witness keynote addresses by two distinguished members of the theatre community. Stacy Wolf, professor of theatre and director of the Princeton Atelier at Princeton University, offered the multi-media presentation Single Girls Sell!: Women in 1960s Broadway Musicals. In some ways the material served as a behind-the-scenes version of the analyses appearing in many publications, most notably her books A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical (2002) and Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical (2011). While making a compelling case for the theoretical and analytical possibilities of the field, Wolf also displayed her affection for the material, demonstrating that one can serve the functions of critic and devotee simultaneously. Freddie Ashley, artistic director of Actor’s Express Theatre Company in Atlanta, combined his own experiences and observations with those of other leaders in the American theatre in Keep on Keeping On, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Nonprofit Theatre Model. His presentation merged an intimate portrait of the inner workings of a successful theatre company with a challenge to innovate and to embrace difficult times. Simultaneously, Ashley reinforced the fundamentals of patron service, suggesting that audiences should receive superior treatment—meaning better than that of ordinary customers—a lesson that can benefit theatrical companies of all types. In fact, although working independently, Ashley’s presentation contained uncanny parallels with the seven stages of experience described in a paper presented by Erin Scheibe as well as her article appearing in this volume.

By approaching the concept of commercial theatre from multiple perspectives in exploration of numerous possibilities, our keynote speakers reminded us of some of the realities imbedded within the dreamy images, ideally pointing toward a balanced consideration. The authors whose research appears in this volume were able to draw upon such inspiration in revising their work. Both the original papers presented in April 2013 and the revised articles herein display the broadest possible interpretation of the concept of commercial theatre and how best to examine it. The resulting articles explore various points on the commercial continuum. Organized generally in chronological order, Volume 22 of Theatre Symposium opens with connections to commercial theatre viewed historically. George Pate analyzes the high-stakes implications of a melodramatic legal battle; Christine Woodworth recounts the difficulties encountered by British actresses near the turn of the twentieth century; and Boone J. Hopkins considers newly found images of Margo Jones along with the commercial appeal they represent. The volume continues with articles that follow developments with ties to commercial theatre. Dean Adams examines the interplay between Broadway companies and regional theatres, commercial enterprises and not-for-profits; Jeffrey Turner explores the musical Company as a case history of Broadway and beyond; Jacek Mikolajczyk provides a series of examples, often surprising, of musical productions in communist Poland; and Jae Kyoung Kim surveys Korean popular culture, its influence on theatre, and the unique production arrangements that have resulted. This edition concludes with alternative concepts related to commercial themes. Erin Scheibe outlines the inherent theatricality in an approach to audience interaction, in turn suggesting applications beyond the theatre; Tony Gunn investigates the commercial success associated with an innovative approach to an old favorite, Our Town; and John Patrick Bray introduces us to the burgeoning world of Geek Theatre.

Creating a symposium—whether an event, a journal, or in this case a combination of both—resembles a theatrical production in that the effort requires a team of collaborators. We are indebted to keynote speakers Stacy Wolf and Freddie Ashley for enlivening our event by providing valuable insights and suggestions to the scholars who presented papers along with a particularly uplifting conference response to conclude the weekend. Although it is not possible for this volume to include every paper presented during the symposium event, each presenter and member of the audience made valuable contributions and all deserve gratitude for their efforts. I thank my colleagues at Agnes Scott College for their support in hosting the event; the college’s administration, led by Elizabeth Kiss, president of Agnes Scott College, for continued encouragement; Gail Meis, registrar, and the staff of the office of the registrar, Tanzania Revels and Cheryl Green, for securing space; Demetrice Williams, director of special events and community relations, for logistical consideration; Pete Miller, director of dining services, and his remarkable staff for personifying hospitality; the student members of the Blackfriars of Agnes Scott College for their assistance and participation; and the indefatigable Leah Owenby of faculty services for friendship and camaraderie. Thanks, in order of our introduction, to Dan Waterman, Crissie Johnson, and Vanessa Rusch of the University of Alabama Press for welcome patience and invaluable guidance. Jane Barnette, associate editor of this volume and the next, has redefined friend and colleague for the better. My deepest appreciation goes to my wife, Sara Shockley Thompson, and my sons, Robert and Daniel, yet again, for their understanding, not to mention the many little things too numerous to list. Finally, I offer my best wishes and continuing gratitude to the Southeastern Theatre Conference—its executive committee, board of directors, advisory councils, central office staff, and over four thousand members—for their unwavering support of the study and practice of theatre.

Totally Original

Daly, Boucicault, and Commercial Art in Late Nineteenth Century Drama

George Pate

A HELPLESS YOUNG WOMAN lies bound and gagged on the train tracks. A train barrels toward her, smoke spewing, horn blaring, brakes screeching in futility. The mustachioed villain cackles to one side. But then our hero rides in on his white horse, saves the girl, and defeats the bad guy. The day has been won in the name of masculinity, chivalry, morality, and hackney. Iterations of this scenario appear throughout popular culture in the West. It has become the archetypal image of good guys versus bad guys with the damsel in distress at stake. The origin of this story, however, rests in ethically murkier waters, with a complex tangle of vertices pulling toward intellectual property protection, artistic merit, and commercial success standing in place of a dichotomy of Good and Evil. Augustin Daly’s melodrama Under the Gaslight is widely considered to be the first instance of the tied-to-the-tracks trope, although the familiar roles are switched, with the damsel in distress being played by a Civil War veteran and the hero being the strong female protagonist. The instant popularity of the plot device quickly spawned an imitation. That imitation in turn led to a key case in the development of intellectual property law pertaining to theatre and performance. The case of Daly v. Palmer, in which Daly successfully sued to get royalties from the New York production of Dion Boucicault’s After Dark, reflects the complex relationship between commercialism and artistic integrity at the end of the nineteenth century. The arguments supporting Daly’s ownership of the railroad scene suggest that commercialism and artistry in this moment of theatre history are synonymous and that both primarily consist of an author’s ability to create a specific series of emotional excitements for an audience. Daly’s conflict with Boucicault ultimately suggests that the cultural and legal conventions under which such sequences of emotional excitement count as both art and property reflect an understanding of ownership rooted in social, moral, and aesthetic—rather than monetary—value.

Some of the cases and arguments discussed in this essay—de facto patents on plot devices and copyright protection denied on the grounds of immorality—may seem bizarre to anyone even loosely acquainted with contemporary intellectual property law. The intellectual property regime under which Daly’s work was protected differs from our current intellectual property regime in a number of ways, and understanding those differences is key to understanding the assumptions motivating Daly’s arguments and the relationship between artistry, ownership, and commerce that those arguments reflect. Oren Bracha explains that, for most of nineteenth century, the intellectual property regime in the United States understood copyright as a limited right to the specific economic activity of printing particular texts.¹ In other words, copyright literally functioned as just what its name suggests, a right to copy. This meant that the owner of a copyright did not have the right to control or receive compensation from any uses of the text other than copying. Unprotected uses of the text included everything from translations to performances. Oliver Gerland points out that until [1856], a copyright owner who had printed and sold copies of a play could not prevent others from staging it. . . . By contrast, plays that had been performed but not printed and sold . . . were fully protected under common law.² Copying a performance of an unprinted play from memory, then, would be impermissible under common law.³ Performing a play from a printed manuscript, though, was considered a perfectly acceptable use of that manuscript. Any owner of a copy of a playscript could claim the right to such use without consulting or compensating the author. The publication of a play effectively transformed it from a performance object to a text object, and it could not legally be both at the same time. Copyright law for most of the nineteenth century, then, maintained a deep ontological distinction between the written text and the performed play, a distinction that would become fuzzier as the popular conception of copyright law moved away from a right to print and toward the market value-based force of ownership and control of today. One of the major moments in copyright’s change from a protected, exclusive right-to-print to a model of general control and ownership was the introduction of a doctrine of fair use in the late nineteenth century. As Bracha argues, the popular understanding of fair use as a possible emancipatory force against total ownership and control obscures fair use’s nature as an expansion of ownership and control: Ironically, the fair use doctrine is commonly celebrated today as one of the major safeguards against overexpansion of copyright protection. At the time it was introduced . . . , however, it was a vehicle for a radical enlargement of the scope of copyright. . . . Formerly, infringement was limited to near-verbatim reproduction and all other subsequent uses were considered legitimate. In the new fair use environment, all subsequent uses became presumptively infringing unless found to be fair use.⁴ In other words, almost all non-printing use was fair use before the introduction of a doctrine that specifically designated which transformative uses were protected. Finally, protectability was not yet, at this point, based solely on market value, but also depended to some extent on a work’s adherence to dominant conventions and social norms.⁵ Each of the above aspects of the mid-to-late nineteenth-century American intellectual property regime comes into play in the cases discussed over the course of this

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