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Weavers of Dreams, Unite!Actors' Unionism in Early Twentieth-Century America$
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Sean P. Holmes

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037481

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037481.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use.date: 24 September 2021

The Great Text in Our Economy Today

The Great Text in Our Economy Today

The American Theater in an Age of Organization

(p.11) Chapter One The Great Text in Our Economy Today
Weavers of Dreams, Unite!

Sean P. Holmes

University of Illinois Press

This chapter explores the origins of the organizational impulse that animated the American acting community in the early twentieth century. It begins by examining the transformation of the theatrical economy that was brought about by the rise of the theater trusts at the end of the nineteenth century. It goes on to consider production practices in the metropolitan theater industry, highlighting the growing emphasis on rationalization and standardization and exploring how this dual imperative impacted upon the creative process. It also looks at the experience of work in the early twentieth-century theater, documenting conditions on the theatrical shop floor and highlighting the role of race, ethnicity, and gender in determining the degree of opportunity available to individual performers. The chapter argues that while actors undoubtedly had grievances against their employers, the theater trusts had actually done a great deal to improve their lot by stabilizing a notoriously volatile employment market. The formation of the Actors' Equity Association in 1913 had less to do with conditions of employment than with a perception on the part of an influential section of the acting community that it had relinquished its accustomed autonomy to a group of employers whom they held responsible for declining standards in the theater.

Keywords:   American acting community, theater trusts, metropolitan theater industry, Actors' Equity Association, unionization

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