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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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The Sock and Buskin or the Artisan’s Biretta

The Sock and Buskin or the Artisan’s Biretta

Reconciling Art and Labor in the Actors’ Equity Association, 1913–1919

(p.33) Chapter Two The Sock and Buskin or the Artisan’s Biretta
Weavers of Dreams, Unite!

Sean P. Holmes

University of Illinois Press

This chapter focuses on the problems that organizing in defense of their collective interests posed for the men and women of the American stage and, indeed, for many other occupational groups on the margins of the American middle class. Beginning with an analysis of the work culture of actors, it argues that while the shared experiences of a life on the boards generated a powerful sense of group identity, individual ambition, the fuel that powered the star system, proved difficult to reconcile with the principles of collective action. It goes on to highlight how actors' leaders deployed the vocabulary of high culture and the larger language of class of which it was a part not simply to define their position in relation to the major theatrical employers but also to draw a line between those performers they deemed worthy of the label artist and those they did not. It concludes with a detailed analysis of the debate that raged within the ranks of the Actors' Equity Association over the question of affiliation with the organized labor movement. Paying careful attention to the language that the competing parties employed to articulate their respective positions, it documents the development of a schism within the theatrical community that sprang from two markedly different ways of conceptualizing the process of cultural production.

Keywords:   American actors, collective action, Actors' Equity Association, organized labor movement, cultural production

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