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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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(p.173) Epilogue
Weavers of Dreams, Unite!

Sean P. Holmes

University of Illinois Press

This epilogue traces the collapse of the old theatrical economy after the onset of the Great Depression and assesses its impact on the men and women of the American stage. Highlighting the huge decline in employment opportunities in a perennially overcrowded labor market in the wake of the Great Crash, it argues that the brand of occupational unionism that had underpinned the activities of the Actors' Equity Association (AEA) in the 1920s ceased to meet the needs of the theatrical rank and file. In the highly politicized environment of the 1930s, traditional patterns of deference within the acting community broke down, and a new generation of actors, largely unschooled in the genteel tradition in American culture, began to question the wisdom of building an occupational identity around the twin ideals of workplace discipline and respectability. In 1935 a group of militants set out to seize control of the AEA and to guide it in a more radical direction. Though their insurgency failed, it had profound implications for actors' unionism in the American theater industry. It prompted a reorientation of the AEA toward the bread-and-butter needs of its constituents and a frank acknowledgment on the part of its leaders that actors are workers as well as artists—and that the first role is indivisible from the second.

Keywords:   Great Depression, theatrical economy, Actors' Equity Association, occupational unionism, actors' union, American theater industry, American culture

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