- or Advance ManTraveling ahead of a touring company, the advance agent or "working agent," later called press agent, would oversee any special arrangements contracted with the theatre manager, consult with the local bill-posting business on the design of posters and on getting them posted in advantageous locations, and schmooze the local newsmen to get favorable coverage. In the 1870s, before the rise of booking agencies, the advance man functioned as a booking agent, arranging dates, negotiating contracts, and tending to the advertising, often even posting the bills himself. Although leg-endarily underpaid, advance agents had to be gregarious personalities with long memories, for it might be a year between visits to a given city. The week before the Maurice Grau French Opera company opened at Kansas City's leading opera house, for example, advance agent Charles Conelli "proceeded to entertain quite a little party which had collected in the Journal editorial rooms" with his debunking of the Italian stereotype. The two-column story (Kansas City Journal, 18 December 1883) concludes, "after discussing the comparative merits of operas, the modern Roman bowed himself out while the little party dispersed, all determined to hear Aimee and the charming Fouquet."In his 1912 book, M. B. Leavitt listed the names of 180 advance agents whose skills had convinced him that having the right man ahead of an organization would "materially add to its receipts." By the turn of the century, however, centralized booking of combinations out of New York City was already contributing to the decline of the advance agent, while the later term "press agent" referred to more circumscribed public relations responsibilities. By 1905, the profession often lamented the passing of the colorful advance agent of yore, although Goodson claims that it was the advance man's reputation for deceptive claims that helped propel audiences from the legitimate theatre to the motion picture (2002, 22).
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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