- Small theatre groups formed in order to promote new playwrights and experimental techniques without commercial pressure sprang up around the United States in the 1910s and 1920s. The designation as a movement came after the 1915 openings of Washington Square Players and the Neighborhood Playhouse, followed in 1916 by the Provincetown Players, but the phenomenon can be traced back earlier. Percy MacKaye may be the first American theatre artist to promote the notion of such theatres in his book, The Playhouse and the Play (1909). However, earlier initiatives can be signaled, notably Jane Addams's Hull-House Players in Chicago, begun in 1900. An article by Constance D'Arcy Mackay in The American City (September 1918, 206-12) promoted the concept. Chicago became a hotbed of little theatres between 1900 and 1925, with many—like Maurice Browne's Chicago Little Theatre (1919)—operating only briefly. Detroit's Arts and Crafts Theatre run by Samuel J. Hume did significant work, as did many others.Some little theatres produced new plays, a trend exemplified by the Provincetown Players, who gave early opportunities to Eugene O'Neill and Susan Glaspell. Others stressed European plays and techniques, particularly those in the social problem play style perfected of Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw. Still others devoted their attention to the cultures of immigrant groups, while some, like New York's Lafayette Players and Cleveland's Karamu House, focused on elevating the quality of theatrical opportunities for African Americans. The little theatre movement laid the foundation for the community theatres* of the 1930s and after, which in turn prepared audiences for the great network of professional regional resident nonprofit theatres* that developed in the 1960s.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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