Pageants

   During the first two decades of the 20th century, the public taste for secular spectacles merging text, dance, music, and theatrical artifice led to a proliferation of pageants across the United States. These community celebrations might commemorate historical events, indulge in mythology, or air social concerns. They were performed by largely amateur casts (usually numbering in the dozens, but occasionally in the thousands) in outdoor settings (often site-specific or otherwise appropriate spaces for the events depicted), which might include little theatres, the courtyards in front of public buildings, stadiums, or academic facilities. The creators, whose budgets varied considerably, were often aspiring playwrights and directors, drawing upon the Progressive era's reformist spirit.
   Pageantry came to the fore just as the earliest academic theatre programs developed at Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, the University of North Carolina, Carnegie Institute of Technology, and the University of North Dakota. Among faculty members with an abiding interest in pageants were George Pierce Baker, Frederick H. Koch, and Thomas Wood Stevens. Stevens, for example, worked closely with Kenneth Sawyer Goodman to coscript and stage several pageants in Chicago. Before moving to Carnegie Tech, Stevens also managed the Goodman Theatre and School (named for his deceased collaborator in the 1920s). Another influence on pageants was Percy MacKaye, who lectured and wrote about pageantry as a reflection of democracy in an evolving community, seeing it as a means by which citizens expressed their concerns and celebrated their goals. His ideas on the subject were published in three books, The Playhouse and the Play (1909), The Civic Theatre (1912), and A Substitute for War (1915). MacKaye's sister Hazel brought together the idea of pageantry and the interests of the woman suffrage movement, as did Mary Porter Beagle who, with Jack Randall Crawford, coauthored Community Drama and Pageantry (1916), which stressed the importance of dance. In 1913, the American Pageant Association was established and it published newsletters and served as a connecting link among those staging pageants. The Association folded in 1921, after which pageants slowly disappeared from the dramatic landscape.
   See also Dubois, W. E. B..

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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