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Pittsburgh in Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater Hardcover – June 4, 2007
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”For readers seeking a glimpse of the inner workings of theater personnel and cultural brokers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ‘Pittsburgh in Stages’ is a good start. For those who want a stimulating synopsis within an accurate social and political setting, this is it.”
—Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography
—New England Theatre Journal
“Ultimately, in treating stage productions and their reception as a barometer of civic development and community life, [‘Pittsburgh in Stages’] reveals as much about the social and economic oganization of Pittsburgh as it does about theatre history.”
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Captivation by motion pictures first took hold in Pittsburgh; legitimate live theater came to an abrupt halt with popularity of talking motion pictures, a form of entertainment which lent itself to industrialized mass-production. The remnants of stagecraft degenerated into prurient enterprises. However, legitimate theater was recognized to have propaganda value, as well as some vestigial demand, and therefore began to be subsidized and promoted at a reduced scope akin to its pre-industrial status. It soon joined forces with the rest of the socialistic cultural establishment (including its onetime adversary motion pictures) to revive the Western medieval ideal of resurrecting the primitive wholesome pre-agricultural utopia of the Garden of Eden, sidetracked in favor of the worldly, artificial, decadent, individualistic, classical Renaissance and its abhorrent spawn the Industrial Revolution.
As the quintessence of advanced industrial aggressiveness, its name aptly commemorating the Winston Churchill of the Seven Years' War and the architect of British world domination, Pittsburgh was a prime candidate for emasculation and depopulation; its theatrical heyday forgotten, it was easily derided as a contemptible benighted materialistic commercialized uncultured backwater. The very cradle of commercial radio broadcasting, it atoned as a pioneer demonstration project for public broadcast television. Since the mass audience was no longer expected to defray more than a token fraction of the high production costs, commercial considerations being out of the question, funding was extracted from the very institutions being undermined by the subversive drama. Clearly industrialists’ wealthy heirs who controlled the foundations were not averse to this development, in their avidity to disavow any affinity with their vilified industrial background, and to ally themselves with untainted patricians among the cultural establishment; the few nonconformists, typified by Helen Frick, were ostracized as a warning to anyone with social aspirations. An influential "kinder and gentler" Republican donor placed his bets on developing information technology as the next phase of the Industrial Revolution and a replacement for manufacturing. Substantial taxpayer subsidies to cultural groups naturally subject them to government scrutiny and intervention. Impressionable schoolchildren became a significant audience.
Subsidized entertainment emerged triumphant in the guise of a savior to fill the manufacturing vacuum which it had been instrumental in hollowing out in the first place. The author merely hints at some of the foregoing observations without expanding upon them any further than is necessary to explain her topic of theatrical advances. As a theatrically-oriented professional herself, she demonstrates thorough familiarity with obscure theatrical lore, past as well as contemporary.