Social Realism in New York Theatre

Anna Sica, Sica A

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In the first half of the twentieth century, a significant strain of leftist dramaturgy could be found within American theatre. This form was typified by social realism, which used naturalistic forms to explore sociopolitical questions. The real exploration of this style began with the Group Theatre in the thirties and continued to evolve through the fifties at the Actors Studio. The main stream commercial theatre through the first half of the century, which was dominated by naturalism, musicals, and light entertainment, was able to support the explorations of social realism as well as other, even more radical, forms of experimentation. After World War II, however, there was a growing rift between naturalistic-commercial forms and an emerging avant-garde. The traditional theatre was typified by both social realism and poetic realism, most notably in the work of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, who where close to the Actors Studio Playwrights Unit. The traditional theatre became associated with 'uptown' - mostly identified with Broadway - and the emerging avant-garde with 'downtown' - emboied by Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. Nevertheless, in the sixties, there was also a degree of exchange and interaction between the two theatrical quarters of New York, Broadway and its alternative-mainly downtown counterparts. By the end of the twentieth century, however, the avant-garde was in crisis and traditional drama had practically vanished from Broadway. It was in this context that Arthur Penn, as president of the Actors Studio, resurrected the Actors Studio production program: thirty years after it was buried, the Actors Studio Theatre was reborn as the Actors Studio Free Theatre. Penn changed the name and the policy: the newly restored theatre was literally "free", unencumbered by commercial necessity, the influence of Hollywood or Broadway, or even from any responsability to individual or government donors. Penn created for the Free Theatre a system of self-financing. The Free Theatre's productions were developed in the Actors Studio and performed on the stage of the Raw Space, an Off Broadway theatre on 42nd street.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteUptown-Downtown New York Theatre from Tradition to Avant-garde
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2005


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