A Matter for Experts: Broadway 1900-1920 and the Rise of the Professional Managerial Class

by Schwartz, Michael S

Abstract (Summary)
Modern theatrical scholars do not generally hold the first two decades of 20th century American drama in high esteem. The received wisdom regarding most of the era under study is that Broadway was primarily a source of frivolous entertainment that bore little or no relation to the turbulent social forces that were shaping America as well as the outside world. Nevertheless, Broadway during the years 1900-1920 both reflected and impacted upon a particularly significant series of social changesnamely, the formation and rise of the Professional Managerial Class, or PMC. This intermediate class, positioned between the workers and the capitalist owners, found its niche and its identity as mental workers preserving capitalist culture, and this emerging class made significant contributions in shaping the modern Broadway theatre. Broadway, in turn, contributed greatly in shaping PMC class identity. Through an examination of plays, actors, reviews, and audience response of the period, and using the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, this document traces both the development of Broadway as a source of modern, mature American drama, as well as the development of PMC consciousness and habitusthat is, the outward bodily and behavioral display of the unconscious acceptance of class manifestations. In particular, one of the key class problems that both the PMC and Broadway sought to solve was that of nerves. Nerves plagued the minds of the theatre-going mental workers, and Broadway practitioners tried various strategies to conquer, or at least temporarily mollify, the nerves of the audience. These strategies included the song and dance of musicals, the laughter of comedies and farces, and the therapeutic onstage talking cures that reflected the increasing interest in and assimilation of Freudian concepts. By following these symbiotic developments to their climax in the 1920s, the historian discovers that the birth of what scholars consider modern American drama is primarily the result of the PMC fulfilling its task of maintaining and preserving capitalist culture.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Lynne Conner; William Scott; Attilio Favorini; Bruce McConachie

School:University of Pittsburgh

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:theater arts


Date of Publication:01/29/2008

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