Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/315

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297
New Movements

head of the Drama Department of the Carnegie School of Technology in Pittsburgh, William C. Langdon, of the Russell Sage Foundation. It became a social matter as well as an art matter. Towns, cities, localities dug deep into the public treasury, and spectacles—suggesting a community of interest like the New Orleans Mardi Gras, but actually based on a more self-conscious attempt at celebration—have encouraged a type of drama requiring special writing. But the pageant is not the popular form of drama which will satisfy democratic Ameriica. Nor has the pageant changed the face of the American theatre.

But what it did help to do was to awaken in communities an art consciousness. Individuals began to take pride in materials out of which local drama might be constructed. In addition this interest in pageantry, which called on the co-operation of the amateur spirit, made people all over the country feel that in the theatre they had heretofore possessed no participatory voice. For the public was coming more to understand the theatre and the drama, through the reading of plays, through books on the drama s history, through extension lectures on the theatre, through increasing numbers of courses in the practice and theory of the art of the theatre. And they began looking on the picture in their minds of the ideal theatre, and then on the actual commercial playhouse in their towns as run by the commercial manager; they compared the plays they liked to read with the plays they were forced by the Trust's system of "booking" to witness season in and season out. And the impression was not favourable to the old régime.

This critical attitude is behind the secession which is going on now (1919) in the theatre. Drama groups all through the country have sprung up, and whether it be in Boston, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and so on to the Pacific coast, the secession impulse is the same: a little theatre, managed by some radical artist, has sprung up. Apparently there is no compromise: the old theatre must go; the new theatre and the new art must reign instead. These theatres are independent of each other, though they exchange plays; they have no unifying idea which brings them close together; they are working in their separate ways, and upholding their own philosophies, which are not always philosophies in accord with the American