Monday, October 18, 2010

Act Well Your Part There All The Honor Lies

" The Hull-House Players gave plays of distinction with skill, sincerity and understanding. Mrs. Pelham, not I was the true founder of the American Little Theatre Movement."-Maurice Browne Chicago Little Theatre

In the 1890's, Hull-House founder Jane Addams saw that theatre could help her settlement cause, particularly the new plays from Europe. Of the theatre Miss Addams said: ". . .The theatre such as it was appeared to be one agency which freed the boys and girls from that destructive isolation. . .and it gave them a glimpse of that order an beauty into which even the poorest drama endeavors to restore the bewildering facts of life." She viewed theatre as a essential tool in helping new immigrants assimilate to their new country. She hired Laura Dainty Pelham a former actress who came to Chicago by way of Wisconsin, to help launch the project.

Addams concept in created the Hull-House Players was to use residents of Hull-House, in the company. Pelham would transform amateurs into a dynamic acting ensemble.

The following article written about the Hull-House Players by Elsie Weil appeared in the September 1913 issue of "Theatre Magazine": " The Hull-House Players are not amateurs. They act with a finish and artistic precision, which, as one Chicago critic said, inflicts on them the penalty as well as the privilege of being considered professionals. They are not college students entering into dramatics as a sort of lark; they are not people of comparative leisure resorting to amateur acting to fill up part of their playtime. Rather they are hard-working young folks, who have plemty of troubles and worries, some of them with families to look after, and yet who come to their acting as something that will freshen up the wilyed aspect of life for them after the daily grind. Everyone must have some interest outside of the "bread alone" struggle to keep wholesome and happy. With some it is athletics, books, traveling or cards, With these young people it is their acting, and they are satisfied to have it take up most of their spare time. They have two rehearsals a week, and just before a new production, all day rehearsals on Sunday. Their connection with the company not only provides all their amusement, but a stimulating intellectual life for them as well. They have high ideals of life and society and prefer to present those plays that deal with the serious moral and social problems of the day, such as those of Shaw, Galsworthy and Pinero."

The players were careful to blend Jane Addams social agenda with the art of the production. Under the leadership of artistic director Laura Pelham, they produced plays under the heading "Social Realism". These plays either discussed or realistically portrayed contemporary socail problems on the stage.

The innovative and often outstanding productions paved the way in Chicago for a new era in theatre. An era in which producing serious, innovative dramas that addressed the human condition would be came exceptable. Also that such productions would be popular with audiences and critics alike. So much so that the players toured their productions all over the world to great acclaim.

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