Assistant Professor of Theater Arts Jonathan Shandell received a David Keller Travel Grant from the American Society for Theatre Research for his session, “Experiments in Democracy in the American Theatre, 1900-1950: A Definition and Overview.” The theme for this session comes from a 1932 Chicago Defender article describing the Hedgerow Theatre in Moylan-Rose Valley, Pa., as “more than a theater, it is an experiment in democracy.” *
The Hedgerow (under the leadership of Jasper Deeter, a white director) garnered this praise from one of America’s leading African-American newspapers—by creating unique opportunities for interracial collaboration and socialization on stage, behind the scenes, and among audiences. Their work—undertaken within an era of American history marked by entrenched racial segregation—offered to the American public a model of interracial community-building that foreshadowed greater strides toward racial integration and cooperation that the nation would realize in subsequent decades.
The session will bring together scholars whose current research investigates such “experiment[s] in democracy” among progressive theatre ensembles, individual artists, theorists and audiences working during the pre-Civil Rights era. Participants will bring diverse perspectives on the American theatre’s historic struggles (both its “successes” and its “failures”) in modeling interracial and multicultural citizenship across all axes of race and/or ethnicity, examining the ways in which these practices have both challenged and sustained racial apartheid and white privilege. This Session is being co-coordinated by Cheryl Black from University of Missouri, Columbia.
* Dewey R. Jones, “Hedgerow sets new standard in solution of American theatre race problem,” Chicago Defender, 17 December 1932. Black Theatre Scrapbook, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY.