NATIONAL THEATER OR PUBLIC THEATER: THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE THEATRICAL GEOGRAPHY OF WASHINGTON, D.C., CIRCA 1970 - 1990
Oliver, Robert Michael
Schuler, Catherine A
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NATIONAL THEATER OR PUBLIC THEATER: THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE THEATRICAL GEOGRAPHY OF WASHINGTON, D.C., CIRCA 1970-1990 explores the changes in the theatrical landscape of the nation's capital. Using a paradigm of Theater of Commerce, Theater of Community, and Theater of the Public, the study examines the growth of theaters that began in the 1970s. The study combines theoretical approaches--Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space, Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, Jürgen Habermas' The Transformation of the Public Sphere, and others--to explore the meaning of theater generated by interactions among theaters, social spaces, publics, and media representations and simulations. The study begins prior to the opening of the Kennedy Center when Theaters of Commerce and Community dominated the landscape. Washington's National Theater struggled in a declining downtown while amateur theaters boomed. Although Washington supported two regional theaters, they existed as anomalies within the larger framework. The founding of the Kennedy Center and the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts signaled the beginning of government's support for theater. For two decades, Theaters of the Public struggled to redefine theater's significance. Using identity politics and the aesthetics of intimacy they developed unique publics. Media coped with this variety, acknowledging that theater's purpose was as varied as its audiences were. In the 1980s, the Center initiated the American National Theater and area theaters inaugurated the Helen Hayes Awards. These developments signaled the reemergence of a unified view of theater. The two projects suffered different fates, however. ANT failed in its bid to generate a national theater-going public, collapsing in less than two years. The awards just completed their twentieth year, significantly altering the meaning of the theater community. As the media's simulation of the theater-going public shifted from a diverse set of communities to one community--a community of sophisticated cultural consumers--the city's theaters faced growing pressure to compromise, replacing their own concerns with those of their national sponsors. Although Washington's theater artists continue to resist those demands, the socio-aesthetic implications of their work rarely is heard in the public sphere.