Theatrical Militants: Stage For Action and Social Activist Performance, 1943 - 1953

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Stage For Action began as "Stage Door to Action" in December 1943 under the leadership of a twenty-three year old radio performer, Perry Miller, along with fellow radio actress Donna Keath, the stage actress Berilla Kerr, and Peggy Clark, a soon-to-be prominent Broadway designer. Officially changing their name in March of 1944, Stage For Action was described in newspapers as a group which "dramatiz[es] current problems and [is] patterned after the Living Newspaper technique." From their original theme of supporting the war effort to tackling post-war issues of atomic warfare, racism, anti-Semitism, and the witch-hunts of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (commonly referred to as HUAC), Stage For Action became the prevailing social activist theatre group of the 1940s. They operated as one of the "opposing currents of dynamic progress and static conservatism...with its militant program...tak[ing] the theatre to the people when the people can't come to the theatre." By the time of Walter S. Steele's July 21, 1947 testimony before the HUAC, Stage For Action had created their own performance aesthetic, operated in at least nine cities, initiated a training school in New York City, and was funded by or had a direct connection to the Jewish People's Fraternal Order, the CIO Teachers' Union, the United Electrical Workers, the Furriers Union, Transport Union, National Maritime Union, and Department Store Workers' Union.

This dissertation constructs Stage For Action as a social activist theatre that drew on the practices of the social activist and Workers' Theatres of the 1930s but utilized events specific to their historical moment in order to educate and activate their audiences. The dissertation moves freely between analyses of political, social, and theatrical events in order to address how Stage For Action directly commented on its entire cultural moment, its "norms, values, beliefs, and ways of life"; combating not only fascism and racism, but also the mainstream or commercial theatrical market through its productions.