The logistics and finances of touring North America, 1900-1916




Vickery, Anthony John Louie

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In the month of December, 1904, 420 theatre companies were “on the road” in North America. This volume of touring was made possible only by the centralisation of the commercial theatre business, a feat of organisation accomplished by three partnerships that came to be collectively known as the Syndicate: Marc Klaw and Abraham Erlanger; Charles Frohman and Al Hayman; and Sam Nixon-Nirdlinger and Fred Zimmerman. These men, later in competition with the three Shubert brothers, Lee, Sam S., and J. J., brought a “big business” approach to management into the theatre and employed it to reap considerable profits. My dissertation explores the business organisation of these firms throughout the period 1900–1916. The first two chapters of my dissertation provide a general context and information on theatrical conditions up to the foundation of the Syndicate with special emphasis on tours of North America. In the second chapter, I pay special attention to the makeup of the combination companies that ruled the road during 1900–16. My third chapter investigates the organization of the Shubert main office. Included in this chapter are examinations of the various contracts the corporations used to form and control their empires. My fourth chapter examines the road companies. Topics I cover in this chapter include company operations, route changes, employment of backstage staff and company discipline. My final chapter analyses business practices in road theatres with special emphasis on their communications with the Shuberts or Syndicate. Since there were literally hundreds of road theatres to choose from, I selected circuits that conducted operations in Canada as the basis for the chapter (circuits operated by Ambrose J. Small and Corliss P. Walker). I conclude my dissertation with a discussion of the road in the late 1990s because many of the conditions of touring today are reflective of touring in the early 1890s. The road at the end of the twentieth century is making a comeback in strikingly familiar ways. Information for my dissertation comes primarily from documents in the Shubert Archives. Many of the records there have never been analysed by academics and they provided a fertile field for my investigation. Contemporary periodicals, especially The New York Dramatic Mirror and Variety , also provide a great deal of information on the period. Other sources consulted were the myriad biographies and autobiographies performers and managers published during the era or shortly thereafter.



Theater, North America, History, 20th century, Theater management