Locomotive leisure : the effects of railroads on Chicago-area theatre, 1870-1920
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In the years between 1870 and 1920, while Chicago solidified its status as “second city,” outranked only by New York in metropolitan might, American theatre underwent its own industrial revolution. Like other service-oriented businesses of the time, theatre became a centralized, consolidated industry, managed from the top down by profit-maximizing producers. During this same time, railroads transformed the nation’s cultural and geographical landscape, quite literally laying the tracks for mass (re)production and distribution, and, by extension, consumer capitalism itself. The connection between these events was more than coincidental. In this x half-century, theatre and railroads both thrived in cocksure Chicago – indeed, railroad’s success fueled theatre’s, and theatre’s reliance on touring in turn influenced rail development. These three main characters – the city of Chicago (and, to a lesser extent, the surrounding Midwest), the railroad business, and the touring theatre business – guide the following study, which seeks to answer the question “how did railroads affect Chicago-area theatre, 1870-1920?” On economic, social, and aesthetic levels, railroad reliance changed American theatre in ways that remain apparent today. From the rails, theatre learned the strategies of this nation’s paradigmatic big business – and these strategies would in turn influence the everyday lives of actors and audience alike. As railroads grew to be an assumed part of daily routines, they infected the imaginations of the American public in ways that were reflected in the artwork of this period, from lithography and literature to musical and stage compositions. Overall, the sense of what it meant to be “transported” – both literally and figuratively – became a central issue to Americans grappling with Modern life at the turn of the twentieth century. Based largely on archival research, my dissertation explores how this transportation sensibility resonated in the locomotive leisure of midwestern America. It does so through two trajectories: the first, focusing on the effects railroads had on theatre business, looks at the managers, actors, and spectators of locomotive leisure. In the second, I consider how some of the same concerns wrought by the rails (efficiency, urbanization, and nervousness) surfaced in theatre practice, using a popular extravaganza as my case study.