Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The American Theatre Wing

Coupling our launch of a series of blog posts about New England summer stock, and the upcoming Tony Awards, we note a local tie-in with the American Theatre Wing which co-produces, along with The Broadway League, the Tony Awards®.

The American Theatre Wing started out as part of the World War II Allied Relief Fund, which had roots in the Stage Women’s Relief Fund founded in 1939. One member of that group of theatrical women was Antoinette Perry, for whom the “Tony” is named. When the US entered the war, this group started the famed Stage Door Canteen to entertain servicemen.

Above we have a brochure published in 1942 by the American Theatre Wing War Service, Inc., and the Actors’ Fund of America, which was distributed in the program of a play presented by The Valley Players of Holyoke, Massachusetts. More on The Valley Players will be featured in posts in the weeks to come.

The pamphlet included information on the Stage Door Canteen and the work of the Actors’ Fund, which was to provide economic aid to the sick, aged, and indigent members of the acting profession. The Actors’ Fund was already over 60 years old. The Actors’ Fund supported the Actors’ Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey for aged actors and actresses, and also funded two cemeteries “for the final resting place of its people.” We were then coming out of the era long past when actors and actresses were regarded as disreputable vagabonds of dubious virtue, so any kindness towards them was a virtue.

Here is another notice by the Actors’ Fund placed in a 1956 program. By then the American Theatre Wing had transitioned from a wartime relief aid fund, to supporting education in the theatre, and by then the Tony Awards had been established.

The Valley Players was a professional summer theater begun in 1941, producing shows at the Mountain Park Casino in Holyoke, which had hosted various other road productions for at least a generation before that. Ensconced in the little theater on the highest mountain in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, The Valley Players seemed tenuously linked, despite its isolation, to the grander theatre world of New York.

They staged “Three’s a Family” August 6th through 11th, 1956 starring Jean Guild, John O’Connor, and Jacqueline Paige, and the producer’s notes in the program posted a thank you to all the patrons who, responding to a plea in a program from a show weeks earlier, donated a total of $815.61 to the Actors’ Fund of America to “provide relief and comfort to many of the acting profession who, because of age, illness or misfortune, are in need of assistance.”

The theatre is a big family sometimes, in a small world.

For more on the American Theatre Wing, have a look at this website.

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