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Palgrave Macmillan

The Group Theatre

Passion, Politics, and Performance in the Depression Era

ISBN 9781137294593
Publication Date October 2013
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Series Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History

The Group Theatre, a groundbreaking ensemble collective based in New York that operated from 1931 to 1941, started the careers of many top American theatre artists of the twentieth century and founded what became known as Method Acting. This book is the definitive history of the group, based on more than thirty years of research and interviews by the foremost theatre scholar of the time period, Helen Chinoy. She begins the story of the Group's remarkable ten years at the end of the experiment, then resets the narrative against the Depression years and introduces the cast of youthful characters and their issues with the American theatre of their day. Tracing the careers of Group Theatre actors and directors including Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Harry Morgan, Chinoy follows with their collective vision for a new theatre developed around their grand idea for a new approach to an acting process based on an ordered training of the actor's imagination and emotions in exercises and in plays that confront social issues important to the Group.

  • Special Honourable Mention John W. Frick Book Award

Helen Krich Chinoy became one of our most distinguished American theater scholars and devoted over three decades to her study of the Group Theatre. This was a natural extension of a number of earlier projects, including the seminal Actors on Acting (1949) and Directors on Directing (1953), both still in print and co-edited with Toby Cole, and Women in American Theatre (1981), edited with Linda Walsh Jenkins. A Columbia University PhD, Helen spent most of her career at Smith College, USA. After her retirement, she held the Hoffman Eminent Scholar Chair in Theatre at Florida State University and the Harold Clurman Professorship at Hunter College, USA. In 1989 the Association for Theatre in Higher Education awarded her its Career Achievement Award.

Don B. Wilmeth is Asa Messer Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Brown University, USA, where he taught, administered, and directed for almost four decades. He is the author, editor, coeditor, or series editor of over sixty books, including the award-winning three-volume Cambridge History of America Theatre and the "Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History" series. In 2007 he completed a new edition of the Cambridge Guide to American Theatre, a standard in the field. He has received career achievement awards from several professional organizations, including in 2012 the Theatre History Preservation Award from the New York Theatre Museum and the William Williams Award, the most prestigious honor given by the Brown University Library. Wilmeth, a Guggenheim Fellow, is a former president of the American Society for Theatre Research. Like his co-editor, he is a dean emeritus of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.

Milly S. Barranger is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA. She is the author of several studies about twentieth-century women and modern American theatre, including Margaret Webster: A Life in the Theatre; Unfriendly Witnesses: Gender, Theatre, and Film in the McCarthy Era; A Gambler's Instinct: The Story of Broadway Producer Cheryl Crawford; and Audrey Wood and the Playwrights. A former producing director of PlayMakers Repertory Company, she is coeditor of Notable Women in the American Theatre: A Biographical Dictionary. In addition to the College of Fellows of the American Theatre, she has led both the National Theatre Conference and the American Theatre Association.

Introduction: A Cautionary Tale
1. The Chosen Ones
2. Summertime and the Living is Collective
3. Early Rehearsals
4. Early Classes
5. Lee Strasberg: Artist of the Theater
6. Strasberg versus Adler
7. Testing the Theatrical
8. Harold Clurman: Author of the Stage Production
9. Odets in Clurman's Theater
10. Art That Shoots Bullets
11. Pro Unit is Pro Group
12. Premature Feminists and the Boys
13. Organization, Angels, and Audiences
14. Who is the Group Theater?
Epilogue: Survival of an Idea


"Elicit[s] fresh insights and convey[s] the flavor of the company's lofty goals, day-to-day realities, and sometimes fractious interpersonal relationships to an extent not hitherto available . . . Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers." - CHOICE
"A comprehensive and informative look at The Group . . . I gladly recommend this new book to [people interested in The Group Theatre]." - Playbill.com
"The late Professor Chinoy is still known widely and warmly as a pioneering theatre scholar and feminist role-model. In a lifetime of devoted research, including extensive interviews with surviving Group members, Helen Chinoy earned her opinions by walking the walk and talking the talk." - Joseph Roach, Sterling Professor of Theater and English, Yale University, USA
"This is an essential book filled with otherwise unavailable material about one of America's most notable experiments in alternative, collective theatre organization and production. What clearly sets this book apart is Helen Krich Chinoy's personal relationship with many of the members of the Group and her long years of thinking about the issues engendered by the Group's experiences." - Virginia Scott, Professor Emerita, Department of Theater, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA
"Helen Krich Chinoy's long-awaited appraisal of the Group Theatre is a fascinating tribute to the controversial and pioneering ensemble that forced the American theatre to "put on long pants." It is also a tribute to the scholarship of Don Wilmeth and Milly Barranger whose judgement, patience and editorial skills channel Chinoy's remarkable voice." - Barry Witham, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington, USA
"Chinoy's impressive theory coheres to illustrate how the company strived to live up to the 'Group Idea'. the admirable but vague notion that theatre should lyrically speak to the range of cultural and political experiences of American life - an obsession that Chinoy calls a 'cautionary tale '. . . After all, it took a spectrum of experiences and values to build 'the most important experiment in American theatre'." - Theatre Survey
"The venerable Helen Krich Chinoy passed away prior to completing her work on the Group Theatre . . . But Don Wilmeth and Milly Barranger have done an admirable job with the monumental task of making certain that Chinoy's groundbreaking research saw the light of publication. The published result is . . . richly textured in its analysis and one where the author's voice is allowed to flow free." - Theatre Journal
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