The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVIII. The Drama, 1860–1918

§ 31. Pageants

What, therefore, seems to be the salvation of the artist of the theatre? How will he gain his freedom from the dictates of the commercial manager? One way out was hailed by Percy MacKaye and others—the rise of the civic spirit, which caught hold of the idea begun in England by Louis N. Parker, who revived the conception of the mediaeval guild pageant and applied it to local history. To the standard of this idea there flocked numberless enthusiasts: MacKaye, Thomas Wood Stevens, head of the Drama Department of the Carnegie School of Technology in Pittsburgh, William C. Langdon, of the Russell Sage Foundation. It became a social matter as well as an art matter. Towns, cities, localities dug deep into the public treasury, and spectacles—suggesting a community of interest like the New Orleans Mardi Gras, but actually based on a more self-conscious attempt at celebration—have encouraged a type of drama requiring special writing. But the pageant is not the popular form of drama which will satisfy democratic America. Nor has the pageant changed the face of the American theatre.

But what it did help to do was to awaken in communities an art consciousness. Individuals began to take pride in materials out of which local drama might be constructed. In addition this interest in pageantry, which called on the co-operation of the amateur spirit, made people all over the country feel that in the theatre they had heretofore possessed no participatory voice. For the public was coming more to understand the theatre and the drama, through the reading of plays, through books on the drama’s history, through extension lectures on thetheatre, through increasing numbers of courses in the practice and theory of the art of the theatre. And they began looking on the picture in their minds of the ideal theatre, and then on the actual commercial playhouse in their towns as run by the commercial manager; they compared the plays they liked to read with the plays they were forced by the Trust’s system of “booking” to witness season in and season out. And the impression was not favourable to the old règime.