Burke's Northampton Work Article

By Executive Director Debra J’Anthony

Six years into the formation of the Northampton Players, Melville Burke, the director of the municipal stock company, aired his unresolved conundrum of play selection in a Gazette article, dated February 8, 1918.  Today’s executive and artistic directors in small cities continue these arguments over profit vs. art:

“How to make a stock theatre, presenting a good company, offering a repertory of plays of recognized merit, satisfactorily if not elaborately produced, pay in a small community, is the problem in Northampton…

“The theatre being municipal, demands at the outset that the selection of plays shall be such as will appeal to the community and this demand is further emphasized by the fact that the theatre must be commercially successful. It must pay, and to do so in a city of twenty thousand people who are not habitual theatergoers, it must cater to all classes…

“In Northampton there are very definite lines drawn between the patrons from the college, from the town, and from the working classes. The necessity is to find something satisfactory to them all…

“The Academy of Music being a people’s theatre, it cannot be an art theatre. The repertory has been made up of good plays whose theme is sufficiently popular to appeal to all, and while few of those already offered are sensible stock, any stock manager would be “playing the game safe” were he to put them on….The largest number of seats are priced at thirty cents which does away with profit from this source, as on the other hand, the fact that the top price is $1.10 does away with competition with the picture houses.

“In play selection, merit as dramas, variety as applied to an unusually diverse public, and popularity of appeal, has been the aim.”

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