Blog Post #4: Our History: Highbrow, Lowbrow - ACADEMY OF MUSIC

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By Executive Director Debra J’Anthony

There was an article I came across in the Republican archives; dated February 2, 1907 that describes Representative Coolidge’s efforts for diverse programming at the Academy.

The Academy of Music had a banner year in 1906 by staging more musical comedies, vaudeville and touring stock companies and was able to announce a rather healthy profit.  However, the theater trust in New York had held back certain shows of higher “repute” to certain venues, and one was the Academy. There were some in the community who felt that turning a profit was not the only charge of the Academy and called for more performances of a higher grade. Leading the charge was Representative Calvin Coolidge, who filed an antitrust bill against the theater trust.  Below are excerpts from the article:

“The theater trust appears to have helped Northampton’s municipal theater to make money in the last year, and yet there appears to be approval, if not deep satisfaction, over the fact that the Northampton representative, Calvin Coolidge, is endeavoring to set the Legislature in motion against the theater trust. Perhaps the people do not know, or do not believe, that the trust had a hand in the large balance recently reported to the trustees of the Academy of Music, or it is possible, and to be desired, that the people do not consider the making of money so nearly the only consideration as they have sometimes appeared to when the annual Academy report showed a deficit. The way in which the theater trust has contributed to the profits of the Academy, if that theory be accepted, has been by remaining away with its long list of excellent attractions. This has given the stock companies and musical companies their opportunity, and they have proved that they are money-makers”

“The stock companies have been of a good class and the musical comedies have been excellent, but there are prominent actors and a higher grade of plays which the public strongly demands and whose absence the people will loudly complain about, but whom they will not go to see. That is, they will not attend in paying numbers, as they do upon the repertory shows and musical comedies. Nevertheless, the demand for the better class of plays and the actors of high attainment is a healthy one, and one which a municipal theater particularly should feel called upon to encourage.”

“Possibly Northampton is peculiar in its theater patronage, and it is difficult to define its nature, but it is something like this:  A world-famous actor like Bernhardt, Mansfield or Maude Adams, will easily fill the house to overflowing, but well-known actors, appearing in plays which have drawn large houses in New York or Boston and received wide and favorable notice, are entirely problematical in respect to the financial outcome in Northampton.”

“But the Northampton theater is not being maintained for profit alone and its full purpose will be served if the efforts of Representative Coolidge in this state and those of the trust assailants in New York are successful, and the Academy of Music again gains access to the many desirable plays and players which are controlled by the trust.”

I wonder what Calvin Coolidge would say of all the offerings we have available now!

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