Connections

 
May 1, 2018
I have always been a sucker for an encyclopedia. As a kid I would grab a volume of the World Book off the shelf -- yes, in those pre-Internet days parents actually saved up and bought their kids encyclopedias, and in fifth grade I was lucky enough to get one; I'd open it randomly and start to read. I was engrossed. Whole afternoons would pass as I read about Tibet, the ruins of Tikal, Time Zones; articles selected randomly or by chasing connections from one subject to another -- conceptual links, before there were ones in HTML.

Well, recently I had the pleasure of falling down that same rabbit hole again, except it's much easier now that it's Web-enabled. I decided to trace the history of in-the-round staging for an article I was writing about the original Arena Stage in Washington DC, circa 1961. The research swallowed the article whole, which eventually logged in at a hefty 7,000 words. The problem, or actually the fascination, was that as I traced things backwards from Arena's Zelda and Tom Fichandler and their architect Harry Weese, I discovered people and publications that I was aware of but knew little about, or that were completely unknown to me but captivating. Some of these had made important contributions to the theater; others had amazing personal histories. Key individuals turned up in places that I was surprised even had a theater in the early part of the 20C, much less a pioneering one -- but that's a New Yorker for you: "They had theater in Pasadena in 1915?" Some played unique roles as connectors and disseminators of ideas at a time when the world wasn't as small as we think it is today. I found many more interesting people, stories, and connections than even 7,000 words could contain, and I thought, wouldn't it be great to share some of this somehow.

What I'm planning to do in the coming months is to introduce you to some of the things I've stumbled across and been intrigued by. None of these are earthshaking new discoveries, and those of you with actual Theater History degrees may sneer at my naivete (or wish for footnotes). My sources were mainly the books and magazines on my shelves (we have a pretty extensive contemporary and antiquarian theater book collection here at FDA), web research, and various graduate school dissertations, many of which are available digitally these days, even older ones. So, if you are interested, please follow along with me on this meandering journey. It takes as its point of entry my initial question about the family history of contemporary in-the-round staging, but as with all good investigations, we will follow the clues wherever they lead.

-- Joshua Dachs

April 2018