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Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

New Book Examines Early “Off-Broadway”

Founded on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1915, the Neighborhood Playhouse — one of the nation’s first “off-Broadway” theaters — inaugurated the North American Little Theater movement, an era that gave rise to a number of small theaters focused on experimental drama.

The Life of the Neighborhood Playhouse on Grand Street (Syracuse University Press), written by John Harrington, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, provides the first full-length study of the Neighborhood Playhouse’s remarkable history, detailing the theater’s notable productions, as well as its gradual shift in mission and the tensions between art and social work from 1915 through 1927. The company was especially notable for administration throughout its history by an all-female group of directors.

The book has been nominated for Theatre Book of the Year, an award given by the Theatre Historical Society of America, and the Barnard Hewitt Award for Theatre History given by the American Society for Theatre Research.

Built on Grand Street by sisters and philanthropists Alice and Irene Lewisohn, the Neighborhood Playhouse was home to an amateur repertory company until 1920, when the ensemble turned professional. The company was disbanded in 1927 after outliving its more famous contemporary companies, the Provincetown Players and the Washington Square Players.

Among its many accomplishments was the creation of the “Grand Street Follies,” which was an annual satire of theatrical trends.

Harrington is the author of several books including The English Traveller in Ireland and The Irish Beckett, also published by Syracuse University Press.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.