Introduction

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Copyright the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. 

In the aftermath of World War I, a new generation of savvy and creative theatrical talent emerged. Newly invigorated performing arts costume and set designers worked within the material and financial limitations of New York's regenerating theatre industry and depressed economy. The heavy-handed decorative design and hyperrealism of pre-war theatre began to fade as the high costs of supplies and labor forced this new cohort of young designers to develop a more economic design aesthetic. They became more interested in creating true-to-story artistic fantasies in which costumes and sets worked together and did not impede the progression of the production. English director and designer, Edward Gordon Craig, was a leader in the early twentieth-century movement against stark realism in theatre design. His ideas, which rose to popularity in the 1920s, emphasized artistic fantasy and originality while promoting production design that would reflect and convey a story.

In the period leading up to the stock market crash of October 1929, theatre was the most popular form of U.S. entertainment. In 1927 alone, Broadway debuted 250 shows and estimates place audience attendance in New York City at 20 million people at a time when New York’s resident and visiting populations were a fraction of what they are today. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, new theatre establishments provided great opportunity for vaudeville and musicals to emerge, as innovative boundary-crossing works were produced for stages across the country.