History of the Fitzgerald
The Fitzgerald Theatre in St Paul Minnesota is the oldest theatre in the city. It was built in 1910, and originally called the Sam S. Shubert Theatre, and one of the four theatres erected by the than media magnates Lee Shubert and his brother J.J Shubert after the demise of their brother Sam. The theater was thus named after their late brother, in his honor (Minnesota P.R, par 2). The architecture of the theatre was modeled after the famous Maxine Elliot theatre in New York, thus making it particularly beautiful building then. The architects for the theatre, ‘Marshall and Fox’, had designed various theaters for the Shuberts, and as such understood their taste for the theater.
The first production staged in the Fitzgerald theatre was ‘The Fourth Estate’, a Joseph Medill Patterson, and Harriet Ford play about a reporter who conflicted with advertisers and found himself in court. This play reflected the expansion of industries and increasing concern in the society over the misuse of the natural resources endowed to the country. The opening fete was luscious, with most quarters lauding the theatre’s extravagant design. It strove to be the handsomest, safest, and most comfortable theatre in the Northwest. In the achievement of this aim, the theatre was constructed of concrete and steel, with a sandstone facade. In addition, it boasted of 16 changing rooms, a stage that could raise and lower by two feet, an inbuilt vacuum cleaning system, and an estimated 2000 lights. Since its inauguration, ‘The Fitzgerald’ has experienced several transformations. In 1933, the theatre became a movie outlet known as the ‘World Theatre’. In 1988, the program ‘A Prairie home companion’ was introduced to the theatre, by Garrison Keillor. Further, he led the charge to rename the theatre in honor of a St. Paul icon, renowned author of the bestselling novel “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The location of the city of St Paul was inspired by the proximity of Fort Snelling, a major military installation in the area. Further, the city developed owing to its location on the upper Mississippi river, being on the northernmost navigable point on the river. The military outpost was constructed as an aim at controlling the fur industry plied on the river. From the outset, therefore; St. Paul had been a trading town, and a major transport hub for products from inland to the sea port for shipment and supplies from Europe (Turner, pg 75). This quality ensured that the settlement of people in the town was diverse with sojourners up the Mississippi settling there. The name it holds was accorded to it by the Roman Catholic clergy, Father Lucien Galtier from France, in honor of Paul the apostle. The community, as shown by the institutions there, built by the French, French Canadian, German, Swedish, Irish, Czech, Austro-Hungarian, Polish, Italian, Mexican, and Hmong people. The social and cultural scene, of which theatre plays a role in cultivating, developed in sync with the rapid development that St Paul witnessed. The first newspaper for the city, the Minnesota pioneer emerged in 1849. The Quebec Diaspora, in which a million French Canadians moved into the United States, contributed to the population growth of the city (Turner, 83). Cultural development was also evident in other racial groupings with the German-Jewish pioneers forming the first synagogue in 1856, with the German cultural society Leseverein, establishing the Athenaeum, a Deutsches Haus for theatrical purposes. The musical traditions of the city developed, initially, from people’s homes. Informal concerts powered by the piano and melodeons facilitated this cultural aspect of the city.
Actors and plays
The Fitzgerald has played host to a myriad of plays and actors over the course of illustrious existence. The first play hosted here, ‘The Fourth Estate’ by Joseph Medill Patterson, and Harriet Ford kicked off the wealth of plays the Fitzgerald has experienced. In the decline of theatrical productions, the Fitzgerald transformed into a movie house in 1933, initially screening foreign movies, and henceforth referred to as the ‘World Theater’ in a reflection of the programming it now advanced. The theatre, fell into disrepair, but was fortunately resuscitated upon it purchase by the Minnesota public radio. Upon its purchase, the theatre became home to the popular radio show, ‘A Prairie Home Companion’, which continues to air from the theatre to date. It has hosted an important debate pitting the then, 2002 Senate front-runners Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Walter Mondale (Minnesota P.R, par 8). With the affirmation of the social importance it holds to the people of St Paul, by hosting such a monumental event, the Fitzgerald has never renegaded on its forward spiral since. It continues to host Broadway shows and musicals under the expedient management of the Minnesota public radio. Shows finding present success at the theatre include, the series of comedy shows dubbed wits, featuring industry heavyweights such as Bobcat Goldthwait, John Hodgman and Jean Grae.
Community theatre versus federal theatre in the context of the Fitzgerald
Federal theatre is a concept that came to the fore of the American society during the great depression. The state offered to fund theatre and other live performances. The aim for this incentive was to fund out of work artists while, at the same time, entertaining poor citizens hit by the hardships presented by the great depression. The federal theatre scene was thus alive with a string of performances, prompting former writers and researchers for instance into playwrights. ‘The living newspapers’, a common play staged through this forum, was made by teams of researchers who had turned into playwrights in exploitation of this initiative. The plays tackled politically relevant subjects, which made them highly popular among the audiences. The federal backed theatre also extended to the black community, among whom, the playwrights and actors found a useful source of income (Theatre History, par 4). In contrast, the community theatres are professional/ semi-professional theatre companies responsible for their productions, and are reliant upon the people affording the necessary incentives to keep them in business. The Fitzgerald theatre falls into this category, going by it private/ community ownership over the course of its existence. The community theatres, particularly during the great depression, suffered from low attendance, and were unable to support their upkeep from staging thespian pieces. The bleak situation in which they were in is exemplified by the turn of the Fitzgerald from showcasing staged plays in favor of world cinema in a move at turning in earnings (Minnesota P.R, par 8). The history of the theatre in general, going by the history of the Fitzgerald, the rise of the Federal theatre and the resurrection of community theatre show that theatre has been influenced to a large part by the economic wellbeing of the communities they are based. The decline of the Fitzgerald happened in the years of the Great depression, which, going by the Federal government reaction, was the case replicated across the country. The federal theatre was a measure aimed at rescuing a desperate theatre industry (Osborne, pg 56). The endurance of theatre, The Fitzgerald theatre in particular, shows the resilience, and the success of a people, the people of St Paul.
"Minnesota Public Radio's Fitzgerald Theater: About the Theater: History." Minnesota Public Radio's Fitzgerald Theater. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
"Theatre History: American Theatre History." Bridgewater State University - Personal Home Pages. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
Osborne, Elizabeth A. Staging the People: Community and Identity in the Federal Theatre Project. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Turner, Frederick Jackson. The significance of the frontier in American history. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1966.