Barnaby Haran
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The mass and the machine
The New Playwrights Theatre and American radical Constructivism
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This chapter looks at the most substantial manifestation of ‘American Constructivism’, which took shape in the radical theatrical productions of the New Playwrights Theatre, a short-lived group that operated between 1926 and 1929. The NPT was closely affiliated with the communist cultural organ New Masses, and included the magazine’s most prominent editor, Mike Gold, amongst its number. The chapter charts the emergence of theatrical Constructivism in the USA, noting its origins in the radical and Expressionist theatrical culture associated with The Masses. The NPT differed from these earlier versions by emulating the machinolatry of Soviet Constructivism, drawing in particular from the experiments of Vsevolod Meyerhold. If Soviet Constructivism aimed to reach the masses, then the NPT mixed the machine aesthetic with specifically American phenomena such as Jazz, racial politics, and automobile production. However, unlike Russian theatrical productions the NPT betrayed a distinctly ambivalent attitude towards the machine, demonstrating residual Expressionist machinephobia. Arguably the most sophisticated writer of the NPT was John Dos Passos, whose concept of New Realism is considered in depth. Finally, the chapter includes a summation of the legacy of the NPT in the radical theatre of the 1930s.

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Watching the red dawn

The American avant-garde and the Soviet Union


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