King Louis XIV founded the Comédie-Française during the height of what we now call the French Neoclassical period. Beyond being the home of playwrights Molière and Racine, this theatre is also incredibly note-worthy as being a state-supported theatre. Every year, it receives financial support from the French government and, upon retirement, the performers who perform for a certain period of time receive a pension. As a result of its receipt of government financial support, the Comédie-Française is known as a ‘national theatre’. (Side bar: in our classroom, there is an 18th century print of one of the theaters that over the years has housed the Comédie-Française. Check it out before our next class.)
There are other countries throughout the world that have government-supported theatre companies or theater facilities. The United Kingdom supports the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, Mali the Palais de la culture Amadou Hampaté Ba, the Catalan government in Spain operates the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, and the late 19th century president of Costa Rica built the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica by taxing his country’s biggest export, coffee. To date, the United States of America has been unsuccessful at founding a national theatre, though attempts have been made.
In the early twentieth century, there was a movement toward the establishment of a national theatre company in the United States, though this movement later collapsed. The New York Times published on February 19, 1903 a letter to the editor written by one Irving Doob:
The National theatre that will depict the best sentiment of morality, religion, art, science and of politics will indeed be the finest of educators. It will be the brilliant focus to which public attention must inevitably be swayed, and a universal exemplification of what is necessary to the National welfare. But this will not be achieved at a single attempt, yet it is a magnificent idea, which should not be permitted to remain unchampioned.
At the turn of our current century, there again began a movement towards the establishment of a national theatre in the United States.
In your response this week, assume that you have the ear of the President of the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Senate majority leader. Answer one of the below prompts.
1) Conceptualize a national theatre company for the United States. Why does the United States need a national theatre company? Where would it be located? What type of work would the company produce? Are there any issues a theatre company fully funded by the government could face?
2) Deliver an argument against a national theatre company for the United States. Why does our nation NOT need a national theatre company? What are some of the problems a national theatre company company could cause for our government and society? Does the current theatre industry already meet the needs of our nation? Why?
Note: Please limit your responses to the realm of live theatre performance.