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  • Angels in the American Theater: Patrons, Patronage, and Philanthropy
  • Kellee Van Aken
Angels in the American Theater: Patrons, Patronage, and Philanthropy. Edited and with an introduction by Robert A. Schanke. Theater in the Americas Series. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007; pp. xiv + 314. $35.00 paper.

As editor Robert Schanke notes in his introduction, "Angels have played a monumental role in shaping and developing the American theater" (1). Whereas Europe has a history of patronage and institutional philanthropy to support the arts, America has struggled to create a similar network. American theatre has relied heavily on the generosity of charitable individuals who have invested in individual artists or supported companies with not only their cash, but often with a strong vision that has shaped the development of the art form. Their influence has been mostly neglected by theatre historians for a number of reasons, cultural and personal. This collection of sixteen profiles, neatly divided into two parts, "Individual Angels" and "Institutional Angels," makes a useful and informative start to addressing this gap in scholarship.

One of the fascinating aspects of the "Individual Angels" who are profiled is the scope of their involvement, their commitment to the art, and their motivation for giving thousands, often millions of dollars to the theatre—and not just to Broadway productions, but also to smaller enterprises with a specific artistic or political focus. Several patrons are examined in direct relation to one artist: Schanke looks at the support billionaire investment banker Otto Kahn, the mining heiress Alice de Lamar, and the Philadelphia philanthropist Mary Curtis Bok provided to Eva Le Gallienne; Jennifer Schlueter's article covers the relationship that Richard and Jeanne Donovan Fisher have established with playwright Charles Mee; and David Crespy examines the interesting relationship between patron Grant Goodman and Paul Stephen Lim, the artistic director of the English Alternative Theater of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Schlueter's and Crespy's articles particularly benefit from the interviews they were able to conduct with the philanthropists and the artists, providing insight into what is usually a private and personal relationship and illuminating the motivations that sustain a supporter's contributions over the long term.

Other articles in this part concentrate on the significant impact a patron can have on the art form as a whole, often through a powerful combination of charismatic personality, business sense, and artistic vision—an attribute often denied to patrons, who are frequently viewed as nothing more than deep pockets for artists to pick. Many of these philanthropists are active participants in creating theatre, not just passive contributors who sign checks. Melanie Blood's article on Alice and Irene Lewisohn, "Copper Heiresses Take the Stage," makes a convincing case that their wealth and vision made the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York a hub of experimental production that "influenced the stylistic experiments of the next decades" (51). Theresa Collins's chapter on Otto Kahn portrays a man whose generosity was so extensive that "[a] complete roster of his patronage could be mistaken for an index to Theatre Arts magazine" (21). John Poole contributes an entertaining chapter on David Geffen, and Lucille Lortel is covered by Alexis Green in "Queen of Off Broadway."

Two of the most interesting chapters examine subjects that step outside the accepted definitions of patron. The Castillo Theatre, a radical political company, is the subject in "Everyone's an Angel." Written by one of its founders, Dan Friedman, the article examines Castillo's emergence from a progressive political movement to create a theatre company that has spent two decades building a unique funding structure. Eschewing corporate and government funding, Castillo relies on a broad base of individual donors that now number 5,000. In contrast, in "The Art of Good Business: Peter Donnelly," Barry Witham provides a fascinating article about this arts advocate and businessman "who has invested his adult life making Seattle a community in which the arts thrived and were prized" (153). Donnelly's career has been dedicated to acting as a "conduit between wealth and the arts," convincing corporations and communities that theatre is good business. [End Page 332]

Witham's article serves as an excellent bridge to part 2...


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