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Theatre Journal 53.2 (2001) iv-vi
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In his dazzling "biography" of London, Peter Ackroyd describes the South Bank of the River Thamas as an area of "interchange and animation": "from the new Tate Modern to the Globe, and then to the Anchor public house, the broad walkway is commonly filled with people. The ancient hospitality and freedom of the South are emerging once more; in the twenty-first century it will become one of the most vigorous and varied, not to say popular, centers of London life." 1 Thus we see how artistic practices make cities, how people interact with the architectures of artistic space and so produce the communities that constitute city life. This is what makes the city's liveliness, as it were. The essays collected here as a special issue on "Theatre and the City" demonstrate the significance of theatres in the making of community, in the function and significance of particular communities within their cities, and in the mobility of population both within and without specific communities.
It is important, obviously, to have a nuanced understanding of the development of particular theatres within a particular city and to calibrate how such theatres came to mean in the cultural imaginary of city life. Judith Sebesta's essay on the Midway Gardens in 1910s and 1920s Chicago is all about the endeavor to produce a type of theatrical experience and thereby create cultural presence for the neighborhood. Frank Lloyd Wright's own enthusiasm for the theatre did not easily translate, it seems, to a venue of the kind and appeal that was intended. The Midway Gardens could not, in the end, maintain community, and Lloyd Wright's architecture could not impose the theatre it was designed for. In 1967, Canada's largest city, Toronto, sought to raise its cultural capital (as, of course, did many other cities throughout the world in this period) by building centers for the production of theatre (and other arts). Michael McKinnie's analysis of 1960s theatre building along with a later (1993) construction in nearby North York, shows very powerfully how theatres are shaped and informed by the communities that surround them. Moreover, this is a relation that functions bi-directionally since those buildings also enable certain kinds of community presence.
Particularly as cities rebuild their centers in various ways and as different neighborhoods acquire a kind of centrality for artistic production, we need to inquire into the spatial diversity of "theatre districts." It is important to elaborate such things as the incentives that are applied to the development of these districts--to what extent that development can be accounted for by economic or other incentives and whether, as a parallel phenomenon, such development precluded certain communities from participation through economic or other barriers to access. Loren Kruger's essay on post-apartheid Johannesburg tells a compelling story of how such negotiations are understood and represented through the drama itself as well as through the various theatrical spaces and communities in which those plays appear. Sonja Kuftinec describes the attempts of the Long Wharf Theatre, in collaboration with Cornerstone, to produce theatre that would engage (as actors as well as audience) the immediate communities in New Haven. This makes a crucial contribution to how we think, broadly, of community-based performance.
Theatres have had a foundational role in the change and "improvement" (in all the ways that is commonly characterized) of city spaces. The re-invigoration of inner and close-to-inner city areas has, in recent years, often been anchored by cultural development. Best [End Page iv] known in North America is the 42nd Street redevelopment in New York City (see Maurya Wickstrom's essay, "Commodities, Mimesis, and The Lion King: Retail Theatre for the 1990s" in Theatre Journal 51.3, October 1999, 285-98), but many other cities have followed similar strategies and such projects have generally relied on what Derek Wynne and Justin O'Connor have described as "an increasing interpenetration of the cultural and the economic." 2
In thinking through "theatre and the city," we need to pay attention to the proliferation of "beneficiary" commerce in areas with...