Thursday, September 22, 2011

Consumption & Theater

In early America being able to go to the theater was considered a great privilege. To be able to go see a play or in later years a movie meant that you had the leisure time to spend your money on “extras.” In the late 1800’s entertainment was very much geared toward the upper and middle class. They were seen as the ones who could afford to go see the plays that would be put on in the evenings. Theater was a place to show off your wealth. Whether you were sitting in the highest box, had the most beautiful outfit, or the most expensive specs you were seen as an elite just by being a part of this theater culture. Prior to this industrial period people were mostly fending for themselves, and the idea of consumption had not quite set in just yet. People who had to work had little to no leisure time, and even the people who did have it were not likely to spend it watching a show. Once big business and large companies began to take over, owners of these factories would produce a vast amount of goods for cheap. This began to shift the idea needs to wants, and the rich took advantage of what was offered to them.

When looking through the Rollins archives I immediately noticed a woman in a beautiful dress. Her name was Annie Russell, and eventually would be known as the woman who the Rollins Annie Russell Theater was named after. This photograph was taken when she played “Peggy” in “Mice and Men” in 1903. She was a great actress and very well known for her work. She worked/performed at Rollins after she opened the Annie Russell Theater, until her death in 1936.

The photo of Annie Russell gave me ideas about consumption because of the idea that the theater was a place for the rich. She was an object at their disposal. The upper and middle class who could afford to come to the theater expected a pristine performance, and I’m sure Annie felt she had to deliver. In a society that was booming from industrialization consumption became a factor seen as a privilege. If you could spend the money and had the time, you could go to the plays, dress like Annie in this photo, and gain respect from the people around you.

1 comment:

  1. Entertainment is perfect example of a common activity that can be understood through class. Theater attendance was common lower-class entertainment in the early nineteenth century, but as the middle-class grew in importance, the idea of theater as a upper class activity emerged. Great picture.