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Fortresses of Culture: Cold War Mobilization, Urban Renewal, and Institutional Identity in the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center and Center Theatre Group


The Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center and Center Theatre Group were just two of dozens of regional theaters that emerged across the United States in the mid-twentieth century, but for many reasons they stand apart from most others. Because of their position as constituents of institutions directly tied to economic and political imperatives of New York and Los Angeles, they were linked more explicitly to their respective cities’ identities than most other theaters in the United States. New York and Los Angeles looked, respectively, to Lincoln Center and the Los Angeles Music Center as sources of civic pride, while theater makers, audiences, and critics looked to the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center and Center Theatre Group as focal points in the quest for alternatives to Broadway and the development of an institutionalized national theater.

This dissertation examines the ways in which each of the organizations studied herein established their authority to represent their cities and the nation as civic institutions and explores how they legitimated their identities as such in the context of Cold War culture. Lincoln Center and the Los Angeles Music Center, despite their purported cultural aspirations, grew out of pragmatic desires among urban elites to replace one vision of urbanity with another and to raise the national and international stature of their respective cities. Lincoln Center had no officially sanctioned designation as a national cultural center, but nonetheless was said to stand as a symbol of American cultural might by virtue of its location in New York, whose global profile was on the rise following World War II. Los Angeles, meanwhile, worked to reconcile its booming population with a decidedly un-metropolitan national image, while the city’s business elite sought to wrest control of the Los Angeles’s built environment from the political forces of the left, and the Music Center figured prominently into these circumstances.

The centers’ theater constituents, meanwhile, were not directly linked to the urban renewal efforts but were nonetheless strongly influenced by the conditions shaping Lincoln Center and the Los Angeles Music Center, particularly in relation to establishing the theaters’ legitimacy as civic institutions. In tracing the genesis of these theaters and their parent organizations, this dissertation seeks to make visible the plethora of forces, both internal and external, that converged to shape their emerging identities. Moreover, this dissertation posits that the rise of the institutionalized theater in the United States, a relatively overlooked area of study, offers a valuable site of interrogation for theater historians. To be sure, the individual works of playwrights, actors, and directors offer valuable insight into the ways in which artists respond to prevailing social, political, and economic conditions in any given historical moment. However, the rise of institutionalized theater caused a profound shift in how theatrical works are legitimated in the United States by adding a new level of legitimation: the institutional identity of a theatrical organization. Such institutions, therefore, figure as prominently into theatrical history as any playwright, actor, director, or producer in that their identities are as reflective of social, political, economic, and artistic circumstances as the works created within them.

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