The American Progressive Era, which spanned from the 1880s to the 1920s, is generally regarded as a dynamic period of political reform and social activism. In Performing the Progressive Era, editors Max Shulman and Chris Westgate bring together top scholars in nineteenth- and twentieth-century theatre studies to examine the burst of diverse performance venues and styles of the time, revealing how they shaped national narratives surrounding immigration and urban life. Contributors analyze performances in urban centers (New York, Chicago, Cleveland) in comedy shows, melodramas, Broadway shows, operas, and others. They pay special attention to performances by and for those outside mainstream society: immigrants, the working-class, and bohemians, to name a few. Showcasing both lesser-known and famous productions, the essayists argue that the explosion of performance helped bring the Progressive Era into being, and defined its legacy in terms of gender, ethnicity, immigration, and even medical ethics.

“The Progressive Era’s profound, unsettling, and contested change is treated here with sharp insight. Shulman and Westgate compellingly frame the complex varieties of performance during the period, and they further our understanding of the ways in which performance reflects and shapes culture and politics both at local and national levels.”—Christopher Herr, Missouri State University 

“The Progressive Era is a rich historical period in which to investigate key cultural issues like urbanism, social reforms, reproductive rights, immigration, nationalism, sexuality, gender norms, and race relations. It is also a moment when American theatre artists were cutting the apron strings from Europe and fashioning nativist dramas and popular entertainments. This collection weaves these two important strands together, shedding light on U.S. culture during this vibrant time.”—Katie N. Johnson, author, Sisters in Sin: Brothel Drama in America, 1900–1920

Amy Arbogast, Gillian Arrighi, Rick DesRochers, Megan E. Geigner, Les Hunter, Susan Kattwinkel, Hillary Miller, Ariel Nereson, Michael Schwartz, Max Shulman, J. Chris Westgate

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