You’ve probably heard the saying, “Everything old is new again.” Flipping through early editions of The High School Thespian (now Dramatics), proves the truth in that statement. In a 1935 article, with the nations of the world on the brink of war and America in the midst of the Great Depression, pioneering theatre leader Gilmor Brown explored the state of theatre in a rapidly changing world and predicted a triumphant future.

NO GREATER CHANGES are going on on our shifting planet than are taking place in the theatre of today. It is an old maxim that the drama always reflects the characteristics of the particular age in which it happens to appear. That assuredly is true of it in these times in instability and the conflict of new ideas with old.

Only in America does the living theatre seem to have retained most of the vitality of former years and to be looking forward. In most other countries the theatre is at a comparative standstill. The German theatre is at a low ebb, and its greatest creators of drama and interpreters of their work are spurned and even banished if they happen to be of a particular race.

The French theatre is a mere floating craft in a sea of economic, political, and martial turmoil. In Russia there is more activity following a long period of suppression of the most important things of a discarded regime, but even there, evidences are few of any important rebirth of creative minds. The Russians are a rugged race, however, and we may yet see a return to their former rank in this field of literary expression.

So it appears to be up to vital America to lead the world because the outlook for the drama elsewhere is anything but bright. If, as now seems all too possible, the countries of Europe may soon be at each other’s throats, the dramatic heritage of centuries may be buried under the ashes of conflict which it is predicted may utterly destroy the art developed through centuries.

Our own theatre of today and tomorrow is more needed than ever to cope with the problem of leisure thrust upon millions by unemployment. Leisure unwisely employed means new vices. In such a prospect the theatre stands as a restraining refuge, a potential force in helping us to keep a healthy mental and spiritual balance, as well as being a relief from worries over problems that accompany readjustment.

The theatre of tomorrow will be very different from that we know. Television is likely to bring about amazing changes. But already we are seeing forecasts of bold novelties to come. The new play, Merrily We Roll Along, now showing in New York, has a plot that is unfolded completely backward. The encouraging thing about its popular success is that the public has approved of the innovation. For myself, I am completely in accord with such trends, however radically they may depart from present established principles.

No art should become set, least of all that which seeks a means most forcefully to depict the shifting life all around us. If changes in form are effective and artistic, however much so-called rules are broken, they indicate a definite advance. Those who want the theatre to go on must keep open minds, must be receptive to the new and different, and must not condemn upon personal dislikes. We are too apt to appraise from standards that have pleased us and that we have unconsciously set up as models. In that way lies stagnation.

Have no fear that the theatre will not survive these days when it is tossed about so much, seeking to find the American rhythm. That rhythm just now is elusive. But we shall presently emerge from this restless period and find new rhythm in new worlds surging up from underneath all this disturbance.

The theatre is an imperishable need of civilized humanity. It prepares youth for the world. It makes people find themselves and stand upon their own feet. It is the most vital form of expression and important for its influence in helping us to get and hold to lucid views in the midst of shifting ethics. It puts into compact frames the life we are living but are too acutely immersed in to view objectively without its aid.

The theatre is not dying. With our intelligent help it will move forward through this readjustment period and go triumphantly on to greater things. The vast popular interest in the little and civic theatre movement is spontaneous assurance that the love of drama is one of the most tenacious emotions in the human makeup.

This story appeared in the September 1935 print version of The High School Thespian (now Dramatics). Subscribe to our print magazine.

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