FAIRFIELD, CT - Martha Schmoyer LoMonaco, Ph.D. and director of the Theatre Program at Fairfield University, will discuss the colorful history of the Straw-Hat Circuit – summer theatres– from her 2004 book, Summer Stock: An American Theatrical Phenomenon, on Thursday evening, November 17th, 7 p.m. at Fairfield Museum and History Center (www.fairfieldhistory.org). Cost of the event is $8 for non members and $5 for members and students.
Dr. LoMonaco is guest curator for the Fairfield Museum’s current exhibition, Bravo! A Century of Theatre in Fairfield County, which features the Westport Country Playhouse, a stop on the true straw-hat circuit in its heyday.
Dr. LoMonaco completed more than 10 years of research for the book, which was honored by Choice Magazine, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries, as one of the outstanding academic titles of 2004. She is the immediate past President of the Theatre Library Association, New York City, a nonprofit educational association.
“Summer Stock theatre is an American Invention,” LoMonaco said. “From Memorial Day to Labor Day each year, rustic playhouses, like the Westport Country Playhouse, opened their doors to the words of Ibsen, Shakespeare, Neil Simon and a host of others and the performances of big stars and aspiring beginners.
“While not exactly as depicted in the MGM film Summer Stock, starring Judy Garland, these theatres allowed ‘city folk’ partaking of the country life to spend their evenings in the worthwhile pursuit of culture. Summer Stock points out that many East Coast cities were ringed with hugely popular summer venues.
“One of the great showmen of the form, St. John Terrell—first made his name with the Lambertville Music Circus in Lambertville, New Jersey, an easy drive from both Philadelphia and New York . Terrell was a pioneer of the summer tent theatre, a concept which spread throughout the East.”
LoMonaco’s book is filled with anecdotes about stars like Tallulah Bankhead and Edward Everett Horton, who found a profitable summer break from Broadway on what became known as the straw-hat circuit. The book also details the importance of summer stock as a source of annual employment for actors and other theatre artists.
In LoMonaco’s own words from the inside flap of her book cover, “Summer Stock : The phrase brings to mind barns, moonlit nights, Judy Garland, boulevard comedies, musty smells, and maybe even mustier performances. Summer stock is a uniquely American phenomenon—theatre performed in bucolic settings during the vacation season.”
She adds that these summer straw-hat venues played a role in helping to instill the theatergoing habit in several generations of young Americans, many of whom saw their first professional productions in a resort area theatre.