Is there anyone out there who doesn’t get that we are living in tough economic times? Anyone still buying the fantasy that unemployment is dropping like a zeppelin or that America is heading for an economic upsurge? Didn’t think so. Reality sets in pretty fast when you take a close look at your paycheck and realize it is shrinking. It’s pretty clear that belts need tightening, but cuts in one area, the arts, will really hurt us all.
It is the history of the performing arts in this country that when times were toughest, people looked for escape from their harsh reality. In one of the worse economic periods the United States ever experienced, the Depression of the 1930’s, entertainment was a godsend to the average American.
In fact, ‘show business’ was quietly subsidized by the government so more people could work again. In turn, entertainment was cheap, or even free, and allowed those down on their luck to forget about their troubles, if only for a while.
It is ironic to me that the performing arts experienced a resurgence of creativity during one of the lowest economic periods our country had ever seen. Need proof? Take the musical “Anything Goes” which has played both on and off Broadway ever since it was produced in the 1930s. The songs of Cole Porter offered escape, romance and glamour to everyone who lived through the most uncertain of times.
With the onset of World War II, songs produced by George and Ira Gershwin rallied the spirit of our country. And who would underestimate the impact of George M. Cohan‘s songs, such as “Yankee Doodle” or “Over There” on American troops oversees? This music had such an impact on the fighting troops that Cohan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his contributions toward the war effort.
Later, in the 1940s, “Oklahoma” spoke to the adventurous spirit of everyday Americans who found it tough to get work in more populated areas. Heading west for a better life on farms and ranches in the Midwest was glamorized so much so that a great migration to America’s heartland was begun.
And when the shadows of prejudice reared its ugly head in the forties and fifties, “South Pacific”, originally a novel, confronted this blight in our culture and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Theatre and all forms of entertainment help us to cope with life and all its mundane predictability. But it also helps us to cope with unpredictability, sadness and misfortune, offering refreshing escape to another place or time for just a little while.
Is something wrong with that?