Provincetown Players

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Provincetown Players
Provincetown Theatre - Van Vechten.jpg
Lewis Wharf (site of first two seasons of Provincetown Players)
Formation 1915 (1915)
Extinction 1929 (1929)
Type Theatre group
Purpose amateur productions of new, experimental theatre
  • Cape Cod
    New York City

The Provincetown Players was an influential collective of artists, writers, intellectuals, and amateur theater enthusiasts. Under the leadership of the husband and wife team of George Cram “Jig” Cook and Susan Glaspell, the Players produced two seasons in Provincetown, Massachusetts and six seasons in New York City. The company's founding has been called "the most important innovative moment in American theatre,"[1] in part for launching the career of Eugene O'Neill and building an audience for American playwrights.

Founding in Provincetown[edit]

The Provincetown Players began in July 1915. Provincetown, Massachusetts had become a popular summer outpost for the bohemian residents of Greenwich Village. On July 21 a group of friends who were disillusioned by the commercialism of Broadway created an evening’s entertainment by staging two one-act plays. Constancy by Neith Boyce and Suppressed Desires by Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook were performed at the home of Hutchins Hapgood and Neith Boyce.[2]

The evening was a success and an additional performance was organized. Mary Heaton Vorse donated the use of the fish house on Lewis Wharf where a makeshift stage was assembled.[3] The two one-acts presented at the Hapgood home were restaged in August and a second bill of two new plays was presented in September.[4]

Enthusiasm for the theatrical experiment in Provincetown continued over the winter of 1915-16 and a second season was planned at Lewis Wharf. The plays were funded in part by a subscription campaign in which George Cram “Jig” Cook described the aim of the group: “to give American playwrights a chance to work out their ideas in freedom."[2]

The second season introduced Eugene O’Neill and his play Bound East to Cardiff

New York City[edit]

In September 1916 before leaving Massachusetts, the group met and formally called themselves The Provincetown Players and decided to produce a season in New York City and Jig Cook was elected president of the newly constituted organization. The Players were founded to “establish a stage where playwrights of sincere, poetic, literary and dramatic purpose could see their plays in action and superintend their production without submitting to the commercial managers interpretation of public taste.” [2]

On September 19, 1916 Cook had rented a theater at 139 Macdougall Street which the Players dubbed “The Playwright’s Theater.”[3]

The Players developed a pattern of producing a "bill" of three new plays every two weeks over a 21-week season. [3]

The first New York season in 1916-17 presented nine “bills” between November and March, including three new O’Neill plays and a revival of Bound East for Cardiff, three plays by Neith Boyce and two by Susan Glaspell.[4]

In the 1917-18 season Edna St. Vincent Millay and her sister Norma joined the Players as actors and Millay’s Two Slatterns and a King was produced. [3]

In the 1918-19 season The Players move to 133 Macdougall Street and called the theater “The Provincetown Playhouse.”

Cook and Glaspell took a sabbatical in Provincetown during the 1919-20 season. That winter the theater’s day-to-day management was carried out by and executive committee.[2] The 1919-20 season included three plays by Djuna Barnes, two by Eugene O’Neill, Aria Da Capo by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Three Travelers Watch A Sunrise by Wallace Stevens.

Success and change[edit]

Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones opened the 1920-21 season and was an overnight hit. The cast included Charles Gilpin who was the first professional actor to perform with the Players. Alexander Woollcott in the New York Times called The Emperor Jones an extraordinarily striking and dramatic study of panic fear.” O’Neill’s play “reinforces the impression that for strength and originality he has no rival among American writers for the stage.”[2]

Cook used the production of The Emperor Jones to advocate for a striking scenic innovation - the construction of a dome in the Playhouse modeled on the scenic element used in art theaters in Europe. The dome, (kuppelhorizont) used a “combination of vertical and horizontal curvatures” as a reflective surface to represent he horizon and create a greater sense of depth than a flat cyclorama.[4]

After the success of The Emperor Jones some members of the Players began to associate success with a Broadway transfer. The mission of the Players became more clouded when, in the 1921-22 season O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape which was funded by commercial producer Arthur Hopkins, was a popular hit.[2]

As a result of the changes in the spirit of the Provincetown Players, Cram and Glaspell decided to travel to Greece and the Players suspended their work for the 1922-23 season.

With the production of The Spook Sonata (a translation of August Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata) in January 1924, a new phase in the life of the company began. Cook and Glaspell were in Greece and the artistic guidance was now under the leadership of a triumvirate of Robert Edmond Jones, Kenneth Macgowan and Eugene O’Neill operating as “The Experimental Theatre, Inc.” [5]

Prominent artists affiliated with the Provincetown Players[edit]

Djuna Barnes, Theodore Dreiser, Edna Ferber, Susan Glaspell, Robert Edmond Jones, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, Jack Reed, and Wallace Stevens.


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Glaspell, Susan. The Road to the Temple. New York: Frederick A. Stokes and Company, 1927. (A posthumous biography of Cook.)
  • Kenton, Edna. The Provincetown Players and the Playwrights' Theatre, 1915-1922. McFarland & Company, 2004.
  • Murphy, Brenda. "Provincetown Players and The Culture of Modernity". Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2005.


  1. ^ Carpentier, Martha. ""Susan Glaspell: New Directions in Critical Inquiry"". Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Deutsch, Helen (1931). The Provincetown: A Story of the Theater. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc. p. 7. 
  3. ^ a b c d Wetzsteon, Ross (2002). Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 105–6. 
  4. ^ a b c Sarlos, Robert Karoly (1982). Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players. Amherst: U of Massachusetts Press. p. 16–7. 
  5. ^ Pendleton, Ralph (1958). The Theatre of Robert Edmond Jones. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press. p. 157. 

External links[edit]