Theater - Film

The Little Apple

An emerging multi-hyphenated artist in New York shares lessons learned while turning pro.

Margo Jones, Producing Pioneer - Part 1

I was first introduced to director and producer Margo Jones in grad school when we had to do a presentation about an influential American Theater pioneer. After just a little bit of research I was enamored of her, but also shocked that I hadn't heard about her before, since EVERY theater student should. It took me another year to finally read the riveting biography Margo: The Life and Theater of Margo Jones by Helen Sheehy, and I feel an even stronger connection to this 'Texas Tornado'. 

These are just some of Margo's accomplishments: 

Constantly reading scripts (and smoking)

Constantly reading scripts (and smoking)

- Began the regional theater moment in The United States by campaigning its importance to her commercial theater community in the '40's and '50's, and by founding her own theater in Dallas in 1947.
- Mentored the women founders of The Alley Theater and Arena Stage.
- Discovered Tennessee Williams, got him his agent, introduced him to contacts who would shape his career. 
- Directed the world premiere of The Glass Menagerie in Dallas, and then the first Broadway production. 
- Re-introduced theater-in-the-round staging to American Theater, and wrote a book on it. 
- Discovered Inherit the Wind (perhaps one of the most produced plays of all time) when no other producer would touch it due to it's controversial themes.
- Championed playwrights at a time when they were not respected by the commercial theater. 

 
Margo and Tennessee working on the Broadway production of Summer and Smoke (also directed by Margo)

Margo and Tennessee working on the Broadway production of Summer and Smoke (also directed by Margo)

 

Margo was obviously ambitious, a hard worker, talented, powerful, and a soldier for the theater - or rather, the Theater's greatest General. At a time when American Theater was centered solely in New York and the rest of the country had limited access to it (only to road shows which were mostly musicals), when television and film stole Theater's audiences and it looked like the institution would finally diminish, Margo preached that theater was the highest art form, and that everyone should have access to so they could choose to experience it. This inspired the creation of the first professional regional theaters throughout the country: artistic homes to playwrights, centers of culture, entertainment, and education for countless communities. 

I believe passionately in art as a form of salvation, and that the things art brings—beauty and spiritual growth—are the most important things in human life.
— Margo Jones

Her contribution to our current American theater life is immeasurable - but why have most of us never heard of her? Was it because of her tragic death in her early '40's? (something out of a play itself). What else would she have done with a longer life? Was she a director, a producer, or an amalgamation of both? What was her experience as a woman in a boy's club - and as one of the only advocates of playwrights? She sacrificed relationships and a 'normal life' for her passion and her vision, but was it worth it? Is it worth it to have a career in theater if you don't experience the rest of what the world can offer?

For the next month I will give these questions their own entries, and relate them to my own experience. Stay tuned!