THE NEIGHBORHOOD PLAYHOUSE





A GIFT TO THE EAST SIDE--HOW THE SETTLEMENT WORK OF MISSES IRENE AND

ALICE LEWISOHN HAS CULMINATED AT LAST IN A REAL THEATRE--ITS ATTRACTIONS

AND EDUCATIONAL VALUE





The piece is the Biblical "Jephthah's Daughter," adapted from the Book

of Judges. The hero, "a mighty man of valor," has conquered the enemies

of his people. There is great rejoicing over his victory, for the tribe

of Israel has been at its weakest. But now comes payment of the price of

conquest. The leader of the victorious host promised to yield to God as

a burnt sacrifice "whatsoever cometh forth from the doors of my house to

meet me when I return from battle." And his daughter came forth.



In the last act, the girl herself, young and beautiful, advances toward

the altar on which fagots have been piled high. In her hand is the

lighted torch which is to kindle her own death fire.



The chorus chants old Hebraic melodies. Even the audience joins in the

singing. The play takes on the aspect of an ancient religious

ceremonial. Old men and women are in tears, moved by the sad history of

their race, forgetful of the horror of human sacrifice in the intensity

of their religious fervor.



Such is the artistry of the piece; such the perfection of its

production.



Yet this is no professional performance, but the work of amateurs. It is

the opening night of the new community theatre of New York's densely

populated East Side.



At No. 466 Grand Street it stands, far away from Broadway's theatrical

district--a low-lying, little Georgian building. It is but three stories

high, built of light red brick, and finished with white marble. All

around garish millinery shops display their showy goods. Peddlers with

pushcarts lit by flickering flames, vie with each other in their array

of gaudy neckties and bargain shirtwaists. Blazing electric signs herald

the thrills of movie shows. And, salient by the force of extreme

contrast, a plain little white posterboard makes its influence felt. It

is lit by two iron lanterns, and reads simply, "The Neighborhood

Playhouse."



The Misses Irene and Alice Lewisohn of No. 43 Fifth Avenue have built

this theatre. It is their gift to the neighborhood, and symbolizes the

culmination of a work which they have shared with the neighborhood's

people.



Eight years ago the Henry Street Settlement started its scheme of

festivals and pantomimes, portraying through the medium of color, song,

and dance such vague ideas as "Impressions of Spring." It was the boys

and girls of the Settlement who performed in these pantomimes. It was

they who made the costumes, painted the necessary scenery, sang and

danced.



And both daughters of the late Leonard Lewisohn were always interested

and active in promoting this work.



Out of it, in due time, there developed, quite naturally, a dramatic

club. Plays were given in the Settlement gymnasium--full-grown pieces

like "The Silver Box," by John Galsworthy, and inspiring dramas like

"The Shepherd," a plea for Russian revolutionists, by an American

author, Miss Olive Tilford Dargan. Such was the emotional response of

the neighborhood to this drama that four performances had to be given at

Clinton Hall; and as a result a substantial sum of money was forwarded

to "The Friends of Russian Freedom."



Then, in 1913, came the famous Pageant, which roused the entire district

to a consciousness of itself--its history, its dignity and also its

possibilities.



That portion of the East Side which surrounds the Henry Street

Settlement has seen many an invasion since the days when the Dutch first

ousted the Indians. English, Quakers, Scotch have come and gone, leaving

traces more or less distinct. The Irish have given place to the

Italians, who have been replaced by the Russians. In the Pageant of 1913

all these settlers were represented by artistically clad groups who

paraded the streets singing and dancing. No hall could have held the

audience which thronged to see this performance; no host of matinée

worshippers could have rivalled it in fervor of appreciation.



When the Misses Lewisohn, then, built their new playhouse in Grand

Street, it was not with the intention of rousing, but rather of

satisfying, an artistic demand among the people of the neighborhood. And

in the new home are to be continued all the varied activities of which

the Henry Street Settlement festival and dramatic clubs were but the

centre. It is to be a genuine community enterprise in which each boy and

girl will have a share. Miss Alice Lewisohn herself thus expresses its

many-sided work:



"The costume designers and makers, fashioners of jewelry, painters and

composers, musicians and seamstresses, as well as actors and directors,

will contribute their share in varying degree.



"Putting aside for a moment the higher and artistic development which

such work must bring, there is the craftsman side, too, which has

practical value. The young men will become familiar with all the

handiwork of the theatre, the construction and handling of scenery, the

electrical equipment and its varied uses. It will be conceded, I think,

that in this respect the community playhouse is really a college of

instruction in the craft of the stage."



It is a college with a very efficient and well-trained staff of

professors. Mrs. Sarah Cowell Le Moyne, already well known as a teacher

of elocution and acting, will be one of its members. Miss Grace

Griswold, an experienced co-worker of the late Augustine Daly, will act

as manager.



The pupils of this novel school are to have amusement as well as work.

The third floor has been planned to meet many more requirements than are

usually considered in a theatre. Across the front runs a large rehearsal

room, large enough to make a fine dance hall when occasion demands.

Here, too, is a kitchenette which will be used to serve refreshments

when social gatherings are in progress or when an over-long rehearsal

tires out the cast. In warm weather the flat-tiled roof will be used as

a playground. It will be the scene, too, of many open air performances.



The Neighborhood Playhouse has been open only a few weeks. Already it is

in full swing. On the nights when the regular players do not appear the

programme consists of motion pictures and music. There is a charming

informality and ease about these entertainments; there is also genuine

art, and a whole-hearted appreciation on the part of the neighborhood's

people.



* * * * *



(_New York Evening Post_)





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