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«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»

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radio for entertainment. Stations like KTAR and KOY broadcast in-studio and remote orchestra performances but mostly featured national news, entertainment, and music programs, further cultivating mass culture in the Valley. Prewar Phoenix had a performing arts culture, but it lacked the unique identity Phoenix needed if it wanted to top the regional urban hierarchy.143 A Broader Audience Demographics changed dramatically following the war, shifting the audience’s composition. Phoenix’s growth mission included annexing suburbs, bringing more residents into the fold of the big (now bigger) city. Out-of-state migrants were the biggest contributors to the population boom. In 1960 only 28.9 percent of Arizona residents living in Phoenix had been born in the state. Even more telling, 61.5 percent of Phoenicians in 1960 had a different address in 1955, with just over half of those migrants coming from inside the state. Another 48 percent emigrated from other states, and Midwesterners comprised almost half that group.144 The 1964 Republican presidential nominee and Arizona favorite son Barry Goldwater described the phenomenon to the Associated Press during his campaign: “Arizona gets under your skin. California still accounts for most of our population boom – we get the backlash of the disenchanted and the smog weary – but after that come Illinois and most of the midwest, people seeking a new life in a new land, uprooting themselves and their families in the old frontier spirit of Reynolds, Golden Days of Theaters, 66-67, 79, 82, 88; VanderMeer, Desert Visions, 66-68.

U.S. Census of Population, 1960: Vol. I, Characteristics of the Population: Pt.

IV Arizona (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963), 133.

the American dream.”145 People migrated because of Arizona’s beautiful natural resources, economic opportunity, and that intangible Goldwater mentioned, the “frontier spirit.” Phoenix had been evolving from its all-American mass culture to a deliberately Western identity since the 1930s, the beginning of a postwar trend where popular culture originated in the West, not the East. Building on the Valley’s agricultural history, civic leaders promoted romanticized images of the region’s Western roots to boost tourism, particularly in Scottsdale where the city’s Chamber of Commerce dubbed it “The West’s Most Western Town.” Valley residents and tourists could experience the West through rodeo, welcome wagons like the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce’s Howdy Dudettes, themed restaurants like the Lulubelle, or immerse themselves completely in the theme park Legend City and “town” of Rawhide. Phoenix’s outdoor, recreational culture was a large part of its appeal, and parks, pools, tennis courts, and golf courses proliferated after the war. Major League Baseball’s annual Cactus League spring training series remains a hugely popular attraction for residents and tourists. Civic leaders establishing high culture activities had to compete with an increasing number of popular, recreational activities, many of which were cited as big draws for tourism and migration.146 The PSA hoped to capitalize on these new residents and visitors with symphony concerts. The “vacation-bound Easterner,” was well acquainted with Phoenix and would Hugh A. Mulligan, “AP Writer Looks at ‘Barryland:’ Republican Candidate’s Political Views Reflect Lore of West,” Arizona Republic, August 30, 1964.

Carl Abbott, How Cities Won the West: Four Centuries of Urban Change in Western North America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008), 10;

VanderMeer, Desert Visions, 164-167.

enjoy great music, but the PSA claimed the symphony would help manufacturers realize the city was not a seasonal destination but a “substantial, cosmopolitan city.” They claim the PSO formed in response to a national demand for live music; a generation prior there were only fifteen city orchestras, but by the late 1940s there were 150. At the time the PSA was not able to envision Phoenix could grow as large as some of these cities, but they boasted its wide variety of activities – which other cities hosted baseball, rodeo, theater, and a symphony? According to the PSA, Phoenix had it all. 147 New Phoenicians could embrace the performing arts through numerous avenues.

In addition to attending shows, they could get involved directly with the organization as a performer, event worker, or board or auxiliary group member. The groups often went into the community, performing at public schools, club meetings, rodeos, and festivals. The OMC and Musicians Club (as the most portable groups) greeted winter visitors with performances at hotels and airports. These performances helped the groups practice and were a good marketing tool, but more importantly, they made residents and visitors feel part of the experience. Community involvement was key to keeping skilled workers living inside the city. Performers’ community outreach efforts exposed Phoenicians to one aspect of civic involvement.

The community spirit brought the PSO into local schools, instilling the performing arts in the next generation of Phoenicians. The Musicians Club sponsored four music clubs for collegiate, high school, and grade school students. In the spring of 1949 PSO commentator and Arizona State College music teacher Mike Dreskell hosted a “Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, First Concert, First Season, 1947-1948,” Phoenix Symphony Orchestra: 1st – 8th Seasons, (Phoenix: Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, 1947-1955).





free series for five hundred Valley school children teaching them about the symphony.

Dreskell continued the program in the fall, and with the help of the Junior League of Phoenix and the American Federation of Musicians hosted a PSO concert for two thousand students in the PUHS auditorium. The Phoenix Symphony Guild also started the Phoenix Symphony Youth Orchestra in 1952, featuring students from thirty-two Valley high schools. The increased population and increased quality of music education made the group a host of Phoenix’s top musical talent. By 1977, half of its alumni were in musical careers, either with professional symphonies or as educators.148 Similarly, the Phoenix Theatre Center used its combined resources to help students of all ages pursue the dramatic arts. In addition to Phoenix Children’s Theatre’s three annual productions, the PLT hosted its first scholarship night in 1964, with the entire proceeds from the evening (the best seats cost $10) going to three drama students – one from ASU and two from Phoenix Junior College. They also donated one thousand tickets to the Careers for Youth program, which introduced teens to jobs in cultural institutions. These student programs provided access to students otherwise might not have been exposed to the arts through their families. Students could ask musicians questions, peek behind the scenes, or emulate their favorite stars on stage with their “Musicians Club Outlines Programs, Other Activities,” Arizona Times (Phoenix, AZ), Sept. 2, 1949; “Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Fourth Concert, First Season, 1947-1948,” Phoenix Symphony Orchestra; “Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, First Concert, Second Season, 1948-1949,” Phoenix Symphony Orchestra; Louise Gacioch, “Phoenix’ Top Young Musicians,” Phoenix Magazine, February 1977, 39, 62.

classmates; even if they did not become famous performers, these future Phoenicians had a better understanding of the performing arts.149 The Orpheus Male Chorus was very much a civic organization, dedicated not only to performances but improving the community as stewards of cultural citizenship.

Particularly under Hess’ leadership, the OMC prioritized both cultural and civic duties, performing nationally, locally, and abroad as Phoenix’s Cowboy Ambassadors in addition to community performances. Every level of government recognized the OMC’s efforts, even internationally, and the group earned the moniker “America’s Goodwill Ambassadors.” The group performed for a wide range of organizations and events, at fraternal clubs, Carl Hayden’s golden anniversary dinner, Williams Air Force Base, the Phoenix Baptist Children’s Home, the Arizona State Hospital, the State Penitentiary, and in local schools. Through the 1960s the OMC exemplified the symbiotic relationship between performing arts, government, civic leaders, and audience. Each entity contributed to creating a culturally sophisticated and civically involved Phoenix community.150 Groups often sponsored contests for local writers and composers. John Barnett believed it was important to feature an American composition at each concert, and the PSA and the Musicians Club hosted a contest for an original composition to be played during the PSO’s third concert in the second season. They selected University of Arizona and Columbia University alumnus Ulysses Kay’s “Portrait Suite”; however, the performance is mysteriously absent from the concert’s program. The Musicians Club held “Phoenix Little Theatre,” 20.

Butler, “Orpheus Male Chorus,” 22-23.

an annual statewide contest awarding $25 to the best composition for a small ensemble.

The Phoenix Little Theatre also hosted an annual Original Play Contest with a $500 reward and promise of production. The groups existed to entertain Phoenix audiences, but their true mission was cultivating and encouraging emerging artists, especially in the community.151 Migrants had the chance to build a new city and a new culture, but it was a struggle to create a public fully invested in the performing arts. Former Ballet Arizona managing director Gerry Kroloff commented on the difficulties, observing that, “People didn’t come out here for the ballet and the symphony. They come here to play golf.” More importantly, she noted a key characteristic and difficulty plaguing the development of arts in Phoenix: “‘Winter people’ give money to the arts in their home towns, not here.

We don’t have the old foundation wealth to call on for the arts.”152 It was even more difficult to find a new audience as more organizations formed every year. The Phoenix Boys Choir, ASU Choral Union, Phoenix Bach Choir, and the Scottsdale Players were a few examples, in addition to programming from touring productions at Gammage. New Phoenicians patronized the existing cultural programs, but soon realized there were other personal and civic priorities and that there needed to be a serious increase in quality before the arts could be a thriving sector of city life. If Phoenicians wanted culture, a hallmark of urban life, audiences needed to stop viewing performances as good enough “Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Fourth Concert, First Season, 1947-1948,” Phoenix Symphony Orchestra; “Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Program, Second Concert, Second Season, 1948-1949,” Phoenix Symphony Orchestra; “Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Program, Third Concert, Second Season,” Phoenix Symphony Orchestra;

“Musicians Club Outlines Programs,” Sept. 29, 1949; “Phoenix Little Theatre,” 20.

Yearwood, “Gerry Kroloff,” June 18, 1993.

for Phoenix and invest their support in creating organizations that were competitive nationally.

Packing the House It is a testament to Phoenicians’ cultural sophistication that they continuously filled school auditoriums, but as Phoenix grew, so did its audiences expectations. Before the Civic Center, audiences watched the PLT in the Old Coach House (the old Heard stables). Attendees brought blankets in the winter and fans in the summer, and even though the theater installed a swamp cooler, it was so loud it could only run during intermission. The old backless wooden benches were replaced with folding chairs “whose contours consistently disagreed with the human form.”153 Audiences no longer fit inside the venues, and groups needed to meet rising demand for entertainment and develop auditoriums worthy of a city Phoenix’s size. The Civic Center Association sold their plans by stating, “No greater permanent growth in population ever comes than that which is provided for in adequate cultural facilities… To attract cultured people to the state we need to emphasize on cultural advantages.”154 City leaders needed to make their venues – and the city – a desirable destination for tourists and residents.

During the planning process for these venues, it was important to recognize the buildings would have to be multifunctional to justify cost and space and to best serve the community’s varied needs. The PLT staged seasons of eight shows for one week each, and the PSO held approximately ten concerts per season, leaving plenty of nights for other parties to rent the spaces. In addition to earning more revenue, the venues benefited Oldendick and Uithoven, “Phoenix Little Theatre,” 4-6.

The Arizona War Memorial Center, [ca. 1946], Ephemera Collection.

from multifunctional design, as they became communal meeting places. The Civic Center, Gammage, Sombrero, and Convention Center buildings all included rooms for classes and meetings. Running through the Civic Center is a grass mall that fits four thousand people, ideal for pageants, concerts, and community gatherings. Stephen Shadegg argued that although the PLT would need the space virtually every night during the season to rehearse, he and the Board welcomed community requests for use, reasoning it would expose more people to the group. Parking was another design consideration. The Stanford Research Institute recommended a two-thousand-stall lot, and if there were three people per car and each Convention Center site was at capacity, about one third would have to find parking elsewhere; however, such a night would be rare.155 Venues also needed attractions beyond modern comforts if they were to become destinations in their own right. Gammage lured visitors as a Frank Lloyd Wright design, and the excitement drew repeated sell-out crowds and record-breaking season ticket sales during the PSO’s 1964-1965 season.156 Guests could peruse the art galleries in Gammage, Symphony Hall, the Little Theatre and other Valley venues, a practice that continues today, usually featuring local artists. The Sombrero had the Helena Charlton Galaxy Gallery, a rotating exhibit space for painting and sculpture, and each production at the Phoenix Theatre Center featured an exhibit by a local artist. Venues also needed amenities outside the auditorium to be considered attractive destinations. The Sombrero Ibid.; Stephen C. Shadegg to the Phoenix Little Theatre Board, 14 June 1948, Box 9 Folder 14, Stephen C. Shadegg Papers; Duckstad and Raymond, A Study of Auditorium and County Office Facilities, 68-69.



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