Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York
**Winner, the 2017 Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History, given by the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) to the best book in theatre history or cognate disciplines.**
Hillary Miller’s Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York offers a fascinating and comprehensive exploration of how the city’s financial crisis shaped theater and performance practices in this turbulent decade and beyond.
New York City’s performing arts community suffered greatly from a severe reduction in grants in the mid-1970s. A scholar and playwright, Miller skillfully synthesizes economics, urban planning, tourism, and immigration to create a map of the interconnected urban landscape and to contextualize the struggle for resources. She reviews how numerous theater professionals, including Ellen Stewart of La MaMa E.T.C. and Julie Bovasso, Vinnette Carroll, and Joseph Papp of The Public Theater, developed innovative responses to survive the crisis.
Combining theater history and close readings of productions, each of Miller’s chapters is a case study focusing on a company, a production, or an element of New York’s theater infrastructure. Her expansive survey visits Broadway, Off-, Off-Off-, Coney Island, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, community theater, and other locations to bring into focus the large-scale changes wrought by the financial realignments of the day.
Nuanced, multifaceted, and engaging, Miller’s lively account of the financial crisis and resulting transformation of the performing arts community offers an essential chronicle of the decade and demonstrates its importance in understanding our present moment.
“In her exciting study, named for the Daily News headline of 1975 protesting the federal refusal to help out New York City, Hillary Miller combines urban geography and theater history to focus on the cash-starved performing arts in New York’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Reversing the traditional zero-sum picture of New York theater, Miller takes little interest in the commercial stages of midtown Manhattan and focuses instead on Brooklyn, street and neighborhood performance across the city, and the downtown emergence of La MaMa and the Public. The reader is left almost aching with nostalgia for the bad old times.”—Elinor Fuchs, author of The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism
“Drop Dead makes a distinctive and valuable contribution to theatre and performance studies scholarship. It is careful and nuanced in its approach to theatre-historical practices, and introduces an urban frame that changes how these practices have commonly been narrated and understood.” — Michael McKinnie, author of City Stages: Theatre and Urban Space in a Global City
“As we enter a period of uncertainty, to put it mildly, one of the areas most at risk is the federal funding of arts and culture. It’s no surprise to hear that the social conservatives and free-market extremists now in power are already making noises about implementing their long-held dream to eradicate the NEA and PBS. What happens, then, when the faucet is turned off? What are the priorities, how do funds get allocated, and to whom? Our current predicament makes Hillary Miller’s Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York
an especially fascinating read.” —Elisabeth Vincentelli, American Theatre Magazine