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Technique and Tact: Nina Moise Directs the Provincetown Players

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2009

Cheryl Black
Affiliation:
Doctoral candidate in theatre history, theory, and criticism at the University of Maryland.

Extract

Historians of the Provincetown Players generally recognize Nina Moise as an individual who made a significant contribution to the company at a crucial period in its existence. Those who acknowledge her as an important member of the group commonly agree that Moise was Provincetown's first professional director and that her success as a director facilitated a shift away from amateurish collectivism toward more professional production techniques. That Nina Moise was largely responsible for this critical transformation in the company's production policies is not in dispute; the factors underlying her success, however, have not been examined. What were the qualities, personal and professional, that enabled Moise to make her significant contribution?

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 1995

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References

1 Sarlos, Robert K., Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players (The University of Massachusetts Press, 1982), 7273Google Scholar. See also Vilhauer, William, “A History and Evaluation of the Provincetown Players,” Ph.D. diss. (University of Iowa, 1965), 256Google Scholar. See also Kenton, Edna, “History of the Provincetown Players,” Fales Collection, Bobst Library, New York University, 4953.Google Scholar

2 See Dell, Floyd, Homecoming (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1933), 265–66Google Scholar; Kenton, , 50Google Scholar; Cook, George Cram to Glaspell, Susan, 15 10 1916Google Scholar, Cook papers, Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

3 Cook, George Cram to Glaspell, Susan, 14 12 1916Google Scholar, Cook papers, Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

4 Of the 29 charter members of the Provincetown Players (at the time of their formal organization in September 1916), only E. J. Ballantine and Frederic Burt were professionally experienced actors. Those who had participated in amateur theatricals included Floyd Dell, who had organized sporadic and informal amateur performances in Greenwich Village, and Ida Rauh, one of the founders of the Washington Square Players.

5 Minutes, , 5 09 1916Google Scholar, Cage Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.

6 During the first few bills, professional actors E. J. Ballantine and Duncan Macdougal staged plays by Eugene O'Neill and Floyd Dell; Arthur Hohl of the Washington Square Players staged John Reed's Freedom; and James O'Neill, Sr. helped his son direct Before Breakfast.

7 Kenton, , 53Google Scholar. Kenton refers to events of the fall of 1916.

8 Dell, , 266.Google Scholar

9 Nordfeldt, Margaret to Sarlos, Richard K., 8 12 1963Google Scholar, in Sarlos, , “The Provincetown Players: Experiments in Style,” Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1965, 138.Google Scholar

10 Kenton, , 45.Google Scholar

11 Cook, George Cram to Glaspell, Susan, 11 12 1916Google Scholar, Cook papers, Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

12 Moise, Nina to Kenton, Edna, 16 10 1933Google Scholar, Fales Collection, Bobst Library, New York University.

13 Margaret Wycherly was a veteran of the London and New York stages who had worked with Madame Janauschek and Ben Greet. Frederic Burt was the only charter member of the Provincetown Players with experience on Broadway, having appeared in Houses of Glass in 1915.

14 Kenton, , 55.Google Scholar

15 Broun, Heywood, New York Tribune, 18 03 1917, sec. 4, p. 3.Google Scholar

16 The Players named Moise as the company's production director at the beginning of their second season, in October 1917; the other salaried positions included the president (Cook), stage manager (Louis Ell), and a secretary.

17 Moise also performed in four plays, including a one-woman “dramatic interpretation” of John Galsworthy's The Mob.

18 Playbills, Provincetown Players scrapbook, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.

19 Gelb, Arthur and Gelb, Barbara, O'Neill (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), 325Google Scholar. The Gelbs cite an interview with Moise, n. d.

21 Sheaffer, Louis, O'Neill: Son and Playwright (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1968), 401.Google Scholar

22 Eugene O'Neill to Nina Moise, 9 April 1918, in Bogard, Travis and Bryer, Jackson, Selected Letters of Eugene O'Neill (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 80.Google Scholar

23 O'Neill, Eugene to Moise, Nina, 14 04 1918Google Scholar, in Bogard, and Bryer, , 82.Google Scholar

24 Broun, Heywood, New York Tribune, 18 03 1917, sec. 4, p. 3.Google Scholar

25 Unsigned review, Brooklyn Globe, 24 04 1918Google Scholar, Provincetown Players clippings file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, n. p.

26 Unsigned review, New York Clipper, 1 05 1918, 10Google Scholar; Broun, Heywood, “Brilliant One-Act Play Called The Rope Provincetown Feature,”Google Scholar Review of The Rope and Woman's Honor, New York Tribune, 29 04 1918, 9.Google Scholar

27 Broun, Heywood, New York Tribune, 4 03 1918, 9.Google Scholar

28 Paul, Norman, “Copeau Looks at the American Stage,” Educational Theatre Journal, 03 1977, 68.Google Scholar

29 Kreymborg, Alfred, Troubadour (New York: Liveright, Inc., 1925), 305.Google Scholar

30 In addition to these duties, Moise served as Cecil B. de Mille's assistant director on This Day and Age in 1933 and as associate director of Cradle Song in 1934. See Smith, Sharon, Women Who Make Movies (New York: Hopkinson and Blake, 1975), 24Google Scholar. See also New York Sun, 28 08 1933Google Scholar and New York Times, 26 07 1933Google Scholar, Nina Moise clipping file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.

31 Kenton, , 51.Google Scholar

32 Ibid., 79.

33 Ibid., 80–85.

34 Broun, Heywood, New York Tribune, 4 03 1918, 9.Google Scholar

35 New York Clipper, 1 05 1918, 10Google Scholar; New York Tribune, 29 04 1918, 9Google Scholar; New York Tribune, 14 05 1918, 2Google Scholar; New York Times, 21 05 1918, 13Google Scholar; Brooklyn Globe, 24 04 1918Google Scholar, n. p. In Provincetown Players clippings file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.

36 Kenton, , 53.Google Scholar

37 Telephone call to Stanford University Alumni Association, 12 November 1993. Robert K. Sarlos mistakenly reports that Nina Moise received a degree in drama from Stanford. See Sarlos, , “Experiments in Style,” 120Google Scholar. Arnold Goldman erroneously lists her alma mater as Vassar. See Goldman, Arnold, “The Culture of the Provincetown Players,”Google Scholar Speech delivered at the University of Keele, 3 March 1977, Provincetown Players clippings file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.

38 “History of the School of Oratory,” Northwestern University Archives, 1. The original Cumnock School of Oratory was later assimilated into Northwestern University's School of Speech. Moise probably attended the Cumnock School in Los Angeles, founded by Cumnock's student, Addie Murphy Craig.

40 Syllabus, , “History of the School of Oratory,” 4.Google Scholar

42 Moise later reported that she had “done considerable directing on the coast” before her move to New York in January 1917. Nina Moise to Edna Kenton, 16 October 1933, Fales Collection, Bobst Library, New York University.

43 In a letter to Edna Kenton, Moise mentions a “flop” stock engagement in Massachusetts. According to Moise, the company closed, obliging her to seek work elsewhere (hence, her move to New York in January 1917). Nina Moise to Edna Kenton, 16 October 1933, Fales Collection, Bobst Library, New York University. Though Moise does not mention the name of the company, evidence suggests a possible candidate. American Theatre Companies lists four stock companies operating in Massachusetts during that time, describing one of these companies, the Northampton Players, as “close to extinction” due to financial trouble in their 1916–17 season. See Durham, Weldon, ed., American Theatre Companies: 1888–1930 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987), 332339Google Scholar. In 1933 the New York Times reported that Moise once worked with Jessie Bonstelle, who directed the Northampton Players from 1912–17. See New York Times, 26 07 1933Google Scholar, Nina Moise clippings file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, n.p.

44 This repertory and schedule is comparable to most stock companies operating during this era. See Durham.

45 O'Neill, Eugene to Moise, Nina, 17 01 1919Google Scholar, American Literature Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale. Thomas Mitchell was the director of O'Neill, 's Moon of the Caribbees.Google Scholar

46 The active membership of the Provincetown Players (most of whom had homes in Greenwich Village) included retired classics professor Jig Cook, revolutionary journalists Jack Reed, Louise Bryant, and Floyd Dell, The Masses editor Max Eastman, artist-activist Ida Rauh, and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

47 Sheaffer, , 377Google Scholar. Mr. Sheaffer cites an interview with Ms. Moise, n. d.

48 Boulton, Agnes, Part of a Long Story (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1958), 32.Google Scholar

49 Gelb, and Gelb, , 357Google Scholar. The Gelbs cite an interview with Ms. Moise, n. d.

50 Moise, Nina to Kenton, Edna, 16 10 1933Google Scholar, Fales Collection, Bobst Library, New York University.

51 Gelb, and Gelb, , 357.Google Scholar

52 Moise, Nina to Kenton, Edna, 16 10 1933Google Scholar, Fales Collection, Bobst Library, New York University. Nonnie Bailey's was a popular Provincetown hangout.

53 Kenton, , 53.Google Scholar

54 Sheaffer, , 395Google Scholar. O'Neill married Agnes Boulton in April 1918.

55 In a recent telephone interview, Provincetown historian William Vilhauer recalled that Nina Moise once claimed to have given birth to O'Neill's illegitimate son. Dr. Vilhauer apparently never investigated the claim, made during the course of his telephone interview with Moise 1964, and has never published any information relating to Moise's personal life. Telephone interview with DrVilhauer, William, 11 11 1993Google Scholar. Writer Steve Watson has characterized Moise's relationship with both O'Neill and Dell as romantic, although he cites no evidence support this assertion and I found none. The fact that Dell does not mention Moise in his autobiography indicates that there was no romance between them, as he is not reticent in describing two marriages and various love affairs (including one with Provincetowner Edna St. Vincent Millay). See Watson, Steve, Strange Bedfellows (New York: Abbeville Press, 1991), 220–21.Google Scholar

56 Edna Kenton employs the metaphor of scientific experimentation to describe the group's modus operandi. See Kenton, , 15.Google Scholar

57 Sources for this listing include Deutsch, Helen and Hanau, Stella, The Provincetown: A Story the Theatre (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1931), 199259Google Scholar; playbills, published versions of plays, and Nina Moise's correspondence with Edna Kenton (1933); it is the most complete listing to date.

58 This was a revival of Suppressed Desires, originally produced at Provincetown (Massachusetts) in the summer of 1915. The Players generally ended the season with a review bill of the three most successful productions.

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