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Stage for Action

Stage for Action

U.S. Social Activist Theatre in the 1940s

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Chrystyna Dail


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
216 pages, 6 x 9, 9 illustrations

Theater in the Americas


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About the Book

Drawing on underexplored and only recently available archives, author Chrystyna Dail examines the influence of Stage for Action, a theatre group founded in 1943, on social activist theatre in the 1940s, early 1950s, and beyond. The group embraced subjects not taken up by earlier activist theatre companies—advocating for the rights of Puerto Ricans, calling attention to the lack of child care for working mothers, and demanding the cessation of all nuclear warfare.

Exploring the intersection between performance and politics and the direct impact of the arts on social activism, Dail argues Stage for Action is a theatrical reflection of progressivism and the pro-working-class theatrical aesthetic of the 1940s. The theatre group, which used performance to encourage direct action and personal responsibility for change, eventually would function as the theatrical voice of the United States Progressive Party in the failed presidential campaign of former vice president Henry A. Wallace.

Calling into question the widely held belief that U.S. theatre in the early years of the Cold War was indifferent to activism, Stage for Action offers historians a new interpretation of social activist performance at midcentury.


Chrystyna Dail is an assistant professor of theatre history at Ithaca College in New York. She has published essays in the Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Theatre History Studies, and the collection Working in the Wings: New Perspectives on Theatre History and Labor.


 “Chrystyna Dail’s fresh and layered analysis [of] this previously neglected subject [is] a splendidly illuminating portrait, a history that is deeply researched in primary and secondary sources.”—Alan M. Wald, author, American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War
“Dail’s Stage for Action is a model for interdisciplinary scholarship that buoys and breathes life into the annals of theatre history. Informed by critical scholarship, archival research, dramaturgical analysis, political and performance theories—as well as serendipitous discoveries—Stage for Action is emboldened by its rigorous and revelatory research.”—Faedra Chatard Carpenter, author, Coloring Whiteness: Acts of Critique in Black Performance
Exploring ignored and recently declassified archives, Dail challenges deeply ingrained misconceptions about theater during the Cold War period in this, the first book-length study of one of America’s most revolutionary artistic experiments, Stage for Action. Focusing on the group’s four female founders, in addition to the more famous male playmakers whose celebrity eclipsed them, Dail offers a radical revision of both agitprop and feminist theater in the United States.”—Sara Warner, author, Acts of Gaiety: LGBT Performance and the Politics of Pleasure
“In Stage for Action, Chrystyna Dail tells the surprising story of a vital artistic community that has been almost completely overlooked in histories of the U.S. theater. Through a close examination of the company’s plays, practitioners, and politics, Dail reveals that Stage for Action (SFA) served as a creative incubator for some of the most prominent U.S. theater makers of the twentieth century. She persuasively argues that SFA’s brief but pivotal existence allows us to understand better the complex ambitions, close connections, and notable achievements of activist theater artists in the wake of World War II.”—Amy E. Hughes, author, Spectacles of Reform: Theater and Activism in Nineteenth-Century America

“Stage for Action
serves as a fascinating and incredibly well-researched and well-written exploration into an important and oft-forgotten piece of theatre history. Given SFA’s commitment to the notion that ‘entertainment should have a purpose…and that purpose must be exerted to prevent war, stamp out race hatreds, combat poverty’ and more, I cannot think of a more appropriate time to revisit and revive their works.”—The Journal of American Drama and Theatre