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Balme, Christopher ORCID: 0000-0002-8901-8818; Leonhardt, Nic ORCID: 0000-0002-4274-162X (August 2019): The Workshop. On the Genesis of a Global Form. Working Paper Series of the ERC project Developing Theatre


This paper explores how the workshop, one of most ubiquitous terms and practices of contemporary life, has its origins in early twentieth century experimental theatre. It traces its shift from the nineteenth century shopfloor, where it was replaced by industrial factories, to pre-World War 1 university seminars in the USA. The famous 47 Workshop of George Pierce Baker at Harvard, a playwriting seminar, created a model for a theatre laboratory that slowly gained a following outside the academy. From there the workshop becomes a catchword for experimentation in the theatre and the new media radio and television. The paper provides a specific focus on how American philanthropy promoted the workshop idea in the 1950s and 1960s both home and abroad. The history and dissemination of the term and practice can be traced to a particular conjunction of factors within the US academy and philanthropy, which supported the rise of modernist theatre. This led in turn to a global distribution of workshop thinking. In this way the particular format developed by and associated with non-conventional theatre forms permeated contemporary thinking and pedagogical practice.