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.
"...an especially fascinating read" —American Theater
"Drop Dead newly centralizes the 1970s economic crisis... and does so with careful attention to geography, race, and management styles. The book’s archive of venues productively undoes neat categories of experimental, community, and Broadway theatre... Miller’s archive also interlaces economic crisis with race, illuminating how advertising failed to connect with black Broadway attendees and how some white Lincoln Center subscribers devalued playwrights of colour as non-canonical. As such, the book might buttress theatre courses on the 1970s, New York City, and neoliberalism. Additionally, an arts management course might benefit from examining the management styles of Stewart, Carroll, and Papp to consider how their mediation of crisis–enmeshed in geography, race, and the federal neglect of New York City–produced shifting modes of producing and valuing theatre." —Modern Drama