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Gathering on the Ground: Experiencing Landscape in American Outdoor Theaters

Linda Jewell, University of California, Berkeley, Fellow 2015–2016, Fall

I completed the first two chapters of Gathering on the Ground, a book with twenty case studies of outdoor theaters drawn from a previous exhibition. The first chapter covers the early twentieth century, when wealthy patrons and volunteers built theaters to bring culture and nature simultaneously into the lives of all Americans. The second chapter examines how the New Deal programs of Franklin Roosevelt continued this tradition by building outdoor theaters in the nation’s parks. This commitment to providing citizens with experiences in nature encouraged designers and craftsmen to respond to the particulars of the landscape in each theater’s design.

I also completed background research for a new case study—Beatrix Farrand’s Lovers Lane Theater at Dumbarton Oaks. With field measurements, drawings, and photographs from the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, I verified the dimensional data necessary for illustrative drawings and reconstructed Farrand’s sequence of incremental design decisions between 1924 and 1927, including her on-site consultations with playwright Joseph Lindon Smith, a leader in the outdoor drama movement. This work uncovered how the symmetry of the original proposal was subtly adjusted to the topography and a large walnut tree to give the particulars of this landscape a role in its final design.