Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater


Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater (1991) is a book by Davi Napoleon about the onstage triumphs and the offstage turmoil at the Chelsea Theater Center of Brooklyn. It includes biographies of the three co-directors, Robert Kalfin, Michael David, and Burl Hash, and anecdotes about behind-the-scenes activities at the Chelsea. It is also a history of the funding crisis for the arts in America. It explores the theater's socioeconomic milieu in the 1970s. There are stories about attempts to censor the arts and describing increasing anti-arts sentiment in this country. The book features a foreword by Broadway director and producer Harold Prince. Prince discusses the problems of maintaining an art theater in a commercial society. It is written in the style of a novel, even though it is a non-fiction work. The model for the book is Voltaire's Candide. This book was one of a handful on the forefront of the field of creative non-fiction. Three years after its publication, in 1994, the Creative Nonfiction Foundation was established. The author reports that when she submitted a draft of the work as a doctoral dissertation, she was asked to rewrite it because the creative nonfiction approach had not yet been accepted in the academic community. According to her report, members of her dissertation committee said that while it was thorough and accurate, they felt they were reading a novel; they asked her to make changes in the style so that it no longer met the criteria of creative nonfiction. She did so in order to get her doctorate, but submitted the earlier draft to publishers. The chapter titles, written in the style of Voltaire's 'Candide' (listed below), were particularly controversial. The Chelsea Theater Center was founded in 1965 and closed in 1986. It was in residence at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from 1968 to 1978. Before and after that time, it worked in theaters in Manhattan, mainly the Westside Theater. Glenn Close, Frank Langella, Christopher Lloyd and Meryl Streep were among the actors who worked at the Chelsea. Directors included Des McAnuff, Hal Prince, John Hirsch, and Alan Schneider. In 1965, when Robert Kalfin founded the Chelsea, there were few nonprofit theaters in New York. During the next ten years, new theaters opened, funding sources decreased, and costs rose. Many nonprofit theaters started to do conventional work that would attract audiences. Kalfin and his partners, David and Hash, continued to do innovative work. Critics often said that the Chelsea stretched the boundaries of theater. Spectators subscribed to seasons before they knew what the Chelsea would produce the following year. On the other hand, there were many clashes behind the scenes.
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date of publication: 1991

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