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The Syndicate and the Shuberts

Charles Frohman

On August 31, 1896 six men gathered at the Holland House Hotel to discuss the creation of what would be name The Theatrical Syndicate. Abraham Lincoln Erlanger, Charles Frohman, Al Hayman, Marc Klaw, Samuel Nixon, and Fred Zimmerman pooled their resources--theatres that they owned, leased, and booked--to create more rational trips for theatres troops when they were on the Road. They told the theatre world that they would rid the theatre business of managers who booked several shows a night to ensure a performance (leaving the extra shows with nothing). They promised they would help the producers cut expenses by booking the troop in a logical route with stops all along the way.

The rise of the Syndicate was a logical progression now that performances were on The Road, but with this new trust, both the show and the theatre itself were controlled by one company. Soon the Syndicate had created a monopoly which only allowed performers and houses to work with Syndicate products or not at all.

This monopoly raised the anger of actors like the famous Mrs. Fiske who joined with independent managers and the Shubert brothers. The Shubert brother, on their own, quickly rose up appearing to be fighting for art over commerce and for the rights of the independent people the Syndicate was crushing. Using a major publicity tour with Sarah Bernhardt performing across the country in second class theatres and even tents, because this was all that was allowed to her outside the Syndicate, the Shubert brothers were able to begin rising to power. They appeared to be fighting "the good fight." The Shubert brothers had an "open door" policy, allowing theatres and productions to book with them and anyone else they chose. As soon as the Shuberts felt sure that their hold on the theatre community was strong enough, however, they too shut the door, just like the Syndicate had.

There were marked distinctions between the two groups, however. The Shuberts not only bought theatres but also built them. They built theatres primarily because the Syndicate wouldn't allow the Shuberts to buy. These two factions managed to keep the actors will little power until the Actors' Stike of 1919. Even then, the Shubert monopoly, which had taken power after the death of Charles Frohman on the Lusitania, continued to control the theatre scene.

Sam Shubert

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by Abby Manzella, American Studies at the University of Virginia, December 2000