Provincetown Theatre Group

Provincetown is a small seaport in Massachusetts. A group of left-wing activists, including Floyd Dell, John Reed, George Jig Cook, Mary Heaton Vorse, Michael Gold, Susan Glaspell, Hutchins Hapgood, Harry Kemp, Max Eastman, Ida Rauh, Theodore Dreiser, William Zorach, Neith Boyce and Louise Bryant, who lived in Greenwich Village, often spent their summers in Provincetown. In 1915 several members of the group established the Provincetown Theatre Group. A shack at the end of the fisherman's wharf was turned into a theatre. Later, other writers such as Eugene O'Neill and Edna St. Vincent Millay joined the group.

As Barbara Gelb, the author of So Short a Time (1973), has pointed out: "Cook and Susan Glaspell had participated, along with Reed, in the birth of the Washington Square Players in Greenwich Village and had written a one-act play to help launch a summer theater in Provincetown in 1915. Cook dreamed of creating a theater that would express fresh, new American talent, and after his modest beginning in the summer of 1915, began urging his friends to provide scripts for an expanded program for the summer of 1916. None of his friends were professional playwrights, but several, like Reed, were journalists and short-story writers. Their unfamiliarity with the dramatic form was, in Cook's opinion, precisely what suited them to be pioneers in his new theater and to break up some of the old theater molds; Cook wanted them to disregard the rules and precepts of the commercial Broadway theater, and to stumble and blunder and grope their way toward a native dramatic art."

Linda Ben-Zvi has argued: "Jig Cook may have been a visionary, but when needed, he also displayed a practical bent. In order to support the theatre for the summer, he drafted a circular to his friends, asking for subscriptions: for $2.50 patrons received two tickets each for four bills planned for the season, with individual tickets priced at forty cents. Edna Kenton, in her history of the Provincetown Players, reports that eighty-seven subscribers responded, bringing the treasury to $217.50."

The play, Suppressed Desires, that George Jig Cook co-wrote with his wife Susan Glaspell, was one of the first plays performed by the group. He also wrote the anti-war play, The Athenian Women during the First World War. Another member of the group, Louise Bryant, wrote: "It was a strange year. Never were so many people in America who wrote or painted or acted ever thrown together in one place." During this period the group also produced Constancy (1915) by Neith Boyce and Enemies (1916) by Hutchins Hapgood.

Provincetown Theatre
Provincetown Theatre

Ida Rauh appeared in several of these productions. Linda Ben-Zvi has argued: "The person who received the most glowing reviews was Ida Rauh, who had developed into the finest actor the Provincetown Players produced. She appeared in thirteen productions in the first two seasons, and was referred to in print as the Duse of MacDougal Street or an American Bernhardt. In life she displayed a similar power and sensuality." In 1916 Ida left Max Eastman. Soon afterwards she began an affair with George Jig Cook. This came to an end in March 1918. Hutchins Hapgood wrote. "Jig and Ida breaking, it is said. Jig is jealous of notices of Ida in the papers - so they say."

On 28th July, 1916 the group performed Bound East for Cardiff, a play written by the young playwright, Eugene O'Neill. The cast included George Jig Cook, John Reed and O'Neill, who was persuaded to play the one-line role of the ship's mate. It was the ideal play for the Provincetown Theatre. Susan Glaspell later recalled: "The sea had been good to Eugene O'Neill. It was there for his opening. There was a fog, just as the script demanded, fog bell in the harbour. The tide was in, and it washed under us and around, spraying through the holes in the floor, giving us the rhythm and the flavour of the sea while the big dying sailor talked to his friend Drisc of the life he had always wanted deep in the land, where you'd never see a ship or smell the sea."

O'Neill's one-act play shared the bill with The Game, that had been written by Louise Bryant. According to Barbara Gelb: "Louise hurried to finish her play, The Game. Though it was a rather stilted attempt at parable... it caught the interest of William and Marguerite Zorach, both artists, who thought they could create an innovative stage setting, and it was accepted for the second bill." Mary V. Dearborn, the author of Queen of Bohemia (1996), remarked: "The play boasted a remarkably overstated and formalized acting style... Utterly, deliberately non-realistic, the play received more acclaim than it perhaps deserved." John Reed himself provided a one-act play entitled, Freedom. This was followed by another, The Eternal Quadrangle.

O'Neill's next play, The Thirst, had Louise Bryant, taking the lead role. Floyd Dell, who was the literary critic of The Masses, argued in his autobiography, Homecoming (1933): "Eugene O'Neill, whose little one-act plays were superb and beautiful romanticizations and glorifications and justifications of failure."

Susan Glaspell also wrote Trifles (1916), a play based on the John Hossack case, for the group. It has been argued that the play is an example of early feminist drama. Other plays by Glaspell written during this period included The People (1917), The Outside (1917), Woman's Honour (1918), Inheritors (1921) and The Verge (1921).

Michael Gold had three one-act plays performed at the Provincetown Theatre Group. Floyd Dell wrote King Arthur's Socks and The Angel Intrudes in the first season. Mike Gold had three one-act plays Edna St. Vincent Millay was considered a great success as Annabelle in The Angel Intrudes. In 1918 Millay directed and took the lead in her own play, The Princess Marries the Page. Later she directed her morality play, Two Slatterns and the King at Provincetown.

Many of the productions that appeared at Provincetown were later transferred to New York City. This were initially performed at an experimental theatre on MacDougal Street but some of the plays, especially by Susan Glaspell and Eugene O'Neill were critical successes on Broadway. The Provincetown Theatre Group came to an end in 1926 when its star writer, Eugene O'Neill, decided to deal directly with Broadway.

George Jig Cook eventually came to the conclusion that the Provincetown Theatre Group had failed: "Three years ago, writing for the Provincetown Players, anticipating the forlornness of our hope to bring to birth in our commercial-minded country a theatre whose motive was spiritual... I am now forced to confess that our attempt to build up, by our own life and death, in this alien sea, a coral island of our own, has failed. The failure seems to be more our own than America's. Lacking the instinct of the coral-builders, in which we could have found the happiness of continuing ourselves toward perfection, we have developed little willingness to die for the thing we are building. Our individual gifts and talents have sought their private perfection." The two main figures in the group, Cook and Glaspell, suspended operations and moved to Greece.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Barbara Gelb, So Short a Time (1973)

Discovered only a few years earlier by a small group of Greenwich Village artists and writers, the Provincetown to which John Reed, Louise Bryant, and Eugene O'Neill journeyed in 1916 was a quiet fishing settlement, proud of its whaling background. The town's two narrow streets, Commercial and Bradford - connected by narrow alleyways - ran parallel to the Provincetown harbor. Wharves were strung out from most of the houses lining the bay side of Commercial Street. Behind Bradford Street stretched miles of dunes and scrub grass extending to the Atlantic. Provincetown's population was divided among three groups-families of the early Portuguese settlers, descendants of the first Puritan arrivals, and "outsiders," who included such year-round residents as the town doctor, businessmen, and a few artists.

Provincetown had been claimed as a haven for Manhattan's avant garde by Mary Heaton Vorse. Widowed in 1915 for the second time, Mary Vorse supported herself and her children by free-lance writing. She first visited Provincetown during the summer of 1906 to give her children sea air, fell in love with the village, and bought an old house that she later turned into a year-round residence. Hutchins Hapgood, the journalist, a college friend of Mary Vorse's first husband, was the second of the writers to arrive, and after him came other New Yorkers in search of a summer refuge. Two among them were George Cram Cook and his wife, Susan Glaspell.

Cook, called "Jig" by his friends, was a forty-three-year-old Greek scholar and university professor from Davenport, Iowa. He had left a wife and children to marry Susan Glaspell, a burgeoning writer. Cook had a mane of white hair and a habit of twisting a shaggy lock between his fingers when moved or excited.

Susan Glaspell, a delicate, sad-eyed, witty woman, worshiped her husband and devoted herself equally to him and to her writing; it was she who provided the backbone of their income.

Cook and Susan Glaspell had participated, along with Reed, in the birth of the Washington Square Players in Greenwich Village and had written a one-act play to help launch a summer theater in Provincetown in 1915. Cook dreamed of creating a theater that would express fresh, new American talent, and after his modest beginning in the summer of 1915, began urging his friends to provide scripts for an expanded program for the summer of 1916. None of his friends were professional playwrights, but several, like Reed, were journalists and short-story writers. Their unfamiliarity with the dramatic form was, in Cook's opinion, precisely what suited them to be pioneers in his new theater and to break up some of the old theater molds; Cook wanted them to disregard the rules and precepts of the commercial Broadway theater, and to stumble and blunder and grope their way toward a native dramatic art. The idea appealed to Reed and to other of Cook's friends such as Mary Vorse and Hutchins Hapgood, and a number of them, including Reed and Louise, agreed to write one-act plays for production that summer.

(2) Floyd Dell, Homecoming (1933)

George Cook brought the Provincetown Players to New York in 1916, and a theatre was made out of a stable on Macdougal Street. There was a play of mine, King Arthur's Socks, on the first bill, and three others later. I sympathized deeply with George's hopes, though for the life of me I could not share his profound admiration for Eugene O'Neill, whose plays seemed to me obviously destined for popular success, but whose romantic point of view did not interest me. As for a chance to work in a little theatre, that was an old story to me; I had had my own little theatre in the Liberal Club for two years - I had been playwright, stage designer, scene painter, stage manager and actor; it had been great fun, but I could not make a religion of it, as George seemed bent upon doing. But I was sufficiently an idealist about the little theatre to be shocked by the ruthless egotisms which ran rampant in the Provincetown Players. I saw new talent rebuffed - though less by George than by the others - its fingers brutally stepped on by the members of the original group, who were anxious to do the acting whether they could or not - and usually they could not; but I need not have wasted my sympathy, for the new talent, more robust than I supposed, clawed its way up on to the raft, and stepped on other new fingers, kicked other new faces as fast as they appeared. It was all that one had ever heard about Broadway, in miniature; but nobody seemed to mind. There was devotion and unselfishness, a great deal of it, in the group, from first to last; but these qualities were only what I expected. And what did astonish and alienate me was the meanness, cruelty and selfishness which this little theatrical enterprise brought out in people, many of them my old friends, whom I had known only as generous and kind.

The internal wars of The Masses were conventions of brotherly love compared to the eternal poisonous rowing of the Provincetown Players. But over this crew of artistic ruffians, seething with jealousy, hatred and self-glorification, George ruled, with the aid of a punch-bowl, like one of the Titans. He really believed in the confounded thing! And his vision it was that held this Walpurgis-night mob together in some kind of Homeric peace and amity. Drunk and sober, he whipped and hell-raised and praised and prayed it into something that - though this was not what he was aiming at - did impress Broadway. Many fine talents got their chance in that maelstrom. George prided himself upon his efficiency, and, so far as I could see, hadn't any. It was my impression (which may have been inaccurate) that he could not delegate authority; he thought that nothing could get done without his doing it himself, and he ran hastily from one thing to another, and nobody was allowed to drive a nail if George were there to do it - only, under the circumstances, he couldn't be everywhere, and things did get done after a fashion by others, subject to his mournful disapproval. He fell madly in love with one toy after another - when a wind-machine was acquired, hardly a word of dialogue could be heard for months, all being drowned out by the wind-machine; arid the "dome" became a nuisance, it was so over-used; when I was too busy to stage-manage a play of mine, he turned it over to some new enthusiast with lunatic ideas, who put the actors on stilts, so that nothing could be heard except clump, thump, bump! Nothing was too mad or silly to do in the Provincetown Theatre, and I suffered some of the most excruciating hours of painful and exasperated boredom there as a member of the audience that I have ever experienced in my life. George tolerated everybody and believed in everybody and egregiously exploited everybody; and everybody loved him. He was the only one, it would seem, who could have presided over this chaos and kept it from spontaneous combustion. His own play, The Athenian Women, was noble in idea and conception, but somehow not dramatic, though I tried to persuade myself that it was at the time. Another play of his, The Spring, had a moving idea in it, muffled in an awkward plot; George's father had died and left him some money, and George took and blew in a great hunk of it, putting his play on Broadway, where it hadn't a chance; I thought that plain egotism, and vulgar anxiety for "fame", and rank selfishness, in not considering the needs of his children - all of which may have been unjust, but which is what I, his old adorer, thought of him. And then his mother, "Mamie" Cook, came to New York to be with her big boy, and sewed costumes for the Provincetown Players, and mothered the theatre. To me, the justification of the Provincetown Players' existence - aside from discovering Eugene O'Neill, a mixed blessing - and he would have been discovered anyway, I thought - was in two plays: one was Susan Glaspell's The Inheritors; a beautiful, true, brave play of war-time. In this play, moreover, Susan Glaspell brought to triumphant fruition something that was George Cook's, in a way that he never could - something earthy, sweet and beautiful that had not been in her own work before. To much that was praised in her plays I was not responsive - Bernice was not for me. But to my mind The Inheritors was a high moment in American drama. And I like to remember beautiful Ann Harding, first seen as the heroine of that play. The other play in which the Provincetown Theatre fully justified its existence was Edna St. Vincent Millay's profoundly beautiful Aria da Capo, a war-play too, in its own symbolic fashion, and full of the indignation and pity which war's useless slaughter had aroused in her poet's mind and heart.

I did not like George Cook during this period; he was a Great Man, in dishabille; and Great Men, whether on pedestals or in dishabille, tended to provoke only irreverence from me. But then, I did not like Eugene V. Debs to talk to; he orated blandly in private conversations, taking no particular note of whether he was talking to Tom, Dick, or Harry. I did not like Mother Jones, either; when she came into The Masses office, I retreated behind a desk and looked longingly at the fire-escape. I am sure I should not have liked Tolstoi, Goethe, Dr. Johnson, or Paul Bunyan. And how could I like Jig Cook when he was being Tolstoi, Goethe, Eugene V. Debs, Dr. Johnson, Mother Jones and Paul Bunyan all rolled into one? Once, when I felt impelled to offer him some useless personal advice upon the conduct of life, I apologetically remarked that once we had been great friends; - "Shake on that," he said, and warmly grasped my hand, and listened in troubled silence; but his life was, it seemed from the outside, hardly within his own control; it was as if he were being driven on by a daemon to some unknown goal.

For Susan Glaspell my respect and admiration grew immensely; it is a difficult position to be the wife of a man who is driven by a daemon, a position from which any mortal woman might, however great her love, shrink in dismay or turn away in weariness; but it was a position which she maintained with a sense and radiant dignity.

(3) Mabel Dodge, Intimate Memories (1933)

I wanted to get outside Provincetown where John Reed lived with Louise Bryant a little way up the street in a white clapboarded cottage that had a geranium in the upstairs bedroom window. When I saw Reed on the street, he steeled himself against me. Though I wanted to be friends, he wouldn't. People said Louise was having an affair with young Eugene O'Neill, who lived in a shack across the street with Terry Carlin and I thought Reed would be glad to see me if things were like that between him and Louise - but he wasn't. Jig Cook was writing a play - or was it Susan's play? Anyway, Louise was going to be in it. Hutch (Hutchins Hapgood) came in one evening with Jig - who was large and kind and had a shiny face with unidentified brown eyes. They were both rather drunk and they were talking theater. Jig was saying sententiously:

"Louise has very kindly consented to appear nude in that scene where she has to be carried in..."

All these people disheartened me. I didn't want to be a part of it. I preferred to stay in my own slump rather than to emerge with them. I wanted God to lift me up. If he wouldn't, then I would stay in my depths until he did.

Eugene was often drunk. Everyone drank a good deal, but it was of a very superior kind of excess that stimulated the kindliness of hearts and brought out all the pleasure of these people. Eugene's unhappy young face had desperate dark eyes staring out of it and drink must have eased him. Terry of course was always drunk. A handsome skeleton, I thought. Jig Cook was often tippling along with genial Hutch. The women worked quite regularly, even when they, too, drank; and I envied them their ease and ran away from it.

He was not left alone in the dining-room when the reading had finished.

Then we knew what we were for. We began in faith, and perhaps it is true when you do, that "all these things shall be added unto you."

I may see it through memories too emotional, but it seems to me I have never sat before a more moving production than our "Bound East for Cardiff," when Eugene O'Neill was produced for the first time on any stage. Jig was Yank. As he lay in his bunk dying, he talked of life as one who knew he must leave it.

The sea has been good to Eugene O'Neill. It was there for his opening. There was a fog, just as the script demanded, fog bell in the harbour. The tide was in, and it washed under us and around, spraying through the holes in the floor, giving us the rhythm and the flavour of the sea while the big dying sailor talked to his friend Drisc of the life he had always wanted deep in the land, where you'd never see a ship or smell the sea.

It is not merely figurative language to say the old wharf shook with applause.

The people who had seen the plays, and the people who gave them, were adventurers together. The spectators were part of the Players, for how could it have been done without the feeling that came from them, without that sense of them there, waiting, ready to share, giving-finding the deep level.

(4) Susan Glaspell, The Road to the Temple (1926)

We hauled out the old boat, took oars and nets and anchors to various owners, bought lumber at the second wharf "up-along," and Jig, Nordfeldt, Ballantine, Joe O'Brien, others helping, converted the fish-house into the Wharf Theatre, a place where ninety people could see a play, if they didn't mind sitting close together on wooden benches with no backs. The stage, ten feet by twelve, was in four sections, so we could have different levels, could run it through the big sliding-door at the back, a variety of set surprising in quarters so small.

We gave a first bill, then met at our house to read plays for a second. Two Irishmen, one old and one young, had arrived and taken a shack just up the street. " Terry," I said to the one not young, " Haven't you a play to read to us?"

"No," said Terry Carlin, " I don't write, I just think, and sometimes talk. But Mr. O'Neill has got a whole trunk full of plays," he smiled.

That didn't sound too promising, but I said: "Well, tell Mr. O'Neill to come to our house at eight o'clock to-night, and bring some of his plays."

So Gene took "Bound East for Cardiff" from his trunk, and Freddie Burt read it to us, Gene staying out in the dining-room while the reading went on.

(5) George Jig Cook, Provincetown Theatre Group (1919)

Three years ago, writing for the Provincetown Players, anticipating the forlornness of our hope to bring to birth in our commercial-minded country a theatre whose motive was spiritual, I made this promise: "We promise to let this theatre die rather than let it become another voice of mediocrity."

I am now forced to confess that our attempt to build up, by our own life and death, in this alien sea, a coral island of our own, has failed. The failure seems to be more our own than America's. Lacking the instinct of the coral-builders, in which we could have found the happiness of continuing ourselves toward perfection, we have developed little willingness to die for the thing we are building.

Our individual gifts and talents have sought their private perfection. We have not, as we hoped, created the beloved community of life-givers. Our richest, like our poorest, have desired most not to give life, but to have it given to them. We have valued creative energy less than its rewards-our sin against our Holy Ghost.

As a group we are not more but less than the great chaotic, unhappy community in whose dry heart I have vainly tried to create an oasis of living beauty.

"Since we have failed spiritually in the elemental things - failed to pull together - failed to do what any good football or baseball team or crew do as a matter of course with no word said - and since the result of this is mediocrity, we keep our promise: We give this theatre we love good death; the Provincetown Players end their story here.

Some happier gateway must let in the spirit which seems to be seeking to create a soul under the ribs of death in the American theatre.

(6) Linda Ben-Zvi, Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times (2005)

Jig Cook may have been a visionary, but when needed, he also displayed a practical bent. In order to support the theatre for the summer, he drafted a circular to his friends, asking for subscriptions: for $2.50 patrons received two tickets each for four bills planned for the season, with individual tickets priced at forty cents. Edna Kenton, in her history of the Provincetown Players, reports that eighty-seven subscribers responded, bringing the treasury to $217.50. The appeal must have been sent in late May because by June 8 the Provincetown Advocate ran a short notice about work being done on the wharf by "hands of carpenters, who are making sundry interior changes."

On July 13, the 1916 summer season at the Wharf Theatre opened with a triple bill: a revival of Suppressed Desires and two new works, Neith Boyce's melodrama Winter's Night and Jack Reed's parody Freedom, rejected by the Washington Square Players. Although a sudden fire in the theatre two days before the announced July 13 opening almost cancelled the season, jig and company were able to do some quick repairs to the charred western wall, staining the other walls to match the new colorations, thus-as he would do so often in the history of the Provincetown Players - applying artifice to cover disaster.

The performances went off well, and again Neith wrote to her father-in-law reporting the results: "Amusements are scarce here and our little theatre has made a sensation. We give our next bill in two weeks and are all working like beavers." Unfortunately, when fig did the books, he realized that the subscription money would not cover the rest of the season. Again he wrote, as he would write repeatedly to patrons over the next six years, asking that they "rally without delay around the standard of the native American playwright." Enough money came in to continue. The issue now was: To continue with what?

(7) Floyd Dell, Homecoming (1933)

A girl was needed to play the ingenue part in the first of these plays, The Angel Intrudes. In response to that call, a slender little girl with red-gold hair came to the greenroom over the theatre, and read Annabelle's lines. She looked her frivolous part to perfection, and read the lines so winningly that she was at once engaged - at a salary of nothing at all, that being our artistic custom. She left her name and address as she was departing, and when she was gone we read the name and were puzzled, for it was "Edna Millay". We wondered if it could possibly be Edna St. Vincent Millay, the author of that beautiful and astonishing poem, Renascence, which was just this year published in a volume of her poems, under that title, though it had appeared in The Lyric Year back in 1912 - a prize poetry competition in which, judges being what they are, it had not won the prize.

And indeed it was she. Having just been graduated from Vassar, she had come to New York to seek fame, not as a poet, but as an actress: for who could expect to make a living writing poetry? She had another string to her bow, being a musical composer. She had set some of her own poems to very beautiful music, including her poem, Mariposa...

Early in our acquaintance, during the first rehearsals, I spoke of her astonishingly beautiful poem, Renascence, written at the age of nineteen; and it came out that part of it was written at the age of eighteen. "I don't suppose," she said, "that anyone could tell where the two parts are joined together." I confidently bet I could; and she scornfully bet I couldn't. The next evening I pointed out the two lines which were the end of the earlier and the beginning of the later part. She admitted in surprise that I had succeeded. "Moreover," I said, "these first lines of the second part were written later than all the rest of the poem, and replace some lines by which the two parts were originally joined together" - a longer passage, or a shorter, I forget which I said. Whichever I said, it was really the other way about; but the passage was written at a later time than all the rest of the poem and did replace some earlier lines joining the two parts together. She was greatly astonished, and a little in awe of my uncanny critical powers. I was a little astonished, myself, though I had been quite sure the night before, reading over the poem to myself and "tasting" the mood and style and rhythm of its lines with some alert inward sense, that there were these three temporal divisions in the poem; but it was the first time I had ever set my critical sense so delicate and apparently difficult a task.

poetry; and I had never heard poetry read so beautifully... Her reciting voice had a loveliness that was sometimes heart-breaking poignant. I fell in love with her voice at once; and with her spirit, when I came to know it, so full of indomitable courage. But there was in her something of which one stood in awe - she seemed, as a poet, no mere mortal, but a goddess; and, though one could not but love her, one loved her hopelessly, as a goddess must be loved. Perhaps because she was one's Lost Youth one felt sorry for her and worshipped her at the same time. The lonely, unreach­ able, tragically beautiful, inhuman, remote and divine quality in one who was, at moments, a scared little girl from Maine, and at other moments an austere immortal, was something which drove everybody who knew her to writing poetry in the attempt to express that recognition of her lovely strangeness...

She acted in a number of Provincetown Theatre plays - without pay, of course - and presently got a part in one of the Theatre Guild productions. She had great hopes there, and when she did not get a hoped-for part in the next play, she cried like a heartbroken child. She kept on writing beautiful poetry, and getting it back from the magazines with rejection slips. Later she did hack work for some of the magazines under a pseudonym, to keep the wolf from the door.

(8) Barbara Gelb, So Short a Time (1973)

Widowed in 1915 for the second time, Mary Heaton Vorse supported herself and her children by free-lance writing. She first visited Provincetown during the summer of 1906 to give her children sea air, fell in love with the village, and bought an old house that she later turned into a year-round residence. Hutchins Hapgood, the journalist, a college friend of Mary Vorse's first husband, was the second of the writers to arrive, and after him came other New Yorkers in search of a summer refuge. Two among them were George Cram Cook and his wife, Susan Glaspell.

Cook, called "Jig" by his friends, was a forty-three-year-old Greek scholar and university professor from Davenport, Iowa. He had left a wife and children to marry Susan Glaspell, a burgeoning writer. Cook had a mane of white hair and a habit of twisting a shaggy lock between his fingers when moved or excited.

Susan Glaspell, a delicate, sad-eyed, witty woman, worshiped her husband and devoted herself equally to him and to her writing; it was she who provided the backbone of their income.

Cook and Susan Glaspell had participated, along with Reed, in the birth of the Washington Square Players in Greenwich Village and had written a one-act play to help launch a summer theater in Provincetown in 1915. Cook dreamed of creating a theater that would express fresh, new American talent, and after his modest beginning in the summer of 1915, began urging his friends to provide scripts for an expanded program for the summer of 1916. None of his friends were professional playwrights, but several, like Reed, were journalists and short-story writers. Their unfamiliarity with the dramatic form was, in Cook's opinion, precisely what suited them to be pioneers in his new theater and to break up some of the old theater molds; Cook wanted them to disregard the rules and precepts of the commercial Broadway theater, and to stumble and blunder and grope their way toward a native dramatic art. The idea appealed to Reed and to other of Cook's friends such as Mary Vorse and Hutchins Hapgood, and a number of them, including Reed and Louise, agreed to write one-act plays for production that summer.

Reed, like Cook, believed that a native American theater could be prodded into being. He was full of enthusiasm for a performance he had seen in a Mexican village that expressed the traditional folk spirit in terms of the contemporary lifestyle of the villagers.

The Cooks and several of their friends commandeered an old fishhouse at the end of a tumbledown wharf owned by Mary Vorse, and christened it the Wharf Theater. Little more than a shell, the building was twenty-five feet square and fifteen feet high. Through the planks of its floor at high tide the bay could be seen and heard and smelled. Under Cook's direction, an ingenious stage was built. Only ten by twelve feet, it was sectional and mobile and could be slid backward onto the end of the wharf through two wide doors at the rear of the theater, to provide an effect of distance.

When Reed and Louise arrived in Provincetown, they found their friends engrossed by the theater project. The company already numbered thirty, each member having contributed five dollars toward the cost of mounting the summer program. Cook wanted to stage Reed's one-act play, Freedom, for the opening bill and Louise, urged by Cook, began writing her own one-act play to be staged later in the summer. Both Reed and Louise were swept up in the excitement of the first production. Along with Freedom, a satire about four prisoners with divergent ideas on what it means to be free, the opening bill included Trifles, by Neith Boyce, the novelist, and a joint effort by Cook and his wife called Suppressed Desires, a spoof of the new vogue for psychoanalysis. At fifty cents a ticket, this first bill sold out for its entire run, and Cook, encouraged by the response, sent out a letter asking for a one dollar subscription for the remaining three bills of the season-hoping that nine more - one-act plays would materialize.

(9) Susan Glaspell, The Road to the Temple (1926)

After a first night there would be a party in our club-room over the theatre. We were very poor at times, but never so poor we couldn't have wine for these parties. It was important we drink together, for thus were wounds healed, and we became one again, impulse and courage as if they had never been threatened. We had said hard things to one another in the drive of the last rehearsals, the strain of opening night. Now I might see Jig's arm around a neck he had threatened to wring. "Jig, you are getting drunk," some one would say. "It is for the good of the Provincetown Players," he would explain. "I am always ready to sacrifice myself to a cause." When the wine began to show the bottom of the bowl," Give it all to me," Jig would propose, "and I guarantee to intoxicate all the rest of you." He glowed at these parties. Things which years before had lain lonely in his mind flowed into a happy convivial hour, and dawn might find him eloquently espousing the cause of the elephant as over the lion, perhaps closing with a blaze of prophecy of a world in which men did not tear each other as lions tore, but where the strongest was he who did not feed upon his brother.