A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 21, 2015
Straw-Hat Circuit

The “straw-hat circuit” (or “straw hat circuit") is summer stock theatre. The name comes from the straw hats that people wear in the summertime. Hollywood and Broadway actors gain experience during the summer months.

“Straw Hat Theatre” was cited in Variety in 1935. “Straw-hat circuit” was cited in the Boston (MA) Herald, in 1936. The term “straw-hat trail” has also been used.


Wikipedia: Summer stock theatre
Summer stock theatre is any theatre that presents stage productions only in the summer. The name combines the season with the tradition of staging shows by a resident company, reusing stock scenery and costumes. Summer stock theatres frequently take advantage of seasonal weather by having their productions outdoors or under tents set up temporarily for their use.

Some smaller theatres still continue this tradition, and a few summer stock theatres have become highly regarded by both patrons as well as performers and designers. Equity status and pay for actors in these theatres varies greatly. Often viewed as a starting point for professional actors, stock casts are typically young, just out of high school or still in college.

History
Summer stock started in 1919-1920s with four theatres: The Muny, St. Louis, Mo. (1919) is the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theatre; Manhattan Theatre Colony, first started near Peterborough, New Hampshire (1927) and moved to Ogunquit, Maine; the Cape Playhouse, Dennis, Massachusetts (1927); and the Berkshire Playhouse, Stockbridge, Massachusetts (1928). Many of the theatres of the heyday, the 1920s through the 1960s, were in New England. Part of the “straw hat circuit,” theatres also were in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, among other states.

21 July 1899, Denver (CO) Evening Post, pg. 9, col. 7 ad:
Straw Hats
One-third off each and every straw in this house—means the lowest prices OF THEM ALL, because that’s all we stick on at opening of the season—to help buy dresses for the babies—Take a turn around town on a Straw Hat Trail—and you’ll prove our words.
JEFFERAY HAT AND FURNISHING CO.

Variety archives
24 July 1935, Variety:
In the future Leslie productions, us a domestic as well as professional disassoclation is reported. Red Barn, Locust Valley, L. I., Rates As the No. 1 Straw Hat Theatre With 5 New Plays Likely for B’way.

12 July 1936, Boston (MA) Herald, “‘Spring Dance’ and Daviot Drama Have Preliminary Trials” by Elinor Hughes, pg. C2, col. 7:
Advance rumors to the effect that this summer the straw-hat circuit would devote itself to tried and true plays rather than experiment with unknown quantities have turned out to be premature.

Variety archives
8 September 1937, Variety:
MRS. PATRICK CAMPRELL interviewed by Peggy Wood 10 Mins. Sustaining Wednesday, 2:45 p. m. EDST WJZ-NBC, New York. The British actress was a good guest on Miss Wood’s sustainer ! aimed at femmes. Just back from her first excursion on the New England straw-hat circuit.

2 June 1938, Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, pg. 9, col. 4:
Broadway, Hollywood Stars
Overflow Straw Hat Circuit

NEW YORK, (AP)—Broadway and Hollywood stars began overflowing the straw hat circuit yesterday as the summer theatres got away on their most ambitious program since they graduated from being merely small-time stock playhouses.

21 February 1939, Oakland (CA) , “Curtain Calls” by Wood Soanes, pg. 6, col. 2:
Dick Powell and Joan Blondell, meantime, are mulling over plans for a tour of the straw hat theaters in Maine and Connecticut next Summer in a group of plays now being selected.

15 September 1949, Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman, “Woodstock News: Shakespeare Play Due in October” by Peg Hard, pg. 13, col. 3:
During recent seasons, Mr. Clark has appeared opposite such stars as Jane Cowl, Eva LeGallienne and Tallulah Bankhead; even sacrificing the summer months to his profession, he is one of the most popular leading men along the straw hat trail.

Google Books
Newspeak (Routledge Revivals):
A Dictionary of Jargon

By Jonathon Green
New York, NY: Routledge
1984 (2014 reissue)
Pg. 230:
straw hat circuit (theatre/US) a circuit of summer theatres.

Google Books
Blumenfeld’s Dictionary of Acting and Show Business
By Robert Blumenfeld
Milwaukee, WI: Limelight Editions
2009
Pg. 272:
straw hat theater Another term for summer theater; hence, straw hat circuit; straw hat trail

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • Tuesday, April 21, 2015 • Permalink