Getting to Know: Our Town

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"Our Town is a very, very, very fine town…"

Things to know about Our Town (that you might not have read in school)

By Leslie Simon

You might know the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town by Thornton Wilder thanks to high school English classes. It’s a simple story with some very universal themes - Live. Laugh. Love. Die. While the title may sound familiar, its storied history may be less known to you.

Continue reading to learn more about the many ways this story has been presented, and join the Arvada Center Black Box Repertory Company from February 24 - May 21 for a staging of this great American classic that will surprise and move you. We promise there won’t be a test afterward.

  • Author Thornton Wilder won a Pulitzer Prize for Our Town - the only person to win a Pulitzer for both literature and drama. Wilder won three Pulitzer Prizes during his lifetime.

  • Wilder wrote much of Our Town as a fellow at the artists’ retreat MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Other famous artists who stayed there include Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, with Copland creating the soundtrack for the 1940 film version of the play.

  • It is believed that Wilder wrote the entire third act in one day while visiting Zürich, Switzerland. 

  • Our Town is an example of Modernism, as it breaks away from traditional ways of theatre. For instance, the narrator is named “Stage Manager” and the play uses many interesting metatheatre devices that show the play to be self-aware, such as the Stage Manager addressing the audience directly (known as “breaking the fourth wall”). Wilder employed a “Stage Manager” character in two other plays of his. 

  • Wilder himself played the Stage Manager for two weeks in the initial Broadway run in 1938.

  • Many famous actors have played the Stage Manager including Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Spalding Gray, Orson Welles (1939 radio version), Frank Sinatra (1955 television musical version), and now Colorado’s own Geoffrey Kent.

  • It’s not just a man’s world! Women have played the Stage Manager as well including Geraldine Fitzgerald in 1971 and Helen Hunt in 2010 (who played the role of Emily in 1989).

  • Wilder specifically chose to use a minimal set and metatheatrical elements because he felt that the grandiose sets and costumes of Broadway productions at the time were doing a disservice to the written word.

Set rendering and design by Brian Mallgrave

  • The bare-bones set and minimal props have made Our Town a very popular play for high schools and smaller theatres with limited budgets. 

  • In 1946, the Soviet Union prevented Our Town from being produced in the Russian sector of Berlin because (according to Christian Science Monitor) “the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave.”

  • In 2019, the Adequate Players performed the one-act parody Our Town Plus Zombies at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C. It’s quite remarkable that it took that long for someone to add zombies to this play about life and death. 

  • An in-depth oral history of Our Town called Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” in the 21st Century was released last year to rave reviews, proving the timelessness of this play.
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