Alice Gerstenberg

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

Alice Gerstenberg was born August 2, 1885, in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents, Julia and Erich, were wealthy socialites who were regularly featured on the society pages of the day. She was educated at Kirkland School and then attended Bryn Mawr, a college known for providing education to many high society women. During this time, she began writing plays and performing in college theatrical productions. She graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1907 and returned to Chicago.

The following year, Gerstenberg enrolled in classes at Anna Morgan’s studio and became active in Chicago’s theatre circle. Morgan encouraged Gerstenberg to write some one-act plays and the four resulting plays were published later that year in a volume entitled A Little World. Two years later, Gerstenberg studied theatre in New York, where she composed her first full-length play, The Conscience of Sarah Platt.

Gerstenberg continued her writing career and had some moderate success in 1912 with a production of Captain Joe at the Academy of Dramatic Arts. Also that year, her first novel, Unquenched Fire, was published. Later in 1912 she returned to Chicago and became one of the founding members of the Chicago Little Theatre. Unfortunately, personality clashes with Maurice Browne, the theatre’s director, caused Gerstenberg to quit at the end of the first season.

In 1915 Gerstenberg had her greatest success with the plays Alice in Wonderland and Overtones. Alice in Wonderland was presented by the Fine Arts Theatre, and again by the Booth Theatre in New York. Also in 1915, the novelized version of The Conscience of Sarah Platt was published. The book won strong reviews in the New York press. Gerstenberg had finally established a strong reputation as a novelist and playwright. Overtones was first produced in New York by the Washington Square Players. It was an immediate success and became a popular choice of many performers in the United States and abroad. The production played on vaudeville, and the great actress Lily Langtry starred in a 1917 London production.

Despite her growing reputation, Gerstenberg remained in Chicago. Although she never matched the success of Alice in Wonderland or Overtones, she continued to write popular plays for the Chicago theatre. In 1921 she co-founded the Chicago Junior League Theater, a group that sponsored plays for children, and in 1922 she founded the Playwright’s Theater, a group dedicated to providing opportunities for local artists to develop and present their work. She ran the Playwright’s Theater until 1945. In 1938 she received the Chicago Foundation for Literature Award.

Gerstenberg died July 28, 1972, in Chicago. Although Gerstenberg’s connections with the wealthy families of Chicago helped provide contacts and backing to foster her early writing career, her talent took her beyond the need for help from family and friends. Her novels and plays quickly became recognized for their own merit by the publishing and theatrical communities. Gerstenberg is now considered an influential member of the ‘‘little theatre’’ movement in the United States and an innovator of theatrical form.

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