2017-2018 Season

Britain in the Interwar Years

Posted on: October 18th, 2017 by Jason Jacobs


Cast of Time and The Conways. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Time and the Conways follows a family through a span of years known as “the interwar period.” Between 1919 and 1939, Britain was recovering from World War I, isolating itself from political turmoil across Europe, and watching as its Empire began a slow decline. Domestically, England struggled with a slow economy, while social shifts laid the ground for greater equality. We first meet the Conways in a celebratory mood, but as time moves forward, they reflect their country’s shift into disappointment and depression.



1918- World War I concludes on November 11, with Germany’s agreement to stop fighting.

1918- The Representation of the People Act gives the vote to married women over 30 and reduces most property qualifications for men.

1919- Treaty of Versailles, led by England, U.S. and France, imposes harsh punishments and severe financial penalties on Germany.

1919- Widespread strikes in England by miners, railroad workers, and police lead to military force used against mobs.

1921- Greatest recession experienced in England, caused by war costs and decline in trade.

1926- General Strike by over 2 million English workers lasts 9 days but ends with no gains for labor.

1927- The Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act makes widespread general strikes illegal.

1928- Representation of the People/Equal Franchise Act lowers the voting age for women to 21 and removes remaining property qualifications for men to vote.

1929- Stock Market Crash destroys not only the U.S. but also England and European countries dependent on American loans.

1931- The Great Slump (England’s term for The Great Depression) hits England’s economy the hardest, although it begins to recover a year later.

1933- Adolf Hitler comes to power in Germany, with a program to reverse the Versailles Treaty.

1936- Abdication of King Edward VIII, who gives the crown to his brother George IV in order to marry his American mistress Wallis Simpson.

1936- Hitler’s Germany re-militarizes the Rhineland. England tries to cooperate with the Germans, hoping to delay armed conflict.



World War I was popular with the English, who saw it as one Britain’s greatest victories, but the celebratory mood soon gave way to despair. The death toll surpassed any 4-year period in history; nearly three-quarters of a million British died in the war, wiping out almost an entire generation. Surviving veterans, many working class, returned with physical disabilities and mental distress, leaving a bitter legacy for these men and their families. As the English wondered whether the victory was worth the human sacrifice, politicians came to view military force only as a last resort. This wariness to use force reduced Britain’s role as an international power, contributing to the erosion of the British Empire and causing its slow, reluctant entry into World War II.


Steven Boyer in Time and the Conways. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.


Britain’s economy stagnated in the interwar years, while the U.S. gradually emerged as the leading industrial power. During the war, England incurred enormous debt, primarily owed to American banks. The war hurt Britain’s lead on foreign trade, as countries once reliant on British goods developed their own industries and now became competition. England experienced a difficult recession in 1920-21, and the next decade brought currency deflation, high unemployment, and stagnant growth. The coal industry was struck especially hard due to lowering supplies, rising costs, increasing competition in Europe, and a growing preference for oil. Although the economy stabilized by the late ‘20s, the American stock market crash of 1929 spurred a worldwide recession. However, England’s lackluster economy made the impact of the Depression less stark than in the U.S.



The interwar years were marked by great labor unrest. Unions grew in size and strength during World War I, but labor had limited power. The British viewed the Russian Revolution as a warning of what could happen if order was not upheld. In 1919, widespread strikes by miners, railway workers, and the police led to riots on the streets; some divisions of the army rose in mutiny. Rather than allow a Russian-style revolution, union leaders gave in to the industrialists and government. In 1926, the country experienced a 9-day general strike, starting with 1.2 million coal miners striking against wage reductions and longer work shifts, supported by 1.3 million workers from other industries. Despite large numbers and solidarity, the workers had little support from the government and the upper- and middle-classes. When the strike ended, the miners received none of their demands, and a year later, the government outlawed all general strikes. Despite these failures, the Labour Party, which represents the interests of working people, elected more representatives than ever and actually controlled parliament for two short periods in the ‘20s.



British society, with its stratified class structure, became modernized during World War I and more democratic in the interwar period. Social barriers were reduced in the battle trenches, where men of different classes fought together. The landed classes suffered a higher proportion of casualties, reducing the upper class within the overall population. After the war, an increasing number of the working class rose to white collar professions. As women and the working class gained the vote and became more organized, there was less deference to the upper classes and overall loosening of rigid class hierarchy throughout English society.



While the English did not feel the impact of the Depression as severely as Americans and Germans, unemployment rose to 25% in 1933. The northern industries—coal, iron, and steel—had failed to modernize and were hit the hardest. Southern England fared better in these years. Many English saw their quality of life improve, due to increased new housing and conveniences like radios, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines. Looking abroad, the British watched carefully as Hitler gained power in Germany and seized territory throughout Europe. Throughout the ‘30s, politicians followed a policy of appeasement—giving Hitler what he wanted in the hopes of avoiding war, but by 1939, Germany’s invasion of Poland made the next World War inevitable.


Time and the Conways begins performances at the American Airlines Theatre on October 10, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

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2017-2018 Season, Time and the Conways

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Dunne’s Theory of Time

Posted on: September 27th, 2017 by Nick Mecikalski


Time and the Conways playwright J. B. Priestley was famous for his fascination with theories of time and consciousness. Conways came to be known as one of Priestley’s six “Time Plays,” which also included Johnson Over Jordan, Dangerous Corner, and the international hit An Inspector Calls. In each “Time Play,” Priestley explored a different philosophy of time, most notable among them John William Dunne’s theory of Serialism, threads of which make an appearance in Time and the Conways itself. Serialism postulates that each person’s consciousness exists in multiple dimensions of time simultaneously and, often during sleep, one can access the future and past, thereby unwittingly predicting events to come.


John William Dunne

John William Dunne (1875–1949) was a British aeronautical engineer, philosopher, and soldier. His explorations of Serialism began one night in 1898, when he had a dream that his watch had stopped at half past four in the morning. Dunne awoke from this dream in the middle of the night to find that the time was, in fact, just minutes after 4:30 A.M., and that his watch, which was sitting on a dresser on the opposite side of the room, had quite literally stopped minutes earlier while he was asleep, at exactly half past four. In the months and years following, Dunne experienced further moments of “clairvoyance” in his dreams. One night in 1902, for example, Dunne dreamt that he was trying to save an island of people from a volcanic disaster; later that week, Dunne learned of the eruption of Martinique’s Mount Pele, which buried the city of Saint Pierre. Dunne’s dreams went on to seemingly foretell a factory fire in Paris, a train derailment in Scotland, and even an incident in which he and his brother, while on a fishing trip, had to outrun an erratic horse that had escaped its enclosure.

After years of observing these kinds of occurrences in himself and, anecdotally, in friends, Dunne decided to run tests to determine whether others shared this kind of foresight and whether “clairvoyance” was a property of only some dreams or of all dreams. In efforts to maximize the number of dreams that any given experimenter would remember, Dunne developed a precise method for recording dream activity in the moments immediately after waking. The process worked. With his dreams written down in notebooks, Dunne started matching daytime experiences not only to clairvoyant dreams that he remembered having, but also to dreams that he had forgotten but had made note of in the first seconds of his day. As the other subjects in his experiment encountered many similar “psychic” incidents, Dunne became convinced that precognition during sleep was actually a normal human experience that was often just forgotten or dismissed as wild coincidence. It appeared that most, if not all, dreams provided windows to the future. Dunne then set out to determine what about our relationship to time made this kind of precognition possible.

The theory of time that Dunne developed out of these experiments rests on an understanding of the dimensions of space. Dimension zero, of course, is just a point; it has no length, width, or height. Each subsequent dimension “extends” at a right angle from all lower dimensions. The first dimension is a line with only length; the second dimension extends at a right angle from the first to form a plane. The third dimension, most familiar to us, extends at a right angle from the second to form a space with length, width, and height. The fourth dimension, then, in Dunne’s hypothesis, extends at a right angle from the third. A fourth dimension is not something that we can exactly visualize, but Dunne, alongside many other theorists of the time, proposed that the fourth dimension is, in fact, time. In the same way that a 1-D line is a cross-section of a 2-D square and a 2-D square is a cross-section of a 3-D cube, a cube at any given instant in time, Dunne suggested, is only a cross-section of that cube’s entire existence, from beginning to end, in time. A four-dimensional representation of a person, therefore, would be an entity that would encompass that person’s entire life all at once (see figure 1). A cross-section of that object would be a three-dimensional person at any instant in time, living as we do -- instant to instant, with only a memory of the past and guesses about the future.

Figure 1. Depiction of a theoretical four-dimensional person -- every moment of their lives contained in one entity.


But this raises some questions: why does it seem that we move through time in only one direction? What is pushing us through time? And how fast are we moving? As a solution to these questions, Dunne theorized that there must be a fifth dimension, extending at a right angle from the fourth. A cross-section of this dimension would be a fourth-dimensional object -- which, as Dunne already defined, represents the entire existence of that object in time. Just as a three-dimensional person can take a mental picture and observe a two-dimensional slice of their world, so can a four-dimensional person observe a three-dimensional cross-section of their world--i.e., one three-dimensional instant. Therefore, a fifth-dimensional person can observe their fourth-dimensional self (that is, their entire existence in time) as a single snapshot. (See Figure 2 for an analogy.) Dunne went on to suggest that this “series” of time dimensions extends infinitely, and each person’s consciousness exists in this infinite series of dimensions at once -- hence the term “Serialism.”

Figure 2. The third, fourth, and fifth dimensions can be thought of as the different components of a smartphone video, like the one below that tracks across a computer keyboard. A third-dimensional observer is analogous to a still image captured at any instant that the video is paused. The fourth-dimensional observer is like the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen, which contains every moment of the video in one entity. The fifth-dimensional observer is akin to the smartphone user, who can jump between moments on the scroll bar and watch the video forwards or backwards. The fifth-dimensional observer’s point of attention is symbolized by the blue line on the scroll bar, which tells the smartphone user where in the “life” of the video they are watching.


Even though, as Dunne postulated, each person has access to all of these dimensions at any time, he determined that a person’s consciousness habitually follows their third-dimensional perspective instant-to-instant through time while the third-dimensional self is awake. When the third-dimensional self is asleep, though, attention wanders, and the person’s consciousness in the fifth dimension (or higher) focuses on different moments in the fourth dimension -- in other words, different moments in the entirety of a person’s lifetime. Dreams, then, according to Dunne, are our consciousnesses observing our lives from higher dimensions and exploring our past and future experiences. With this, Dunne had devised an explanation for his and his subjects’ nighttime “clairvoyance.”

Dunne’s theory was not ultimately embraced by the larger scientific community. In the time since Dunne proposed Serialism, Einstein’s theory of relativity has shown to be a much more accurate descriptor of the nature and behavior of spacetime. But Dunne’s theories surely sparked the imaginations of his contemporaries and served as an important step in the path toward a deeper understanding of our universe.


Time and the Conways begins performances at the American Airlines Theatre on September 14, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

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2017-2018 Season, Time and the Conways

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The Leaders of the Freedom Rides

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by Jason Jacobs


See James L. Farmer and other key figures discuss the impact of the Freedom Rides and nonviolent protest in the Civil Rights movement.


James L. Farmer Jr.

JAMES L. FARMER, JR. (1920-1999)

Son of the first African-American to earn a doctorate in Texas, Farmer earned his divinity degree from Howard  University, where he studied of Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolent protest. Farmer co-founded The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the early 1940s.

In 1961 he became CORE’s National Director, making him a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement.Although segregation on interstate buses was declared illegal in 1946, the practice was widely enforced in the deep south.

Farmer conceived of a way to bring national attention to this ongoing infringement. The initial plan was a single  trip on 2 buses with 13 riders—male and female, black and white—beginning in Washington, D.C. and ending in New Orleans. Over the next six months, the Freedom Ride movement would grow to 60 rides by 450 people, with over 300 arrests. As events were televised nationwide, support for the movement grew. Farmer looked upon the Freedom Rides as his proudest achievement, noting that "Bobby Kennedy had the Interstate Commerce Commission issue an order, with teeth in it, that he could enforce.”

Farmer later resigned from CORE leadership and distanced himself as the group became more militant. Under President Nixon, he accepted a position in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, but resigned in frustration. Farmer received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton in 1998.


DIANE NASH (b. 1938)

Diane Nash

Raised in Chicago by a middle-class Catholic family, Nash transferred from Howard to Fisk University in 1959. The segregation she faced in Tennessee led her to co-found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960. Nash protested in Nashville’s lunch counter sit-ins before becoming a leader of the Freedom Rides. After the CORE Freedom Ride was stopped in Alabama, Nash believed it was crucial that the rides continue, so she coordinated the Nashville Student Movement Ride with the goal of finishing the original CORE itinerary, from Birmingham to New Orleans. Nash recruited and trained the riders, ensuring that all the riders had made a will before getting onto the busses. She also coordinated with national figures and the press. Nash did not actually ride on the bus, but met the group in Montgomery. Here, she helped to bring Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak to the riders. After the Freedom Rides, Nash continued to work for desegregation and voting rights in Alabama. She returned to Chicago, where she works in education and fair housing advocacy.


John Lewis

JOHN LEWIS (b.1940)

The son of tenant farmers from Pike County, AL, Lewis attended American Baptist Theological Seminary in

Nashville. At 19, Lewis was arrested in protests with the Nashville Student Movement. Lewis joined the original CORE buses, and in Rock Hill South Carolina, he was the first of the riders to be assaulted for entering a whites-only waiting room. Lewis then left the ride several days before crossing into Alabama to interview for a fellowship. Back in Nashville, he learned that the bus he had been on was firebombed in Anniston. He joined the Nashville riders and convinced friends and mentors to join. Lewis stayed with the Nashville group until Jackson, Mississippi, where he was arrested and imprisoned at Parchman Farm.

After the Freedom Rides, Lewis became the chairman of SNCC and became a key leaders of the Civil Rights movement, organizing the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March. In 1986, John Lewis was elected to represent Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he continues to serve today.



A woman in the back of a paddy wagon.

The Freedom Riders sent to Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm) would likely been known of the difficult conditions ahead. Historian David Oshinsky states, “throughout the American South, Parchman farm is synonymous with punishment and brutality.” Established in 1901, Parchman occupied 28 square miles of delta valley land. Approximately 300 Freedom Riders were imprisoned in Parchman in 1961. Because the government and the media were watching the situation, they were spared the worst abuses of other prisoners; nevertheless, they were confined in isolation from each other, forbidden exercise, served inedible food, and harassed by the officials. When they sang freedom songs from their cells, the guards seized their mattresses in retaliation. Despite attempts by authorities to break the spirits of the Freedom Riders, it had a reverse effect of building their resolve and solidarity. The Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman currently operates with a maximum capacity of 3,543, including  minimum, medium, close custody, and death row inmates.


Too Heavy For Your Pocket begins performances at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre- The Black Box Theatre on September 15, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, Roundabout Underground, Too Heavy for Your Pocket

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