The Provincetown Players were a collective of playwrights and other artists who gathered in the early twentieth century in order to present an experimental form of drama for those who wished for alternatives to mainstream American theater. Susan Glaspell and her husband George Cram Cook were among the original founders, and they co-wrote a play entitled Suppressed Desires, which was first shown in combination with Neith Boyce's Constancy on July 15, 1915, at a rented cottage on the ocean in Provincetown, Massachusetts. With the help of the artist Robert Edmond Jones, they created some amateur stage sets and began holding performances on a nearby wharf, with Cook at the helm. During the remainder of the year, those members of the recreational troupe that lived in New York City's Greenwich Village publicized the events at Provincetown, leading to a larger number of members during the following summer.
Along with Susan Glaspell, Eugene O'Neill was one of the most influential playwrights to join the Provincetown Players, and he would go on to write such successful and acclaimed plays as The Iceman Cometh and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beyond the Horizon. John Reed, a member of the Players, invited him to join them, and the realism and sea setting shown in his play Bound East for Cardiff proved to be an effective piece for performances on the Provincetown wharf. Glaspell helped read and prepare O'Neill's play while writing plays such as Trifles, a play that has since been repeatedly performed and anthologized. At the end of the second summer of the Provincetown Players, the troupe officially established itself as a professional group.
The men and women who joined the Provincetown Players sought a different perspective than was available in the contemporary melodramas of Broadway. The group came to represent the "Little Theatre" movement of writers who preferred smaller, intimate productions to spectacle and commerciality. The Players relocated to Greenwich Village and set up a theater at 139 Macdougal Street, and despite some initial problems with amateur acting and a limited number of worthy plays, they thrived in their first year of business.
After the continued popularity of the theater, the Players moved to 133 Macdougal Street, which became the Provincetown Playhouse for the rest of the twentieth century (shown in the image, which was taken circa 1919). O'Neill continued to mature as a playwright and write for the Players, but many of the original writers and artists, including George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell, soon chose to leave the Players to move in new directions. Cook headed the organization for a number of different seasons between 1915 and 1922, but the rise of the Provincetown Players to prominence had led to clashes over artistic direction, and Cook left with Glaspell for Greece, where Cook died two years later, while the Players decided to disband for one year.
Along with fostering the careers of a number of playwrights, the Provincetown Players had opened their doors to African American actors as well as female writers and managers in their attempts to find new methods of expression in American theater. However, reorganization soon occurred, and the Provincetown Players became the Experimental Theatre Company in 1923, despite opposition by those such as Glaspell. The group eventually foundered after the stock market crash of 1929. The Provincetown Playhouse continued to exist and eventually came to be used primarily by New York University. In 2008, NYU's plans to demolish the theater led to protesting, as some sought to preserve it as a historically important site. NYU eventually agreed to build its complex around the building and keep the building itself intact, although contention still exists as the construction continues into 2009.