Show Business Unions and Bookings in the Interwar Period

By Vincent Cardon, Mathieu Grégoire

This article seeks to examine the views held by show business unions on the issue of bookings during the interwar period, which corresponds historically to the period during which they had largely achieved their ambition to control the job market. The issues of bookings and of job market intermediaries were at the heart of artist unions’ concerns from the beginning, and the fight against art agents was among their oldest recurring priorities. Unions were unable to have private agencies banned completely, but did succeed in integrating them into a system of common booking in 1928. Indeed, all attempts to create free booking mechanisms (either public through the Agence officielle du spectacle, or through unions or associations) in the 1920s and 1930s failed. Art agents therefore remained powerful intermediaries in the job market of the interwar period. The impossibility of substituting fee-paying private bookings with a free public or union-based mechanism comes from the very structure of artistic employment—fragmented, with several employers—but also the cultural production system it is attached to. The latter is itself fragmented and centered in Paris, spreading from there to the provinces. It is also important to consider the difficulties in defining qualifications and professionalism in these professional environments to understand the permanence of the private intermediary in the artistic job market.

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