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The Carolina Theatre in Durham, N.C.
The Carolina Theatre in Durham, N.C.

This Month in Theatre History (February 2016)

From North America’s first theatre to a performer’s biggest success, a look back at theatrical happenings this month in years past.

280 YEARS AGO (1736)
The Dock Street Theatre, considered North America’s first building constructed specifically for theatrical performance, opens in Charleston, S.C., with a staging of The Recruiting Officer. Though it’s destroyed, probably in the Great Fire of 1740, a new theatre will be built at the site in 1937. Following a $19-million-dollar renovation, this second iteration will become the home of Charleston Stage in 2010.

95 YEARS AGO (1921)
When Arthur Hopkins’s Broadway production of Macbeth opens at the Apollo Theatre (the one on 42nd Street), the artist garnering the most attention isn’t star Lionel Barrymore but designer Robert Edmond Jones. The design, inspired by Jones’s visits to Taos, N.M., arouses controversy for its abstract approach while paving the way for other high-concept interpretations of Shakespeare.

90 YEARS AGO (1926)
The Carolina Theatre opens in Durham, N.C. The city-operated playhouse serves black and white patrons, although the former must climb 97 stairs to their seats on the second floor. In the 1960s local students  will protest nonviolently against the segregation, which will end in 1963 as part of a citywide integration movement.

85 YEARS AGO (1931)
Katharine Cornell achieves major success in the Broadway debut of The Barretts of Wimpole Street about Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, following a run the previous month in Cleveland. With profits from the NYC production, she will establish the Katharine Cornell Foundation, which, upon dissolving in 1963, will distribute its assets to NYC’s Museum of Modern Art, the theatre department at Ithaca, N.Y.’s Cornell University, and the Actors Fund of America.

40 YEARS AGO (1976)
Mixed Blood Theatre is established in Minneapolis by 22-year-old artistic director Jack Reuler. The first season includes productions of Dutchman, Status Quo Vadis, Black Cycle, Brother Champ, and Indians, as well as the world premiere of Badd High.

40 YEARS AGO (1976)
Eddie Dowling dies at age 86 (some sources will say he’s younger) in Smithfield, R.I. A veteran of vaudeville, in 1945 Dowling produced, directed, and played the Son (Tom Wingfield) in The Glass Menagerie’s original Broadway staging.

35 YEARS AGO (1981)
Amid strife within the feminist group Spiderwoman Theater, sisters and company members Muriel Miguel, Lisa Mayo, and Gloria Miguel present Sun, Moon, and Feather about their experiences as Native Americans growing up in Brooklyn. When Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw leave the troupe to form Split Britches (with Deb Margolin), Spiderwoman will continue exploring Native issues and will inspire a new generation of indigenous performers.

20 YEARS AGO (1996)
Jonathan Larson’s rock-inflected musical Rent opens at New York Theatre Workshop, two and a half weeks after its creator died of an aortic aneurysm the night before the production’s first preview. Later in the year the show, which addresses issues such as AIDS and drug addiction, will receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and the Broadway transfer will win four Tonys and will run for 5,123 performances.

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