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Neil Foster and Lynn Bowman in "The Good Doctor" in 1976, the first production of Dorset, Vt.’s Harlequin, Ltd., which would become Dorset Theatre Festival the following year.

This Month in Theatre History

From the births of lighting designer Stanley McCandless and playwright Velina Hasu Houston to August Wilson’s last play, May was a memorable month for theatre.

120 YEARS AGO (1897)
Stanley McCandless, considered the father of modern lighting design, is born in Chicago. One of his major contributions will be the idea of sculpting the actor using a balance of warm and cool color temperatures in addition to front lighting. This strategy will create a depth onstage that was not available before. In the 21st century the McCandless Method will still be used in theatres around the country.

60 YEARS AGO (1957)
Velina Hasu Houston, a self-identified “Amerasian” playwright, is born on a military ship traveling in international waters from Japan to the U.S. The child of a Blackfoot Pikuni/African-American father and a Japanese mother, she will be raised in the Midwest, with a home culture heavily influenced by her mother’s experience as an immigrant. Houston’s plays will reflect her own mixed and multicultural identity.

45 YEARS AGO (1972)
The Chickencoop Chinaman by Frank Chin, considered the first play by an Asian-American writer to be produced at a major New York City theatre, opens at the American Place Theatre. The following year, Chin—who will be considered one of the pioneers of Asian-American theatre—will establish the Asian American Theater Company to foster the development of plays about Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.

40 YEARS AGO (1977)
Suzanne Lacy’s public performance art project Three Weeks in May takes place in a variety of locations in downtown Los Angeles. The activist project is designed to raise awareness about the issue of sexual assault in U.S. culture and includes performance art, installations, speeches by politicians, interviews with hotline activists, self-defense demonstrations. The work establishes the New Genre Public Art form, a socially engaged, interactive cultural practice designed for public spaces.

40 YEARS AGO (1977)
Harlequin, Ltd., which rented the Dorset Playhouse (launched as a theatre space in 1929) the previous summer, re-establishes itself as the nonprofit Dorset Theatre Festival. In June the new Vermont company will open its first production, A Thurber Carnival by James Thurber, and the organization will go on to create an annual four-show summer season featuring new plays and classic works.

30 YEARS AGO (1987)
Cornerstone Theater Company produces Douglas Petrie’s The Pretty Much True Story of Dinwiddie County, the organization’s first time staging an original play by a company member. Helmed by founding artistic director Bill Rauch, the piece is based on two centuries of history in one Virginia County. Like Cornerstone’s four previous shows presented in rural America, this is is a traveling production that performs at the Dinwiddle Outdoor Stage in Virginia. Over the next three decades the organization will mount more than 90 new works and will become nationally recognized for its commitment to social justice.

25 YEARS AGO (1992)
Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities premieres at the Public Theater in NYC. Smith composes the piece from interviews she conducted with members the black and Jewish community affected by the Crown Heights riot in 1991. Smith plays all of the characters, performing the piece as a series of nonlinear monologues.

10 YEARS AGO (2007)
August Wilson’s last play, Radio Golf, opens at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. The play, set in 1997, is the final work in Wilson’s 10-play cycle about the African-American experience, each installment representing a different decade in the 20th century. Though Wilson died in 2005, two years before this production, he did see the piece receive its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre earlier that year.

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