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The Federal Theatre Project’s "The Revolt of the Beavers" in 1937. (George Mason University Libraries Special Collections & Archives)

This Month in Theatre History

From the first theatre in North America to the birth of Margo Jones’s Theatre ’47 and VASTA’s first conference, June was a hot month for theatrical milestones.

450 YEARS AGO (1567)
Perhaps the first theatre performances by European settlers on the North American continent take place when members of a Spanish mission trip to Tequesta, Fla., perform two comedies. According to Francisco de Villareal, the Jesuit brother who directs the plays, one of them concerns “the war between men and the world, the flesh and the devil. The soldiers enjoyed it very much.”

80 YEARS AGO (1937)
Oscar Saul and Louis Lantz’s The Revolt of the Beavers closes at the Adelphi Theatre in New York City. A Federal Theatre Project production, the play tells the story of the beaver Oakleaf, who rises up against “the chief” beaver. The New York Times will call it “Mother Goose Marx,” and the piece will later receive criticism from the House Un-American Activities Committee for allegedly promoting communism.

70 YEARS AGO (1947)
“The Texas Tornado,” Margo Jones, opens Theatre ’47 in Dallas. The establishment of the company—which will change its name each year until it closes in 1955 after Jones’s death—is credited with launching the national resident theatre movement. The theatre is the nation’s first professional arena theatre, and Jones will become one of the most influential theatre artists in the country.

30 YEARS AGO (1987)
Less than a year after meeting to discuss the need for an organization that would “advance the cause of voice and speech training,” the first conference of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association (VASTA) takes place in NYC. VASTA will become an international nonprofit organization with about 500 members, serving the profession through workshops, training, conferences, and a journal, Voice and Speech Review.

5 YEARS AGO (2012)
Refugee Nation, written and performed by Leilani Chan and Ova Saopeng with featured artist Litdet Viravong, premieres at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. To create the play, which explores themes of war, refugees, global politics, and U.S. citizenship, Chan and Saopeng spent seven years collecting oral histories from Laotian families and communities across the United States. The piece will tour the country for the next two years.

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