235 YEARS AGO (1780)
The British Officer Corps finishes its fourth season of plays in New York City, two months longer than the previous seasons. Impressed by the Redcoats’ theatrical output, historian George C.D. Odell calls them a repertory “that would tax the resources of Covent Garden or Drury Lane.”
175 YEARS AGO (1840)
American vaudeville is officially born when Vaudeville Saloon—considered the earliest example of that form of entertainment in the U.S.—opens at Boston’s Boylston Hall. Among the acts are Fortunes Frolic!, A Dazzle by the Western, Or—He Can’t Shine, and William Tell! Or…The Hero of Switzerland.
205 YEARS AGO (1810)
Impresario P.T. Barnum is born in Bethel, Conn. Though he will be best known for helping create the Barnum and Bailey circus, he will be older than 60 when he establishes what he will bill “the Greatest Show on Earth.” Earlier he will try his hand at variety shows, but his Barnum’s Grand Scientific and Musical Theatre will never turn a profit. His theatrical innovations will include reserved seats and the first matinees. His life will later inspire the 1980 musical Barnum.
100 YEARS AGO (1915)
The Provincetown Players are formed when a group of theatre artists vacationing in Provincetown, Mass., presents Suppressed Desires by married couple George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell and Constancy by Neith Boyce. Many key figures in U.S. theatre will work with the group, including Glaspell, designer Robert Edmond Jones, and playwright Eugene O’Neill.
80 YEARS AGO (1935)
Angus L. Bowmer founds the current incarnation of Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland (its initial genesis was in 1893 during the Chautauqua movement). Bowmer directs Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, OSF’s first productions, which are performed on alternate days in the festival’s first week.
50 YEARS AGO (1965)
Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., welcomes its first audience for its staging of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The play is directed by Jon Jory, who founded the company with Harlan Kleiman. Defying claims that a professional resident theatre so close to NYC couldn’t be a success, the organization will showcase some of the most influential theatre artists in the U.S. and will premiere scores of new works.
40 YEARS AGO (1975)
The musical A Chorus Line transfers to Broadway’s Shubert Theatre following a successful run at the Public Theater. The show, which sells out quickly and will go on to win the 1976 Pulitzer Prize in drama, changes the commercial theatre landscape by introducing a development model involving workshops in NYC as opposed to out-of-town tryouts.
30 YEARS AGO (1985)
Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) of Cape Cod, Mass., launches its maiden production: Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, directed by Dan Walker. The founders—Walker and other members of the former Outermost Cape Performance Company—had happened into the theatre’s space, Uncle Frank’s restaurant, for a meeting over coffee.
25 YEARS AGO (1990)
The Alice B. Theatre, a Seattle company devoted to LGBTQ work, holds its inaugural National Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival. Among the performers are NYC’s Split Britches and San Francisco’s Theatre Rhinoceros. The event is part of the Goodwill Arts Festival, presented in conjunction with the Goodwill Games. As a result of the festival-within-the-festival, Washington’s governor declares July 1990 Gay and Lesbian Theatre month.