350 YEARS AGO (1665)
In what is often considered the first documented staging of an English-language play in North America, Ye Bare and Ye Cubb (“The Bear and the Cub”) is presented at a tavern in the colony of Virginia. One of the piece’s authors, William Darby, will be accused of public wickedness, and he and the cast’s other two actors will be required to recreate the performance in costume before the court. The court apparently likes what it sees: Darby will be found not guilty.
300 YEARS AGO (1715)
New York Governor Robert Hunter ends the colony’s 16th Assembly, leading to a one-year break before the next session—at this point the longest hiatus in the history of that governing body. It is most likely during this time that Hunter will embark on writing the political satire Androboros, the first known play written and published in the North American colonies.
150 YEARS AGO (1865)
Tony Pastor transitions from performer to proprietor when he and fellow entertainer Sam Sharpley open the NYC variety venue Tony Pastor’s Opera House, which finishes its first week of shows at the beginning of the month. Pastor will make an appearance at most performances until 1875, the year he will assume management of the Metropolitan Theatre. At this second establishment Pastor will develop a form of entertainment aimed at family audiences, an effort that leads historians to dub him “The Father of Vaudeville.”
140 YEARS AGO (1875)
Famed pantomimist George L. Fox completes 14 months on the road with Humpty Dumpty. Starting in May of the previous year, to date Fox has brought the show to 26 states or territories, playing 150 engagements and more than 400 performances. The stress of this rigorous schedule will have adverse effects on Fox’s mental health, with some speculating that it will lead to his death two years later at age 52.
75 YEARS AGO (1940)
Dramatist and lyricist Tom Eyen is born in Cambridge, Ohio. Eyen will become one of several high-profile gay and lesbian playwrights to premiere work at the off-Off-Broadway spot the Caffe Cino, whose work will make strides toward normalizing representation of homosexuality. Eyen’s most widespread attention will come from creating the lyrics and Tony-winning book of the 1981 musical Dreamgirls. He will die at 50 of complications from AIDS.
50 YEARS AGO (1965)
The Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theater Foundation (later renamed the O’Neill Theater Center) gathers 20 dramatists in Waterford, Conn., for the first National Playwrights Conference. It will become an annual event that nurtures some of the most prominent voices in American playwriting, including August Wilson, Rebecca Gilman, Wendy Wassertein, and David Henry Hwang.
50 YEARS AGO (1965)
Fire breaks out in the University of Texas at Austin’s main tower, which houses the Hoblitzelle Collection of performing arts materials (in subsequent years moved to the Harry Ransom Center). The blaze damages the papers of prolific Broadway stage manager Robert Downing and composer Jule Styne (Funny Girl, Gypsy et al.), and designs of Norman Bel Geddes. Books and manuscripts from magician Harry Houdini are ruined, plus most of the holdings relating to circus impresario P.T. Barnum.
35 YEARS AGO (1980)
The last item in a Washington Post “Theater Notes” column announces that a new D.C. theatre organization “is looking for actors for its pre-production workshops.” This is the beginning of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, whose inaugural production will be a double bill consisting of one improvised act and Mark Medoff’s The Froegle Dictum. The troupe will later debut plays by such artists as Holly Hughes, David Lindsay-Abaire, Sarah Ruhl, Nicky Silver, and Anne Washburn.
25 YEARS AGO (1990)
Sandy, the dog named for the role he created in the musical Annie, dies at 16 in East Haddam, Conn. He had appeared in all but 14 of the original Broadway run’s 2,377 performances, taking leave only to do a stint in Las Vegas with Liberace and Andrea McCardle, who originated the show’s title role. Sandy performed twice at the Tonys and six times at the White House. Every dog may have his day, but Sandy had more than his share.
20 YEARS AGO (1995)
Victory Gardens Theater of Chicago takes over the space it had formerly shared with the recently shuttered Body Politic Theatre and begins renovation. This turn of events allows the company to grow from two to four stages. The organization will receive a regional theatre Tony in 2001.