240 YEARS AGO (1776)
British General John Burgoyne’s The Blockade at Boston is performed at Faneuil Hall in Boston while the city is still controlled by the English army. The play, which takes a loyalist stance, exacerbates tensions between officers and local citizens.
170 YEARS AGO (1846)
Future U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant almost plays Desdemona in an adaptation of Othello in the inaugural performance at a theatre in Corpus Christie, Texas. In rehearsal, the lead performer finds Grant’s performance inadequate and refuses to play opposite him. The company, made up of military personnel who painted the scenery and double as performers, decides to hire a professional actress from New Orleans.
150 YEARS AGO (1866)
Edwin Booth resumes acting after a hiatus following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by his brother, John Wilkes Booth, in April. He plays the title role in Hamlet at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City. In 1872, drama critic and Booth biographer William Winter will write of the performance, “Nine cheers hailed the melancholy Dane upon his first entrance. The spectators rose, and waved their hats and handkerchiefs. Bouquets fell in a shower upon the stage. There was a tempest of applause.”
95 YEARS AGO (1921)
The Colored Actors’ Legion, a union for black stage performers, is founded in Cincinnati, while Actors’ Equity Association has only two known African-American members. In July, the legion will merge with the Washington, D.C.–based Colored Actors’ Union.
90 YEARS AGO (1926)
Stage actor Patricia Neal is born in Packard, Ky. She will be the first person to win a Tony when, at the awards’ inaugural ceremony in 1947, she receives the featured actress in a play prize for Another Part of the Forest.
70 YEARS AGO (1946)
Variety publishes an article by José Ferrer in which he advocates for better opportunities for black performers. In an effort to create such opportunities, Ferrer writes, “I am putting in my small contribution by refusing ever again to act in or produce a play that is shown to a segregated audience.” He adds, “We can prove that one can look at another human being and be no more affected by the color of his skins than by the color of his hair or his eyes.”
60 YEARS AGO (1956)
Florida’s Coconut Grove Playhouse opens its doors with the U.S. debut of Waiting for Godot. Starring comic actors Bert Lahr of The Wizard of Oz and Tom Ewell of The Seven Year Itch, the production defies the well-to-do first-nighters’ expectations of a riotous comedy instead of avant-garde Theatre of the Absurd. According to the show’s director, Alan Schneider, “By the intermission, at least a third of the house had left. Another third didn’t come back afterward; they were too busy drowning their resentment in the theatre bar, where the dialogue was more familiar. I slunk into our trailer camp in the alley.”
50 YEARS AGO (1966)
After he is denied conscientious objector status, Free Southern Theater cofounder John O’Neal is required to leave New Orleans to work at a children’s home in NYC in lieu of military service. Due to the move, O’Neal must give up his position in the Free Southern Theater, initially an integrated troupe dedicated to civil rights that later became an all–African American organization that embraced black nationalism. Established in 1964, the FST is among the first theatre groups formed during the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
30 YEARS AGO (1986)
Gertrude Stein and a Companion opens Off-Broadway with Jan Miner and Marian Seldes as Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas. The show is produced by Lucille Lortel at the Lucille Lortel Theater, and it is later filmed for broadcast on Bravo.
25 YEARS AGO (1991)
Performances begin for the Broadway debut production of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mule Bone, courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The run kicks off 100 years to the month after Hurston’s birth.