180 YEARS AGO (1836)
Charlotte Cushman, having failed as an opera singer, makes her acting debut at the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans. She plays Lady Macbeth, a role she’ll revisit throughout her career. She will go on to challenge established concepts of gender, as in a staging of Romeo and Juliet in which she portrays the male lead opposite her sister Susan.
130 YEARS AGO (1886)
The Old Homestead, Denman Thompson and George W. Ryer’s play written in the Stage Yankee tradition, opens in Boston. Thompson, who portrays rural New Hampshire farmer Joshua Whitcomb, will return to the role for the rest of his life. After Thompson’s death in 1911, his hometown of Swanzey, N.H., will continue mounting the play for more than a century.
110 YEARS AGO (1906)
An earthquake and subsequent fires devastate San Francisco, killing over 30,000 and destroying more than 28,000 buildings, including all of the city’s theatres. Among them is the Columbia Theatre, which was scheduled to present its third performance of Babes in Toyland; the company makes it safely to Oakland, where they sleep on the stage of the McDonough Theatre.
95 YEARS AGO (1921)
Adelaide Matthews and Anne Nichols’s farce Just Married premieres on Broadway at the Comedy Theatre. Just Married and Linger Longer Letty, for which Nichols provided the book, predate her long-running Abie’s Irish Rose, but that fact won’t stop people from congratulating her on Abie’s by saying, “Weren’t you lucky to have your first play turn out to be such a hit!”
50 YEARS AGO (1966)
African-American author and playwright James Baldwin publishes “Theatre: The Negro In and Out” in this month’s issue of Negro Digest. In the essay he confronts the dearth of realistic parts for black actors: “The theatre is perishing for the lack of vitality,” he argues. “Vitality, humanly and artistically speaking, has only one source, and that source is life.”
25 YEARS AGO (1991)
Pintig, a Filipino-American performance group whose name comes from the Tagalog word for “pulse,” is established in Chicago and in the following year will stage its first play, America Is in the Heart. In 2006 Pintig will join forces with the Center for Immigrant Resources & Community Arts, founded in the Windy City in 2001, to become CIRCA Pintig.
10 YEARS AGO (2006)
Matthew Lopez makes his professional playwriting debut when The Whipping Man receives its world premiere at Luna Stage in Montclair, N.J. The play’s 2011 Manhattan Theatre Club production will earn Obies and Lucille Lortel Awards, plus the John Gassner Playwriting Award. Lopez’s other stage works will include The Sentinels, Somewhere, and Reverberation.