165 YEARS AGO (1851)
The Jenny Lind Theatre, considered San Francisco’s first major playhouse, is destroyed, along with much of the rest of the city, in the sixth great fire since the population surged during the Gold Rush of 1849. Proprietor Tom Maguire, who constructed the elaborate theatre in the second floor of his Parker House hotel and gambling saloon, builds a second Jenny Lind. When that one burns down in June, he will erect another—this time using brick and sandstone. Actor Walter Leman will say this third incarnation “rivaled the best theatres in the Atlantic states.”
115 YEARS AGO (1901)
Librarian and playwright Regina M. Anderson (later Regina M. Andrews) is born in Chicago. She will go on to become the first African American to lead a branch of the New York Public Library, and during her tenure she will help found W.E.B. DuBois’s Krigwa Players/Negro Experimental Theatre and Loften Mitchell’s People’s Theatre. Both companies will operate out of or present plays in her libraries. Under the name Ursula Trelling, she will pen the plays Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Underground, and The Man Who Passed.
100 YEARS AGO (1916)
Los Angeles’s outdoor performance tradition is born when Julius Caesar, featuring Tyrone Power Sr. as Brutus, is presented in the natural amphitheatre at Hollywood’s Beachwood Canyon to an audience of 40,000. The one-night benefit for the Actors Fund will go on to inspire two female pioneers of L.A. outdoor theatre and entertainment, Christine Wetherill Stevenson and Artie Mason Carter.
100 YEARS AGO (1916)
After operating for more than a year, U.S. performer and theatre manager Maxine Elliott’s barge, which has been transporting food and supplies to an unoccupied section of Belgium, makes its final run. Elliott, who is living in England during World War I, crafted and implemented the plan to aid in the war effort. According to one report, “The ‘barge’ is the Julia, which the actress herself conducted through the canals from Calais to the remote corners of West Flanders, to reach the starving refugees.” The king of the Belgians will award Elliot a decoration for her work.
95 YEARS AGO (1921)
Shuffle Along, following a run in Washington, D.C., makes its Broadway debut at the 63rd Street Music Hall (also known as the 63rd Street Theatre). The musical by Flournoy Miller, Aubrey Lyles, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle features an all-black cast, and it’s the first such show to become a hit in more than a decade. Though the production includes the problematic convention of blackface, the piece is a significant milestone in the history of African Americans on the New York stage.
90 YEARS AGO (1926)
After it was wracked by fire in 1913, the Zeller Theater, the first theatre in Yuma, Ariz., with fixed seating and a raked orchestra, became Riley’s Garage. Now owner Anna Desmond announces plans to convert the building back into a theatre. She says she will spend $40,000 (the equivalent of more than $500,000 in 2016) on the project. Following another fire, the venue will be repaired and renamed the Yuma Theatre, which, beginning in 1980, will be the home of Yuma Community Theater.
50 YEARS AGO (1966)
Viet Rock, by Megan Terry with music by Marianne de Pury, receives its world premiere at La MaMa in New York City in a staging by the Open Theater. The play is considered the first to have the cast leave the stage to interact with the audience, as well as the first original rock musical created and presented in the U.S. The production, which will have runs at Yale Repertory Theatre and Off-Broadway, is directed by Peter Feldman, Joe Chaikin, and the playwright. The cast includes Gerome Ragni, who will go on to pen another Vietnam protest rock musical, Hair, with James Rado and Galt MacDermot.
35 YEARS AGO (1981)
British dramatist Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 makes its U.S. debut when it opens Off-Broadway at the Theatre de Lys in a staging directed by Tommy Tune. The play, which confronts notions of racial and gender identity, will run for 971 performances, more than two years. The production will receive two Drama Desk Awards and three Obies.