140 YEARS AGO (1876)
Out of the Wilderness, which was written for the Hyers Sisters, is renamed Out of Bondage. The play, by Boston scribe Joseph Bradford, tells the story of an enslaved family before and after the U.S. Civil War, with four of the younger members becoming professional singers. As performed by the Hyers Sisters Combination, featuring the four Bay Area-based sisters and up-and-coming black comedian Sam Lucas, the piece has a successful tour of New England.
85 YEARS AGO (1931)
Despite torrential rains, Connecticut’s Westport Country Playhouse opens its doors for its first show, The Streets of New York featuring Dorothy Gish. The previous winter Lawrence Langner and Armina Marshall, cofounders of Broadway’s Theatre Guild, purchased a barn—first constructed in 1835 to house a tannery and vacant since the 1920s—on the outskirts of the company’s namesake town and engaged designer Cleon Throckmorton to transform the building into a theatre.
75 YEARS AGO (1941)
The National Thespian Dramatic Honor Society for High Schools hosts its first National High School Drama Conference at Indiana University. In 1945 the organization will be renamed the National Thespian Society (in 1969 it will become the International Thespian Society); the conference will be presented biennially starting in 1947 and annually, as the Thespian Festival, beginning in 1982.
65 YEARS AGO (1951)
J. Edward Bromberg, an actor and a member of the Group Theatre in New York City, pleads the Fifth in a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Later in the year Bromberg will die at 47. Group Theatre playwright Clifford Odets, who named Bromberg as a Communist, will deliver the eulogy at the memorial service, blaming HUAC for Bromberg’s death.
25 YEARS AGO (1991)
Elaine May’s Mr. Gogol and Mr. Preen has its official opening at Lincoln Center Theater, the playwright’s first NYC production in decades. The staging is helmed by LCT artistic director Gregory Mosher and features Mike Nussbaum and William H. Macy as the title characters.
25 YEARS AGO (1991)
Following three years of performances at universities and military bases, Camp Logan, about an infantry regiment in Houston during World War I, has at a run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., accompanied by an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum on the events that inspired the play. The piece, by Celeste Bradford Walker, the daughter of a black soldier, depicts the Houston Riot and Court Marital of 1917, considered the most violent racial conflict in U.S. military history.
5 YEARS AGO (2011)
Playwrights Horizons and New York Theatre Workshop opens their coproduction of The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, named after the band’s sole album, a derided 1969 record that, despite its issues with tuning and rhythm, would earn praise from Frank Zappa. The Joy Gregory and Gunnar Madsen musical chronicles the formation of the rock group, made up of three teenage sisters from New Hampshire who are coaxed into music by their father. Among the cast are Peter Friedman, Annie Golden, Jamey Hood, Sarah Sokolovic, and Emily Walton.