150 YEARS AGO (1867)
Amalia Estrella del Castillo, lead actor of the Compañía Española de la Familia Estrella, receives praise for the family troupe’s run at L.A.’s Temple Hall. The Los Angeles News says she “exhibited genuine talent in all parts of the play, successively as a shepherdess, dancing girl, accomplished young lady of the world, and a maniac bereft of reason.”
105 YEARS AGO (1912)
Maurice Browne’s Little Theatre is founded in Chicago. Created in opposition to commercial theatre, the Little Theatre performs in a small, renovated space on the fourth floor of the Windy City’s Fine Arts Building. The organization will go on to lend its name to the Little Theatre movement and influence a wave of intimate, nonprofit, socially conscious theatre.
95 YEARS AGO (1922)
Preeminent comedian Bert Williams collapses while performing in Under the Bamboo Tree in Detroit. Williams was suffering from pneumonia but went on anyway because the play would need to close without him. Williams, one of the first black actors to have a leading role on Broadway, will die the following month at the age of 47.
90 YEARS AGO (1927)
The Teatro California, a 3,000-seat venue that will feature companies performing zarzuelas and other dramas primarily in Spanish, opens in L.A. Shortly before closing, it will host Mexican musical comedy star María Conesa. In 1932 a group of theatre artists struggling during the Depression will revive the theatre and create the troupe Artistas Unidos.
75 YEARS AGO (1942)
A year before becoming Broadway’s first black Othello, Paul Robeson interrupts his own concert at Kansas City, Mo.’s Municipal Auditorium to speak out against segregated seating. Robeson, led to believe the theatre was fully integrated, is shocked to learn otherwise. His comments will help end discriminatory seating policies.
45 YEARS AGO (1972)
Hanay Geiogamah establishes the American Indian Theatre Ensemble Company (later the Native American Theatre Ensemble). The initial 16 members are from the Aztec, Navajo, Blackfeet, Aleut, Papago, Taos Pueblo, Cherokee, Mescalero Apache, Skokemish-Yakima, and Cheyenne nations, representing a diverse range of Native voices.
40 YEARS AGO (1977)
And the Soul Shall Dance opens at L.A.’s East West Players. Wakako Yamauchi’s autobiographical play focuses on a Japanese-American girl negotiating culture, identity, racism, and family in the 1930s. Theatre historian Esther Kim Lee will note that the “groundbreaking production…put the company on the map in the Los Angeles area.”