195 YEARS AGO (1822)
In New York City, James Bellmont, a white man who by some accounts is a circus performer, attacks a young black man, Ira Aldridge—who will be one of the most prolific actors of the 19th century—five days before the victim’s 15th birthday. Next month, George Bellmont, likely James’s brother, will lead a riot at the African Theatre’s newly built theatre.
95 YEARS AGO (1922)
Goodman Theatre is established through a donation from William and Erna Goodman, in honor of their late son, to the Art Institute of Chicago. Construction on a space will begin four months later. The new theatre will officially open in 1925 with a drama school and a professional acting company. The Goodman will go on to become the Windy City’s longest-running and largest nonprofit professional theatre.
70 YEARS AGO (1947)
La Jolla Playhouse launches with Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams. The San Diego theatre founded by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and Mel Ferrer will stage eight shows this summer, and Peck will appear in the last production, Patrick Hamilton’s Angel Street. The organization will cultivate a national reputation, including scores of world premieres.
55 YEARS AGO (1962)
Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, later renamed Great Lakes Theater Festival and then Great Lakes Theater, opens its doors with a production of As You Like It, directed by Arthur Lithgow, father of actor John Lithgow. The theatre produces six Shakespeare plays in its inaugural season at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium outside Cleveland. Decades later, the organization will establish a unique collaborative model with Idaho Shakespeare Festival and later the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in Nevada (2002 and 2010, respectively), in which the three companies will share a single season and one resident artistic company.
45 YEARS AGO (1972)
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival opens its first season with The Comedy of Errors, helmed by founding artistic director Martin Platt, who will lead the company until 1989. In addition to becoming a renowned classical theatre company, the organization will become the state’s official theatre and will develop new voices through initiatives such as the Southern Writers’ Project commissioning program, which will be established in 1991.
45 YEARS AGO (1972)
Change/Love Together/Organize: A Revival opens at the National Black Theatre in NYC, written by Charlie Russell and conceived and staged by Barbara Ann Teer. The production’s audience members, called participants, are greeted by cast members (dubbed “liberators” at NBT) who talk with them and ask them what they expect to see. Improvisation, Yoruba deities, and educational content are all part of the performance. Teer, who founded the company in 1968, will continue to develop her own techniques and practices that center black American experience and focus on spontaneous, honest creation.