165 YEARS AGO (1852)
Broadway’s first adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin opens at Purdy’s New National Theatre. According to the account by one later historian, this rendition by C.W. Taylor is only about an hour long and omits significant characters, such as Eva, Topsy, and St. Clair. Though Taylor’s script is the first to make it to New York City, it is not the novel’s first stage version. That distinction belongs to the treatment by George Aiken, which premiered in Troy, N.Y., the previous spring and will go on to become the most produced play in the nation’s history.
75 YEARS AGO (1942)
Paul Robeson performs in Othello in Cambridge, Mass., becoming the first African-American actor to play the title role opposite a white Desdemona in a professional U.S. staging. The production, directed by Margaret Webster and featuring Uta Hagen as Desdemona and José Ferrer as Iago, will open in NYC the following year, where it will become the most successful Shakespeare production in Broadway history, running 296 performances.
50 YEARS AGO (1967)
The office of the Lord Chamberlain in England denies permission to U.S. group the Open Theater to present its play American Hurrah at the Royal Court Theatre in London, so the Royal Court is converted into a club to avoid censorship and the production goes on as planned. American Hurrah author Jean-Claude van Itallie remarks, “I’m surprised and flattered that the censor should take exception.”
45 YEARS AGO (1970)
The National Organization for Women’s Washington, D.C., chapter performs two short plays to commemorate the anniversary of women’s suffrage. These performances will inspire participants in the shows to form the Washington Area Feminist Theatre (WAFT) later in the year.
40 YEARS AGO (1977)
Theatre Rhinoceros, dedicated to exploring “both the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of our queer community,” is founded in San Francisco by Allan B. Estes Jr. The first production, The West Street Gang by Doric Wilson, will be staged in a leather bar, the Black and Blue, and the troupe will go on to be the oldest continuously operating professional queer theatre in the world.
15 YEARS AGO (2002)
Arab-American collective Nibras (Arabic for “lantern”) wins Best Ensemble Performance at the New York International Fringe Festival for Sajjil, a piece based on interviews with Arabs and non-Arabs about their associations with the word “Arab.” One of the founding members, Lebanese-American Kathryn Leila Buck, will advocate for “telling the simpler, personal stories, because that is what is missing in American culture—positive, human portrayals of Arabs.”