80 YEARS AGO (1939)
Established the previous year by community volunteers with funding from the American Association of University Women & Junior League, Lexington Children’s Theatre of Kentucky offers its first show, Noah’s Flood. This begins a history marked by educational programs and tours. The company will be named the official children’s theatre of Kentucky in 1986 and go on to be one of the oldest continuously operating theatres in the U.S.
60 YEARS AGO (1959)
Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark play A Raisin in the Sun makes its Broadway debut at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, in a staging directed by Lloyd Richards, with a cast led by Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil. The play, which examines the challenges of a Black family in Chicago, will inspire Bruce Norris’s 2010 play Clybourne Park and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s 2013 work Beneatha’s Place, as well as a 1973 musical adaptation, Raisin.
55 YEARS AGO (1964)
To celebrate the Bard’s quadricentennial, the New York Philharmonic produces A Homage to Shakespeare at New York City’s Lincoln Center, staged by William Ball, who will found American Conservatory Theater the following year. The event, part of an arts festival leading up to the World’s Fair, features excerpts from Shakespeare performed by theatre luminaries Edith Evans, John Gielgud, and Margaret Leighton.
40 YEARS AGO (1979)
Crossroads Theatre Company of New Brunswick, N.J., the state’s first Black theatre, wraps up the run of its first production, Leslie Lee’s The First Breeze of Summer. The organization, dedicated to exploring the African American experience, will premiere works by Lee, Ntozake Shange, George C. Wolfe, and Ruby Dee, and in 1999 it will become the first Black theatre to receive the Tony for Outstanding Regional Theatre.
30 YEARS AGO (1989)
The Theater Offensive in Boston, a reincarnation of radical queer guerrilla street theatre troupe United Fruit Company, presents its first performance, Pure PolyESTHER: a biblical burlesque. The success of the puppet musical, which reframes the Book of Esther as a coming-out story, will lead the organization’s founder, Abe Rybeck, to expand the show into a full musical, which will become the group’s first major hit.
25 YEARS AGO (1994)
Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 begins performances Off-Broadway at the Public Theater, with Smith performing dozens of characters based on interviews about the Rodney King verdicts and subsequent riots. The piece, which debuted in L.A. at Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum and ran at Princeton, N.J.’s McCarter Theatre Center, will transfer to Broadway, and a film version will be released in 2000.