85 Years Ago (1934)
Future writer, director, and actor Bill Gunn is born in Philadelphia. Among Gunn’s plays will be Marcus in the High Grass; Johnnas, whose screen version will earn Gunn an Emmy; and Black Picture Show. His final stage work, The Forbidden City, will premiere Off-Broadway at the Public Theater a day after Gunn dies at 59 in 1989. Joseph Papp, head of the Public and the show’s director, will call Gunn “one of the great Black writers.”
60 YEARS AGO (1959)
The Living Theatre in New York City presents co-founder Judith Malina’s world premiere of Jack Gelber’s The Connection, one of the first stagings in the troupe’s 14th Street space, which opened its doors earlier in the year. The play, which focuses on eight heroin addicts, four white and four Black, will run for more than 600 performances and tour Europe, securing the Living’s reputation as an influential theatre company.
50 YEARS AGO (1969)
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in Los Angeles mounts its first show, Brecht’s A Man’s Man, helmed by artistic director Ronald Sossi. The rest of the season, also directed by Sossi, will include the West Coast debut of Jean-Claude van Itallie’s The Serpent and Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. The latter will run for 14 months, and Sossi will direct that piece two more times at the Odyssey over the next 50 years, in 1977 and 2005.
45 YEARS AGO (1974)
Pittsburgh Public Theater, founded by Margaret Rieck, Ben Shaktman, and Joan Apt, is incorporated. The inaugural season, presented the following year, will consist of The Glass Menagerie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Twelfth Night. This last production will feature Leonard Nimoy of “Star Trek” fame as Malvolio, which The Pittsburgh Press’s Edward L. Blank will call “one of the funniest stage performances in memory.”
30 YEARS AGO (1989)
Phoenix, Ariz.’s Valley Youth Theatre is established and signs a contract for rehearsal space at the city’s Church of the Brethren. In September, VYT will offer two shows at Scottsdale Community College, followed by an official first season at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Phoenix that launches in December with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Over the next three decades, the organization will stage more than 150 productions.