260 YEARS AGO (1760)
Following moves prompted by the Colonies’ frequent bans on theatre, the Douglass Company—the merger of David Douglass’s troupe and the British Hallam family’s—relocates to Maryland. In Annapolis, Douglass builds one of his many Colonial theatres, just eight weeks after leaving Pennsylvania. The Orphan opens the New Theatre; one review calls the attendees “a polite and numerous audience, who all express’d a general satisfaction.”
185 YEARS AGO (1835)
Nathaniel Bannister, a prolific and popular actor and playwright from Baltimore, presents a new play, The Adventures of a Sailor, at the Camp Street Theatre in New Orleans. The playhouse, also called the American Theatre, is in the midst of its most successful period, 1824 to 1839. The theatre will earn a reputation as an early adopter of gas lighting technology and for marking the introduction of English-language drama to NOLA.
175 years ago (1845)
The Park Theatre in New York City witnesses the debut of Fashion by Anna Cora Mowatt, considered the first U.S.-born woman to have her plays professionally produced. None other than Edgar Allen Poe reviews the piece, twice, unfavorably: “Estimated by the natural principles of dramatic art,” he writes, “it is altogether unworthy of notice.” Still, the play will be known as the first American comedy of manners.
55 YEARS AGO (1965)
Novelist, playwright, and Civil Rights activist James Baldwin joins in a series of marches in Alabama from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery to advocate for voting rights for African Americans. Following the final march, Baldwin writes, in what will become the essay “Nobody Knows My Name”: “I could not suppress the thought that this earth had acquired its color from the blood that had dripped down from these trees.”
40 YEARS AGO (1980)
Mark Medoff’s play Children of a Lesser God, after originating at the Mark Taper Forum at Los Angeles’s Center Theatre Group, opens on Broadway. Phyllis Frelich, a Deaf performer and a founding member of the National Theatre of the Deaf, plays the lead opposite hearing actor John Rubinstein and goes on to win the Tony for best actress in a play. The play, inspired by Frelich’s relationship with her husband, was written with the couple’s input.
35 YEARS AGO (1985)
In development since 1980, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) incorporates this month in New York, thanks in part to office space donated by New Dramatists. The initial directors, Thomas Dunn, Susan Gregg, and Bonnie Marranca, begin organizing a conference, with the objective of demonstrating dramaturgy rather than holding “unending panels during which panelists tried to define a term.”