July 1716 (305 years ago)
Charles and Mary Stagg, two performers in colonial Williamsburg, had been indentured servants to William Levingston, but this month they signed a new contract with Levingston that put them on more equal footing as business partners. The agreement was that Levingston would build a theatre and the Staggs would perform and teach dance classes there. The Play Booth Theatre opened later that year, and Levingston operated it until 1723, when he defaulted on a mortgage loan. The theatre building remained a playhouse until it was demolished in 1745 and the timbers were repurposed as a town hall. The Play Booth Theatre is considered the first European theatre to have been constructed in North America.
July 1776 (245 years ago)
The Fall of British Tyranny, or American Liberty Triumphant, written by John Leacock and published in January 1776, was widely circulated and discussed during the pivotal summer of 1776. Historian Ennis Duling argues for its significance as a rallying cry for American revolutionaries, “the first American chronicle play” and “the first to represent Washington.” The play also inaugurated a shameful tradition as “the first (or perhaps second) in a long line to find humor in a racist caricature of African Americans.” Little is known about performances of the play, other than it was performed at Harvard College late in the war.
July 1831 (190 years ago)
British-born William Chapman and his large family, including his wife, mother, and nine children, built and launched a “Floating Theatre” in Pittsburgh. Each year, they floated down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, stopping along the way to perform classic dramas. When the showboat docked, William Jr. and George went ashore to advertise the performance. Afternoons on the boat were devoted to gathering needed supplies at the village store, rehearsing, and fishing. Performances began at 7:30 p.m. with a concert followed by a play, then sketches, musical numbers, recitations, and impersonations. After reaching New Orleans, the Chapmans would junk the boat and return to Pittsburgh by steamer to begin again. They were successful enough that the family eventually bought their own steamer which became known as Chapman’s Floating Palace.
July 1906 (115 stage years ago)
Though Ah, Wilderness! made its premiere on Broadway in October 1933, Eugene O’Neill’s comedy is set on the Fourth of July, 1906. The play focuses on one day in the life of the Miller family of New London, Conn. Other plays set on Independence Day include Terrence McNally’s Teeth Together, Lips Apart, about two straight couples spending the 4th of July holiday on Fire Island in a house recently inherited from a brother who died of AIDS. Beth Henley’s Miss Firecracker Contest centers around a beauty pageant held on the 4th of July in Brookhaven, Mississippi. And in the Tony-winning musical 1776, the final scene takes place on the 4th of July 1776.
July 1996 (25 years ago)
Rude Mechanicals Theatre Collective (a.k.a. Rude Mechs) was founded in Austin. Their first action that summer was to borrow $600 from a friend (who would become an inaugural board member) to throw a fundraising party for a production of Kirk Lynn’s Pale Idiot, which opened in September. Four of the original eight founders are still very active with the company, which is dedicated to creating “a genre-averse slate of original theatrical productions peppered with big ideas, cheap laughs, and dizzying spectacle.” During the pandemic, Rude Mechs has been working on Heroic Dose, a strange trip of a performance that explores the history of LSD.
July 2016 (5 years ago)
On July 16, actor Javier Muñoz took over the lead role in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical Hamilton. The role was originated by Miranda; Muñoz, initially the alternate Hamilton, had been involved in the original development of the show. Muñoz was succeeded in the role by Michael Luwoye in 2018.
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