July 1877 (145 Years Ago)
A traveling troupe, Slavin’s Combination, in partnership with the Georgia Cabin Singers, presented a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin at Chicago’s Adelphi Theatre. The production was among a rash of unauthorized stage adaptations of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, based on her serialized story published in The National Era. Historians estimate that more people saw stage adaptations of the book around the United States and Europe than read the novel. In July 1877, at least three different Uncle Tom’s Cabin productions were crisscrossing the U.S.: the mixed-race Chicago Adelphi production, a Blackface production by the Wilkinson Combination in Portsmouth, N.H., and a Blackface production at the San Francisco Opera House.
July 1892 (130 Years Ago)
In Mt. Gretna, Pa., the Chautauqua Auditorium was constructed. Originally built as part of the larger Chautauqua Movement “for the advancement of literary and scientific attainment among the people and the promotion of popular culture in the interest of Christianity,” the auditorium was a lovely addition to the Mt. Gretna grounds, but was rarely in use. In 1927, actor and director A.E. Scott proposed turning the auditorium into a summer theatre, and that June, the first season of the Chautauqua Playhouse commenced. Currently named the Gretna Theatre, the playhouse remains one of the oldest summer theatres in the United States.
July 1902 (120 Years Ago)
The Columbia Amusement Company of New York incorporated to create the Eastern “wheel” of burlesque shows under Sam A. Scribner. Also called the Columbia Wheel or the Eastern Burlesque Wheel, this circuit produced reasonably priced performances deemed “clean” or respectable for all sensibilities in theatre houses across the Eastern states. The circuit ensured months of work for performers and hosted burlesque luminaries such as Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, Fanny Bryce, and Sophie Tucker. In 1927, the wheel began to slow its turn as cinemas, rival companies, and cultural tastes moved away from burlesque.
July 1922 (100 Years Ago)
After the death of their son, Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, lumber magnate William Goodman and his wife Erna Goodman provided a gift of $250,000 to the Art Institute of Chicago to build a theatre company and acting school. Kenneth was a playwright and early supporter of the Little Theatre movement. He had intended to open such a theatre in his hometown of Chicago but died of pneumonia at the age of 35. The Goodman Theatre and drama school was finally completed in 1925.
July 1937 (65 Years Ago)
Max Ferrá, director and founder of New York’s Intar Hispanic American Arts Center, was born on July 14, 1937, in Camagüey, Cuba. Not long after arriving in the U.S. in 1958, he began Intar with seven others, first by producing plays primarily in Spanish. As the company grew, its members began to reframe what it meant to be a Latino in the United States and began to produce work in English as well. Ferrá produced early works by Caridad Svich, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Nilo Cruz, among others, providing a theatrical space for Latino writers to find their voice. He died in February 2017, leaving a lasting theatrical legacy in new U.S. Latino playwriting.
July 1947 (75 Years Ago)
In the early years of their respective film careers, actors Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and Mel Ferrer established the La Jolla Playhouse, a professional summer stock theatre housed on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. Their premiere production was Night Must Fall, written by Emlyn Williams and directed by Richard Whorf. It starred Dame May Whitty, who reprised her 1937 film role for the stage. The theatre’s nearness to Hollywood made the Playhouse an appealing stopover for film actors longing to tread the boards once more, if only for a summer.
July 1982 (40 Years Ago)
Sam Shepard’s play True West, under the direction of Robert Woodruff, had failed to capture critics or audiences in its 1980 run at New York’s Public Theater. This did not deter the young Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Directed by Steppenwolf co-founder Gary Sinise and starring Sinise, John Malkovich, and Laurie Metcalf, their robust production of True West was a success at their original theatre space in Chicago’s Jane Addams Center Hull House. To capitalize on the success, the show moved in July 1982 to the larger Apollo Theater, while the company itself moved to a new location two miles south, to the former St. Nicholas Theatre. The Apollo Theater run of True West captured critical attention, and in October 1982 the production moved again, this time to the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City. It was the first Steppenwolf production to make it to New York, and acclaim quickly followed for all of actors involved.
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