Melodrama and theatre in the United States to 1870:
Brockett ch. 9 pp. 262-264, ch. 12 pp. 362-374, ch. 13 pp. 401-404
(ch. 9) Origins:
1. Indigenous performance traditions
2. Spanish tradition from Mexico into California
3. French tradition in the South
Charleston west to New Orleans
4. English language theatre
slow to rise due to Puritan opposition to theatre
touring of British companies, encouraged by Commonwealth then patent laws
performances in universities
1710ís -30ís: First theatres built by colonists and companies organized
Virginia, Pennsylvania, Charleston, New York City, Jamaica
1752: HALLAM company, from England
12 adults and 3 kids sets up professional theatre in Williamsburg.Revolutionary War: temporary ban on performance
Tour to New York, Charleston, Philadelphia, Jamaica
David Douglass joins troupe 1755.
Expands tour to Rhode Island, Halifax
Builds playhouses: Philadelphia, New York
1st professional production of American play: Thomas Godfreyís Prince of Parthia, 1767
Mercy Otis WARREN wrote plays to be read, supporting patriot cause.
The Adulateur, 1773
Robert MUNFORDís The Patriots, 1777
1783: Treaty with England divides New World into countries/colonies. English language theatre will dominate.
(ch. 12) Early USA:
Members of Hallam/Douglass company return, establish Philadelphia, New York, Charleston.
Boston makes a 4th city; these dominate in theatre like in population
Touring will be required to make ends meet.
Repertoire and actors mostly English.
Royal TYLERís 1787 The Contrast a notable exception (graphic p. 364)
Salary and benefit system dominates
Thomas Wignell builds Chestnut St Theatre in 1791 in Philadelphia (graphic p. 363)
hires English actors (Eliza Kemble, later Thomas Cooper)
Adds gas light 1816: 1st theatre in world lit by gas.
"American Company" in New York combined English, American, and island actors.
Much dissension among managers and actors.
Built Park Theatre 1798. (graphic p. 367)
Boston (Federal Street Theatre) and Charlestonís (City Theatre) companies recruited in similar manner in 1790ís. Latter performs both in English and French, as does New Orleans co.
1815-50: Cities and theatres expand along east coat
1825: USA has 20 resident companies, 1850 increased to 35
As country expands west, so does theatre.
Steamboats, canals, roads, and railways expand theatrical activity west and help CIRCUITS to develop, last until Great Depression
Samuel DRAKE establishes 1st circuit in 1815: upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, down the Ohio to Kentucky. Expand to Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri.
James CALDWELL sets up similar circuit in 1820 based in New Orleans, travel via Mississippi River
Chicago gets 1st professional production in 1833, Permanent theatre in 1847
SHOWBOAT: 1st created by William Chapman, English, 1831.
Get more lavish til die out 1925. (graphics p. 366, 367)
Urbanization and Industrialization of cities on east coast cause trends like Europe:
theatres enlarged (->3000);Repertory companies meet significant challenge from touring English stars:
theatrical bills appeal to new urban middle and working class (animal acts, etc.); and competition develops
Chestnut St. in Philadelphia (gas light 1816),
Walnut Street built in 1812 then Arch St in 1828 in Philadelphia
Park in New York burn in 1820 rebuilt larger
Olympic built 1812, Bowery built 1826 in New York City
Tremont Street, the National Theatre then Boston Museum in Boston
Kean, MacReady, Kembles, Vestris, Booth.American born ACTORS:
By 1830ís many English and American actors take to touring because itís the only way earn a good living.
Edwin Forrest (1806-72): first to win international fame;WRITERS: by 1850 about 15% of repertoire is by American writers
1828 leading Bowery actor; fame diminishes after 1849;
Romantic style (graphic p. 369)
Charlotte Cushman (1816-76): after moderate success in NYC and Phil,
1844 London debut at Princess Theatre made her international star;
Romantic style (graphic p. 370)
Ira Aldridge (1807-67): 1st African American international star.
Europe more comfortable with multi-racial casts, so stays from 1825. Shakespeareís tragic heroes
Mostly copies of English, but introduce 2 new types:MELODRAMA: a popularization of many aspects of Romantic plays (Brockett's best descrition is in ch. 12 pp. 337-338 - a section we skipped) (this material also on Romanticism outline)
Noble Savage as Native American.
Growth of blackface (African Americans or Africans played by whites) roles.
Anna Cora Mowatt Richie: Fashion, 1845, comedy of manners set in NYC
clearly recognizable good and evil characters
little depth to characterization: use types
usually happy endings
major characteristics:SPECTACLE: copies European from 1820ís
plot is central: twists, subplots, recognitions, mistaken ID's, coincidence
plot selected for spectacle: lighting, fire, flood, deaths
historical and/or local color in characters and decor
song, dance, and musical underscoring
three acts, each ending in climax (tune in next week...)
mix of serious and comic styles
USA introduce gas table in 1840ís: control intensity of lightMINSTRELSY:1st American artform.
Limelight invented 1816, used little til mid-century, but the 1st spotlight
"minor" or non-literary genre performed in blackface(ch. 13) 1850-70: National events:
Thomas Rice as "Jim Crow" in 1828
companies form: Virginia Minstrels, Christyís minstrels
2 parts and afterpiece: Part 1: semicircle with Tambo, Bones, Mr Interlocutor; comic bits, music and dance.
Part 2: OLIO specialty acts.
Afterpiece: play set in ante-bellum plantation, exploit
two comic slave types: Jim Crow and Zip Coon
After Civil War, Black companies formed, Georgia Minstrels under Hicks
Civil War; abolition of slaverySome resident stock companies thrive and maintain high artistic standards:
transcontinental railroad completed 1869
masses of immigrants: Irish, German
Gold Rush of 1848 expands west coast population,
theatres follow, center San Franscisco
Starring engagements dominate, trend to long run increases
Circuits and touring increase
William Burtonís Chamber Street Theatre in NYC (graphic p. 402)NYC begins to dominate US theatre
Laura Keene (English) company, playing at Fordís Theatre, Washington DC in 1863
Louisa Lane Drew at Arch Street Theatre, Phil
John McVicker in Chicago
Repertoire: melodramas, adaptations of romantic and melodramatic novels, extravaganza (variety) (graphic p. 404), and burlesques (satires).
1st US copyright law: 1856, strengthened by founding of
of Congress in 1870
William Wells Brownís The Escape (1858);
African American penned slave storyBurlesque authors: (meaning satirical plays on an element of culture or politics)
read, but no professional productions in authorís lifetime
John Brougham: Pocahontas or The Gentle SavageSpectacle: look at graphics pp. 397-400 for traps, bridges, panoramas used in melodrama
George Foxís Shakespearean burlesques
Uncle Tomís Cabin: George L. Aiken adapted from Harriet
Beecher Stoweís novel
(Graphic p. 403)
Premiere Troy, NY 1852, moved to NYC with a 300 night run
2 evening melodrama combined to one long 6 act for NYC run
St. Clare: George C. Howard; Topsy: Mrs. Howard in blackfare, Cordelia as Eva
Held the stage until 1930: 50 companies touring it in 1870ís
Most popular American play of all time
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