jakub | September 7, 2023

AMERICAN THEATRE | This Month in Theatre History

September 1753 (270 years ago)

The Hallam Company first performed at the Nassau Street Theatre, marking their New York premiere. Composed of a troupe actors from England who arrived in Virginia in 1752, the Hallam Company, led by Lewis Hallam and organized by his brother William, became the preeminent professional theatre company in the English colonies and extensively toured Jamaica. The Hallam Company became the American Company following Lewis Hallam’s death and the company’s merger with David Douglass’s company (Douglass also married Lewis’s widow). The Hallam/American Company, which was active until the 1790s, founded many playhouses for their use throughout the colonies and established “a consistent taste for professional theatre in American audiences,” according to Ray Miller in Dance on the American Musical Theatre Stage: A History.

Playwright Dion Boucicault. (Photo from the Harvard Theatre Collection)

September 1853 (170 years ago)

Dublin-born Dion Boucicault emigrated to New York. Boucicault, along with George Henry Boker, helped to pass a revised copyright bill in 1856 that provided increased protection for playwrights against intellectual property theft. He worked as an actor, director, and playwright, and his melodramas, including The Poor of New York (1857) and The Octoroon (1859), established Boucicault as the most popular American playwright before the start of the Civil War.

September 1883 (140 years ago)

Kenneth Sawyer Goodman was born on Sept. 19. His passion for playwriting and vision for a theatre company that would combine a repertory company and professional school for drama and theatre was foundational to opening the Goodman School of Drama as part of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Goodman School’s theatre became the Goodman Theatre in 1925, and the pedagogical wing was acquired by DePaul University in 1978 as the Theatre School at DePaul University. Kenneth Goodman did not live to see these successes, as he was a tragic casualty of the 1918 flu pandemic. Before his death, he published two short plays as part of the Chicago Little Theatre movement, including The Wonder Hat (1916) and Back of the Yards (1917).

The lobby of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

September 1938 (85 years ago)

Abram Hill in rehearsal. (Photo from the Amsterdam News)

Abram Hill, an African American playwright working for the Federal Theatre Project on the Living Newspapers, urgently pleaded with FTP director Hallie Flanagan to produce his play, Liberty Deferred. A history of Black experience in the United States, Liberty Deferred was originally planned to be the fourth Living Newspaper written for the FTP by African American authors. Dan Burley, drama critic for the Amsterdam News, wrote encouragingly of the unproduced script, calling it “done in the best living newspaper manner” and “a singularly thought-provoking piece of propaganda and a valuable contribution to Negro literature, whether it reaches the stage or not.” As Flanagan and the Federal Theatre Project came under increasing criticism from the Dies Committee about possible ties to communism, Flanagan did not commit resources to the production. Hill’s Liberty Deferred was itself deferred until the FTP was shut down by Congress a year later, in 1939.

September 1978 (45 years ago)

Company members outside the Theatre de la Jeune Lune building at at 105 North First Street in Minneapolis. (Photo from the University of Minnesota Archives)

Theatre de la Jeune Lune is founded in Paris by Dominique Serrand, Barbra Berlovitz, and Vincent Gracieux. The theatre company relocated to Minneapolis (Berlovitz’s hometown) in 1985. Due to its artistic success as an experimental ensemble company, Theatre de la Jeune Lune won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Regional Theater. The company closed in 2008 during the Great Recession amid financial difficulties and increasing debt. Artists from Theatre de la Jeune Lune, however, including Serrand, Steven Epp, and Nathan Keepers, founded The Moving Company a few years later, and the company continues to premiere shows throughout the United States.

September 2008 (15 years ago)

After a 12-year run, Rent by Jonathan Larson closed on Broadway on Sept. 7th. The show ran a total of 5,123 performances and won a Pulitzer Prize and four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). Largely credited with establishing alternative rock as a suitable style for musical theatre, Rent was also a pivotal musical about the AIDS epidemic, gentrification, and LGBTQ+ experience.

September 2013 (10 years ago)

Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori at the 2015 Tony Awards. (Photo by Joseph Marzullo)

Fun Home began its Off-Broadway run at the Public Theater, eventually extending its run until Jan. 14, 2014. After being nominated for nine Lucille Lortel Awards, two Obie Awards, and eight Drama Desk Awards, Fun Home was also a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Fun Home debuted on Broadway in 2015, and Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron were the first female writing team to win a Tony Award for Best Score.

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