The main reason why I chose to do my report on the history of theatre in NY is because I find theatre very interesting (As you know I do some of it myself). I also grew up in a house full of theatre teachers. I think this topic is very important to people who want to learn about theatre because many people believe that theatre in New York started on Broadway, but that is not true at all. In this report I would like to show you how theatre developed in New York.
In the early eighteenth century the Dutch occupied most of New York. Other cultures included the Germans, Scots, Irish and probably the most important to theatre in all, the English. The English started to urbanize New York. Signs of the increasing urbanizing were mostly seen between 1730 and 1770.English schoolmasters started teaching with Dutch colleagues in schools. Later on in 1747 Columbia College was founded and a campus was established. The college taught musical instruction and people could purchase instruments at the local merchant.
When holidays took place people would have entertainers preform in their gardens. People would also hold parties in taverns like Robert Todd?s and Black Horse. These entertainers included puppeteers, acrobats, rope dancers and magicians. At Todd?s public house, the first public concerts took place as early as 1736.
The presence of the royal governor changed peoples? social activities. Every governor tried to make his own miniature court (all were trying to imitate the English royal court). In England, the theatre had been an extension of the court, so many governors tried to make theatre part of their court.
In 1699 Richard Hunter petitioned for theaters in New York against Governor John Nafan, and won. Other than that nowhere is it recorded that he ever produced any plays but, it contributed to social life.
A few years later Anthony Aston recorded that he spent the winter of 1703 ?Acting, writing, courting, and fighting.?1 No other appearances of theatrical companies were ever noted but, it is assumed there was amateur acting going on in courtyards.
Several decades later another governor named William Cosby seemed to have been linked to the appearance of two theatres in the city. A theatre was opened on December 11, 1752 in a building owned by Van Dam on Nassau Street . This is not that important, although a small population of 8,622 (census taken in 1730) was there to support the theatre. Even more amazing was that there was a second theatre in the city at the same time. This was probably a playhouse on Broadway.
Beside the existence of these two theatres, nothing else important is known about their activities. By the late 1740s controls on theatrical companies in England had tightened. Therefore , many companies began to move to the Americas. There is some evidence that several of these companies performed in the theatre on Nassau Street.
In 1758 former actor David Douglass brought his company to NY and built a playhouse on Cruger?s Wharf. He built his second theatre in 1761 further north on Chapel (later Beekman) street. Douglass built his final theatre in 1767 on John St. just west of Broadway. This third theatre was Douglass’ only successful theatre and had almost no competition until 1797 when a theatre company from Philadelphia took over a circus amphitheatre.
When the people returned to New York after the Revolutionary War in 1785, New Yorkers were happy to see a theatre still standing after the occupation and destruction of much of the city. New York made such a bounce back that people who had lived there before the war barely recognized it.
If the first half of the 19th century was extraordinarily full of expansion of the city, there was also great expansion of the theatre. At the turn of the century there was only one playhouse, but by mid-century there were over two dozen. They were all over the city, mostly located where crowds would be attracted. A major theatre in that time was known as The New Theatre, built in 1798. The most important thing about this theatre is that it brought an almost unpopulated area to a prime residential area.
The Bowery Theatre, built in 1825 and later called The Thalia, and the New Theatre, (later called the Park), were the most popular theatres built at this time. The Park existed until 1848 and The Bowery, rebuilt five times on the same spot, was in use until it burned down in 1929.
By the 1850s, Broadway had become the center for theatre in New York because it was becoming New York?s ?Main Street.? According to George Templeton Strong, Broadway, now paved and lighted, had become ?fit to walk in of an evening.?2
By the end of the century, theatres had moved their way up Broadway as far north as West 36 Street.In the second half of the century, many immigrants were populating the city. When they came, they brought their different cultures and different aspects of theatre, demanding more theatres to house them. The Minstrel show, about life in the South, had become very popular as well.
As the population of the city grew, it continued to move north. The theatres moved with it. In 1895, Oscar Hammerstein I built a huge theatre, the Olympia, near Long Acre Square (where the New York Times is published). He chose a location between 44 and 45 Streets on Broadway. The theatre was not successful, but he was later called ?The man who created Times Square?.3 Most of the theatres in use today were built in the Times Square area between 1900 and 1930. Many theatres built at that time were changed to movie theatres or torn down, but those that are still there serve as the heart of American theatre today.
1. An Inspector Calls – Royale Theatre, 242 West 45 St. Opened January 11, 1927 with a show called Piggy.
2. Beauty and the Beast – Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway. Opened March 24, 1913 with a vaudeville show.
5. Crazy For You – Shubert Theatre,225 West 44 St. Opened October 2, 1913 with Hamlet.
6. Damn Yankees – Marquis Theatre, 1555 Broadway. Opened in the mid-1980s as part of the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Three theatres were torn down to build this hotel,over the protests of many theatre people.
7. Defending the Caveman – Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W 44 St. Opened March 12, 1912 with a show called The Pigeon. This is the second theatre named after ?The First Lady of The American Theatre.? the first one was torn down for the Marriott.
8. Grease – Eugene O?Neill Theatre,230 West 49 St. Opened November 25, 1925 with a show called Mayflowers.
9. The Heiress – Cort Theatre, 138 West 48 St. Opened December 12, 1912 with a show called Peg o? My Heart.
11. Jackie Mason – Politically Incorrect – Golden Theatre, 252 West 45 St. Opened February 24, 1927 with a show called Puppets of Passion.
15. Miss Saigon – Broadway Theatre, Broadway at 53 St. Opened December 24, 1924 with a show called The New Yorkers.
16. The Moliere Comedies – Roundabout Theatre, 1530 Broadway no other information available.
17. The Phantom of the Opera -Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44 St. Opened March 28, 1927 with a show called Rufus LeMaire?s Affairs.
18. Show Boat – Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51 St. Opened November 18, 1972 with a show called Via Galactica.
19. Sunset Boulevard – Minskoff Theatre, 200 West 45 St. Opened March 13, 1973 with a show called Irene.
21. Uncle Vanya – Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway. Opened November 15, 1972 with a show called Mourning Becomes Electra.
22. The Who?s TOMMY – St. James Theatre, 246 West 44 St. Opened September 26, 1927 with a show called Merry Malones.4
By doing this this report I have gained alot of knowledge about the history of theatre in New York. I think that it is important that we learn about our theatric heritage because it has alot to do with every day problems. Some theatre is for social means and some theatre is here to teach us about something.
1. Mary C. Henderson, The City and the Theatre(James T.White & Company; 1973, New Jersey) Pg. 13
2. Ibid Pg. 88
3. Ibid Pg. 196
Theatre Week (That New Magazine; 1995 New York) Pg. 51
Botto, Louis; At This Theatre; Dodd Mead Company, 1984, New York
Henderson, Mary C.; The City & the Theatre; James T. White and Company, 1973, Clifton, New Jersey