AMERICAN THEATER | This month in theater history


Scene from the American Negro Theater’s Broadway production of “Anna Lucasta”, starring (left to right) Canada Lee, Hilda Simms, Alice Childress and Alvin Childress. (Photo by Fred Fehl, from the NYPL ‘Anna Lucasta’ Theater Stills Collection)

November 1811 (210 years ago)

Richard Potter, America’s first successful stage magician, pitched a stage act that included ventriloquism, hypnotism, and sleight of hand. Born in 1783 in New Hampshire to a enslaved African woman and a white man, Potter is considered America’s first black celebrity. As a teenager, Potter trained in Europe as a gymnast and tightrope walker. Back in America, he studied ventriloquism and toured with Scottish artists and the brothers James and John Rannie. When Potter launched his own career, he became known for a ride where he climbed a rope and disappeared while surrounded by an open-air audience. He could also throw knives and touch hot molten metal without getting burned. His fame and success enabled him to purchase a 175-acre farm in Andover, New Hampshire, just two years after its first. The land where his house and estate was located is known as Potters square.

November 1921 (100 years ago)

On November 14, playwright Susan Glaspell opened The edge with the company she co-founded, the Provincetown Players, at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village, New York. Considered one of the earliest American examples of expressionist art, The edge focuses on Claire Archer, an amateur horticulturalist working on the breeding of a new type of hybrid plant. While her family and friends criticize and downplay the importance of her work, Claire “protests against restrictive forms of language, art, motherhood and traditional relationships between people while expressing her desire for destruction.” , according to an essay by Julia Galbus. Like the character she created, Glaspell experimented with form throughout the play. Some critics of the time were unimpressed and found the play puzzling, but feminist academics have since demonstrated its artistic and political importance.

November 1931 (90 years ago)

Award-winning playwright, novelist and short story writer Joan cooper was born November 10 in Berkeley, California. When she first started writing plays, Cooper, inspired by Thomas Lanier Williams’ adopted name “Tennessee”, became known as J. “California” Cooper. Cooper had a knack for storytelling which was encouraged and nurtured by writer Alice Walker. She was named Black Playwright of the Year in San Francisco in 1978 for her play Foreigners.

November 1941 (80 years ago)

Actor and former professional boxer Canada Lee received rave reviews from the Chicago Defender on tour as Bigger Thomas character in Native son, who had a post-Broadway engagement at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago in November. The play was adapted from Richard Wright’s novel by Wright and Paul Green. The production was a huge hit on Broadway before embarking on this 19-month nationwide tour. Lee, a veteran of the Federal Theater Project stage, is the originator of the role. His performance led to fame and other opportunities on Broadway and in the movies. In 1946 he played and produced On Whitman Avenue, directed by Margo Jones. Lee’s civil rights activism, his refusal to cooperate with the FBI in reporting on Paul Robeson, and the limited number of quality roles affected his ability to be cast in American films. Lee died at 45, collapsing on the set of South Africa for his latest movie, Cry, the beloved country.

November 1946 (75 years ago)

November 30, Anna lucasta closed on Broadway. At the time, with 957 performances, it was the oldest play to have performed on Broadway with an all-black cast, and it certainly was American Negro Theater’s (ANT) the most advertised game. Hilda Simms and Canada Lee (see above) were part of the original cast. Written by Philip Yordan, the play was originally called Anna lukaska and centered around a Polish American family (it was roughly modeled on that of Eugene O’Neill Anna christie). Although not originally from the role, Ruby Dee, during her first appearance on Broadway, played the title character in the closing performance and was on the long nationwide tour. Actress Alice Childress created the role of Blanche and went on to write her own Obie award-winning play, Problem in mind (getting a late arch to broadway) based on his acting experience Anna lucasta.

November 1996 (25 years ago)

Ellen Stewart decided to celebrate La MaMa Experimental Theater Club 35th anniversary by presenting three covers of works by Rhodessa Jones: I think it will work out, the legend of Lily Overstree, and Big Butt Girls, Hard Headed Women. All three works were collaborations with jazz instrumentalist Idris Ackamoor, Jones’ co-artistic director at the San Francisco school. Cultural odyssey. The last of the series, Big ass girls, hard headed women was developed from Jones’ award-winning Medea project: Theater for incarcerated women and women living with HIV.

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