Today in Theatre History: IBSEN’S GHOSTS AND THE AMAZING OFF-LOOP CHICAGO CONNECTION, May 20, 1882.

English: Hedvig Winterhjelm and August Lindber...

Hedvig Winterhjelm and August Lindberg in Ibsen’s Ghosts. 1883.

Here’s a remarkable story:  On this very day—May 20—in 1882, Ibsen’s landmark masterpiece, Ghosts, had its world premiere in Chicago.  Yup.  Chicago.  Not Copenhagen.  Not Oslo.  Not Paris nor any of the usual places.   Though originally written in Danish, the Chicago production was performed in Norwegian and staged in a small northside community hall on North Milwaukee (some sources erroneously claim on North Clark) by an amateur company made up largely of Danish and Norwegian immigrants and headed by a former star of the Copenhagen stage, Helga von Bluhme, who played Mrs. Alving.  Given the play’s shocking themes (the script was initially turned down by all of the major Scandinavian theatres), it was probably a good thing the performance wasn’t in English.  Von Bluhme and her company toured the show over the next few months to various Scandinavian immigrant communities throughout the Midwest without any complaints by authorities.  The play would not be performed in English in the U.S. until 1894 when it made its New York premiere.  And as most students of theatre history know, the play was reviled by puritanical critics as a piece of pure filth.  Today, of course, the play ranks as one of the greatest works of modern drama.   Proving once again that Off-Loop Chicago theatre rules… and has ruled since this very day in 1882.

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