Today in Theatre History: SHAKESPEARE ARRIVES IN NEW YORK–March 5, 1750

The version used by Murray and Kean for the premiere in New York.

The version used by Murray and Kean for their NYC premiere–clearly chosen to soothe the rebellious spirits of an American audience.

This day in theatre history–March 5, 1750–marks the first verifiable performance of Shakespeare in the city of New York when a semi-professional assemblage of colonists performed Richard III at an improvised playhouse on Nassau Street.  But this was not the version we know today.  It was, instead, a popular 1700 adaptation by Colley Cibber that preserved only 800 of Shakespeare’s original lines, added a completely new first act based on the murder of Henry VI, and enhanced the on-stage violence–just the sort of mollifying amusement for a mid-century colonial American crowd.  The performance began “precisely at Half an Hour after 6 o’clock,” stipulating with knowing authority that, “no persons to be admitted behind the scenes.”  The evening was produced by Walter Murray and Thomas Kean, two entrepreneurs from Baltimore who created the first recognized touring company of players in the colonies.  Little is known of the physical playhouse, having likely been a warehouse hastily converted for the purpose with a temporary stage, a small pit and even smaller galleries.   Tickets could be had at a nearby printing shop– “PITT 5s.  Gallery 3s.”  Little else is known, unfortunately.  Murray and Kean continued to perform sporadically over the next year or so.  But by 1752, they’d been supplanted by the arrival of the famed Hallam family from London, the first true professional company to hit the colonies.  Nonetheless, on this day, Shakespeare finally arrived in New York City for the very first time.

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