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.
- Today in Theatre History: THE GREAT RICHMOND THEATRE FIRE–December 26, 1811
- Today in Theatre History: JEFFERSON’S RIP ON BROADWAY–December 24, 1860
- Today in Theatre History: BEFORE POOH, MILNE HIT THE DOVER ROAD–December 23, 1921
- Today in Theatre History: WHY ACTING WITH ANIMALS IS A BAD IDEA–December 22, 1907
- Today in Theatre History: THEATRE WINS THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION–October 17, 1777.
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