The Theatre in Early Kentucky

The Theatre in Early Kentucky: 1790-1820

WEST T. HILL
Copyright Date: 1971
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j7fp
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  • Book Info
    The Theatre in Early Kentucky
    Book Description:

    This comprehensive study shows that the stage was active in Kentucky long before the first professional troupe toured in 1815. During the period covered, 1790--1820, Lexington, Frankfort, and Louisville became the major theatrical centers in the West. Performances on Kentucky stages far outnumbered those in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Nashville, or New Orleans. Drawing upon accounts in contemporary newspapers, West T. Hill Jr. demonstrates that drama had developed west of the mountains a full quarter century prior to the date given in theatre histories.

    The Theatre in Early Kentucky, 1790--1820captures the full flavor and color of the promoters, managers, professional strollers, and actors, many of whom performed dual roles as actors and managers. Working under primitive conditions, the groups often put on a melodrama, a musical comedy or farce, and several acts of singing, dancing, and recitation in the same performance. Appreciative audiences responded enthusiastically to the overworked and predictable plots of mistaken identity, revenge, and domestic difficulty.

    This delightful, informative book includes and appendix containing the production data available for 1790--1820. It is illustrated with reproductions of charming newspaper theatrical announcements and with portraits of leading stage figures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5057-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Business, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 The Athens of the West
    (pp. 1-8)

    Kentucky, the “dark and bloody ground,” became a melting pot for many American pioneers after their struggle for independence. Restless people from southern coastal cities arrived in the Kentucky wilderness through the Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road. From Pittsburgh and other northern river settlements others floated down the Ohio River to a bustling northern Kentucky landing called Limestone, now Maysville. Settlers crowding these two routes converged in Kentucky and to their surprise found the thriving town of Lexington, which was such a contrast to the rugged surrounding wilderness that they called it “the Athens of the West.”

    Lexington, established...

  5. 2 The First Dramatic Performances
    (pp. 9-18)

    0n April 26, 1790, an interesting theatrical review in theKentucky Gazetteannounced the performance on April 10 of an unnamed tragedy and farce by the students of Transylvania Seminary “in the presence of a very respectable audience.” It was the first announced dramatic performance west of the Allegheny Mountains. A fragment of a notice in a damaged issue of thePittsburgh Gazette, April 17, 1790, advertised a performance of Rowe’s tragedyCatoand Isaac Jackman’s farceAll the World’s a Stage, but the date, place of performance, and other production information are lost in the missing section of the...

  6. 3 The First Permanent Theatres
    (pp. 19-45)

    On tuesday, May 19, 1801, the wordtheatreappeared for the first time in a Lexington newspaper,Stewart’s Kentucky Herald. The notice stated that a performance ofThe School for ArroganceandThe Farmerwould be presented in the theatre on Thursday evening, May 21. Although the announcement gave the usual information concerning the six o’clock curtain, the fifty-cent ticket price (tickets at “Mr. Thomas D. Owing’s store”), and the “No admittance behind the Scenes” warning, there was no mention of the location of this theatre. The 1801 notice nevertheless is the earliest reference to a theatre in the West....

  7. 4 Professional Players in Kentucky
    (pp. 46-71)

    On tuesday, September 11, 1810, under the heading “Theatre,” theGazetteannounced that on the following Saturday the Roscian Society would present the celebrated tragedyPizarro, followed by a farce,Honest Thieves. Messrs. Levett and Smith, sign painters and operators of the Lexington Oil Floor Cloth Factory, furnished the scenery. Rolla, the Peruvian hero inPizarro, was to be played by John M. Vos of the Montreal Theatre; Vos was also to speak the prologue and the epilogue, both written by one of the citizens of Lexington. Vos, who will be mentioned later in connection with the Lexington and Louisville...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 The First Western Circuit
    (pp. 72-108)

    Though little is known about Noble Luke Usher before his first recorded performance in Washington, D.C., in 1800, it is certain that he made the rounds of the eastern theatres as a supernumerary before as well as after that year. During the Baltimore season of 1804 he married a Mrs. Snowden, a widow whose maiden name was Harriet L’Estrange. She probably had met Usher as early as 1796, the year of her debut on the Philadelphia stage.

    The Ushers acted at the Philadelphia Theatre until 1806, when John Bernard of the Boston Theatre recruited them. Bernard recalled that he added...

  10. 6 Arrival of the Drakes
    (pp. 109-129)

    American stage historians usually give Samuel Drake credit for developing theatrical production in the early West. General sources such as theDictionary of American Biographysay that Drake was the first to bring a company of truly talented players beyond Pittsburgh.¹ An American theatrical history written as late as 1959 states that “the professional theatre in the West really began with the arrival in Frankfort in December, 1815, of Samuel Drake and his company.”² The preceding chapters of this study have demonstrated that, on the contrary, professional as well as amateur stage companies operated in Kentucky as early as 1810...

  11. 7 Drake’s Western Theatrical Empire
    (pp. 130-164)

    Samuel drake’s talented family contributed much to the success of his western stage venture. His three sons, his younger daughter, and later his daughter-in-law possessed the variety of acting and musical ability required for the demanding theatrical presentations of the day. Often they were called upon to act, sing, dance, recite, and play musical instruments in one evening. The Drake children, reared as English strollers, learned their trade almost before they learned to walk. By the time they reached Kentucky they had doubled in roles, performed a variety of parts, acted new characters with little or no preparation, and performed...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-170)
  13. Appendix Record of Performances, 1790-1820
    (pp. 171-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-206)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-207)