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Actors, Audiences, and Historic Theaters of Kentucky

Actors, Audiences, and Historic Theaters of Kentucky

Marilyn Casto
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Actors, Audiences, and Historic Theaters of Kentucky
    Book Description:

    Kentucky emerged as a prime site for theatrical activity in the early nineteenth century. Most towns, even quite small ones, constructed increasingly elaborate opera houses, which stood as objects of local pride and symbols of culture. These theaters often hosted amateur performances, providing a forum for talent and a focus for community social life. As theatrical attendance rose, performance halls began offering everything from drama to equestrian shows to burlesque.

    Today many architects believe that the design of a theater should not detract from the stage or screen. Marilyn Casto shows that nineteenth-century Kentucky audiences, however, not only expected elaborate decor but considered it a delightful part of the theatergoing experience. Embellished arches and painted and gilded walls and ceilings enhanced the theatricality of the performance while adding to the excitement of an evening out.

    InActors, Audiences, and Historic Theaters of Kentucky, Casto investigates the social and architectural history of Kentucky theaters, paying special attention to the actors who performed in them and the audiences who saw it all. A captivating glimpse into a disappearing slice of American popular culture, her work examines what people considered entertaining, what they hoped to gain from theatergoing, and how they chose and experienced the theaters' architectural settings. In the social and physical design of these theaters, Casto explores nearly two centuries of the state's and nation's cultural history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5872-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    This book examines the relationship between two art forms—architecture and theater—as they existed in Kentucky from the eighteenth through the early years of the twentieth centuries. The very word “theater” refers to a pairing of place and event, with action and setting inseparable. Theater and architecture, both concerned with the interaction of people, have been intertwined since each began. However different their surface appearance, these two art forms share a common element in the humanity that participates in and observes both dramatic arts and the built environment. Both are cultural products embodying the aspirations, beliefs, and values of...

  5. 1 Rough but Substantial
    (pp. 1-41)

    Kentucky theater can boast of a lineage extending into the eighteenth century. Early in its history, the state caught the attention of traveling acting troupes, eventually becoming a center for theatrical activity.¹ Strolling players arrived from diverse locations, including several from Canada. Lexington, Frankfort, and Louisville formed more established bases for players, but most towns saw some type of theater, even if only for one night at a time. Often they all saw the same actors and the same plays. Even troupes ostensibly based in one urban location shifted between towns and did short temporary engagements. A single theater’s profits...

  6. 2 Neat and Commodious Halls
    (pp. 42-77)

    Kentucky theater builders hit their most prolific period from the middle nineteenth century into the early years of the twentieth century. City theatergoers enjoyed plays and vaudeville performances in structures designed to reflect theater grandeur found in eastern cities. Smalltown opera houses could not compare with the opulence of New York playhouses, but their backers built them in large numbers. Regardless of size or decoration, theaters of all types became objects of civic pride. Previously nondescript exteriors blossomed into incredible combinations of columns, wreaths, pilasters, and any other decorative motifs their designers could locate in Greek or Roman history. Interiors...

  7. 3 Thrills, Spectacles, and Glittering Lights
    (pp. 78-126)

    Performances, thespians, and audiences changed substantially in the years between the middle of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Shifts in theater design were partially the result of alterations in audience expectations and in the types of performances offered. However, architectural designs, partially driven by technology, also affected the behavior of actors and audiences. In other words, the question of whether architectural innovations were the result or the cause of modifications in building use is complicated. The interplay between people and theater buildings absorbed viewers, who never tired of analyzing the structures, the manner in which they staged...

  8. 4 Tickets to Theaters
    (pp. 127-157)

    Movie theaters as separate entities lie beyond the book’s scope, but early in their history live acts composed part of the evening’s entertainment.¹ Therefore, builders equipped such theaters with stages and followed in the layout and decoration the traditions established by legitimate theaters. Even structures primarily intended for movies kept their options open. Lexington’s 1922 Kentucky Theater boasted a rail siding in the event that they decided to present plays.² It is these hybrid buildings, dedicated to a new art and a new technology but clinging to old forms, with which this chapter is concerned. Kentucky built a cross section...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 158-160)

    It would be pleasant to be able to report that all of the theaters mentioned in this book are still standing. Pleasant, but untrue. Kentucky has lost many of its old theaters, some to fire and others to demolition. A number ended up as parking lots. Some remaining buildings have been converted to other uses and show little or no trace of their previous purpose. Bowling Green’s old opera house facade, for example, lurks beneath its later conversion to a bank. To look at it now, one would never imagine that there ever was a theatrical use for the building....

  10. Notes
    (pp. 161-180)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-188)
  12. Index
    (pp. 189-198)