Soon after the American Revolution, Americans began their expansion to the west.It was our Manifest Destiny to tame the wilds of the west and expand our nationfrom coast to coast.
Families from all over would load up their belongings andtravel to the newly purchased lands. People from New York, Philadelphia, Bostonand all parts of the new nation brought with them their language, culture andbelief systems. Along with this they also brought the theater. It was not longafter people would begin to live in an area that the theater would take root.The progress of the theater in the United States can be traced along the sameroutes as the settlement of the west. Beginning on the east coast with earlycolonies the theater was carried with our ancestors to their new homes in thewest.
From St. Louise to Kansas City, from Kansas City to California and allparts in between. Horace Greeley said “Go west young man” and thetheater followed. In 1492 Christopher Columbus left Azones on a trip to discovera western sea route to the Orient. Seventy days later Columbus made land fall onwhat he thought was an outlying portion of Asia. Columbus would go to his deathbelieving he had landed in Asia, he was wrong. Although he did open up a newworld for Europeans to expand their culture into.
(Billington 15) Thought manyearly attempts where made to settle this new land. Most ended in disaster. In1620 however, 128 years after Columbus made his brave but mistaken discovery ofthe new world, the pilgrims set out to make a permanent settlement in America.They put a shore in what is now called Massachusetts and formed a thriving, selfgoverned colony.(Billington 57) 10 years later, John Wintrope brings 1000colonist and founds the city of Boston. Wintropes British settlement had notbeen in the new world long, in fact less than a year, when they discovered thatthe Dutch had formed their own nearby settlement. The Dutch called their townNew Amsterdam. This caused immediate competition and rivalry between thesettlements.
(Billington 60) After a war with the Dutch the city of New Amsterdamcame into the possession of the British Empire and King Charles the Second. KingCharles had newly been restored to the throne of England after a long forcedvacation on the mainland of Europe. As a reward to those who supported hisreturn, he annexed New Amsterdam and renamed it New York and gave large portionsof it to his most loyal supporters.(Billington 67) In the ensuing years manyEnglish colonist came to the new world setting up towns and cities all along theAtlantic coast line.
It is in these towns and cities that we see Europeanculture, especially English culture, being planted in the new world. With thisnew culture being brought to this new and untamed land it is natural that theforms of entertainment would also not be far behind. The lands of the new worldwhere now fertile for the seed of the theater. In 1716 we have records of atheater being built in Willamsburg Virginia.
This is probable the first theaterbuilt in the Americas. While there where probable plays and some smalltheatrical productions being done earlier, this is our first ever record of abuilding being built for this specific purpose.(Hornblow) We know that in NewYork in 1752, the Hallams performed the Merchant of Venice. We also know thatthe Hallams used a theater that was build for use by Murray and Kean who had atroupe who had performed the same play along with Richard the III many yearsearlier. (Hornblow) So theater came early to the Americas but was contained tothe coastal areas much like the colonies where. It would take the formation of anew country and an expansion of the boarders of this new country to help theateron its western trek across the great expanses of North America.
Caused by whatthey believed was an erosions of their natural rights and being governed without representation The colonies in America decided to take a bold move and breaktheir ties with their English masters. This of course was not well received bythe King of England and what is known as the American Revolution ensued. In 1775in Lexington and Concord fighting broke out between American Colonist andEnglish Troops. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress signed adocument that had been penned by Thomas Jefferson. The document was aDeclaration of Independence. While the matter was by no means decided and a longwar followed, for all practical purposes the United States Of America wasborn.
(McKay 696) In an effort to expand the borders of the United States and tohelp get European interest off the continent. Thomas Jefferson, now president ofthe United States purchases from France a vast area called Louisiana. So onApril 30th, 1803 the territory of the fledgling country of the United States wasmore than doubled. In this territory there where already established cities andpopulations. Cities like New Orleans and St.
Louise had long been active tradingareas for the French and Spanish governments.(Billington 244) These areasquickly became attractive for new migrations of the Americans. Although bothcities spoke very little English. The rapid movement of Americans into themcaused a need for English spoken entertainment. In New Orleans there whereFrench speaking theaters as early as 1809 but there had never been any Englishlanguage plays performed.
A man named Noah Ludlow with the help of some actorsfrom the Turner company decided to go to New Orleans and perform. They had beentold that there was a large English speaking population there now and they wherein need to spend their money on English speaking plays. This is all that Ludlowneeded. Although some of his partners protested and left the troupe, Ludlow withmany others departed from Nashville on Oct. 20th 1917. (Hornblow) They traveleddown the Ohio river to the Mississippi They arrived in Natches some days laterand upon the insistence of the local movers and shakers performed one of theirplays.
“The Honeymoon” was the first play to ever be performed inNatches. The troupe stayed for a few days but then continued their travels toNew Orleans. On Dec. 24th 1817 Ludlow and his trouped opened their theater inNew Orleans with the plays “The Honeymoon” and a farce called”The Hotel, or a servant with two masters”.
The theater was called theSt. Philip because it was on St. Phillips St. The venture was a huge successbefore Ludlow decided to go back to Nashville for other endeavors.
(Hornblow) Itis only fitting that the man who brought theater to the Louisiana territory bethe one who brings it to St. Louis. Noah Ludlow decided that the small city ofSt. Louis was ripe for his theater troupe. With a population of some 4000 St.Louis had never seen a professional performance of a play.
There where someamateurs performing in the area and in their theater is where ludlow decided toset up. (Hornblow) On Nov 20th 1819, Ludlow and his troupe boarded a keel boatin Nashville and started on his journey to St. Louis. This journey was much moredifficult than the one to New Orleans for part of the trip was up current on theMississippi.
They had to travel by a procedure called Cordelling. This entailedmen with ropes pulling the boats up the river. Finally arriving in St. LouseLudlows troupe performed in mid December 1819. They once again performed theplay “The Honeymoon”.
(Hornblow) Theater had now expanded to thewestern shores of the Mississippi. The United States would soon conquer fromcoast to coast in North American. Expanding from the Mississippi to the coast inCalifornia.
As the Mormons expanded into the great Salt lake area of Utah andthe Mexican War would add vast new land, including California into the UnitedStates the theater would not be far behind On may 16, 1846 the United Statesdeclared war on Mexico. Caused partially because of United States annexation ofTexas, disagreements on borders and President Polks desire to expand the UnitedStates territory.(Clark) While preparations for war where ensuing in Texas, Col.
Stephen Kearney was on his way west to take New Mexico and California. On Jan.10th 1847, California was conquered.
The treaty of Guadeloupe-Hidalgo was signedon Feb 2, 1848 after the United States had defeated the Mexican troops andcaptured the Mexican capital of Mexico City. This treaty set the new bordersalong the Rio Grande river and gave to the United States New Mexico andCalifornia. With these new accusations the west was now ready for its infusionof the theater.(Billington 586) On July 24th, 1847, A group of Mormons lead byBrigham Young founded the city of Salt Lake in the territory of Utah.
(Billington541) The Mormon had always been supporters of the theater and they carried theirlove of the theater with them west. Joseph Smith encouraged the formation of aTheatrical company long before their exodus to the west. (Hornblow) Soon aftersettling in their new homes Salt Lake City plays where being performed. In anarea called the Bowery the Mormons would congregate to watch all sorts ofproductions.
It was here in 1850 that the Salt Lake Theater Stock Company wascreated. Their first play was “The Dead Shot” In 1862 Brigham youngbuilt the Salt Lake Theater. (Hornblow) While this was going on in Salt LakeCity American where rushing to California to cash in on the gold rush.
In 1849the famous gold rush began in California. (Clark) As American headed west to theshores of the Pacific ocean theater followed. On Jan 1850 in Washington Hall, abuilding in San Francisco. The first professional play was performed inCalifornia. A play by Sheridan Knowles called “The Wife” played to apacked house. By 1851 there where at least 3 professional theaters operating inSan Francisco.
(Hornblow) Manifest Destiny, this became the call of manyAmericans as the United States expanded westward. We got on boats, filled ourwagons and populated North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Times wherehard for these early settlers but in it all they found time for entertainment.The theater has been there from the beginning to entertain, educate and make usthink. Not only has the theater expanded across the land it has expanded acrosstime. While some would argue it was a natural expansion of the theater to thecamera and then to the television. Our lives are totally entwined in thetheatrical arts. So when Horace Greeley said “Go west young man” wedid and we took the theater with us.
BibliographyBillington, Ray Allen. “Westward Expansion; A history of the AmericanFrontier.” New York: Macmillan, 1967 Clark, Dan Elbert. “The West inAmerican History” New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1937 Horblow,Arthur. “A history of the Theatre in America from its Beginnings to thePresent Time.” New York: B.
Bloom, 1965 c1919 McKay, Hill, Buckler. “Ahistory of Western Society 5th Edition” Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company1995