frontier theatre

Definition

Theater

  • In 19th-century America, the theater troupes that existed onthe fringe of the western territory. Theatrical life began in Americasoon after settlements were established on the eastern coast; by the1790s, drama was firmly established in such places as Philadelphia(the dominant theatrical centre from 1794 to 1815), Boston, and NewYork. Few performances were given west of the Allegheny Mountainsbefore 1815, when Samuel Drake (1769 - 1854) took his companyoverland from Albany, New York, to Pittsburgh and down the Ohio toKentucky. The plays in their repertory were all rewritten for thecompany's ten actors, who also doubled as stagehands. In the MississippiValley, from St Louis to Nashville, the early theater was dominatedby James H. Caldwell (1793 - 1863), an English light comedian,who emigrated to America in 1816. Most western theaters were locatedon rivers, and the showboat became an important part of thefrontier scene, especially along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

    A year after the discovery of gold in California in 1848,the first professional English-language performances were given atthe Eagle Theatre in Sacramento. The first theater in San Francisco,which later became the western centre for drama, was opened in 1850,the year the Mormons began to produce plays in Utah; they built theSalt Lake Theatre in 1862. The transcontinental railway was completedin 1869, enabling many more troupes to travel west. Eastern actorsplaying the frontier included Edwin Forrest, Junius BrutusBooth, and his son Edwin booth (see Booth family).

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