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HALLAM'S NASSAU STREET THEATRE
N June, 1753, Lewis Hallam, manager for his brother, William
Hallam, arrived in New York from Williamsburg, Va., with a company that he had been playing there since September, 1752. On his arrival here, the magistrates of the city refused to grant him a license to perform, and he was compelled to remain idle until the middle of September, when he published the following petition :
“As our expedition to New York seems likely to be attended with a very fatal consequence, and ourselves haply censured for undertaking it without assurance of success, we beg leave humbly to lay a true state of our case before the worthy inhabitants of this city, and, if possible, endeavor to remove those great obstacles which at present lie before us, and give very sufficient reasons for our appearance in this part of the world, where we all had the most sanguine hopes of meeting a very different reception, little imagining that in a city - to all appearance so polite as this — the muses would be banished, the works of the immortal Shakespeare and others, the greatest geniuses England ever produced, denied admittance among them, and the instructive and elegant entertainment of the stage utterly protested against; when, without boasting, we may venture to affirm that we are capable of supporting its dignity with proper decorum and regularity. In the infancy of this scheme it was proposed to William Hallam, now of London, to collect a company of comedians and send them to New York and other colonies of America. Accordingly he assented, and was at vast expense to procure scenes, cloaths, people, etc., and in October, 1750, sent out to this place Robert Upton, in order to obtain permission to perform, erect a building, and settle everything against our arrival, for which service Mr. Hallam advanced no inconsiderable sum. But Mr. Upton, on his arrival, found here that set of pretenders with whom he joined, and, unhappily for us, quite neglected the business he was sent about from England, for we never heard from him again.
Being thus deceived by him, the company was at a stand till April, 1752, when, by the persuasion of several gentlemen in London, and Virginia Captains, we set sail on board of Master William Lee (master of the ship Charming Sally), and arrived, after a very expensive and tedious voyage, at York River, Virginia, on the 28th of June following, where we obtained leave of His Excellency the Governor, and performed at Williamsburg with universal applause, and met with the greatest encouragement, for which we are bound by the strongest obligations to acknowledge the many and repeated instances of their spirit and generosity.
“We were there eleven months before we thought of moving, and then asking advice, we were again persuaded to come to New York by several gentlemen who told us we should not fail of a favorable reception; that the inhabitants were generous and polite, naturally fond of diversions rational, and particularly those of the theatre. Nay, they even told us that there was a very fine playhouse building, and that we were really expected.
This was encouragement sufficient for us, as we thought, and we came firmly assured of success; but how far our expectations are answered we shall leave to the candid to determine, and only beg leave to add that, as we are people of no estates, it cannot be supposed we have a fund sufficient to bear up against such unexpected results. A journey by sea and land, five hundred miles, is not undertaken without money; therefore, if the worthy magistrates would consider this in our favor that it would rather turn out a public advantage and pleasure than a private injury' – they would, we make no doubt, grant us permission and give us an opportunity to convince them that we are not cast in the same mould with our theatrical predecessors, or that in private life or public occupation we have the least affinity to them.
Late in August permission was given them to appear in a
. Mrs. Rigby
Mrs. Hallam Daniel
Master L. Hallam
Mr. Hallam The company closed its season March 18, 1754, and went to Philadelphia. The building was then purchased by a society of German Calvinists for $1,250, and was fitted up as a church. It was torn down in 1765 by the society, who erected another place of worship on its site.
DAVID DOUGLASS' THEATRES
THE next theatre built in this city was on Cruger's Wharf, at
that time extending from Pearl Street into the East River, between Old and Coenties' Slips, on a line with what is now known as Front Street. This theatre was erected by David Douglass, who had married Hallam's widow. Having brought a company from the West Indies, all prepared to open the house, he was astonished to learn that the city fathers again refused to grant a license. Finally the theatre was opened Dec. 28, 1758, with the tragedy of “Jane Shore. The only plays presented during their brief season between the 28th of December, 1758, and the 7th of February, 1759, were “Jane Shore,” the “Orphan,” “Spanish Friar,” “Recruiting Officer,” “Othello,” “Beaux' Stratagem, “Venice Preserved, "Douglas," "Tamerlane," "The Drummer, and "Richard III.,” with the farces“ Lovers' Quarrels,” “The Stage Coach," "Lethe," and "Damon and Phillida.” The company went on a tour, stopping at Philadelphia. In 1761 this organization returned to New York, and Mr. Douglass erected a new theatre on the southwest corner of Nassau and Chapel (now Beekman) Streets. It was ninety feet long by forty feet wide. Its erection cost $1,625 and it would hold $450. The initial performance, Nov. 19, 1761, consisted of “The Fair Penitent" and "Lethe.' Hamlet was presented November 26, for the second time on the American stage, and for the first time in New York.
Quelch and Tomlinson also played the first and second gravediggers. During the season “King Henry IV.” was given, with Douglass as Falstaff, for the first time on the American stage. This building was not afterwards occupied by any dramatic company for nearly two years. During the Stamp Act trouble, in 1764, a mob attacked the building and nearly demolished it.
The prices of admission were five, eight, and three shillings. When crowded it would not hold $800.
THE JOHN STREET THEATRE
TH 'HE John Street Theatre was the next playhouse erected. It
was on the north side of John Street, about a half-dozen doors from Broadway. It was built entirely of wood, and was twenty yards back from the line of the street.
The following is a copy of the opening bill:
By the American Company, the present evening, being the 7th instant, December, 1767, a comedy called the
“ BEAUX' STRATAGEM." Archer, Mr. Hallam ; Aimswell, John Henry; Sullen, Mr. Tomlinson; Freeman, Mr. Malone; Foigard, Mr. Allyn; Gibbett, Mr. Wools; Scrub, Mr. Wall; Boniface, Mr. Douglass; Dorinda, Miss Hallam; Lady Bountiful, Mrs. Hallam; Cherry, Miss Wainwright; Gipsey, Mrs. Wall; Mrs. Sullen, Miss Cheer. An Occasional Epilogue, Messrs. Douglas, Hallam & Henry, Managers.
John Henry, by the way, was the original Sir Peter Teazle in America. Miss Storer appeared in 1765. She afterwards became Mrs. Henry, and was buried at sea, during a voyage to Jamaica. The season closed June 2, 1768. Among the plays produced were: “The Beaux' Stratagem,” “Richard III.,” “The Clandestine Marriage,” “Hamlet,” “Cymbeline,” “The Mourning Bride,” “The Busy Body,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Gamester," "The Wonder,” “A Bold Stroke for a Wife," "King Lear,” “The Merchant of Venice," "George Barnwell,” “Love in a Village,” “Venice Preserved," "Macbeth,” “The Roman Father," "Cato," "Othello,' “The Distressed Mother," "Jane Shore,” and “Paul Honeycomb." In July a performance was given to aid in building a hospital, which was afterward erected a considerable distance out of town, at about where Worth Street is now. "King Lear" was acted Jan. 16, 1769.
The season of 1773-4 opened April 14, 1773, with “The Way to Keep Him” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” The season, not a very successful one, pecuniarily, closed Aug. 5. There were produced "Cross Purposes," "She Stoops to Conquer," "The Irish Widow," "The Beggar's Opera,” “The Tempest,” and “The West Indian.” On Oct. 24, 1774, the Congress recommended that all places of public amusement should be closed.
At the beginning of 1777 the British officers, who then held the city, began to give entertainments in this house, which they called the Theatre Royal. In 1781 Major André and other bright and talented young Englishmen wrote plays. On Aug. 24, 1785, they gave a rather mixed performance, which did not promise well. Then came a dancer, John Durang, the first American who attained distinction as such. The first regular drama under this management was given September 20. This was “The Citizen," and constituted the first dramatic performance in the city after the Revolution, and the first of the series of productions which gave so much pleasure to General Washington both before and after his inauguration as President.
The season closed November 1, and on November 21 Hallam and Henry brought their entire company from Philadelphia. They had the house painted and decorated and fitted up in what, to them, was a rather gorgeous manner.
The “Benevolent Merchant" and “The Devil to Pay, or The Wives Metamorphosed,” were played January 6, 1787. “The West Indian" and the pantomime “Robinson Crusoe,” 13, and Hallam played “Hamlet” 19. The scene of the grave-diggers was restored, which, from a whim of Mr. Garrick, of late years had been omitted. “The Orphan of China" and "The Poor Soldier," 23. The advertisements of the day contained the following:
"It is customary to have a dram shop in the neighborhood of theatres (as is the case in this city), where the audience, exhausted by attention to the performance, may recruit their spirits by taking a glass of gin, or something equally exhilarating, between the acts; and as it often happens that immediately upon drinking a dram the person emits a sound similar to the letter a, the dram and the sound have been united, and thus dram-a, or drama, is found."
“Richard III." and "The American Citizen ” were acted February 3, in honor of the arrival of the ship “Empress of China" from Canton, Captain Green, this vessel being the first one having the privilege of presenting the American flag in Chinese waters. A correspondent writing to a newspaper of the day, compliments the ladies for reducing the size of their headgear, so that they could enter a coach or sedan chair with a cap, and not obstruct the view in the playhouse. “Some time ago," he says, “their heads were bigger than those of the inhabitants of Patagonia, whilst their bodies resembled those of Liliput, but now their features are set off by becoming head-dress.
There was acted on February 20 "The Fair Penitent;" March 3, “The Jealous Wife;” March 6, for the first time in America, “More Ways than One.” On the 21st, “She Stoops to Conquer and “The Miller of Mansfield;" 29th, “The Provoked Husband." On May 17, “Isabella, or the Fatal Marriage,” was played, when Mrs. Kenna made her American début, acting Isabella; 19th, “The Wonder, or a Woman Keeps a Secret,” and “The Citizen; 29th, “Maid of the Mill," Maria Stover acting Patty. This was its first performance here in thirteen years. On this occasion "Daphne and Aminter" were given for the first time in America. “The Suspicious Husband" was played June 2; "King Lear,” 7th; "The Belle's Stratagem," gth; "The Rivals,