A black theater has flourished in New York. 200 years ago.

For the price of 25 cents – or, for a nicer seat, 50 cents – the African Theater entertained hundreds of black New Yorkers with both clas...


For the price of 25 cents – or, for a nicer seat, 50 cents – the African Theater entertained hundreds of black New Yorkers with both classic and original works, alongside operas and ballets. He staged an “Othello” the following month; other offers, less well known today, included “Tom and Jerry; Or, Life in London ”; “The poor soldier”; and “Obi; Or, three-fingered Jack.

Brown himself wrote “The Drama of King Shotaway”, a tale of a black Caribbean uprising which is believed to be the first play written by a black author although the text has been lost in history.

Lost scripts, vague details and the sudden end of a theater – this is essentially a ghost tale. Even though African theater became so popular that white audiences began to attend as well, Brown faced an uphill battle for the entire existence of the company.

When he dared to pit himself against a nearby white theater, each featuring rival Shakespeare productions, he was harassed by police and his theater raided. Its performers were attacked. He changed the name of the theater and moved it around several times, opening and closing and reopening until the financial situation dried up.

When a yellow fever epidemic hit New York City, Brown’s hearing waned; in October 1822, the National Advocate, a newspaper, announced that the theater was closing because of the fever. Hewlett, the company’s main performer, left a few months later.

It is unclear what happened to Brown, and when exactly the theater closed for good. The last known poster for an African theatrical production was dated June 1823.

The story of Brown and African theater is too often forgotten in the larger history of American theater. Of them modern pieces, however – “The African Company presents Richard IIIBy Carlyle Brown, and “Red velvet”By Lolita Chakrabarti – renewed attention to this fascinating chapter.

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Newsrust - US Top News: A black theater has flourished in New York. 200 years ago.
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