American Theatre Companies, 1888-1930

By Weldon B. Durham | Go to book overview

L

LABORATORY THEATRE. See AMERICAN LABORATORY THEATRE.

LAFAYETTE PLAYERS, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA. On August 24, 1928, Los Angeles acquired its first professional, all black stock company. The Lafayette Players, in addition to their theatre on Seventh Avenue between 131st and 132nd Streets in New York, also had groups in Baltimore, Chicago, Indianapolis, Norfolk/N ewport News, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and Washington, D.C.

Attempts to present entertainment written or devised and performed by blacks were scattered but not unknown before the entrance of the Lafayette Players into the city. In January 1922, an associate of Oliver Morosco, Frank Egan, owner of the small, 334-seat Egan Theatre at Figueroa Street and Pico Boulevard, backed a production of Africanus, a new work by Eloise Bibbs Thompson, a former Los Angeles newspaperwoman. Originally staged at the 1,200-seat Walker Auditorium by Olga Gray Zacsek, the play concerned a group of Bantus who attempted to involve American interests in their liberation plans. The Los Angeles Times reviewer noted that the piece was episodic and melodramatic, but she also observed that it was the first time in Los Angeles theatre history that a drama about an African country, written by a black author and intended for a black audience had been realized by an all-black cast. This one starred Pauline Jones and Malcolm Patton, Jr. In its two-week engagement, the entire first floor was reserved for non-Caucasians. Later that year, an all-black revue ran one week at the Philharmonic Auditorium at Fifth and Olive streets. Chuckles, by William E. Pierson and Johnnie Anderson, was considered a local attempt to offset the success of the eastern-originated touring revues which usually played the Mason Opera House. Critics found it somewhat amateurish but novel, and, according to the Los Angeles Times, it was "the best musical comedy produced by a colored company ever seen in this city." An original revue, Steppin' High,

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