Theatre U.S.A., 1665 to 1957

By Barnard Hewitt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO 1782 TO 1810

The "Easy" Period

First of the American Company to return from Jamaica was John Henry, who in 1782 petitioned the Philadelphia authorities for permission to present the "Lecture on Heads." This was a medley of impersonation, humor, history, and moralizing created by the English writer George Alexander Stevens and first presented at the Haymarket, London, in 1762. It became a standby for the individual performer and an entering wedge in communities opposed to the theatre. Henry's petition was denied.

Early in 1784 Lewis Hallam petitioned the Legislature to repeal the antitheatre law of 1778, but opposition was too great. Nevertheless, Hallam presented at the Southwark beginning April 7 a number of programs, which may have included scenes from plays disguised as "moral lectures." In August, 1785, Hallam, Allen, and a small company made a similar start at the John Street Theatre in New York and shortly they were presenting plays without disguise.

John Henry returned to Philadelphia late in 1785 with a number of actors of the pre-Revolution American Company. He and Hallam soon joined forces, forming by far the strongest acting company yet seen in America. For nine years it held a virtual monopoly in all the territory where plays could be presented from New York to Charleston. It operated much as the

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