Managers in Distress: The St. Louis Stage, 1840-1844

Managers in Distress: The St. Louis Stage, 1840-1844

Managers in Distress: The St. Louis Stage, 1840-1844

Managers in Distress: The St. Louis Stage, 1840-1844

Excerpt

In this book I take up the pen where I laid it down something more than fifteen years ago. In The Theatre on the Frontier I then recorded the humble birth of the drama in St. Louis, and, having done so, followed the first steps of the youngster through its early years until, after a quarter of a century, its grip on life was sure. That work, as I have said, covers twenty-five years. This one is content to deal with only five. For this discrepancy there is more than one reason.

The years 1840-1844 constituted a definite period in the history of the St. Louis stage, as indeed in that of the American theatre in toto. During those five seasons--or, as they were computed in St. Louis, ten seasons--the fortunes of the stage and of those who lived on it and by it sank to their lowest depths. Business depression and political unrest proved to be powerful enemies, and, though the managers here and elsewhere resorted to every device they could think of to attract audiences, they were lucky if they succeeded in escaping complete disaster. By 1845, however, a gradual improvement had set in, and before very long the theatre was restored to its normal state of health, if indeed there can be said to be such a thing.

Then, too, I have attempted a different approach. It seems to me that it is worth while to observe, not alone what happened on our stage approximately a century ago, but also how it happened, and why it happened in the ways it did. Closer scrutiny, I believe, brings out facts about the manner of the operation of the theatre in St. Louis which a more superficial review would inevitably miss. Moreover, these facts are in my opinion significant because the St. Louis theatre was no unique phenomenon, but, on the contrary, a more or less representative institution, and from the details of the one we may learn much of the details of the many.

There is also a further reason. In his cogent introduction to The American Theatre as seen by its Critics, 1752-1934, which he edited in conjunction with the late Montrose Moses, John Mason Brown makes some very telling points about stage history as it is usually written. It is, he says, "unquestionably a chronicle of the stage, but . . .

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