This book surveys the professional theatre in the United States from the beginning to the present. It aims to tell the story of our theatre primarily through contemporary accounts and to interpret that story by commentary which places and amplifies the eyewitness accounts and picks out patterns of change in the drama, acting, scenery, lighting, costuming, theatre building, audience, organization, and operation. It is not a chronological history, or annals; it does not aim to include mention of all the plays, persons, and theatres which have played a part in nearly three and a half centuries of theatre in this country.
This account consists of roughly three-quarters source material and onequarter commentary and continuity. Most of the selections are reviews of performances, but they include also descriptions of other important events such as the Astor Place Riot and the Iroquois Theatre fire. Before 1800, contemporary accounts are few. Consequently I have included the long selection from Lewis Hallam's story of the Comedians from London as reported by Charles Durang. Thereafter, the selections are briefer, and I have tried to choose from the continually increasing quantity of material the most significant and the most vivid. In the later years, the selections provide a sampling of the work of the drama critics, but the event rather than the reporter has been the chief basis for inclusion.
A numbered, annotated bibliography, The Selections and Their Authors, appears in the back of the book. It is arranged by chapters, and the selections in the text are keyed to it by superfigures. A second bibliography, For Further Reading, follows the first.