Theatre U.S.A., 1665 to 1957

By Barnard Hewitt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
1850 TO 1870
Resident Company versus Traveling Star

A reaction against the star system had begun some years before the Astor Place Riot, and it took the form Wood envisioned, a revival of the strong, well-disciplined permanent company, capable of attracting and holding an audience with few or no visiting stars. Perhaps the first of these companies was William Mitchell's at the Olympic Theatre in New York. Here from 1839 until he retired in 1850 Mitchell maintained a first-rate comedy company presenting light entertainment at low prices to a mixed audience. However, although Mitchell presented adaptations of Dickens's novels, and was himself popular in such characters as Squeers, Crummles, and Sam Weller, the principal offerings were musical travesties, burlesques, and local-color pieces like A Glance at New York; and although a good many gentlemen attended, the audience was predominantly lower-class. This was not exactly what Wood meant by the old-style repertory company. Mitchell's company did without stars, but its repertory was highly specialized.

The reaction is better indicated by the establishment of a permanent repertory company under W. H. Smith at the Boston Museum in 1843. There, for nearly fifty years, a competent company with only one or two visiting stars a season presented a judicious mixture of standard plays and contemporary novelties.

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