Art History

AMERICAN THEATER | This month in theater history | Pro Club Bd

The Magik Theater performance house, the Beethoven Hall in San Antonio, Texas.

August 1887 (135 years ago)

Thomas Montgomery Gregory (centre) educator, playwright, philosopher, activist (1887-1971). (Image credit: Howard University)

Thomas Montgomery Gregory was born on August 31, 1887 in Washington DC. A graduate of Williston Seminary and Harvard University, Gregory became the first drama director at Howard University. A strong proponent of black empowerment through art, he once wrote, “If art is self-expression, it is necessarily racial expression.” Gregory claimed that the US needed a National Negro Theater but could not achieve his dream. However, he sparked the National Negro Theater Movement and inspired many students and later artists during his tenure with Howard and in his later career as Supervisor of the Negro Schools in Atlantic City, NJ Gregory died in November 1971.

August 1937 (85 years ago)

After the acclaim for their April 1936 production Macbeth– later nickname Voodoo Macbeth– John Houseman and Orson Welles left the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theater Project, of which New York’s Negro Theater Unit was the director, and founded the critically acclaimed Shakespeare Adaptation Mercury Theater in August 1937 Julius Caesar. The company and its troupe of performers later moved to Hollywood and spread its influence through the hour-long radio program The Mercury Theater in the airwhich radiated into homes across the US and produced the infamous 1938 war of the Worlds broadcast and later through films produced, directed and written by Welles, including the 1941s Citizen Kane. This film dissolved Houseman and Welles’ relationship, and the Mercury Theater eventually closed in 1946.

August 1942 (80 years ago)

Scene from “Othello” with Paul Robeson as Othello and Uta Hagen as Desdemona. Theater Guild Productions, Broadway, 1943-44.

The Brattle Street Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts hosted the premiere of an exciting production in August 1942. Actor Paul Robeson took on the role of Shakespeare Othello– one of the first black actors to do so on a big stage since Ira Aldridge in 1835. The Boston production, directed by Margaret Webster and starring Uta Hagen and Jose Ferrer, was a smash hit and quickly moved to Broadway in 1943. The production ran a total of 296 performances at the Shubert Theater and remains one of the longest-running productions of a Shakespearean play to date.

August 1962 (60 years ago)

After an acclaimed run at Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Playhouse, Ossie Davis’ Purlie victorious closed in the Windy City in August 1962. The production, starring Davis and his wife Ruby Dee, told the story of a minister trying to protect a small-town church and restrain the cruel hand of a plantation owner. The serio-comedy had one Broadway run (September 1961 to May 1962) before touring cities like Chicago. As Ossie Davis’ most successful play, it would later spawn a film Gone are the days (1963) and a musical adaptation called purlie, with music by Gary Geld and lyrics by Peter Udell (1970).

August 1997 (25 years ago)

After three years of serving the public in San Antonio, Texas, the Magik Theater finally moved to Beethoven Hall, a permanent performance venue, in August 1997. The theater had quickly gained a reputation in the south Texas town after it was founded by Richard Rosen in 1994. The theater’s mission to make art for the children of San Antonio with a particular focus on literacy is expressed in its expand work in the community’s schools through tours and arts education. The Magik Theater remains one of the few professional resident theater companies in the region.

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