April 30, 2021

Episode 8 - New Year's Day at the New Theatre, 1800

Episode 8 - New Year's Day at the New Theatre, 1800

Above: Abolemique threatens Fatima with execution in Blue Beard (illustration taken from the cover of Hermansson's Blue Beard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition.)

Below: Title page and illustration for "The Midnight Hour" by Elizabeth Inchbald.



Below: "Thomas Wignell, the Atlas of American Theatre" by John Russel Beale (Private Collection)

Thomas Wignell by John Russell Beale

Below: Wignell's business partner, the musician and composer Alexander Reinagle (painting by Robert Field, in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery). For more about Reinagle, there will be a Members Only blog post about him on our Patreon page! https://www.patreon.com/AITHpodcast


Below: "Inside View of the New Theatre, Philadelphia", as published in New-York Magazine, April 1794. (Courtesy the Library Company of Philadelphia). The only extant contemporary rendering of the interior of the theater. Although it is empty of audience members, we can clearly see a typical forest scene on the stage, with a series of five wing pieces set into grooves on the stage deck. Behind is a stock backdrop for a countryside or 'Arcadian' scenes. Above the stage, on the proscenium, is an emblem of an eagle flying in front of clouds, with a Cupid figure holding a motto saying "The Eagle Suffers the Little Birds to Sing" (the same motto that Wignell had placed above the proscenium of the Old Theatre in Southwark). The ceiling is painted with a representation of clouds and the sky.

The audience are is ringed by three tiers of boxes, the most exclusive seats. We can just see the beginning, on both the upper left and right, of the railings for the gallery at the rear of the third tier, that would have been the least expensive seating. The floor of the Pit (generally a more rough-and-tumble area of the house) is set with about ten rows of curving benches. 

The orchestra pit, where Alexander Reinagle and his musicians would have been placed, is between the audience and the stage. We can clearly see the typical English proscenium doors and the broad fore-stage, where most action would have taken place.

 

Below, the first page of George Colman's Blue-Beard, or Female Curiosity, published in 1798.

An illustration for sheet music (composed by Michael Kelly) of the 1798 London production of Blue Beard. This is likely a fairly good representation of the type of elaborate scenery that would have been seen on the Drury Lane stage, and perhaps was imitated and reproduced for the New Theatre production in Philadelphia in 1800.

Below, "Portrait of John Randolph" (1811) by John Wesley Jarvis. (National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.)

Below: Portrait of Joseph Dennie (c. 1790) by James Sharples.



Selected Bibliography:

Bellion, Wendy, " 'Here Trust Your Eyes': Vision and Illusion at the Chestnut Street Theatre",  Early American Literature, Vol. 51, No. 2, Special Issue (2016), University of North Carolina Press, pp. 333-365. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43946750?seq=1

Brockett, Oscar G., and Franklin J. Hildy, "English Language Theatre in the Early Nineteenth Century", in History of the Theatre, Pearson Education, Inc., 2008.

Colman, G., The Plays of George Colman the Younger: Volume 2 (P. Tasch, Ed.) (1st ed.). Routledge, 1981. Online publication 2019.

Crane, Elaine Forman, editor: The diary of Elizabeth Drinker : the Life Cycle of an Eighteenth-Century Woman, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Dennie, Joseph, "Theatrical Review, Number VIII, Thursday, February 19", The Port Folio, vol. I, issue 8, February 21, 1801. Accessed via American Historical Periodicals from the American Antiquarian Society.

Durang, Charles,
History of the Philadelphia Stage, Between the Years 1749 and 1855.  Volume 1: 1749 to 1818. Arranged and illustrated by Thompson Westcott, 1868. (Available online courtesy Penn Library, Colenda Digital Repository.)

Hermansson, Casie E., Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition, University of Mississippi, 2009.

Inchbald, Elizabeth, The Midnight Hour: A Petite Comedy. Available via the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/midnighthourpeti0000inch

James, Reese Davis, Cradle of Culture: The Philadelphia Stage 1800-1810, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1957.

Stanley, Timothy, "Who Was John Randolph?" in The American Conservative, October 11, 2012. Online article: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/who-was-john-randolph/

Wolcot, John, R., "Philadelphia's Chestnut Street Theatre: A Plan and Elevation," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Oct., 1971), pp. 209-218. Published by: University of California Press.  https://www.jstor.org/stable/988747