Theatre in Colonial and Federal America

Historic Marker for the 1st Play performed in America


Last month we looked at the history and development of English theatre, beginning in the Middle Ages, and carrying up through the Regency Era.  In today’s post, we are going to look at theatre in England’s American territories during the Colonial period as well as in the early years of the American Republic.


Exactly when the first dramatic performance in America took place is impossible to say.  There are records in of a play being acted on the Eastern Shore of Virginia as early as 1665.  A play, known as “Ye Bare and ye Cubb,” was acted by three citizens of Accomac, Cornelius Watkinson, Philip Howard, and William Darby.  As soon as the report of this performance reached the King’s attorney, John Fawsett, he summoned them to court, where he subjected each of them to a rigid cross-examination.  At this session, the justices contented themselves with ordering the culprits to appear at the next meeting of the court in the costumes, which they had worn in acting the alleged play.  They were also required to bring with them for inspection a copy of the “verses, speeches, and passages” which they had performed on that occasion.  Continue reading