Hello again, intrepid fans of bad plays! This week, I’m looking at a professional melodrama set during the war: William Haworth’s The Ensign (1892).
To my knowledge, the copy I got from the Sherman Collection at Southern Illinois Universitymight be the only extant copy of the play. But it seems that a lot of unpublished typescripts are squirreled away in odd places/papers, or haven’t been catalogued, or the finding aids aren’t digital/online, so I could be wrong on this front (please contact me if you know of any other copies out there!).
Anyways, actor/playwright/director William Haworth chose a rather unexpected location for the start of his play (at least, unexpected compared to many other popular Civil War melodramas).… Read more
Each week, I will share some quick thoughts on a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century US play. 1 This series is really a way of keeping me honest as I work through my monograph on Civil War memories; because it is monograph-related, the play will somehow touch upon the war, slavery, or Reconstruction. I’ll be revisiting some plays I’ve already read/written about, but many will be texts I just recently acquired, thanks to a generous PSC-CUNY grant. The grant sent me to the Sherman Theatre archive, part of the Morris Library Special Collections at Southern Illinois University this past February.… Read more
My commentary will most likely be rife with sarcasm because it’s my second language, although my doctoral program would not accept it as one of the language requirements. ↩
Amateur performance comes up an awful lot in my research these days: the Grand Army of the Republic productions put on by veterans and locals for charity throughout the late-nineteenth century, the efforts of Charles Sager touring the Midwest and staging his spectacle/pageant The Negro in the late 1890s, and – in more recent developments – the work done by Civil War reenactors. I’ve been thinking more about amateur performance as I’ve prepared for the Mid-America Theatre Conference in Cleveland (where I’m presenting later today). For my MATC paper, I attempt to set up a framework for analyzing performance and consumption at the Gettysburg Sesquicentennial.… Read more
I parked my rental car along West Confederate Avenue this morning in Gettysburg National Military Park, racing to get to the outdoor amphitheater. I could hear a small horn band playing, and I didn’t want to miss the sermon: my host – Walt Powell, PhD – was the speaker at this inter-denominational service. 1 Walt began his speech by explaining how he had considered using the words of Reverend James Brand, a veteran of the 27th Connecticut, who had delivered a rather political oration at a monument dedication for his regiment in 1885 – wherein he talked about corruption and the “liquor oligarchy.” Instead, Walt discussed the sacred ground of Gettysburg, and what it meant for us today.… Read more
Walt and Sue Powell are incredibly plugged in to the Gettysburg community, and as Walt is also a reenactor (though mostly colonial things these days), they have been invaluable resources during this research trip. ↩
I’m not doing the speech full justice here, but suffice to say it eloquently wrestled with the overlap between memory, history, commemoration, and what we should take away from the war and the sesquicentennial. ↩
When I arrived at the reenactment at the Redding farm this morning, I was determined to spend more time with the living historians, who had seemed – overall – quite a bit more chatty and willing to engage with the spectators than the reenactors in the camps. This is part and parcel of the division between reenacting and living history though as I understand it: reenactors may engage with the performance for a variety of reasons, but living historians have a pedagogical interest. Yesterday, tintype photographer Rob Gibson suggested the main reason people began re-enacting was “99% fun” from what he’s gathered in his many encounters.… Read more
It was the second day of the official reenactment at the privately-owned farm, but I did not sally forth to witness another battle today. Instead I went downtown to get a sense of the local market: some of the museums, the businesses, the institutions and individuals that profit from and cater to the visitors to Gettysburg. While I did get a sampling of the wares, I also finally found a way into the big issue that had been looming – largely unspoken – over the past couple of days. Slavery, finally, was front and center in the narratives and places that I encountered today.… Read more
Yesterday I watched the close of a commemorative march tracing the steps of the Confederate troops during Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd: thousands participated and watched, marking the space where these troops moved, on the very ground this assault took place. Monuments to the charge and its participants littered the field, providing shade for people and reminding us that this is, in fact, sacred ground. Edward Tabor Linenthal called Gettysburg – along with land of other seminal American battles (Lexington & Concord, Little Bighorn, etc.) – “sacred patriotic space,” or “pilgrimage sites,” where “memories of the transformative power of war and the sacrificial heroism of the warrior are preserved,” and those who visit “seek environmental intimacy in order to experience patriotic inspiration.” 1
In his chapter on Gettysburg, Linenthal goes on to describe the centennial Gettysburg celebrations, contextualizing it in terms of race relations in 1963.… Read more
Edward Tabor Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 3. ↩
Though the main celebrations won’t kick off until tomorrow – July 4th – there have been plenty of living history/reenactment events throughout the past couple of weeks in Gettysburg building up to the official 150th of the battle. This afternoon was the Pickett’s Charge commemorative march, and as I made my way through the streets of downtown Gettysburg (slowly, every so slowly in the traffic), I couldn’t help but be struck by theodd juxtaposition of Civil War-era costume and modern day trappings as reenactors and interpreters ambled through town. It was jarring; women in hoop skirts and men in wool uniforms draped themselves over meticulously restored porch railings while tourists with fanny packs drifted by.… Read more
Researching black performance in the late nineteenth century poses a host of problems for a theatre historian. The archive is, at best, spotty, though there have been many excellent recent attempts to redress these gaps. In my efforts to find plays and productions speaking to slavery and Civil War memories staged by black performers in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, I found a short but tantalizing bit about Charles Sager’s production The Negro (1899)in Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch’s A History of African American Theatre.1 I decided the production merited a bit more digging, as it was a rare example of black history staged for a larger audience around the turn-of-the-century, when touring plantation shows were the most popular modes of black performance.… Read more
See Errol G. Hill, “New Vistas: Plays, Spectacles, Musicals, and Opera,” A History of African American Theatre, eds. Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch’s (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 140. ↩
During my research, I stumbled across an 1894 article from the Atlanta Constitution that crystallizes many of the tensions in US Civil War memories at the end of the nineteenth century – and how these memories participated in the construction of race. While it turns out I will not be incorporating this archival bit into the chapter I’m drafting, it did seem a shame to relegate it to an untapped digital dissertation-research cloud somewhere.
To begin, one must understand the power of plantation nostalgia, running rampant through the increasingly industrialized landscape of the late nineteenth-century US. Northern cultural products produced by and for predominantly white audiences bemoaned and romanticized the supposed loss of the Southern planter elite of the antebellum system and slavery alike towards the century’s close.… Read more
“They’re Dying Out,” Atlanta Constitution, September 9, 1894, 2. ↩