Connecticut and the stage have had a long and storied past. It’s hard to believe that there were multiple points in history where theater and the stage were looked down upon or even banned, when today Connecticut boasts award-winning theaters that bolster our communities’ vibrancy. But according to research done by Hartford Courant journalist, Frank Rizzo, that is very much the case. As the Hartford Courant turns 250 (Happy Birthday!), I got to learn a little bit more about the history of the very artistic outlets we support.
Thanks to the Hartford Courant’s archives, records from the Connecticut Historical Society, and Barnard Hewitt’s “Theatre U.S.A,” Rizzo was able to uncover the see-saw that was Connecticut’s relationship with theater and the stage. It seems that the first show of note did not arrive in Hartford until 1778, and it was met with very mixed reviews. While some enjoyed the comical performance while many others were horrified by the profane language and the actors dressing in drag to perform a portion of the play, particularly because it was performed in the Court House. New England’s Puritanical roots and morals were very much ingrained in Hartford and Connecticut society, making it hard for any theater troupe to last more than a season and creating a difficult situation finding a location to perform. “A plain white structure” was erected in 1795 in Hartford, but performances arrived only intermittently. In fact, in 1800 the state legislature passed an act “to prevent theatrical shows and exhibitions.” Those who exhibited or aided in exhibiting “any tragedies, comedies, farces or other dramatic pieces or compositions” throughout the state were fined $50! Can you imagine Hartford, or Connecticut as a whole, without the dramatic arts we love so much today?
Eventually the city and state came around to not only allow but avidly support the theater, but it was certainly a heated debate for years and years. I encourage you to read the full history in the article by Rizzo here. Doesn’t it make you appreciate the arts and culture– particularly the stages that are thriving and performing thought-provoking and entertaining pieces– that much more? I admit, I’m a history geek, and I always will be. But I now have a more profound appreciation for the work of the theatres and arts organizations in our area, especially those we support through the United Arts Campaign like TheaterWorks and Hartford Stage and The Bushnell. Imagine if we reverted to banning the dramatic arts. What a boring place Connecticut would be!
And that’s just one more reason why we fundraise and support these great arts organizations in our area. We must respect and understand our history, but please let’s keep the arts a vital part of our communities’ history going forward!