If you sided with the likes of Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin in the 1770s, it was your patriotic duty to abstain from British goods such as tea and fine clothing. Also thrown into the mix of political boycott was the “British” product of theatre, which was banned by the First Continental Congress in 1774. The purpose behind this hard-headed view of the performing arts seemed to stem from a few different sources: whether it be the colonists’ Puritanical roots from centuries past or the economical wastefulness of theatrical entertainment, many patriots (although not all) did not want theatre to be included in their vision of a new republic.
In his one-man play, George Washington Fellow David Malinsky explores this aspect of early American identity through the eyes of William Dunlap who many consider to be the father of American theatre. Dunlap, whose father was a retired British officer, experienced the American Revolution in British-occupied New York City and then enjoyed the merriments of London during his late teenage years. During his life, Dunlap worked as a professional playwright, theatre manager, painter, and historian. In his later life, he published a book in 1832 entitled A History of the American Theatre. He thoroughly believed that theatre held an important function in society: “What engine is more powerful than the theatre? No arts can be made more effectual for the promotion of good than the dramatic and the histrionic….The engine is powerful for good or ill—it is for society to choose.”
Malinsky’s play, Playing At War, offers a unique perspective of Dunlap’s life and the perception of theatre in the American colonies in the 18th and early 19th century. Director of Education and Public Programs, Jennifer Patton, attended a performance of Playing at War last spring at the Museum of the City of New York, which was a very thought provoking experience. This February, Playing At War will be part of New York City’s Strawberry Theatre Festival (http://www.therianttheatre.com/index.php?n=strawberry_theatre_festival). Malinsky also recently wrote an article on theatre in Colonial America on www.allthingsliberty.com.
Check them out – they both get our patriotic stamp of approval!