African theater, America’s first black theater

African theater, America's first black theater

1821 – United States. Two hundred years ago, William Alexander Brown opened a theater with a group of black actors. One challenge was that slavery was still practiced in New York.

Two hundred years ago, the Richard III Performed on Shakespeare’s New York stage for the first time. Raja faced a black audience. And he was played by a black actor.

He was a star in the production of African theater and is now considered the first black theater in the United States. If this place had not been so long – only two or three years old – its founder, its cast and its productions would have left their mark on American theatrical history.

The story of African theater begins in William Alexander Brown. Despite being black and independent, Brown bought a house on 38 Thompson Street in Manhattan in 1816, which soon became a gathering place for the entire neighborhood.

Sundays are perfect for entertainment. At the end of the mass, black communities in New York leave in search of distractions. In his garden, Brown quickly starts what he calls the “African grove”: a place where visitors come to hear one of his friends, James Hewlett, while tasting brandy, gin, wine, cakes and ice cream.

Hewlett is quickly joined by other artists and becomes a leading actor in what is known as the African Theater. On September 17, 1821, he played Richard III. There is nothing fancy in the show: the king is wrapped in a simple curtain by a former slave and the play is suitable for a small troop. The meeting is at the meeting though. Hewlett will reprise the role of Richard and perform Shakespeare monologues on stage across the country, becoming the first black Shakespeare actor. Another member


Maya Phillips

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