The Bard in the Bluegrass

Two Centuries of Shakespearean Performance in Lexington, Kentucky


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About the Book

Lexington, Kentucky, has been called “the cradle of the legitimate theatre west of the Appalachians” since the opening of its first theatre in 1808. Not long after that opening, a fledgling resident acting company presented Macbeth, the town’s first professional production of a Shakespearean play. Since then, the local and traveling stars committed to drama drove Lexington’s live theatrical glamour to thrive impressively into the twentieth century. Many of the actors who performed in Lexington in the plays of Shakespeare have been forgotten, but their vivid personalities and devotion to their art were once an integral part of American popular culture. The history of their careers and their lives is an important part of theatre history, of Kentucky history, and of American history. This study presents detailed accounts of individual actors in the order of their first appearances in Lexington. Early chapters explore the range of exposure to Shakespeare’s plays and players experienced by the town of Lexington and investigate the cultural climate that affected and was affected by that experience. Because Lexington’s theatrical history provides a template for what so many mid-American towns experienced in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a section of the book explores how hundreds of American cities connected by the early turnpikes and railroads constituted a community of theatre towns that cherished Shakespeare as a keystone of American culture. Remaining chapters are devoted to the lives and careers of the inspiring performers who brought Shakespeare’s words to life over the centuries. Reviews published in Lexington, supplemented with details from newspapers of New York and other cities, have provided source material. In addition, theatrical biographies, histories, historical photographs, programs, advertisements, theatrical journals, scrapbooks, film, and even primitive sound recordings are examined in an attempt to reconstruct something of what Lexington saw and heard of Shakespeare on its local stages.

About the Author(s)

Retired Broadway performer and teacher Kevin Lane Dearinger now lives in Lexington, Kentucky. He is the author of several books, published poems, plays and introductory essays.

Bibliographic Details

Kevin Lane Dearinger
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 318
Bibliographic Info: 130 photos, appendices, chronology, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2007
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2895-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii
Preface      1
Introduction      3
1. Theatrical Life in Lexington      5
2. The Plays      11
3. The Problem of Respectability; Readings and Lectures      17
4. Pioneer Performers in the West: “With Shakespear for
Our Guide” (1810–1832)      28
5. The Antebellum Actors: “A Taste for Drama” (1832–1860)      54
6. Actors and the Civil War: “A Steady Patronage Upon the
Drama” (1860–1864)      67
7. Finding a New Identity: “A Succession of Stars”( 1865–1886)      77
8. Marie Prescott: “Hard Work and Conscientious Devotion”      99
9. Thomas Keene: “Never Wholly Uninteresting”      126
10. Charles B. Hanford: “Glory Is All Good Enough in Its Way”      142
11. Julia Marlowe: “Strenuously Studied”      152
12. “The Best One Night Stand in America” (1887–1900)      167
13. A New Century and New Ideas (1900–1927)      189
14. The Decline of the Shakespearean Touring Companies      216
15. Final Thoughts      228

Appendix A: Chronology of Shakespeare in Lexington, Kentucky      233
Appendix B: Marie Prescott and R.D. MacLean Touring Itinerary,
Appendix C: Charles B. Hanford Touring Itinerary, 1892–1893      270
Chapter Notes      275
Bibliography      287
Index      295