Touring West: 19th-century Performing Artists on the
This online exhibition
celebrates the creators, promoters, and
performers of professional theater, music, and dance who toured
the American continent. The time frame is defined at one end by
the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which brought the West into the
realm of possibility for America, and at the other by the
Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893, just before the twin
inventions of cinema and recorded sound changed forever the
relationship between performer and audience.
Performances are documented here through promotional ephemera such
as broadsides, programs, flyers, handbills, souvenirs, postcards,
and, after 1848, photographs. Through scores and prompt scripts,
annotated by musicians and stage managers, we can learn what the
audience experienced at the events. Business records, ship or
train schedules and shipping manifestos speak to the realities of
Throughout the online exhibition, the performers' lives on the
road are described. Childhood shipwrecks and wagon train disasters
live in the memoirs of veteran performers.
Letters to loved ones and business
managers reveal the perils of performing Shakespeare. We can read
Edwin Booth being
philosophical about presenting Julius Caesar in a
While composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk's diary vividly records
world events, such as his learning of Lincoln's assassination
while sailing from Panama to California, it is notable in
detailing the sheer exhaustion of ship and train travel.
In addition, there were nonprofessional actors and singers in
every encampment. As towns grew, amateur theater and operetta
groups presented Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan. Chorales
and orchestras developed in the touring centers. Schools of music,
dance, acting, and elocution grew so that audience members,
inspired by the touring greats, could study for their own future
careers in the performing arts. Although we look here at
professional theater, music, and dance only, we know that the
audiences carried their experiences on their travels as well. A
song heard in concert in St. Louis would be whistled all the way
to Portland. An Othello seen in Los Angeles would live in
the memories of gold rushers as they dispersed across the Sierras.
The material in this online exhibition is drawn from the Billy
Rose Theatre Collection, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Music
Division, and Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound
of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Maps
from the Map Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Library provide geographic and political information pertinent to
the touring experience.
Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg Curator of Exhibitions, Shelby
Cullom Davis Museum, The New York Public Library for the
This website is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III and
The Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation, Inc. in memory of Ruth
and Seymour Klein. Additional support was provided by The Mercator
Society of The New York Public Library.
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts gratefully
acknowledges the leadership support of Dorothy and Lewis B.
Cullman. Additional support for programs and exhibitions has been
provided by Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg and the Miriam and
Harold Steinberg Foundation.
Support for the Exhibitions Program at The New York Public
Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Library has been provided
by Pinewood Foundation and by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.
Announcement for Romeo and Juliet, 1767
LPA, Billy Rose Theatre Collection
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