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Travel by Water and Road

"OCEANA: High on a craggy rock an Indian stood, with sinewy arm and eye that pierced the glen.… With awe I gazed as on the cliff he turned -- the grandest model of a mighty man.…
WALTER: 'Tis Metamora, the noble sachem of a valiant race -- the white man's dread, the Wampanoag's hope." — John Augustus Stone, Metamora (1829) Act I, sc. 1

At the beginning of the 19th century, the performing arts were flourishing in the new nation. Still, even the thriving seaports could not support full seasons for commercial theaters and concert halls. To find sufficient work, performers traveled to their audiences, commuting between inland and coastal cities, moving up and down the Eastern seacoast, and eventually, as transportation methods improved, heading West. Theaters such as Niblo's Gardens in New York or the Howard Athenaeum in Boston imported European family troupes of performers. Actor-managers Sol Smith and Noah Ludlow established a chain of theaters first along the Mississippi and, later, the Ohio and Missouri rivers. In addition to actors, these circuits featured ballet dancers, slack- and tightrope walkers, and jugglers and acrobats, who appealed to both English-speaking and non-English-speaking audiences.

Touring actors sought vehicles that provided dramatic situations, rousing speeches, a variety of character parts for their companies, and starring roles for themselves. That search eventually struck on the nation's own great conflict -- the ongoing hostilities between Native Americans and settlers. When actor-manager Edwin Forrest sponsored a competition for "the best tragedy, in five acts, of which the hero, or principal character, shall be an aboriginal of this country," the winner was John Augustus Stone's Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags (1829). In 1843, Boston's National Theater billed L. H. Medina's dramatization of Robert Montgomery Bird's virulently anti-native novel Nick of the Woods, or The Jibbenainosay as "Grand National Drama." Female performers trained in ballet or pantomime were often cast as the title characters in dramas about Native American women who sacrificed themselves for their people. John Baldwin Buckstone's The Green Bushes (1851) and various dramatizations of James Fenimore Cooper's 1829 The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish were popular touring vehicles throughout the United States and England. Such plays constituted the American equivalent of the nationalist operas and ballets popular in European theaters.

The typical stock characters to appear on stage were the comic Yankee peddler and the boastful frontiersman; actors Joseph Jefferson, as Rip Van Winkle, and Frank Mayo, as Davy Crockett, interpreted these roles for decades.

Refer to Map of the United States and Mexico (1859), which details explorers' trails, transportation routes, settlement patterns, and locations of mineral wealth. These factors greatly affected tours undertaken by performing artists in America during the first half of the 19th century.

Clara Fisher as Mme. Josephine   1
Clara Fisher as Mme. Josephine in The Actress for All Work, 1822
LPA, Billy Rose Theatre Collection

Augusta Maywood as Zoloe   2
Augusta Maywood as Zoloe in La Bayadere, 1838
LPA, Jerome Robbins Dance Division

Broadside for Marietta Ravel tour performances   3
Broadside for Marietta Ravel tour performances at the Academy of Music, 1866
LPA, Jerome Robbins Dance Division

Edwin Forrest in Metamora   4
Edwin Forrest in the title role of Metamora, ca. 1859
LPA, Billy Rose Theatre Collection

Mme. Celine Celeste   5
Mme. Celine Celeste in The Green Bushes, 1865
LPA, Jerome Robbins Dance Division

Carte de visite of Frank Mayo   6
Carte de visite of Frank Mayo in the title role of Davy Crockett, [1881-2]
LPA, Billy Rose Theatre Collection

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