Social Life and Activities
Theater and Music in Boston
Olive Ruby Henty was a frequent theatergoer, attending plays in Boston and New York. She was fortunate enough to have come to Boston shortly after the twentieth century building boom that resulted in the presence fifteen playhouses in Boston by 1915, four with resident professional companies. The majority of these playhouses were located within half a mile radius of Tremont and Boylston Streets, situated near Boston's commercial center and the Beacon Hill residences (Boston Athenaeum, 2001d). Olive may have also had the opportunity to see such greats on stage as the Barrymores who were known to play in Boston on many occasions.
Stage censorship was always an issue in Boston, dating back to the city's puritan roots, but became rampant with the introduction of city censors in 1904. Many of the early playhouses in Boston, including Exhibition Hall and the Boston Museum, chose names that did not indicate that it was in fact a playhouse. "Indeed, the term 'banned in Boston' was one used either pejoratively by theater lovers, or perhaps frequently as an added incentive" (Boston Athenaeum, 2001d) as artistic endeavors met moral and religious concerns.back to top
Music in Boston
In addition to her theater attendance, Olive also enjoyed the occasional musical performance. Among these performances, Olive attended the still relatively new Boston Symphony Orchestra several times.
Henry L. Higgison founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881. It was created with the vision "of an ideal symphony orchestra - an orchestra of artists as far as possible, or, at least, of highly trained, skillful players, conducted by the best musician that could be found, whose word was to be law" (Boston Tercentenary Committee, 1932, pp. 321-2). By the time Olive attended, the orchestra had moved from its original home at the Old Boston Music Hall to Symphony Hall, which opened on October 15, 1900.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra was marked by a period of change and suspicion in the mid-1910s. Until this time, the conductors of the Boston Symphony Orchestra had always been German and the symphony's musical focus also tended to be Germanic. In 1912, Dr. Karl Muck, formerly the Berlin Opera House's Hofcapellmeister, became the conductor of the orchestra for a second time (his first stint with the orchestra was from 1906-1908). During the time between his first and second employment with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Muck, a good friend of the German emperor, was appointed General Music Director of Germany, a position that came with a high ranking position in the German army. With the start of World War I, anyone with a German name became suspicious and Muck was no exception. The Boston Symphony Orchestra soon came under attack, with rumors surrounding Muck; frenzied patriots even protested the playing of Wagner by the symphony. This suspicion led many members of the orchestra to leave for other opportunities. Ultimately, Muck was arrested and interred at Fort Oglethorpe until the end of the war. The position of conductor was taken over by French musician, Henri Rabaud. Olive may have had the opportunity to see Muck conduct the orchestra before his internment.
Olive may also have had the opportunity to see an operatic performance at the Boston Opera House, a short-lived endeavor that lasted only from 1909 until 1912.back to top
Theater in the US
Like Boston, the rest of the United States also felt the burden of censorship. Preachers would warn that attending plays was sinful and theater was often associated with hedonism and violence. It did not help when, at the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was shot while watching a play in Ford's Theater.
By the 1880s, the Broadway musical had taken shape in New York City and New York became the city with which all other theater was compared.back to top
Vaudeville also became popular in Boston and throughout the United States from the late 1880s until the early 1930s. Vaudeville derived from many sources, including concert saloons, minstrelsy, freak shows, dime museums, and literary burlesque. Each evening, performances consisted of a series of separate acts; these acts included musicians, dancers, comedians, Shakespearean performers, trained animals, magicians, and minstrels.
B.F. Keith is known as the "father of American Vaudeville." After building a variety of theaters and museums around the Boston area that featured acts such as "Baby Alice the Midget Wonder," Keith built the B.F. Keith Theatre. Unlike perceptions of vaudeville may suggest, Keith "ruled with an iron fist, censuring and censoring performers whose acts fell below his standards of decency. Keith posted signs backstage ordering performers to eliminate 'vulgarity and suggestiveness in words, action, and costume' while performing in his theatre 'under fine of instant discharge'"(UVA, 2002). With this attention to cleanliness came support from the Catholic Church. Thus, Keith helped to create a theater, which could educate American audiences in their new roles as passive spectators as the introduction of movies, and shows replaced interactive theater.
Before the rise of vaudeville, the minstrel show was a similar type of show that consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music. However, unlike vaudeville, minstrel shows were performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the American Civil War, African Americans in blackface. A typical minstrel performance followed a three-act structure with a combination of song, dance, and play-acting.
Minstrel shows tended to promote African American stereotypes and its racism could be vicious. These shows lost their popularity during the Civil War as they were replaced by vaudeville, musical comedies, and variety shows.back to top
A Brief Description of Theaters visited by Olive Ruby Henty
The Boston Theatre that Olive would have visited was actually the second theater with that name. This theater opened in 1854 on the same site as the original Boston Theatre. Julia Dean and Edwin Forrest were among the more prominent actors at the first Boston Theatre. This theater also functioned as an opera house until the Boston Opera House was built in 1909.
The Castle Square Theatre was a relatively small playhouse built by E.M. Maynard in 1894. It was often home to opera and touring plays. The Castle Square Theatre was eventually torn down in 1932.
C.H. Blackall created the Colonial Theatre. It is the oldest Boston theater to survive intact, opening in 1900. It was one of the first theaters to be erected in the Boston theater district. Apart from the Tremont Theatre, it was the first playhouse to be erected in the Boston theater district that originated around the turn of the century around the Southern end of Tremont Street.The Hollis Street Theatre, build by John R. Hall, opened in 1885 with Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. It was torn down in 1935. The theater featured such well-known actors as Dion Boucicault, Madame Modjeska, Maurice Barrymore, E.H. Sothern, and Sarah Bernhardt.
B.F. Keith's Theatre opened in 1894. It was one of many in a chain of ?vaudeville? theaters he would open. In 1909 he took over the Boston Theatre, which became one of Keith's three-theater complexes seating 7000 people.
The Majestic Theatre is a 1903 "Beaux Arts" style opera house and was designed by John Galen Howard. The Majestic was converted for vaudeville shows in the 1920s and eventually into a movie house in the 1950s.
Opened in 1879, the Park Theatre is one of only two surviving nineteenth century Boston theaters. Lotta Crabtree, a well-known actress, opened it.
The Plymouth Theatre opened on October 16, 1911 with John Millington Synge's controversial Playboy of the Western World as presented by the Abbey Theater. In attendance were Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats.
Known for its dramas and theatrical histories, the Schubert Theatre was designed by Thomas James in 1910. The Shubert's marquee is the last of its kind in Boston.
The St. James Theatre existed on the corner of Washington and Harvard Streets.
Several Boston playhouses were named Tremont Theatre and were built in 1827, 1889 and 1908, respectively.back to top
Hippodrome (New York)
The Hippodrome Theatre stood in New York City from 1905 to 1939. It For a time the Hippodrome was the largest and most successful theater in New York and was referred to as the world's largest theatre by its builders, Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy, creators of the Luna Park amusement park at Coney Island. The theatre was located on the modern day Avenue of the Americas, between Forty-third and Forty-fourth streets. It was known to have a variety of performances including circuses and vaudeville. The building was torn down in 1939.back to top
Boston Athenaeum. (2001a). Boston theater histories A-C. Retrieved November 17, 2007, from http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/bostontheaterhistoriesa.html
---. (2001b). Boston theater histories G-M. Retrieved November 17, 2007, from http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/bostontheaterhistoriesg.html
---. (2001c). Boston theater histories N-W. Retrieved November 17, 2007, from http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/bostontheaterhistoriesn.html
---. (2001d). Theatre collection of the Boston Athenaeum. Retrieved November 17, 2007, from http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/theatreintro.html
Boston Symphony Orchestra. (2007). Symphony Hall. Retrieved November 22, 2007, from http://www.bso.org/bso/mods/toc_01_gen_images.jsp;jsessionid=AOEKUB3Y3IV4WCTFQMGCFEQ?id=bcat5220065
Boston (Mass.). Tercentenary Committee. Subcommittee on Memorial History. (1932). Fifty years of Boston: a memorial volume issued in commemoration of the tercentenary of 1930. Boston.
Norton, E. (1978). Broadway down east: an informal account of the plays, players and playhouses of Boston from puritan times to the present. Boston: Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston.
UVA. (2002). Vaudeville, a history. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA02/easton/vaudeville/vaudevillemain.html
Wikipedia. (2007). Hippodrome Theatre, New York City. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippodrome_Theatre%2C_New_York_City
---. (2007). Minstrel show. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minstrel_show
---. (2007). New York Hippodrome. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Hippodrome
---. (2007). Vaudeville. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaudeville
Wikipedia. (2007). Boston Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Symphony_Orchestraback to top