[Carte-de-visite of Frank Mayo in Davy Crockett, in which he toured from 1873-1892. Photograph by Sarony, New York, 1881-82. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, J.H. James Collection.]
Stop by The New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street for Touring West: 19th-century Performing Artists on the Overland Trails, which is currently on view in the Edna Barnes Salomon Room through July 7, 2001. Admission is free.
The exhibition is now running in conjunction with Heading West: Mapping the Territory, which examines how mapmakers were as instrumental as adventurers and early settlers in making the west a destination. Heading West opened March 9 and closes May 19.
[Drawing of Augusta Maywood, age 12, as Zoloe in La Bayadère. She toured in the piece in Mississippi River port cities. Watercolor drawing by Edward Williams Clay, 1838. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division. ]
Touring West covers the period from the beginning of the 19th Century (around 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase made western expansion possible) through 1893 as performers from both America and Europe made their way across the continent following the expanded trade, shipping, and railroad routes. Artists appeared in theatres and opera houses that, as the exhibit points out, were so important to the settlers that they were often built before the town's streets were constructed, or actors found themselves performing in half built theatres (as Edwin Booth did when touring with a production of Julius Caesar). Shipwreck and wagon train disasters were potential perils and are referred to in Barrymore family matriarch Louisa Lane Drew's memoirs.
The exhibit covers a wide variety of genres--opera, ballet, Shakespeare plays, melodrama, juggling. It features artifacts like brochures, song books, advertisements, postcards, and, after 1848, photographs, and also props, such as Edwin Booth's embroidered handkerchief from Othello.
For today's traveler, take the B, D, or F train to 42nd Street and 6th Avenue and walk one avenue east to view emphemera of the West's theatrical pioneers.