Play Booth Theater – Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member PersonsMD
N 37° 16.374 W 076° 42.103
18S E 349124 N 4126503
Quick Description: Located in historic Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, is the site of the first Theater in America. Established in 1716 by William Levingston. Today the Play Booth Theater, an outdoor theater entertains visitors to the Colonial Williamsburg complex.
Location: Virginia, United States
Date Posted: 10/24/2012 9:32:58 AM
Waymark Code: WMFJ28
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member lumbricus
Views: 4

Long Description:
Located in historic Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, is the site of the first Theater in America. Established in 1716 by William Levingston the theater entertained colonial residents. for 30 years before transforming into a municipal hall. Today an outdoor theater entertains visitors to the Colonial Williamsburg complex.

Today the theater provides an open air stage for the Williamsburg Company of Comedians. Weather permitting performers present reenactments form 18th century satires.

The text of the plaque marking the location reads:
“Site of the First Theatre - William Levingston, merchant of New Kent County, built the first theatre in English America on this site C. 1716. For three decades companies of actors entertained audiences at the “Play House” with latest successes from the London Stage. In 1745 the City of Williamsburg converted the frame structure into a municipal hall. The building was razed C. 1770 after construction on the Courthouse on Market Square”

The theatre was located in what is now known as Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, and has been recorded and traced using the old colonial lot numbers, #163 and #164 on Palace Street, and #169 on Nicholson Street. [The following is taken from “St. George Tucker House Archaeological Report, Block 29 Building 2 Lot 163-164-169: published 1930”

[[“By an agreement between William Livingston and Charles and Mary Stagg, his wife, actors, a theatre was to be built by the former and actors, music and scenery were to be provided out of England for the enactment of comedies and tragedies. This agreement was recorded July 11, 1716, and November 21, 1716. Mr. Livingston purchased three ½ acre lots and erected thereon a dwelling house, kitchen and stable. He laid out also a bowling alley and built a theatre, according to Dr. Tyler in "Williamsburg, the old Colonial Capitol."

In June 24, 1718, Governor Spotswood referred to eight members of the House who had slighted his invitation (Letters, Collection of the Virginia Historical Society, Vol. 11, P. 284): "These eight committeemen would neither to my house nor go to the play which was enacted on the occasion". Another early reference to the play house is in the Virginia Gazette of September 10, 1736, in which a play by the young Gentlemen of the College is advertised to be performed at the Theatre the following week.

"... the house does not have appeared to have prospered for in 1723 its mortgage was foreclosed, and Dr. Archibald Blair, the mortgagee took possession of the property. Charles Stagg died in 1735 and after his death Mary Stagg earned a living holding dancing assemblies". (A History of the Theatre in America", Arthur Hornblow, 1919.)

At this time Dr. Archibald Blair died, and his executor John Blair conveyed the property to George Gilmer, a chemist, according to the deed recorded at Yorktown in February 1735. It was described at this time as the lot where the Bowling Green formerly was, being lots #163, #164 and #169 containing the dwelling house and kitchen of William Livingston, Surgeon.

The city at this time lacked a Court House, and the Council of the City petitioned the subscribers for the Play House: "To the gentlemen subscribers for the Play House on the City of Williamsburg, the corporation of the said city show: That they have no public building within the said city wherein to hold their Common Hall and Courts, but have hitherto used the Court House of James City County or curtesie: That the Play House stands in a convenient place for such uses and has not been put to any use for several years and is now going to decay: That the whole money gathered is not sufficient for a Prison, nor have they any way to raise Public money for a Town House they shall always esteem and acknowledge it a mark of your special favour if you will be pleased to bestow your present useless House on this corporation for the use aforesaid, they intending to repair and alter it at their own expense". (W. & M. Quarterly, XXIV: 29.)

That the "Gentlemen Subscribers: granted the petition of the city is evidenced in a deed from George Gilmer, Gent., to the Mayor, Recorder, Alderman and Common Council of the City of Williamsburg, conveying the portion of lots #163, #164 and #169 which contained the Play-house "together with six feet of ground adjoining to the said Play-house on every side", dated at Yorktown December 4, 1745.

Repairs to the Playhouse were ordered immediately, the Virginia Gazette of December 19, 1745 stating:

"The play House in Williamsburg is to be fitted up for a Court House by order of the Common Hall, that is to be new shingl'd, painted, weatherboarded, with five large sash windows, doors, floors, plaistering and good workmanship within, with apartments for the Mayor." “ ]]

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Theater Name: Play Booth Theater

Country: United States of America

Center Street
Colonial Williamsburg
Williamsburg, VA United States

Venue: Other (specify in narrative)

Type of Productions:
Stage for the Williamsburg Company of Comedians. Presenting reenactments from 18th century satires.

Restored Building: no

Date of Construction: 1716

Architect/Designer: William Levingston

Stage Type: Outdoor

Seating Capacity: 200

Web Site: Not listed

Special Productions/Events/Festivals: Not listed

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