Theater had a rough start in America. After the Revolutionary War (1775-83), anti-theater prejudice and the absence of copyright protections inhibited the production of new American plays. Even as its popularity grew in the nineteenth century, theaters were more common in northern cities like New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia. Vaudeville, a unique blend of comedy, song, and dance, marked the country’s first original addition to the stage. Its widespread appeal from the 1880s to 1930s increased the activity of theater circuits throughout the South, bringing more performances and well-known actors to Georgia.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the birth of motion pictures, or movies, permanently altered American entertainment. The incredible popularity of films brought increased censorship and new theater spaces, often dedicated solely to film screenings. Live theater lost its widespread appeal and mass attendance, but the more focused audience enabled American theater to become more serious and innovative, leading to artistic monuments following the Great Depression, such as The Iceman Cometh and Death of a Salesman.

The civil rights movement inspired a wave of politically and socially conscious theater, which continued well into the 1980s and 1990s. As theater grew more confident in its political commentary, it provided a haven for marginalized communities and a venue for subject matter not often addressed in commercial film.

Exhibit by Makenzie Fitzgerald. Fact checking by John Prechtel.