On this day in 1787 the first play by an American writer was performed at the John Street Theatre in New York City.
Entitled ’The Contrast’, by Royall Tyler, it was a comedy that satirised Americans who followed British fashions (the War of Independence was a recent memory). The play can thus be seen as the start of the great theatrical tradition and industry now known as Broadway.
In 2014 over 13 million people paid 1.3 billion dollars to watch Broadway shows. The influence of American drama and musicals has been immense and continues. It seems that we have a constant taste for live drama that since the time of Sophocles and Euripides in Ancient Greece over two thousand years ago, has never ceased. Long may it last.
Here is a fragment of a Sophocles play from the fifth century BC, about the effect that love has upon us – it is just as relevant today:
When ice appears out of doors
And boys seize it while it is solid,
At first they experience new pleasures.
But in the end their pride
Will not allow them to let it go,
But their discovery is not good for them
If it stays in their hands.
In exactly the same way desire
Drives lovers to act and not to act”
Today I reflect on the power that the immediacy of live drama has to teach us truths about ourselves.