American School Theatricals: Types of Plays

Figure 1.--This photograph shows the cast of a production of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" produced by the drama department of the Canton High School in Canton, New York, probably during the mid- or late-1910s. We think it must have been the 1910s because Odgen Conkey (whose picture at about 10 years of age in 1908 appears elsewhere. Here he would have been about 17-18 years of age in his senior year when he acted in the high school play. It was obviously an important production and the school must have spent considerable money on the elaborate costuming. Notice especially Antonio, the Merchant and title character, wearing a figured velvet doublet, white tights, and a feathered hat. The boy playing Shylock, the Jew, is wearing a long gray beard in the back row. Portia and Nerissa are shown as the judge and his assistant, wearing black robes and mortarboards. Bassanio, the romantic lead, seems to be the boy with the pointed hat in the front row next to Antonio, wearing what look like white tights and a long floor-length cape. The Duke is standing in the center with a velvet and ermine cape. The Merchant was played by Clarence Hayden and Shylock by Melford Brown. The general age level must have been about 16-18 years.

American schools put on a great range of plays. We are not sure when American schools began theatrical productions. We suspect the mid-19th century. Theatricals are now produced at every level of American education, including both primary and secondary schools. Primary schools produce a range of theatricals suitable for younger children. These are commonly fun productions of theatricals specially designed for the younger children. Many of these children enjoy costumes snd pretend activities. Most secondary school perform a school play each year. We are not sure when American schools began theatrical productions. We suspect the mid-19th century. The older children are able to put on more sophisticated productions. The classics are commonly produced. This was particuarly common in the 19th and early-20th centuries. The high school production of 'The Merchant of Venice' seen here is a good example. Greek and Roman plays are difficult to produce. So often Shakespeare's plays were produced. Since World War II the school productions have been more varied. Many plays were written in the the 19th cedntury. And we notice some particularly important ones beginning at the turn-of-the 20tyh century. The development of musicals created new material for school productions. The Broadway musicals that begin to develop in the 1920s have proven very popular high school productions. A factor here is that changing moral values have made it possivlr to produce plays that once would have been though in appropriate for school productions.


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Created: 10:54 PM 11/21/2010
Last updated: 10:54 PM 11/21/2010