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*On this date in 1915, the Lafayette Players debuted their first stage production. Anita Bush founded the Lafayette Players, a dramatic stock company composed entirely of African American actors. Originally from Harlem, this first-of-its-kind group introduced audiences to the idea that Black actors could take on various roles and display a much greater range than previously considered appropriate under Jim Crow.
The Lafayette Players also offered the first opportunity for Black actors to appear in non-musical presentations. They began as the Anita Bush Players, presenting their first play, The Girl at the Forts, at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem. Though successful, a dispute with the venue management led them to move their company to the Lafayette Theater, which they continued on December 27, 1915.
Bush then transferred ownership of the company to the new venue, and the group became the Lafayette Players. Four traveling companies were created at the height of their success from 1919 to 1921. The company was continually active until 1923, when film adaptations undercut live entertainment. Some successor groups used the name Lafayette Players until 1928, and a Lafayette Players group in Los Angeles was active between 1928 and 1932.
The Lafayette Players presented over 250 abbreviated Broadway or classic stage productions weekly; very few were called Race Plays. Their works often shared the show with vaudeville acts and some movies. Some of the more famous players with Lafayette were Charles Gilpin, Evelyn Preer, and Clarence Muse.