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Mon, 01.29.1912

The Lafayette Theater, a Black Arts beginning

*The Lafayette Theatre is celebrated on this date in 1912.  In New York, this was one of the first stage houses in America where Black artist performed.

The Lafayette Theatre, also known as the "House Beautiful" was located at 132nd Street and 7th Avenue.  It was probably the first New York Theater to integrate. Black theatergoers were allowed to sit in orchestra seats instead of only the balcony. The Lafayette Players, the resident stock company, played before almost exclusively African American audiences in plays from popular white theater repertory as well as the classics. The theater seated 2,000 and presented such Broadway hits as Madame X, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Shakespeare's Macbeth opened at the Lafayette, which had been arranged and staged by Orson Welles. This was a production of the Federal Theatre Project that was a part of the Works Project Administration. The overture was by James P. Johnson and such notable actors as Canada Lee and Rose McClendon were part of the program. This show came to be known as the "Voodoo Macbeth" because of the various African elements employed in it.

Management changed several times and the theater was turned into a vaudeville house; later it became a movie theater and finally a church.

Reference:
Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1999
ISBN 0-465-0071-1

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