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American Theater History

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America's First Theater

The origin of theaters in America dates back to 1716, seventy years before the United States became a country. It was built in the colony of Williamsburg, Virginia. Some early performances of this theater included "Richard III" and "The Merchant of Venice" performed by professional actors who were often dependent on offerings from the audience for their pay.

As America's population grew, so did the number of theaters. Especially in the large cities where theater could be easily supported. Theaters were a social happening for communities and represented the only consistent form of entertainment.

Until the middle 1800s, it was the act in town so to speak. When photography was invented it represented no apparent threat live theater. That would change when motion pictures were made possible, but even then -- the new invention was strictly an unsupported novelty that only had the enjoyment made possible by one's curiousity.

Motion Picture History Timeline

    1881: Alexander Graham Bell invents the Photophone, the first device connecting sound to photos.

    1881: Thomas Edison's laboratory invents the Kinetograph motion picture camera.

    1894: Woodville Latham developed the Eidoloscope, a wide film projector that used the Latham loop. However, Eugene A. Lauste is the first to develop and patent the technology for recording sound on 35mm film.

    1912: Motorized unit replaces hand crank on movie cameras.

    1926: Radio erodes some of the market for silent movies.

    1927: First "talking" movie, stars Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer".

Drive-In Theaters

Richard M. Hollingshead opened the first Drive-in theater in New Jersey. For several years earlier, he experimented with the concept in the driveway of his home. Using a 1928 Kodak projector, he mounted it on the hood of his car which was projected film images onto a make shift large screen he had attached to the trees in his backyard. Comfortable with his invention, he filed for a patent and opened the first drive-in theater on June 6, 1933.


Related web resources:

  • [-] Theater History on the Web - Resource index to websites about theater.
  • [-] American Variety Stage (LOC) - Vaudeville and popular entertain.
  • [-] Academy of Movie Posters
  • [-] Cinema Treasures
  • [-] Drive-In Movie History
  • [-] Complete History of the Discovery of Cinematography
  • [-] Motion Picture Sound History.
  • [-] Learn About Movie Posters
  • [-] How are Hollywood films made?
  • [-] Bob Hope, American Variety (LOC)
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