Located right here in Philadelphia, the Walnut is America's oldest theatre. On this day in 1809, it opened as a circus that showcased equestrian acts. It became a producing company when Bernard Havard took the reins (no pun intended) in the early 1980's The Philadelphia Inquirer published several, great, in-depth articles about the Walnut Street Theatre and it's origins.
A line in one of the articles that profiles Bernard Havard struck home with me. The article discusses Mr. Havard's commitment to hiring local Philly actors:
"...underscoring a general Philadelphia-area notion that theater artists here
should be able to buy homes and raise families without having to wait
Before we were married, Brian and I lived in DC where many artists both lived and worked and it gave all of us in the arts a real sense of community. It was sad to leave the area but after my daughter was born we wanted to be closer to family. It also gave me the choice of not having to return to work right away. When we decided it was time to return to a city, DC had become too expensive. Philly on the other hand has a vibrant theater scene as well as suburbs with great schools and easy commutes to the city. I also love that most of the actors and other theater artists I meet have families of their own. Way back in the day, when I started in theater as an intern, no one had children. I didn't know how to have both a theater career and a family because I had no role models.
Now, everybody shares my pain or at least understands it. It's not pain as much as panic when schools are closed or children are sick. When I thought that my children might have a snow day on the last day of the Tulipomania workshop, the production manager said, "Oh, just bring the kids here." And she meant it because I often arrive at the Arden to find at least one parent with child in tow.
I probably have the Walnut to thank for that as well as the rest of the Philly theater community. If you get a chance peruse some of the articles or check out the Walnut fun facts. I learned that when John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, his brother and sister were owners of the Walnut Street Theater. It certainly has seen some history.
So Happy Birthday Walnut! May all Philly theaters have as long a history!