This month’s Showstoppers issue of AQUILA is all about treading the boards. Let’s get our show on the road, with some thoroughly thespian theatrical facts.

1. Teatro Olimpico

The oldest surviving enclosed theatre is Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy. Designed by the eminent Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, the first performance here took place about 550 years ago. It was The Mousetrap* Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Palladio never lived to see opening night though, he died six months after building commenced on the project.
Teatro Olimpico, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

2. The Minnack

The Minack is an open-air theatre that is perched on the Cornish cliffs of Porthcurno. The Minack might look like an ancient addition to the land, but it’s actually less than a century old. It was built mostly with hand tools by Rowena Cade and a few helpers. She built it to give local drama enthusiasts a place to perform. Amazing!

Trish Steel, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

3. Mrs Fitzherbert

On 17 April 1782, a lady named Mrs Fitzherbert was so overcome by a performance of The Beggar’s Opera on Drury Lane, London, that she actually DIED LAUGHING! I suppose there are worse ways to go!

British Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Radio City Music Hall

The largest indoor theatre in the world is Radio City Music Hall. It was conceived by John D.
Rockefeller in response to the Wall Street Crash and The Great Depression of 1929, as a way to generate jobs and as a beacon of hope for the people of New York City. The auditorium can seat over 6,000 people and there are no columns to obstruct views, so every seat is a good seat.

Daniel Dimitrov, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

5. The Theatre of Small Convenience

Talking of excellent seats, how about a throne? According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world’s smallest theatre is The Theatre of Small Convenience, which is situated inside a Victorian gentlemen’s toilet in Malvern, Worcestershire, UK. It’s got 12 seats. Now that’s what I call a standing LOO-vation!

Bob Embleton - The Theatre of Small Convenience

6. The Lyceum Theatre

The Lyceum Theatre in London once employed the famous author Bram Stoker as its acting manager. He wrote his legendary novel Dracula whilst working there. Rumour has it he didn’t mind the actors sneezing during performances, but he couldn’t handle coffin! (That’s just a silly joke, I am sure he was a perfectly nice and tolerant bloke).

Bram Stoker, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

7. The Black Crook

The first ever musical is considered to be The Black Crook, which premiered at Niblo’s Garden on Broadway on 12 September 1866. A melodramatic adaptation of a book by Charles M. Barras, it successfully combined music by George Bickwell and Giuseppe Operti, and lyrics by Theodore Kennick. The Black Crook ran for an entire year and helped provide the blueprint for many more Broadway musicals.

Forbes Co., Boston, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

8. The Globe Theatre

The Globe Theatre in London is the only building in the city that’s allowed to have a thatched roof. Why? Because of a certain little event that took place in the city in 1666, when a good proportion of the capital BURNED TO THE GROUND. Yep, after The Great Fire of London thatched roofs were outlawed because of… you know… flammability. When it was rebuilt in the 1990s, The Globe was given special permission to use thatch. It took 6,000 bundles of reeds from Norfolk’s reed beds, which took a year and a half to grow!

The Globe Theatre recreated by Rob Farrow, via Wikimedia Commons

9. Fire

That famous thatched roof should absolutely come with a safety warning. The original building definitely wasn’t fireproof, as William Shakespeare discovered back in 1616. A cannon misfired during a performance of Henry VIII, setting off a spark in the rafters. The theatre was destroyed in under an hour. It’s believed that one man suffered injury and embarrassment when his trousers caught fire. He had to put them out with some beer. Yes, you’re absolutely right, that SHOULD have been the last straw (LOLZ), but, then again, can you imagine The Globe covered in rubber and PVC? No, neither can we.

C. Walter Hodges, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

10. Female actors

Did you know that it was against the law for females to act professionally on the English stage until 1660? Until then, male actors assumed female roles. The first female actor to break with tradition was Margaret Hughes, who played Desdemona in Othello on Vere Street, London, on 8 December 1660. Samuel Pepys later wrote about her in his famous diary!

Margaret Hughes by Peter Lely, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Still hungry for expensive interval snacks knowledge? Check out this month’s issue of AQUILA for hundreds more theatre-themed facts, arts and crafts and activities. Oh, no. You haven’t subscribed? Click here to CHANGE THAT IMMEDIATELY. 

*Just a little theatre joke there, we’re fancy like that. The Mousetrap is actually the longest-running show of any kind in the entire world. It’s been translated into a mahoosive number of languages since it opened, in November 1952 – not exactly Renaissance Europe, but still a LONG TIME AGO. Obviously explaining that sort of ruins the joke… sorry.


Author: Freya Hardy