The history of Broadway spans back to before the famous street was an icon. Beginning in 1750 actors opened a small theater which held 280 people. The theater mostly showcased Shakespearian plays, focusing on classical theater. During the Civil War the arts took a huge hit, falling to the wayside in the fight for freedom. It was during reconstruction that the arts were allowed to flourish, and the Broadway that we’ve come to know began to take shape.
Though Broadway has been home to many famous theatrical performances, musicals are truly thought of as a signature Broadway experience. During its first years, the New York theater scene struggled to keep up with the posh experience offered in London. Long form musicals would begin to increase in popularity in the late 1800’s. With the growing popularity of theatrical performances came the need to expand. It was this need that would drive companies into mid-town New York as the real estate was more affordable. The increasing shift in favoring modern plays and musicals as opposed to Shakespeare led to longer runs on stage, and later revivals of popular shows.
Many factors have threatened theater in New York throughout history. After the Civil War would come change that would lead to the Great Depression. Pulling through by the skin of its teeth, the next threat would come in the form of film. At first silent films with live compositions weren’t considered to be on par with the excitement of live theater, but as films developed into “talkies” it would become a contender. World War II would serve as an integral period for theater. Anti-Nazi shows discussing Hitler’s rise in Europe and the lack of American intervention became a common scene on Broadway.
The lights of Broadway were introduced in the 1920’s, bringing a sensational feel to an otherwise drab stretch of road. What began as solely white light would eventually evolve into the bright signs we think of today. Broadway’s storied history has led to a number of efforts to get the street cleared as an American historical site. Whether it’s official or not, Broadway started a revolution that spanned throughout America.
The arts are constantly moving and changing. Whether you’re a performer, stage hand, musician, or a part of the audience, an understanding of why theater has evolved into the contemporary performances we know today gives one a greater understanding and purpose. Today, we are a part of cultural history in the making. Leap of Joy takes great pride in our cultivation of future performers, and as the arts community continues to thrive we hope to see some of our students’ names in those Broadway lights.