At the Theatre, 1852

As this 1852 lithograph indicates, it was often hard to tell where the performance really was situated in popular urban theaters. The raucous audience in this print included an aggressively critical German immigrant (in the center wearing a hat) and an artisan fire “laddie” preoccupied with a hasty meal (on the left). Until the mid nineteenth century, a theatre’s houselights could not be easily dimmed during performances, rendering audience members as visible to each other as the action on the stage. According to historian Peter Buckley, antebellum theatrical audiences regularly interacted with performers of familiar “stock” repertory by correcting lines or interjecting comments, as the text below the image suggests.


At the Theatre, 1852

Source: Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society