Adventures written by the VAMONDE Team
A site celebrated for a number of reasons, Dock Street Theatre was once the site of an 18th-century playhouse that later became the antebellum Planter’s Hotel. A reproduction of an early London theatre was created within the walls of the Planter’s Hotel and on the site of the early theatre with federal funds during the depression.
Known as America's First Theatre, Dock Street Theatre opened with a performance of The Recruiting Officer on February 12, 1736. The Historic Dock Street Theatre was the first building in the U.S. that was built specifically for theatre performances. The first opera performance in the U.S., Flora, took place at the theatre. The first building of Dock Street Theatre was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1740, which destroyed several buildings in Charleston's French Quarter. In 1809, the Planter's Hotel was constructed on the site of the burned down theatre. After the Civil War, the Planter's Hotel was slated for demolition, and then was taken up by the City of Charleston and became a Depression Era WPA (Works Progress Administration) project. The current theatre was then built on the grounds. The hotel's grand foyer became the grand foyer of the theatre and the hotel's dining room now serves as the box office lobby. Modeled after eighteenth-century London playhouses, the present Dock Street Theatre's new stage house and auditorium were built in the hotel's courtyard. The second grand opening of the theatre happened on November 26, 1937.
Many gay people in Charleston became associated with the Dock Street Theatre and the various production companies that performed there. Dorothy D’Anna (1918-2012) was Associate Director of the Footlight Players and taught at the College of Charleston. She and her partner, Carol “Kit” Lyons (1927-2011), founded and ran the Little Theatre School for children, staging the productions down Queen Street at the Workshop Theatre. James Blake (1922-1979), prominently known for his writings, promoted by Nelson Algren and others, published his letters in the Paris Review. Blake was a gay man who was “kept” by a local Charleston aristocrat (whose name Blake masked in his letters) who made a plea in his letters to the young gay bohemians associated with the Dock Street Theatre, revealing a homophobic and racist city where even the gay men turned on themselves. Blake was known to have addressed this in his letters: “Less Cleverness,” was what he requested. “More kindness. For the good of the breed, such as it is."
Cover photo by Peter Lewicki via Unsplash.