Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Playbill, Royal Shakespearean Theatre, Stratford, May 2, 1851
For Aldridge’s performance at the Royal Shakespearean Theatre in 1851, the audience could look forward to Aldridge’s stirring tragic performance in The Black Doctor plus “a laughable farce (written expressly for Mr. Ira Aldridge) entitled Stage Mad!!” It was common to follow a serious drama with a comic afterpiece and some singing—an actor’s ability to execute both tragic romance and musical comedy pleased the audience and showed off the actor’s own range. Aldridge also often performed comic songs like “Possum up a Gum Tree” that built on vaudeville, music hall, and minstrelsy traditions. Scholars have also documented instances of Aldridge closing many performances with a direct address, song, or poem advocating for the abolition of slavery.

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