Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Illustration from Ira’s Shakespeare Dream (detail)
Floyd Cooper (American, b. 1956)
ca. 2015
oil wash on board

from Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand

New York: Lee and Low Books, 2015
Ira Aldridge continues to inspire. In her children’s book Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, published in 2015, Glenda Armand tells Aldridge’s story in a format designed for young readers. In this illustration from the book, Coretta Scott King Award–winning illustrator Floyd Cooper depicts young Ira Aldridge watching a Shakespeare performance from the balcony of the theatre. Although laws about racial segregation were still evolving in the early nineteenth century, Black patrons at New York’s Park Theatre, as at most other playhouses, were relegated to limited seats in upper levels. Aldridge would later go to Shakespeare performances at the influential, if short-lived, Black-owned African Grove Theatre nearby and perform with its troupe, The African Company, before heading overseas to shape his own future.

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