The African Grove: Locating the Legacy of America’s First Black Theater
The African Grove: Locating the Legacy of America’s First Black Theater
Hear a conversation about The African Grove, likely the first Black Theater in the US, founded in 1821. Leading critics and scholars illuminate the brief life of this moment in theatre history and the diversity of this current Broadway season.
NYPL for the Performing Arts online
June 02, 2022 | 6:00 pm
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New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
New York, NY

About This Event

In 1821, William Alexander Brown formed what is believed to be the first Black theatre company in the United States. The African Grove Theater gained popularity with a diverse audience by presenting the works of Shakespeare, including productions of Richard III and King Lear, along with more contemporary plays, including one of Brown’s own original works. Despite this popularity, opposition to the company meant that it was frequently forced to change both its name and location, moving from Brown’s backyard to various spaces in lower Manhattan, before disappearing entirely in 1823.

On June 2, at the Library for the Performing Arts, New York Times critic-at-large Maya Phillips speaks with scholars Harvey Young and Michael Dinwiddie, about the brief life of this largely-overlooked moment in theatre history and the diversity of this current Broadway season.


Maya Phillips is a critic at large at the New York Times, where she writes about theater, movies, TV, books and nerd culture. She’s the author of the poetry collection Erou (Four Way Books, 2019) and NERD: Adventures in Fandom from This Universe to the Multiverse, forthcoming this fall from Simon & Schuster. She lives in Brooklyn.

Harvey Young‘s research on the performance and experience of race has been widely published in academic journals, profiled in the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education. As a commentator on popular culture, he has appeared on CNN, 20/20, and Good Morning America as well as within the pages of the New York Times, Vanity Fair and People. He has published seven books, including Embodying Black Experience, winner of “Book of the Year” awards from the National Communication Association and the American Society for Theatre Research. His edited collection (with Megan Geigner) Theatre After Empire was published in 2021.

Michael Dinwiddie is an associate professor of dramatic writing at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University. His teaching interests include Harlem Renaissance history, spoken word/rap/popular culture, ragtime music and African American theatre. An award-winning playwright and composer whose works have been produced in New York, regional and educational theatre, he is the editor of Holy Ground: Plays From the National Black Theatre Festival, which will be published in 2022 by the Theatre Communications Group (TCG). Michael is a member of the Dramatists Guild, ASCAP, the Writers Guild of America, and the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.

Image: Ira Aldridge as Othello / courtesy of New York Public Library for the Performing Arts