Ira Aldridge By Lolita Chakrabarti

1348 Words6 Pages
Ira Aldridge is not a “house hold name” in the Theatre committee, but it should be. A native New Yorker who moved to England when he was in his late teens, Ira achieved immense fame in mid-1800’s Europe, mesmerizing people of all nationalities with his renditions of Shakespeare. Since his death he has become rather obscure, although a dramatization of his life, by Lolita Chakrabarti, is making its way into theatrical seasons across Europe and the USA. Ira Aldridge is a man who undermined the racial presumptions of his era. Bernth Lindfors calls Aldridge "the most visible black man in a white world in the middle of the nineteenth century" (“The Vagabond Years” 5). Ira Aldridge paved the way for other African American Actors through his work…show more content…
Competing theatre companies sent thugs and police to harass the Theater during performances and hired newspapers to print spoofs of African American dialects. Ira worked backstage and played several roles at The Grove in his late teens and could often be found outside the theatre after performances participating in brawls with competing actors and police trying to shut down the Theater. Historian Bernth Lindforths would say this violence foreshadowed the anti-abolitionist riots of 1834, which devastated black homes, churches, and businesses. Ross speculates that if Ira had stayed in the US, his acting career would definitely have failed. Ira arrived in London in 1825, eight years before slavery would be abolished in the British Empire. As Ira toured the British Isles in those eight years, the practice of “black face” was being established as a favored sport in the theatre. During Ira’s first few years of touring, he 's simply referred to as a “gentleman of color”. But as he gains notoriety, he 's advertised as the “American Tragedian from the African Theater New York City”. Patrons came to the theatre anticipating an African burlesque. One newspaper promotion wrote: "Theatrical dogs, horses, and elephants have passed away; -- those of monkeys seem to be on the decline, and now for a more monstrous exhibition than all the rest, we are to be treated with a Black Actor, a right earnest African Tragedian" (“The Early Years” 203). Instead,
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