History of Broadway, New York
Since the early 19th century, Broadway has been synonymous with stage plays and musicals. Nicknamed "The Great White Way" for its proliferation of marquee lights and illuminated billboards advertising the latest shows, New York
's theater district has been the destination of choice for many an aspiring actor seeking fame, fortune and adoration.
Broadway is located between 6th and 8th Avenues in downtown Manhattan and stretches from West 42nd Street to West 53rd. Productions that are staged in theaters located outside of this 11-block strip are referred to as "Off-Broadway."
During the Dutch settlement of New York in the 1640s, Broadway was known as Wickquasgeck Trail and was the main trade route used to transport goods inland from ships docking at Battery Park. The Dutch called it "Breedeweg" for its broad dimensions. This was later Anglicized to "Broadway."
During the 17th century, the strict Puritan ethic that governed the lives of early settlers frowned on frivolous entertainments like acting and music. Though not entirely approving of their congregations' emerging fondness for theater, the church reluctantly conceded there were worse places for them to spend their time.
"The Beggar's Opera," the first professionally staged Broadway show with music and acting, debuted in 1750 and ran for a total of five performances. Compare this to many of today's musicals that are still going strong after over 10 years.
Many of Broadway's first theatrical headliners made their stellar debuts in England and Europe. In addition, many of the first scripts produced for the enjoyment of American audiences were penned by English and European playwrights who had never set foot across the Atlantic.
East vs. West
As if the Great Depression weren't enough to impact the financing of Broadway productions and the pocketbooks of theatergoers, the burgeoning film industry in Hollywood was luring actors westward in droves. By 1930, New York's thespian pool had been radically drained by 75 percent.
Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.
Photo by Christina Hamlett