2/26 — Enacting Uncle Tom's Cabin (1)

  • Aiken's Adaptation
        For over 75 years after Stowe's novel was first dramatized, it was the most frequently performed of all American plays. Each of the thousands of productions made large or small changes in the story, but the basic script from which most were derived was the text you'll read for today, which premiered in Troy, New York, several months after the novel was published. You'll see on the Aiken homepage linked above that our electronic edition of the play includes links to the four songs that G. C. Howard wrote for it, and also to Foster's "Old Folks at Home," the first song introduced into the performance. You can play 3 of these, which I recommend doing, as long as you can get online with a highspeed connection.

  • To get a whiff of the greasepaint, or at least a sense of the theatrical context we are attending to, you can look at a couple playbills from the National Theatre (New York) production of Aiken's play:
        26 July 1853
        September 1853

  • If you go to the THEATRICAL ADS section, and click on the first 6 links you find there (all but one of which say "National Theatre"), you'll see the earliest, pre-Aiken New York dramatization, and also get a sense of the way the debate about Stowe's novel and slavery made its earliest appearance onstage, when Barnum brought the Conway adaptation to town to compete with Aiken and the Howards at the National.

  • OPTIONAL: Having been brought up to think of the theater as immoral, Stowe never authorized any of the dramatizations of her novel. But she did adapt her story herself, as a reading text called The Christian Slave. This "dramatic" version of Uncle Tom was performed a number of times by an African American woman named Mary E. Webb. You can read Stowe's text, or about Mrs. Webb, HERE.