The Varieties Theatre of New Orleans was established by the Variété Association Theatre Club of New Orleans, a stockholder association of individuals committed to producing local theatre and who oversaw hiring a manager, building a repertory company and attending performances. This provides some context for the three broadsides and the long history and reputation of this theatre. A series of fires and name changes, and manager changes permit us to date these New Orleans broadsides to 1867. The broadsides are part of the history of a single theatre and also of the theatre culture of New Orleans for both actors and audiences.
The Varieties Theatre was built and rebuilt three times between 1849 and 1871 at two different addresses in New Orleans. The theatre manager also changed during this time period. We can date these broadsides by the theatre name, Varieties Theatre, its address Gravier Street and its Manager, W.R. Floyd to 1867. 1/
The history is as follows, assembled from original source material by then LSU Masters Candidate Shirley M. Harrison:
- 1849, first theatre located at corner of Gravier Street and Varieties Alley is named Placide's Varieties Theatre. It burned down 11/21/1854.
- December 1, 1855, the theatre is rebuilt at the same address with the name Gaiety Theatre and operates for three years. In 1858, the theatre adopted the name Varieties Theatre. On December 2, 1870 a fire destroys the stage, the building burns down and several are killed. Our theatre broadsides were printed during this era of the Varieties Theatre at Gravier Street under Manager W.R. Floyd and Stage Manager A.D. Bradley as appears on all three broadsides.
-on December 4, 1871, at a new location, The Varieties Theatre Club Association opens a new theatre under the same name at Canal, Sauphine, Custom house and Burgundy Streets. In 1879, a final name change to Grand Opera House relaunches the theatre until 1906.
These broadsides from a single theatre also provide rare ephemera identifying actors of the 1867 era who traveled, sometimes from Europe to America and followed a theatre circuit across America from East Coast to West Coast and around the world. During the theatre season of 1866-7, as named on these broadsides, the New Orleans theatre presented the stars Miss Maggie Mitchell, Edwin Adams, and Joseph Jefferson and the German born D[aniel].E[edward]. Bandmen who traveled internationally. Mr. F.S. Chanfrau and Mrs. Chanfrau, husband and wife, also acted at the Varieties theatre as part of the popular stock company into the 1869-1870 season. The Robbers! broadside advertises the play as a "Benefit" which indicates the featured actor would receive his compensation that performance from ticket sales.
Finally, these scarce New Orleans Varieties Theatre broadsides also illustrate how the architecture inside the theatre created designated seating areas with different amenities, and in addition reinforced seating based on race. The School for Scandal broadside promotes that there is special seating area for "Quadroon boxes" and "Colored Gallery". There are private boxes, orchestra chairs and a family circle, although no babies in arms are permitted in the theatre.
1. The work of S.M. Harrison provides essential historical research. Please see, Harrison, Shirley Madeline, "The Grand Opera House (Third Varieties Theatre) of New Orleans, Louisiana, 1871 to 1906: a History
and Analysis." (1965). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 1040.
https://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/gradschool_disstheses/1040The Grand Opera House (Third Varieties Theatre) of New Orleans, Louisiana, 1871 to 1906: a History and Analysis. - 217383344.pdf