Astor Place Riots, from www.boweryboyshistory.com
Recently we have been running a series in Off the Grid on the Village as the birthplace of modern drama. NoHo has its own history with drama, and as it turns out, it’s a violent one. In 1849 the Astor Place Riot took place in front of what is today 21 Astor Place, then the site of the Astor Opera House. Also referred to as the Shakespeare Riots, this violent event was sparked by an intense rivalry between two well-known actors of the time, but was inflamed by brewing tensions between New York’s upper class and working class.
On May 7, 1849, three days before the Astor Place Riot, the well-known British actor William Charles Macready took the stage at the Astor Opera House for a production of Macbeth, with an audience consisting primarily of working-class New Yorkers. Hissing and jeers as well as an onslaught of rotten eggs, potatoes, lemons, apples and copper coins greeted the actor and stage company; the outrage escalated from there to one of the red plush chairs being thrown into the orchestra from the second tier. Macready left the theater part way through the production and out a back door. Outraged, he threatened to catch the next ship back to England. While such disturbances during theatrical performances were commonplace in New York (so much so that this incident was dismissed by The New York Herald), what ensued afterward was not.
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