Astor Place Riot Haiku

Chill out, drama geeks.

Find calming play, like football

Or Monopoly.

Actor Week continues with the American Edwin Forrest and the British William Charles Macready – or rather, what happened when shit got real between the two.

May 10, 1849. Forrest and Macready were performing in rival productions of Macbeth at the Broadway Theater and Astor Place respectively. The two used to be friendly, but no longer! I blame Forrest for this.

You’re the citizen of a young country with a huge inferiority complex about its theater scene, aggravated by British actors performing British plays coming in and kicking ass. What’s the appropriate reaction? What will raise the reputation of Americans theater? If your answers include following your rival Macready around on his tours while you perform the same plays, blaming him when London doesn’t think you’re hot shit, heckling his performances, and THROWING HALF A GODDAMNED DEAD SHEEP ON HIS STAGE, congratulations, you are Edwin Forrest. Rethink your life.

(Extra fun fact: Forrest was also hating the British because of his recent divorce from a British woman, which gives you yet more info on the level of maturity we’re dealing with here.)

Back to May 10. They’d both performed on May 7, Macready with problems. Forrest had sicked his followers on the fancy pants Astor Place, buying up the top level tickets, which was all the better for chucking rotten produce at the actors and making a deafening amount of noise. The play finished as a pantomime and Macready, pissed, had to be persuaded not to leave the country.

Macbeth is back on! But everyone expected problems. The militia had been called in, and so around 600 soldiers and police officers were inside and out Astor Place. This doesn’t seem like overkill when the Forrest crew was over 10,000 strong. They attacked while the play was in progress and Macready had to finish in pantomime again. He snuck out after, not wanting to be killed.

The situation outside deteriorated and the militia fired on the crowd.

Final body count: 22~31, plus over 250 injured. The actors involved continued to have careers, Forrest expiring in 1872 and Macready in 1873.


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