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Lafayette Players

Lafayette Players

The Lafayette Players was the first enduring African-American stock theater company, and it offered the first opportunity for black actors to appear in nonmusical presentations. The group was formed in 1915 as the Anita Bush Players and presented its first play, The Girl at the Fort, on November 19, 1915, at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem. The group was successful, but a dispute with the Lincoln Theatre management led it to transfer to the Lafayette Theater, where it began to present plays on December 27, 1915. By March of the following year, Bush transferred ownership of the players to the Lafayette Theater management and the group became known as the Lafayette Players.

At the height of the Lafayette Players' success, from 1919 to 1921, four traveling companies used the name and were booked on the circuit controlled by the corporate owner. The Lafayette Players was continuously active until 1923, when film undercut live entertainment. The name Lafayette Players was used intermittently by various successor groups until 1928; a group was also active under the name in Los Angeles from 1928 to 1932.

The Lafayette Players presented over 250 productions, mostly of abbreviated Broadway plays or classics; only a handful were what were called race plays. The early production schedule called for a new play every week. The presentations almost always shared the bill with vaudeville acts and movies. The most famous among the early players were Charles Gilpin (18781930), who played the lead in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones on Broadway in 1920, and Clarence Muse (18891979), who had a long career in Hollywood.

See also Drama; Lincoln Theatre; Micheaux, Oscar


Johns, Robert L. "Anita Bush." In Notable Black American Women, edited by Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit: Gale, 1992.

Peterson, Bernard L., Jr. The African American Theatre Directory, 18161960: A Comprehensive Guide to Early Black Theatre Organizations, Companies, Theatres, and Performing Groups. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1997.

robert l. johns (1996)
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