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  • Prison Performing Arts

Trailblazing the Stage: 10 Facts about Charlotte Cushman

Join us for Britches! A Play for Lady Romeos at Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center on March 14, 2024. Don’t forget to RSVP by February 16, 2024.

Britches! A Play for Lady Romeos celebrates the actors of WERDCC, a group of performers who are no strangers to playing male Shakespeare roles. Based loosely on the life of Charlotte Cushman, a nineteenth-century American actor famous for playing Shakespeare's Romeo, Britches! tells the story of Charlotte and her sister, Susan Cushman, when they played Romeo and Juliet in 1846. As we celebrate Charlotte’s extraordinary contributions to theater in Britches! A Play for Lady Romeos, here are 10 intriguing facts about this dramatic stage actor:

  • Shakespearean Sensation: Cushman's illustrious career spanned four decades, during which she fearlessly tackled iconic Shakespearean roles such as Lady Macbeth, Queen Katherine, and even the daring portrayal of Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet."

  • Presidential Audience: While performing in Washington, DC, Cushman had the honor of captivating audiences that included President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward. Her performances transcended the stage, leaving a lasting impact on history.

  • Early Struggles: Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 23, 1816, Charlotte faced financial hardship after her father's death when she was only thirteen. Determined to support her family, she left school to pursue a career in opera.

  • Operatic Debut: Cushman made a triumphant debut at the Tremont Theater in Boston as the Countess Almaviva in "The Marriage of Figaro." Her remarkable voice and musical talent set the stage for her remarkable journey.

  • Transition to Acting: After her voice faltered in New Orleans, Cushman turned to acting under the guidance of James Barton. Her debut as Lady Macbeth on April 23, 1836, marked a groundbreaking interpretation that garnered favorable reactions from spectators and critics.

  • Theatrical Diversity: In New York City, Cushman's versatility shone as she played various roles, from young to old, star to walk-on, and even male and female characters. Her commitment to the craft and diverse portrayals solidified her status as a leading lady.

  • Literary Pursuits: In addition to her acting prowess, Cushman sought literary outlets. She befriended Sarah Josepha Hale, contributing short stories and poetry to “Godey’s Lady Book” and “The Ladies Companion.” This dual role helped shape her public image.

  • Shakespearean Triumph in England: A pivotal moment in Cushman's career was her tour of England in 1844. She triumphed in London with roles like Lady Macbeth, establishing her success on the British stage and influencing the acceptance of women in theatre.

  • Romantic Partnerships: Cushman's life offstage was as captivating as her performances. Her close relationship with journalist and actress Matilda Hays, and later sculptor Emma Stebbins, challenged societal norms, and they were recognized as a couple in Europe.

  • Enduring Legacy: Despite personal challenges, Cushman used her fame and fortune to champion women artists, supporting sculptors like Edmonia Lewis and Emma Stebbins. Her dramatic readings, even during her battle with breast cancer, showcased her enduring passion for the stage.

Charlotte Cushman's legacy lives on, inspiring generations to embrace the power of the stage and challenging societal norms through the art of theatre.

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