Publication details

Ira Aldridge in Prague: Discussing Race in the 19th-century Czech Lands



Year of publication 2022
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
Description The paper focuses on the discussion of race in the Czech lands in the 1850s on the example of the American actor Ira Aldridge (1807–1867) and his guest performances in multiple Bohemian, Moravian, and Silesian cities. For the majority of local theatregoers and theatre critics, Aldridge was the first African American performer they have ever seen. His touring repertoire consisting of Shakespearean tragedies mixed with crude farces and popular songs presented a deviation from the usual performances in the city theatres, making Aldridge a popular guest performer that secured sold-out auditoriums. However, the newspapers rarely discussed Aldridge’s acting skills and preferred to focus on his different skin color and exotic looks as the Moor of Venice. The series of theatre reviews, advertisements, and references therefore present a unique testimony of the early understanding of race and otherness in the Czech lands, often at the periphery of the Austrian empire. Aldridge’s presence in the public sphere also demonstrates the strategies of theatre marketing in the 19th century because not only did Aldridge not dispute various fake claims about his life and heritage, but he also probably cleverly worked with such fabrications to his benefit, accepting his African role in order to continue with his tours at the outskirts of the Austrian monarchy.
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