On January 1, 1824, the English-speaking population of New Orleans celebrated the grand opening of the American Theatre, lauding
the advent of “Bards our own” and the rise of “our Drama” in the Crescent City (qtd. in Smither 41). For the city’s francophone residents, this event marked a new stage in the ongoing battle for cultural survival. Until the opening of the American Theatre, French drama and opera had dominated the city. Beginning in 1792, when Louisiana was still under Spanish
rule, French theatricals were regularly performed at the Théâtre de la Rue St. Pierre, the Théâtre St. Philippe, and the Théâtre d’Orléans. After the Louisiana Purchase, more and more Anglo-Americans settled permanently in New Orleans and began to compete with the city’s established French-speaking population for political, economic, and cultural sway. The growing influence of the anglophone newcomers alarmed the francophone residents, who feared for the continued existence of their community.
Over time, the tensions between the two populations turned into open hostility and came, according to historian Joseph Tregle, “perilously close to armed violence” (153). In 1836, the city of New Orleans was formally divided along ethnic lines to prevent such an escalation. This article examines how the anglophone and francophone struggles for political influence and cultural sovereignty in New Orleans were transported into the local playhouses.