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Natchez was the economic and cultural center of the Deep South in the 19th Century and the performing arts were an essential part of life. The Natchez Little Theatre tradition is at least 208 years old. The Natchez Theatrical Association, an amateur group, was functioning in 1808, according to an article appearing in the November 1952, issue of Over the Garden Wall. This was only two years after the performance in the Natchez City Tavern of “The Provoked Husband,” the earliest known professional play to be given in English west of the Alleghenies.
In 1808 the Natchez Theatrical Association fitted up an old Spanish hospital near the present site of Rosalie as a theatre. In 1812, the Association built its own theatre, seating 500, on the bluff at the northern end of the parade ground, near the site where Clifton was later built. Chairman for the season 1810-11 was James C. Wilkins, and John Taylor was Secretary. The Board of Managers included Col. Lewis Evans, Francis Surget, John Linton, William E. Cochran, Robert Westcott and James Dunlap. Admission charges were $1.00, with children admitted at half price, but perhaps the early Little Theatre patrons got more for their money; when the playhouse was enlarged in 1819 to provide box seats for season ticket holders, a bar was added as well.
Throughout the 1800’s riverboat shows stopped and performed. In 1828-29 and 1838-39 Junius Brutus Booth, father of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth, appeared here in the roles of Hamlet and King Lear.
In the 1850’s, international operatic star, Jenny Lind, appeared in the Natchez Temple Opera House, as did William S. Hart in 1914, prior to his becoming America’s first western movie star. Sara Bernhard appeared here at the Baker Grand in 1917. The 20th Century found many a star of stage and screen in Natchez and the tradition continues today into the 21st Century.
In 1932, a group of local citizens met to organize The Little Theatre of Natchez, making this the oldest community theatre in the state of Mississippi. Their first production was an one-act play, The Florist, which had been performed earlier in the 1920’s. The 1932 cast consisted of Eva Joo, Thomas Reed, Michael Kullman, Clarice George and Martin Burke. The play and following productions were performed at the old Cathedral High School auditorium on Main Street. The Natchez Little Theatre was organized and incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1948 and shows were held at the Braden School auditorium.
In 1969, NLT under Board President Jack Millstein purchased the Wesley Methodist Church at 319 Linton Avenue (our current home). Mayweather Hall, the former parsonage next door, and a lot on Maple Street (our parking lot) were added to NLT’s property acquisitions.
The first play produced at NLT’s present home was Murder, My Sweet Matilda. Since 1932, NLT has produced over 500 plays for over 800,000 international patrons. NLT is the most active charitable non-profit volunteer community theatre in the nation playing to annual audiences of over 23,000 from around the world