There have been many cases of political and social unrest connected with live theater. In 1937, Mark Blitzstein’s allegorical musical, The Cradle Will Rock, was actually shut down by the WPA for fear of legal retaliation. So the author, the director (Orson Welles), and producer (John Houseman) rented a theater down the street and set up a performance with Blitzstein and his piano. Various cast members risked retribution by Actor’s Equity to perform their roles.
But that’s a story for another day.
Once upon a time, theater caused not just protests, but actual riots. One of these occurred in August of 1805 in the little theatre in the Haymarket.
You see, that was the month and the year that a benefit revival of a 1767 satire by that prolific author Anonymous entitled The Tailors: A Tragedy for Warm Weather was to be performed. Unfortunately, actual tailors plying their trade at the time did not see anything very funny in this little burlesque.
Threatening letters were sent to those connected with the production. The actual tailors vowed to arrive en masse and hiss the play. One of the letters was even signed DEATH. The company, however, did not take this seriously. Plans for the play continued as scheduled.
When opening night arrived, it turned out they might have done well to pay attention. Nearly every seat in the house was filled with an angry tailor. They booed, they hissed, they hurled sewing shears at the stage. Outside, still more tailors were trying to get in and cause yet more confusion and consternation.
A magistrate and the local constable were called out, but they were inadequately equipped to deal with the situation. Eventually, a troop of the Life Guard was called in and some sixteen arrests were made.
Let that be a lesson to us all: never, ever honk off crafty people. We may be gentle, peace-loving souls most of the time… but we can be roused, and when we are, we are formidable.
Also, we are armed with many sharp, pointy objects.