FOOTLIGHTS IN THE FOOTHILLS
Amateur Theatre of Las Vegas and Fort Union, New Mexico, 1871–1899
By Edwina Portelle Romero
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Cloggers and sopranos, contortionists, Indian Club Swingers, ticket-of-leave men and ladies of the night, shepherds, saints, and devils—these are a few of the characters portrayed in the early amateur theatrical productions of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and nearby Fort Union. Between 1871 and 1899, this area hosted no fewer than eleven amateur acting troupes, an opera company, and an oratorio society. These home grown thespians performed both secular and non-secular plays in Spanish and English as well as musicals, variety acts, passion plays, and light operas. They played in courthouses, private salas, grand opera houses, and performance halls that were occasionally stocked with hay and grain. The amateur troupers strutted their stuff before farmers, outlaws, hooligans, soldiers, and the local aristocracy.
Between 1883 and 1886, the enlisted men of Fort Union formed several amateur companies and performed at the garrison. One group took its show on the road and played to Las Vegas audiences. During this brief period, fierce loyalties arose and a vicious rivalry played out in the pages of the Las Vegas newspapers. Entertainment of all sorts was an integral part of the booming western frontier. Although professional traveling troupes came by wagon and train, the homegrown companies—made up of butchers, seamstresses, homemakers, business leaders, and politicians—always drew large audiences. Footlights in the Foothills provides an overview of these amateur theatrical companies—the players, the plays, and the venues—in addition to stories of the social ties formed by the people who offered their talents and bared their egos to the audiences of "one of the hottest towns in the country."
Edwina Portelle Romero first researched the amateur acting companies of Las Vegas in 1982 when writing publicity for The Las Vegas Players, a community theatre group. Since then, she earned a Master's Degree from New Mexico Highlands University and a Doctorate from The University of New Mexico. She has published personal and scholarly essays, short fiction, and historical articles. Once an amateur performer, Romero experienced, first hand, the camaraderie and support such groups offer their members.
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