Thomas Wignell

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Thomas Wignell
Thomas Wignell as Darby.jpg
Wignell in Darby’s Return (1789)
Died21 February 1803
Occupation Actor and theatre manager
Years activelate 1700s – early 1800s
Spouse(s) Ann Brunton Merry

Thomas Wignell (1753 – 21 February 1803) was an English-born actor and theatre manager in colonial United States.

English people Nation and ethnic group native to England

The English people are a nation and an ethnic group native to England who speak the English language. The English identity is of early medieval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Angelcynn. Their ethnonym is derived from the Angles, one of the Germanic peoples who migrated to Great Britain around the 5th century AD. England is one of the countries of the United Kingdom, and the majority of people living there are British citizens.

Actor Person who acts in a dramatic or comic production and works in film, television, theatre, or radio

An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance. The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers". The actor's interpretation of their role—the art of acting—pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art.

Theatre director person overseeing the mounting of a theatre production

A theatre director or stage director is an instructor in the theatre field who oversees and orchestrates the mounting of a theatre production by unifying various endeavours and aspects of production. The director's function is to ensure the quality and completeness of theatre production and to lead the members of the creative team into realizing their artistic vision for it. The director thereby collaborates with a team of creative individuals and other staff, coordinating research, stagecraft, costume design, props, lighting design, acting, set design, stage combat, and sound design for the production. If the production is a new piece of writing or a (new) translation of a play, the director may also work with the playwright or a translator. In contemporary theatre, after the playwright, the director is generally the principle visionary, making decisions on the artistic conception and interpretation of the play and its staging. Different directors occupy different places of authority and responsibility, depending on the structure and philosophy of individual theatre companies. Directors use a wide variety of techniques, philosophies, and levels of collaboration.


Early years

Thomas Wignell was born into a working theatre family. He was born in England to his parents John and Henrietta Wignell in 1753. [1] His father John Wignell worked at The Covent Garden Theatre. His first appearance was at The Covent Garden in 1766 where he played Prince Arthur in King John . He was originally apprenticed as a seal cutter but eventually left to become an actor. [1] While acting in England, he was a member of Garrick's Company. Right before the Revolutionary War he came to North America in 1774 with his cousin Lewis Hallam. Wignell and the Hallam Company then left for Jamaica Where they stayed until 1785.

<i>King John</i> (play) play by Shakespeare

The Life and Death of King John, a history play by William Shakespeare, dramatises the reign of John, King of England, son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine and father of Henry III of England. It is believed to have been written in the mid-1590s but was not published until it appeared in the First Folio in 1623.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

Lewis Hallam was an English-born actor and theatre director in the colonial United States.


After performing in The Convent Garden and then later in Jamaica he returned newly independent America. He then worked with the Old American Company at the John Street Theatre in New York City, New York; with Hallam.

The Old American Company was an American theatre company. It was the first fully professional theatre company to perform in North America. It also played a vital role in the theatre history of Jamaica. It was founded in 1752 and disbanded in 1805. It was known as the Hallam Company (1752–1758), the American Company (1758–1785) and the Old American Company (1785–1805). With a few temporary exceptions, the Company enjoyed a de facto monopoly of professional theatre in the United States until 1790.

John Street Theatre 18th-century theatre in New York City

John Street Theatre, situated at 15–21 John Street, sometimes called "The Birthplace of American Theatre," was the first permanent theatre in New York. It opened on December 7, 1767, and was operated for several decades by the American Company. It closed on January 13, 1798.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

He did quite a few shows at this venue and traveled with them often. But debatably the most important point of his career happened in 16 April 1787 in New York. It was the opening of the play The Contrast by Royall Tyler. The Contrast was a five-act comedy of manners. The play was the first play to be written by an American citizen and then professionally produced. One of the reasons for the plays success was because of Thomas Wignell in the role of Johnathan, the first stage yankee. The stage yankee became the first American stock character. He had American pride, twangy speech, terrible sense of fashion, and was ignorant to a lot of things the other characters in the play found important. There is a scene in the play that is famous for Johnathan describing the John Street Theatre, the theater that the play was being performed in at that time.

The Contrast, written in 1787 by Royall Tyler, is an American play in the tradition of the English Restoration comedies of the seventeenth century; it takes its cue from Sheridan's The School for Scandal, a British comedy of manners that had revived that tradition a decade before. Royall uses the form to satirize Americans who follow British fashions and indulge in 'British vices'. Thus, the play is often concerned with portraying the contrast between European and American culture.

Royall Tyler American judge

Royall Tyler was an American jurist and playwright.

Wignell had other roles he was successful in; Darby in O'Keefe's farce The Poor Soldier was another comedic part Thomas became praised for. President George Washington even came to see The Poor Soldier in May 1787. William Dunlap, the most prolific writer of his time, wrote a short comic sketch entitled "Darby's Return" for Wignell to perform for his benefit performance. [2] With Wignell in the title role, this sketch was a spin-off of O'Keefe's The Poor Soldier.

William Dunlap American playwright, producer and actor

William Dunlap was a pioneer of American theater. He was a producer, playwright, and actor, as well as a historian. He managed two of New York City's earliest and most prominent theaters, the John Street Theatre and the Park Theatre. He was also an artist, despite losing an eye in childhood.

After separating from the American Company in 1793, Wignell teamed up with Alexander Reinagle and began to fund the building of a new theatre. Reinagle, a prominent musician at the time, started a fund-raising campaign to build this first class theatre located west of sixth and Chestnut Street to be named The Chestnut Theatre. The founding of the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia created opportunities for many new plays to take off.

Chestnut Street Theatre former theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the first theater in the United States built by entrepreneurs solely as a venue for paying audiences.

Philadelphia became a capital for American theatre for many years. The Chestnut Street Theatre became Philadelphia's main playhouse and the first American theatre to be lit by gas. [3] In the early 19th century, this theatre was where "many of the most important American plays…received their world premieres". [3] Which under Wignell's and Reinalge's management, Philadelphia became the reigning theatrical capital in the United States for at least a decade. And with the help of Wignell, and the Chestnut Street Theatre, the city of Philadelphia would remain in competition with New York until at least 1826. [1] [4]

Later years

In Wignell's later years he stopped acting and devoted his time to managing a number of different theatres. While back in London, Wignell married the popular female actress Ann Brunton Merry, who was popular at the Covent Garden, until she came to Philadelphia with Wignell. His marriage was short lived, unfortunately because Wignell died about seven weeks after the marriage due to an infected arm. [5] The city of Philadelphia then gave him an excellent burial at the Episcopal Church of St. Peter.[ citation needed ]

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  1. 1 2 3 Highfill, Philip H. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London. Ed. Julie Riley Bush. N.p.: Southern Illinois University, 1993. 61-64. Print.
  2. Havens, Daniel F. The Columbian Muse of Comedy. N.p.: Southern Illinois University, 1973. 8-11,34-35,50-51. Print
  3. 1 2 Bordman, Gerald Martin. "Chestnut Street Theatre, Wignell." The Oxford Companion to American Theatre. New York: Oxford UP, 1984. 140+. Print.
  4. Balch, Marston. Johnathan the First. The Johns Hopkins University Press 46 (1931): 281-88. JSTOR. Web. 22 January 2015.
  5. "CollectionsOnline | Name". Retrieved 12 July 2018.

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