Wignell in Darby’s Return (1789)
|Died||21 February 1803|
|Occupation||Actor and theatre manager|
|Years active||late 1700s – early 1800s|
|Spouse(s)||Ann Brunton Merry|
Thomas Wignell (1753 – 21 February 1803) was an English-born actor and theatre manager in the colonial United States.
Thomas Wignell was born into a working theatre family. He was born in England to his parents John and Henrietta Wignell in 1753.His father John Wignell worked at 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. 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.
After performing in Covent 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.
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.
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.With Wignell in the title role, this sketch was a spin-off of O'Keefe's The Poor Soldier.
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. Georgina George appeared there in 1794 in "Robin Hood". She was a leading singer and she had been recruited in London the year before. She appeared as "Mrs Oldmixon".The founding of the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia created opportunities for many new plays to take off.
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.In the early 19th century, this theatre was where "many of the most important American plays…received their world premieres". 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.
In Wignell's later years he stopped acting and devoted his time to managing a number of different theatres. While back in London, Wignell recruited the popular female actress Ann Brunton Merry, who was popular at Covent Garden until her marriage and retirement from the London stage. They came to America in 1796, her husband Robert Merry died on 24 December 1798. She married Wignall on 1 January 1803. [ citation needed ]Their marriage was short lived, unfortunately because Wignell died about seven weeks after the marriage due to an infected arm. The city of Philadelphia then gave him an excellent burial at the Episcopal Church of St. Peter.
Spranger Barry was an Irish actor.
Thomas Augustine Arne was an English composer. He is best known for his patriotic song "Rule, Britannia!" and the song "A-Hunting We Will Go". Arne was a leading British theatre composer of the 18th century, working at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. He wrote many operatic entertainments for the London theatres and pleasure gardens, as well as concertos, sinfonias, and sonatas.
Charles Dibdin was an English composer, musician, dramatist, novelist and actor. With over 600 songs to his name, for many of which he wrote both the lyrics and the music and performed them himself, he was in his time the most prolific English singer-songwriter. He is best known as the composer of "Tom Bowling", one of his many sea songs, which often features at the Last Night of the Proms. He also wrote about 30 dramatic pieces, including the operas The Waterman (1774) and The Quaker (1775), and several novels, memoirs and histories.
Alexander Robert Reinagle was an English-born American composer, organist, and theater musician. He should not be confused with his nephew of the same name, Alexander Robert Reinagle, also a composer and organist, who lived all his life in Britain. He was a close friends with a young Mozart when he visited London. He was influenced by Haydn, Mozart and Clementi.
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.
George Frederick Cooke was an English actor. As famous for his erratic habits as for his acting, he was largely responsible for initiating the romantic style in acting that was later made famous by Edmund Kean.
Thomas Abthorpe Cooper was an English actor.
Ann Brunton Merry was an English actress popular in the United Kingdom and later America.
William Burke Wood was a theatre manager and actor. He was brought as a child to New York City, where he began life as a clerk. Feeling that he had a vocation for the stage, he set out for Annapolis, Maryland, with a capital of three doubloons, and through the courtesy of Manager Wignell, an old family friend, he made his first appearance there on 26 June 1798 as George Barnwell. He was partially successful, and began an engagement the same year in Philadelphia in Secrets Worth Knowing.
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.
James Fennell (1766–1816) was an English actor and dramatist.
John Street Theatre, situated at 15–21 John Street, sometimes called "The Birthplace of American Theatre," was the first permanent theatre in the Financial District of Manhattan, New York. It opened on December 7, 1767, and was operated for several decades by the American Company. It closed on January 13, 1798.
Joseph George Holman (1764–1817) was an English actor, dramatist and actor-manager.
Louisa, Countess of Craven, originally Louisa Brunton (1785?–1860) was an English actress.
The Father; or, American Shandyism is a 1789 play by William Dunlap, his first published play, and according to Dunlap's later report, the second American comedy ever produced.
William Paget was an English actor and author in the 18th century who played alongside David Garrick and was a member of John Rich's company, playing in the first season of Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (1732). He was also an "eminent" Tobacconist on Fleet Street, London. Toward the end of his life he served time in Fleet Prison, writing the poem The Humours of the Fleet among others. He then agreed to participate in the establishment of Halifax, Nova Scotia, dying there in 1752.
Town and Country, or Which is Best? is an 1807 play by English playwright Thomas Morton. It was regularly performed in England and America during the 19th century.
Elizabeth Walker Morris, was an English-born American stage actress. She was engaged in the Old American Company.
Jane Lessingham née Hemet was a stage actress from 1756 to 1782. Lessingham predominately performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, where she was known for both her beauty and her skill as a comedy actress.
Georgina George later Lady Oldmixon or Mrs Oldmixon was a British English singer and actress known as well in America after she emigrated as Mrs Oldmixon.