01 August 2014

Oh, the Drama! The Alcott Family in Theater

From an early age Louisa May Alcott, and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and Abby May, often entertained their friends and families by performing “theatricals.” As children the two older sisters would dramatize stories for their neighbors, and as young teenagers, Anna and Louisa wrote and performed plays in their family’s barn at Hillside (now called Wayside).  For these shows they found or made their own scenery, costumes, and props; between the two sisters they took on all the major roles, and sometimes enticed their younger sisters, Lizzie and Abby May, who were less theatrically inclined, to perform the smaller roles.  Louisa loved to play the dashing heroes and villains of the pieces (such as the hero “Roderigo,” who appears in the Christmas play in Little Women), and Anna played the romantic and dramatic roles.

As older teenagers and into their adulthood, Anna and Louisa continued to be involved in theater.  They formed a community theater group in Walpole, New Hampshire; and in Concord, Massachusetts, they organized the “Concord Dramatic Union” with their friends.  Louisa’s roles now inclined toward the comic, character parts, and Anna, who reportedly was a very talented dramatic actress, would move her audience to tears with her portrayal of the serious roles.  Anna’s dream as a teenager and a young woman was to be a great actress in the theater, and for some time Louisa considered a life onstage as well.  Both young women tried their hand at playwriting; Louisa succeeded in having one of her plays, The Rival Prima Donnas,  produced and performed in a Boston theater in 1860.

After Louisa went on to become a successful and famous writer, she continued to act for charity, often playing scenes from Charles Dickens to help raise funds for worthy organizations.  In 1860 Anna married John Pratt, a young man who, with Anna and Louisa, was one of the original founders of the “Concord Dramatic Union,” and who had once played opposite Anna in one of their productions, The Loan of a Lover.  Anna abandoned her dream of being a great prima donna and raised a family of two boys, Frederick and John Pratt, but she still pitched in graciously now and then to play a dramatic role for family theatricals when the need arose.
The “Concord Dramatic Union” is today a thriving community theater, now named the Concord Players, which produces three plays each year at 51 Walden Street in Concord, Massachusetts.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House continues the tradition of parlor theatricals by offering a week-long summer drama program for children, Apple Slump Players, and by staging tableaus and scenes in their annual living history Christmas program every December.

Lis Adams
Director of Education


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