‘Big Tent Theatre’ photographs

Most of the Big Tent Theatre’s productions were light comedies and melodramas (All photos courtesy Sangamon Valley Collection; SangamonLink thanks SVC director Curtis Mann for locating and providing these photographs)

These photos apparently are publicity stills produced when the Depression-era Federal Theatre Project played a season of live, professional theater in a tent at West Grand Avenue (today’s MacArthur Boulevard) and Outer Park Drive in 1936. The venue was known as the “Big Tent Theatre.”

The Big Tent, apparently prior to the opening play

The photos, reproduced from negatives held in the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library, are undated. They appear to include scenes from several productions, but there’s no indication on the negatives as to the plays they depict. One photograph, however, clearly is from the Big Tent Theatre’s sold-out production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (that photo is reproduced in SangamonLink’s main entry on The Big Tent Theatre).

Ready for an audience

Two others, the one showing the exterior of the tent and the other the empty interior, with line after line of folding chairs, backs all cushioned in light-colored fabric, possibly were taken before the theater opened on July 20, 1936. Based on the visible seating arrangement, the “big tent” could accommodate well over 500 people. Plays were given six nights a week, with new productions starting almost every Tuesday into October.

A dramatic moment on stage

For more on the theater and its productions, see SangamonLink’s main entry on The Big Tent Theatre (link above).

Confrontation with a bathing beauty

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.

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