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Program of the Minstrel Troupe from 1886.

The University Minstrel Troupe was an intermittently organized musical theatre ensemble at the University of Virginia in the 1870s and 1880s. During the 1870s the troupe put on fundraising concerts on behalf of the Rives Boat Club; the shows in the 1880s raised money for the construction of the University of Virginia Chapel.

The 1870s[]

The minstrel troupe was first organized in 1876:

It is rumored around college that some of the students are forming themselves into a negro minstrel troup, proposing to exhibit first in this place and then to wend their way to Staunton, there to "sweetly sing" for the benefit of the young ladies, orphans, and lunatics who most do frequent that interesting metropolis.[1]

The performance was apparently a success; the November 1877 Virginia University Magazine wrote "all who were so fortunate as to be present at the minstrel performance would be delighted to attend again,"[2] and a new program was accordingly presented in December 1877. This session was lightly attended, but the students once more put on a show in the spring of 1879:

To our great joy we hear it authoritatively announced that the students will before long give another minstrel-show. We hope that our fellow-students will be more patriotic this year, and attend it in large numbers. The session before the last it was largely attended, and gave full satisfaction, but last session there were comparatively few students present. Now this is a University affair, for the benefit of the Rives Boat-Club, and every student who can possibly do so should go. Besides the shame of thus going back on our own institutions the love of amusement, also impels us all to go. For our minstrel-shows are by far the best entertainments ever offered to the Charlottesville public. Both the singing and the acting far surpass anything else we ever see here.[3]

It appears that this was the last show until the performances of the mid-1880s.

The 1880s[]

The minstrel troupe was reorganized after a six year hiatus in 1886. The March 1886 issue of the Virginia University Magazine reported that "a number of gentlemen who have the divine spark of music in their souls have arranged to have at the "town hall," beautiful temple to the dramatic art, an entertainment in the form of a minstrel troup. The proceeds of the first night are to be given to the Chapel Fund, those of the second performance to the Base-ball Association."[4]

The first half of the concert was performed in traditional minstrel-fashion, that is, in blackface. With Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado apparently being well received in the United States after its 1885 debut, the theme of the second half of the minstrel program was a parody of The Mikado based on University subjects. The texts of the songs were printed in the Virginia University Magazine in the May and June 1886 editions.

The Magazine wrote in May 1886, following the performance,

…the mammoth demonstration made by the University Minstrel Troupe … It has never been our pleasure to be present at an amateur performance that deserved and received so much praise from those who witnessed it. It passed off without any of the unpleasantness that usually attends, such affairs such as forgetting of parts and keeping the audience waiting for considerable lengths of time at different stages of the performance. The singing during the performance of the minstrels was quite good for untrained talent, and the jokes were in the main good, and if some of them were a little inclined to be old, they were so old that they had been quite forgotten by the majority of the audience present. But the jokes, partaking of the character of "modern antiquities" were very few in number, and most of them were bright and sparkling with well directed local hits that rendered them especially amusing in a community small enough for every one to know something of the subject of them. As agreeable and entertaining as was the part of the entertainment devoted to the burnt cork science, we are inclined to think that it was surpassed by the burlesque rendition of the Mikado, in which the saffron color of the Japs was exchanged for the "nighted" and ebon color of the Ethiopian.[5]

References[]

  1. "Collegiana". Virginia University Magazine XV (1): 47. October 1876. https://books.google.com/books?id=B9hKAAAAYAAJ&dq=editions%3A2XffkbBMUv8C&pg=PA47#v=onepage&q=minstrel&f=false. Retrieved 2015-08-06. 
  2. "Collegiana". Virginia University Magazine XVI (2): 114. November 1877. https://books.google.com/books?id=YthKAAAAYAAJ&dq=%22virginia%20spectator%22%201875&pg=PA114#v=onepage&q=minstel&f=false. Retrieved 2015-08-06. 
  3. "Collegiana". Virginia University Magazine XVII (5): 305-306. February 1879. https://books.google.com/books?id=0NhKAAAAYAAJ&dq=editions%3A2XffkbBMUv8C&pg=PA305#v=snippet&q=minstrel&f=false. Retrieved 2015-08-06. 
  4. "Collegiana". Virginia University Magazine XXV (6): 368. March 1886. https://books.google.com/books?id=Z49UAAAAYAAJ&dq=virginia%20spectator%201885&pg=PA368#v=onepage&q=minstrel&f=false. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  5. "Collegiana". Virginia University Magazine XXV (8): 491. May 1886. https://books.google.com/books?id=Z49UAAAAYAAJ&dq=virginia%20spectator%201885&pg=PA491#v=onepage&q=minstrel&f=false. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
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