“The play’s the thing.” You’ve heard that phrase. Shakespeare wrote it. Hamlet says it. So it must be true. And, though probably not in the same vein that Hamlet meant it, the play certainly was the thing when it came to 19th century Atlantans. Opera and the theatre captured the attention of 1800s Atlanta in a big way and Atlantans were very supportive of both art forms.
The New York Metropolitan Opera enjoyed so much success in our city that they made Atlanta an annual stop for the Met’s touring performances, bringing with them some of the biggest names in the world of opera.
The same was true for theatrical presentations. Atlantans turned out in droves to watch a who’s who of performers on the stage of DeGive’s Opera house, which was located at the corner of Marietta and Forsyth Streets.
DeGive’s was the brain child of Laurent DeGive, the Belgian consul in Atlanta and, though he didn’t build the first theater in our city, he certainly was responsible for two of the finest theaters ever constructed in Atlanta. In fact, his second theater, which was located on Peachtree street, ultimately became the lavish Lowe’s Grand, home to the premiere of Gone With the Wind.
Long before Gone With the Wind took the city by storm, however, traveling theater troupes came to DeGive’s and entertained hundreds with classic stage plays and top name actors. But perhaps none created as much of an indelible memory in the minds of theater-going Atlantans as the one on a February night in 1876, when the greatest actor of his time began a week-long run of plays and, in the process, created the tale that you will hear in this week’s Stories of Atlanta.