Wisconsin’s Historic Theaters

The performing arts are as old as the state itself. In 1834, a visiting New Yorker wrote an account of attending a performance at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, where soldiers of the first regiment performed several English comedies.

John Hustis founded the first legitimate theater in Milwaukee in 1842. Its first performance was reportedly Shakespeare, an early favorite. Today, most of us watch movies at home or at a suburban Cineplex, but many of Wisconsin’s historic theaters and opera houses continue to have a viable existence. Tour some of Wisconsin’s most significant theaters and learn about the historical forces that moved us from the nineteenth century opera house, to the movie palace and beyond. See some of Wisconsin’s most unique, interesting, and beautiful old theaters and learn their history.

For most of their history, theaters were spare, utilitarian, working locations. Early theater was often performed in local social and meeting halls. In the mining community of Argyle, the simple-looking Star Theatre (built as Partridge Hall) served as a social hall, meeting hall, and sometime theater. In New Holstein, a local drama club performed plays by Goethe and Schiller in a local tavern. As theater became more profitable a movement grew to professionalize theater productions, performances, and the halls themselves.

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