Tom Collins: Arizona Theatre Historian

The Amateur Theatre in Territorial Prescott, 1868-1903


Local amateurs in Prescott converted multi-purpose halls into theatres and staged hair-raising melodramas and hilarious farces: East Lynne, Little Toddlekins, Led Astray, and Lady Audley’s Secret, to name just a few.  Hamlet was planned, but the lead actor grew quarrelsome, left the dramatic club, and threatened to shoot up the town and kill the man who dared to replace him.







History made entertaining with vivid illustrations and lively dialogues


All presentations can be tailor-made for your organization in terms of length and local interest.  Presentations typically run 30 to 45 minutes. 


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Dynamic Duos of Melodrama on the Arizona Stage


Stage-Struck Soldiers: Military Theatre in Territorial Arizona


Fort Whipple’s Glittering Social Life

Melodramas & Megastars: The Theatre in Territorial Arizona, 1879-1912


From Tombstone to Tucson, from Phoenix to Prescott, bright particular touring stars lit up the theaters that were built to accommodate them and their carloads of scenery and costumes.  Louis James performed Shakespeare and The Gladiator.

Arizona’s Famous Army Belle: Carrie Wilkins and Her Lovelorn Suitors


Immortalized in Capt. Charles King’s novel, The Colonel’s Daughter; or, Winning His Spurs (1904), lovely but cold-hearted Carrie Wilkins drove military bachelors to distraction at Fort Whipple and Fort Verde in the Arizona Territory.

Her poignant and humorous story is told here with testimony from her disappointed suitors.

(Image courtesy Fort Verde Historic State Park)

Copyright 2015: Thomas P. Collins; all rights reserved

Audiences wept and cheered for Nellie Boyd in The Two Orphans and The Octoroon.  Augustus Thomas’s true-to-life drama, Arizona, swelled Arizonans’ hearts with pride.  This one’s a real treat.

During Prescott’s first decade, the soldiers of Fort Whipple entertained themselves and the townspeople with a variety of theatrical productions, including minstrel shows, melodramas, and hilarious farces.  No women allowed on stage!

In the military tradition, short men played the female roles; tall men played the male roles.  Prescottonians, starved for entertainment, packed the multi-purpose halls and had a rollicking good time.

The last quarter of the nineteenth century was the age of melodrama in the Arizona Territory.  Audiences especially loved the married couples who reportedly led virtuous life off stage but lurid, sensational lives on stage.  Two of these couples—Joseph Grismer and Phoebe Davies, Milton and Dollie Nobles—made local “opera houses” ring with song, explode with laughter, and tremble with terror in such classics as The Streets of New York, Love and Law, The Phoenix, and The Burglar.  Fire engines and stagecoaches drawn by horses added a touch of realism to the plays that depicted courageous heroines, stalwart heroes, and dastardly villains.

Fighting Apaches and protecting settlers were not the only activities at Fort Whipple, Arizona Territory.  Card and gambling parties, Wednesday night hops, musical soirees, military band concerts, and amateur theatricals provided entertainment for war-weary soldiers, officers, and their ladies.  Fannie Kautz, (right) wife of General August V. Kautz, established a sort of King Arthur’s court at Whipple, with her husband as Arthur, herself as Guinevere, and handsome young bachelor officers as Lancelots.