Learn about John Durang
~ American Dancer, Actor, Manager, and More

John Durang (1768-1822) was the first native-born American to make a lifelong career in the theatre. Durang’s life and work is remarkable in its own right but it is also exemplary of early American theatre and the role of the stage in development of American national identity.

Not only was John Durang the earliest American-born theatre professional, but he also established a theatrical dynasty that continues to this day. In the course of his lifetime, Durang exercised nearly every ability that the stage offered or demanded, from dancer to actor, scene painter to puppeteer, choreographer to dancing master, arranger to translator, clown to acrobat, musician to manager, and more. He performed with the eminent theatrical organizations of the day, including the Old American Company, Ricketts Circus, and the Chestnut St. Theatre. He toured the major theatrical towns of the northeast, and, with a troupe of his own, he pioneered theatrical presentations in rural Maryland and Pennsylvania as well as in Quebec, Canada. In the course of Durang’s life in the theatre, he participated in the transition of his homeland from colonial status to revolutionary upstart to newly established, independent nation. That course involved the shaping of a sense of being an American — a shaping played out on America’s theatrical stages.

Listen to  John Durang’s Hornpipe played by violinist Christopher Brooks! Just click “play” below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Get Flash Player

Download a complete chronology of John Durang’s professional career!

York County History Center
Yale University, The Lewis Walpole Digital Library
Walnut Street Theatre
LancasterHistory.org (Lancaster County Historical Society)
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Library Company of Philadelphia
Library of Congress, An American Ballroom Companion
New-York Historical Society
Wayne S. Turney Theatre History Pages

Hole in the Wall Puppet Theatre & the John Durang Puppet Museum
Fulton Theatre
Franklin & Marshall College, Department of Theater, Dance & Film
Chestnut St. Theatre Project
Baroque Dance Info: Matt’s Baroque Dances
American Historical Newspapers, Archive of Americana
Ron Horloff’s Photo Gallery
New York Public Library Digital Gallery
American Antiquarian Society
University of Pennsylvania, Van Pelt Library
University of Texas, Hoblitzelle & Interstate Theater Collection