Marilyn Casto

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Kentucky emerged as a prime site for theatrical activity in the early nineteenth century. Most towns, even quite small ones, constructed increasingly elaborate opera houses, which stood as objects of local pride and symbols of culture. These theaters often hosted amateur performances, providing a forum for talent and a focus for community social life. As theatrical attendance rose, performance halls began offering everything from drama to equestrian shows to burlesque.

Today many architects believe that the design of a theater should not detract from the stage or screen. Marilyn Casto shows that nineteenth-century Kentucky audiences, however, not only expected elaborate decor but considered it a delightful part of the theater-going experience. Embellished arches and painted and gilded walls and ceilings enhanced the theatricality of the performance while adding to the excitement of an evening out.

In Actors, Audiences, and Historic Theaters of Kentucky, Casto investigates the social and architectural history of Kentucky theaters, paying special attention to the actors who performed in them and the audiences who saw it all. A captivating glimpse into a disappearing slice of American popular culture, her work examines what people considered entertaining, what they hoped to gain from theater-going, and how they chose and experienced the theaters' architectural settings. In the social and physical design of these theaters, Casto explores nearly two centuries of the state's and nation's cultural history.

Winner of the 2000 Book Award given by the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians

Awarded Overall Excellence in the Southern Books Competition presented by the Southeastern Library Association

"Casto has done us good service in her array of details. A host of facts has been marshaled in a taut chronology."—Filson History Quarterly

"A detailed study of theater buildings and theater life. . . . Views theater as a place where art, literature, architecture, technology, and values intersect."—Journal for the Society of Architectural Historians

"Provides insight into what people considered entertaining and what they deemed essential in the theater-going experience."—Kentucky Living

"Will appeal to anyone interested in culture as well as lovers of theater and architecture. Well researched, it is full of interesting facts and photographs that will have you look at old theater buildings with new appreciation."—Kentucky Monthly

"Informative and entertaining."—Pamela H. Simpson

"This definitive work successfully traces Kentucky’s theatrical heritage from the first know Transylvania student play of 1790 to the early twentieth century."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"A masterful job of bringing these often long-lost places back to life."—Robert M. Craig

"Readers will enjoy an entertaining examination of the history of drama in the Bluegrass state through diverse lenses (economical, design, technological, and moral attitudes, to name just a few)."—Vernacular Architecture Newsletter

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Theaters, Kentucky


Architectural History and Criticism

Actors, Audiences, and Historic Theaters of Kentucky
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