October 29, 2022 | Last updated Aug 23, 2023

On the Stage with Willa Cather

Willa Cather in costume as Peter Paragon in 1892 for a Union Girls’ Dramatic Club production of The Fatal Pin. NSHS RG2639-1-83 (at right).

The Red Cloud Opera House on February 4, 1888, was the scene of an amateur theatrical entitled Beauty and the Beast. Small-town opera houses hosted such entertainments frequently, but the unique feature of this particular play was the inclusion of the young Willa Cather among the cast. Donning suit, top hat, and wax mustache, Cather played Beauty’s merchant father to a large and appreciative crowd.

The Red Cloud Chief on February 10, 1888, described the play, given “for the benefit of the indigent poor of this city. . . . The young folks who took part in the comedy were in training for about two weeks, under the management of Mr. W. F. O’Brien and Mrs. Sill, and to say that they merit great praise in the matter would be putting it in a light form. . . . For instance Willa Cather took the part of  ’The Merchant’ and carried it through with such grace and ease that she called forth the admiration of the entire audience. It was a difficult part and well rendered.”

Read a brief reminiscence  about Willa Cather’s later work on the Nebraska State Journal as a music and dramatic critic in a Timeline column on the Nebraska State Historical Society website. The NSHS has a collection of materials related to Cather, which includes microfilm, photocopies, and original material. Willa Cather: A Matter of Appearances, a Nebraska History Museum exhibit that ended on August 31st, 2011, included clothing, toys, dolls, and jewelry that belonged to both Cather and her friends and family. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

This newspaper clipping from the Red Cloud Daily Evening Chief, February 3, 1888, announced the production of Amateur Night at the Red Cloud Opera House, featuring two plays. NSHS 3560-2884 (above).

(Updated 8/23/2023)

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