Sicilian-American Theatre

An Historical Sketch of Sicilian American Theatre

At the beginning of the twentieth century, large American cities supported Italian American theatre troupes. With a sizeable and continuously replenishing immigrant population, New York City was the most successful of these. At their peak in 1927, no fewer than fifteen Italian music halls thrived in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Teatro Italiana di Varietà presented in these halls typically consisted of singing, dancing, and a drama or comedy sketch. Shows were presented continuously on weekends to appreciative audiences of primarily working class Italian immigrants. Corresponding largely to American vaudeville, varietà was a form of entertainment that met with great success and filled the theatres to capacity.

The performers in these variety shows represented several regions of Italy, each with their individual dialects. Sicilian entertainers were widely represented, playing to enthusiastic crowds of their own countrymen who packed the halls nightly for an evening's entertainment. In addition to music and drama, much of what was popular among southern Italian immigrants was simple buffoonery. Many farces poked fun at greenhorn immigrants who were often confused or exploited by their own paesani and the bosses, landlords, and businessmen with whom they dealt. This genre cultivated a large following of immigrants who saw at once their own gullibility, posturing, and chicanery reflected in the lead character of a comedy sketch.

The Playwright

One of the influential artists of the Sicilian immigrant generation was the playwright and actor Giovanni De Rosalia (1864-1934). For a discussion of De Rosalia, some of his other work and the original Italian and Sicilian text of his comedies go to Joe Accardi's Prima Pagina.

Here's a list of the comedies we have so far transcribed and translated:

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This page is maintained by Art Dieli.
Last updated 6/8/2002