What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Subscription … for the Amusement of the Public.”
The performance of “several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory, interspers’d with Music and Singing” first advertised in the June 5, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette expanded into a series, even though the initial advertisement promoted an event for “This EVENING.” The following week a similar advertisement appeared, with a few modifications. It clarified that the performance would “begin at Eight o’Clock” and cautioned “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.” That implied that the previous performance had been so popular or had incited so much interest the next performance that colonizers interested in attending needed to secure admission in advance.
The advertisement ran in a third consecutive issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, though greatly expanded with news that “the Exhibitor” had received such “great Encouragement” that he wished to satisfy “the natural Propensity the Ladies and Gentlemen seem to have [for] Dramatic Entertainments” that he created a subscription series to include “new and surprising Performances never seen in this Country, consisting of Italian Dances, and Pantomimical Interludes in Grotesque Characters, with elegant Scenes and Machinery and every other Decoration.” The Exhibitor compared the elaborate productions to performances at the famous Sadler’s Wells Theater in London, suggesting that audiences would partake in similar cosmopolitan entertainments in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The Exhibitor, who also referred to himself as “the Projector,” listed ticker prices for both subscribers and non-subscribers. He promised that “Tickets will be transferable,” encouraging colonizers to invest in subscriptions together if they were not interested in attending twelve performances or found the price for the entire series too exorbitant. He assured readers that “Subscribing is only fixing the same Price,” but purchasing subscriptions had the advantage of making it possible “to put the Design in Execution.” If the Projector did not receive “a certain Number” of subscriptions then he would not be able to stage the performances; he warned that he “cannot proceed till a sufficient Number is subscribed.” Anyone interested in the proposed series needed to act quickly, especially since the Projector planned “to go Southward” in October. He encouraged “Ladies and Gentlemen who are inclined to favour the above Scheme” to “be expeditious in signing.”
Residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns had an opportunity to attend a series of performances at which “no Expence will be spared to have every Decoration the Country can afford,” but only if enough of them purchased subscriptions to support the endeavor. The advertisement’s decorative border, unique in the New-Hampshire Gazette, suggested that the Exhibitor fulfilled his promise of visual spectacles to amuse his audiences. The Exhibitor also intended for his descriptions of upcoming acts and comparison to a renowned theater in London to incite interest in a subscription series, even among those who attended previous performances. Today, theaters and performing arts centers market subscriptions to their patrons, but that method of selling tickets is not a recent innovation. The practice was already in place in the eighteenth century.