Friday, January 31, 2014

Dishcover Minstrel Troupe

Most people forget, or never knew, just how prevalent minstrel shows were in the not-too-distant past.  We have a strong 19th-century theater collection with playbills for black face comic performances as opening acts to "serious" theater. We also have dozens of examples of scripts and sheet music for minstrel shows. More disturbing are programs for local amateur performances.

But even we were surprised to find this one: evidence of a minstrel show performance in the Antarctic on August 6, 1902. This program, printed on Ross Island during Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition, describes an evening of entertainment put on by members of the crew. The "Dishcover Minstrel Troupe" performed seventeen songs and, according to the South Polar Times (the monthly newspaper produced during the expedition to ward off boredom), was interspersed throughout with minstrel dialect jokes.

These programs always shake you a little, but for some reason it is even more unnerving to see a black face show being performed in the Antarctic. The only representation of humanity on the continent at the time, and they are doing what?

We are still cataloging the program, but you can ask for it at the desk. You can see the report in the South Polar Times, by asking for Stef G850 1901 .D7 Vol 1 (page 23 of the August 1902 issue).

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