Philadelphia’s most famous performing arts space is undoubtedly the Walnut Street Theatre, America’s oldest surviving and the world’s most-subscribed-to theater. The building, at the corner of 9th and Walnut Streets, opened as a circus in 1809 and went through several incarnations before becoming the nonprofit regional theater it is today. Though few theaters from the 19th century remain today, the Forrest, Plays & Players, and Merriam theaters date from the beginning of the 20th century, when powerful national theater syndicates like the Shubert controlled the country’s live entertainment.
In the music world, the Philadelphia Orchestra, founded in 1900, has established its reputation as one of the United States’ “Big Five” orchestras. Several opera companies competed for attention, and in 1975, the last two merged into the current Opera Company of Philadelphia.
After Broadway tryouts left Philadelphia in the 1960s, innovative young theater companies, including the Wilma Theater and the Philadelphia Theatre Company, began filling in the gaps. In the 1990s, Mayor Ed Rendell spearheaded the Avenue of the Arts initiative, which focused on turning the stretch of Broad Street spanning out from City Hall into a true center for performing arts. At the time, the Academy of Music was essentially a loner, but since then theater groups have flocked to the new and renovated theater spaces, including the Arts Bank in 1994, Clef Club in 1995, Wilma in 1996, the Prince Music Theater in 1999, and Suzanne Roberts’ Philadelphia Theatre Company in 2007. Meanwhile, Freedom Theater improved its space on North Broad. And, of course, the Kimmel Center opened in 2001, giving a grand home to the Philadelphia Orchestra and several other resident companies.
© Karrie Gavin from Moon Philadelphia, 1st Edition