As they say, the best-laid schemes oft go astray. So it goes that I postponed my first “real” post when I read Sheboygan, Wisconsin’s own John Michael Kohler Arts Center will be putting on an original drama based on the 1860 wreck of the steamship Lady Elgin. Running July 6-10, “A Rising Wind: The Lady Elgin Story” promises to, in the words of playwright Edward Morgan, bring “together a host of topics and themes that lead to the heart of America’s conflicts in the mid-19th century, conflicts which are still not fully resolved.” But it also, at according to JMKAC’s description, tells the riveting story “of a shipwreck that changed the cultural landscape of Milwaukee.” As I struggle to justify and explain the broader significance of nineteenth-century shipwrecks, it is great to see contemporary artists using one to address issues of race, place, and culture. I only wish I were able to attend!
And to do what historians do–contextualize–it is worth noting that “A Rising Wind” joins a long tradition of American shipwreck dramas. During the early Republic, for example, American audiences were enthralled by The Shipwreck: A Comic Opera (to say nothing of The Tempest). First performed in London in late 1796, The Shipwreck was a two-act comedy performed on stages between Boston and Charleston through the first decade of the 1800s. “American-made” shipwreck dramas, the subject of a future post, came later and were just as popular. I hope “A Rising Wind” enjoys similar success.