Hardly missing a beat, early Chinese immigrants brought Cantonese opera to their new home in America. As early as 1852, they began sponsoring traveling opera troupes from China, and opening theatres. Cantonese opera, with its familiar storylines and heroes, was a popular form of entertainment developed in their home region of southern China. For laborers here without their families, the theatre also served as a public gathering center for exchanging news and socializing.

The first Chinese theatre in New York’s Chinatown opened at 5-7 Doyers Street in 1883. Its audience included both Chinese New Yorkers and American tourists. One particular evening in 1903, the Doyers Street theatre hosted a benefit performance for the Jewish victims of the Kishinev pogrom in Russia. Joseph Singleton, the theatre’s Chinese manager, told the Jewish relief committee: “We want to help you. We believe in liberty and want to aid those who suffer from bigotry.” The night of the benefit, so many people showed up that the actors had to give three consecutive performances. Raising $280 for the Kishinev Jews, the night ended with a banquet at the Chinese Delmonico Restaurant, located at 24 Pell Street.

<strong>Stafford Mantle Northcote, <em>Hi Hee, Chinese Theatre, NYC</em>, 1900. Oil on linen. New-York Historical Society, Gift of George A. Zabriskie.</strong>

Stafford Mantle Northcote, Chinese Theatre, NYC, 1900. Oil on linen. New-York Historical Society, Gift of George A. Zabriskie.