Allen's Company of Comedians
The first professional British theatre company to settle in the Province of Québec was Edward Allen's Company of Comedians c 1786. Allen, who came from the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh, met and performed with Major Jean André in Philadelphia in 1777-78. When the British left Philadelphia in 1778, Allen left his company behind and moved to Montréal, where he served as a soldier. He married there in 1779. In 1785 he returned to Philadelphia to rejoin his company, which had spent the period of the war in the West Indies. When the company split up later in 1785, Allen returned with his Company of Comedians to Québec.
In Montréal, the Company of Comedians performed in the assembly room of an influential member of the Jewish community, Simon Levy, on the marketplace that is now Place Royale. Allen then rented his own theatre-hotel across from the chapel of the Récollets on Notre-Dame. In addition to Allen and his wife, the mainstays of the company were 2 other couples, the Bentleys and the Moores, both hired in America but born in Britain. Even their children performed, with 10-year-old Andrew Allen taking on the roles of women and pages. Simon Clarke, a Scottish soldier hired by the company in Montréal, was known as a fine actor.
The company's repertoire was impressive, including Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Henry IV and Richard III. Also performed were contemporary comic operas such as Dibdins's The Padlockand works composed in 1783 by William Shield with librettos by John O'Keefe - Poor Soldier , The Fair American and the Young Quaker. French plays such as Molière's The Miser were performed in English. An evening's entertainment would often end with a burletta (musical pantomime) with the music composed by John Bentley. In Québec City in the summer of 1786, the company performed in Miles Prentice's freemasons hall, known as Le Chien d'Or. In October 1787 they were asked by Governor Guy Carleton to perform She Stoops to Conquer for a royal visitor, Prince William Henry.
Taking advantage of the law in favour of the Loyalists, all members of Allen's Company of Comedians stayed in the province. In Québec City Moore, Sr, took charge of the garrison Thespians in 1786 and opened a theatre school in Montréal a year after. A dance and fencing school was opened by one member, Étienne (Stephen) Bellair; another, Guillaume (William) Moreau-Mechtler, founded a violin and harpsichord school; and Bentley opened a language and speech school. Moore, Jr, who married Agnes Anne McKay in 1790, founded the Québec Herald (1788-93). The company presented a full season in 1789-90, co-ordinating the dates of its plays with those offered by the Jeunes Messieurs Canadiens.
Mrs Allen toured Lower Canada with Love & Beatty in 1796. In 1815 the Allens and the Moores, Sr, moved to Albany, New York, although other members of the company, notably Bentley, Moore, Jr, and Moreau Mechtler, remained in Lower Canada. The Allens' son Andrew, who married an actress by the name of LaCombe, opened the New Orleans Southern Cafe and Hall there in 1816. (He acted the part of Andrew Jackson, hero of The Conquest of New Orleans, so often that the name Jackson stuck to him.)
Allen's Company of Comedians was remarkable for its early professional character, for its contribution to the art, literature and performance schools of the province and for its collaboration with French theatre society.