Staging Ground by Leslie Stainton
In this poignant and personal history of one of America’s oldest theaters, Leslie Stainton captures the story not just of an extraordinary building but of a nation’s tumultuous struggle to invent itself. Built in 1852 and in use ever since, the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is uniquely ghosted. Its foundations were once the walls of a colonial jail that in 1763 witnessed the massacre of the last surviving Conestoga Indians. Those same walls later served to incarcerate fugitive slaves.
Interweaving past and present, private anecdote and public record, Stainton unfolds the story of this emblematic space, where for more than 250 years Americans scripted and rescripted their history. Staging Ground sheds light on issues that continue to form us as a people: the evolution of American culture and faith, the immigrant experience, the growth of cities, the emergence of women in art and society, and the abiding paradox of a nation founded on the principle of equality for “all men,” yet engaged in the slave trade and in the systematic oppression of the American Indian.
“Reading Leslie Stainton’s Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts is like having a front-row seat at a thrilling epic drama. Stainton packs her stage with real characters, the famous and the infamous, and events unfold in a tumult of action both tragic and comic and at times heartbreakingly poignant.” – Helen Sheehy, author of Eleonora Duse: A Biography
“Rarely does one encounter so trenchant of a mix of historical detail (meticulously researched) and personal history (deeply felt). Leslie Stainton weaves the twin strands of her hometown’s Fulton Theatre and her lifelong engagement with drama in ways both delicate and deft; this is one woman’s story, but the story also of our long national wrangle with make-believe and truth.” – Nicholas Delbanco, University of Michigan, author of The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts