William Nannary Theatre Manager and Promoter

North Market Street Saint John

William Nannary Theatre Manager and Promoter

Born in 1838 in Saint John, William Nannary was the eldest child of Timothy and Bridget Nannary. It is believed that he received his education at the local Catholic church. Nannary’s early involvement with the local Irish Friendly Society (IFS) saw him become a renowned lecturer and debater. In 1857, Nannary co-founded a dramatic club with fellow IFS members. The club evolved into the Saint John Dramatic Club by 1864, with Nannary serving as its manager. He occasionally worked with J. W. Lanergan at his Dramatic Lyceum during this period.

William Nannary’s first foray into professional theatre came in 1868 when he served as business agent for T. C. Howard’s Olympic Theatre. He then worked as the business manager at Lanergan’s Lyceum from 1869 to 1872. In 1871, he began publishing Footlight Flashes, a theatrical newsletter/program that ran until at least 1876. The Academy of Music opened in Saint John in 1872, with Nannary serving as box office agent. He later became the manager, either alone or in partnership with others, and presented various performances including standard melodramas, Shakespeare, and newer plays such as Tom Taylor’s Clancarty. Nannary continued to promote theatre in Saint John and helped to restore the city’s cultural life after the Great Fire of 1877, managing the Mechanics’ Institute in 1878. 

Academy of Music Saint John NB founded by William Nannary
Academy of Music Saint John NB

Nannary also became a respected impresario in Halifax from 1873. He advocated for the construction of an Academy of Music in Halifax, which opened in January 1877 with one of Nannary’s companies providing the first theatrical season. Operating in both Saint John and Halifax simultaneously, Nannary’s companies toured Atlantic Canada and even ventured as far as Montreal and Ottawa in 1878.

William Nannary was the dominant figure in Atlantic Canadian theatre from 1873 to 1880. He promoted and helped sustain theatrical presence in the region, and even attempted to provide it where it was lacking, paying salaries of up to $4700 per week and employing over 100 people in various enterprises. However, declining box office receipts, changing audience tastes, recruiting difficulties, and overextended resources led to the end of his reign. In November of Newfoundland, Nannary’s company forced him to resign as manager. In 1880, he briefly managed a troupe with Harry Lindley, but he eventually departed with his family for the USA and settled in San Francisco. Although he continued with theatrical enterprises at first, chronic bronchitis ultimately ended his career by the late 1880s.

William Nannary’s brother Patrick became a minor actor on Broadway, while his eldest daughter, Mary Agnes (May Nannary), had a successful stage career on both coasts. His daughter, Genevieve Blinn, was an actress in silent films, and his son, Edward, had a long and varied career as an actor, including a stint as a featured comedian at the Shubert Theatre in New York. Finally, his grandson, Kenneth, became a theatrical manager on the West Coast.

This post has already been read 527 times!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »