An influential play used art to protect threatened bird species. Now, two parks will stage free productions of the play, 100 years after its first performance.
This weekend, art and wildlife conservation meet in New England at two historic re-enactments of Sanctuary: A Masque, an influential 1913 play that helped protect wild birds in America.
A hundred years ago, entire bird species were threatened by hunting, due to the steady demand for feathers in hats and other products. In response to widespread concern for these animals, playwright Percy MacKaye created Sanctuary: A Masque as a poetic way to advocate for the protection of wild birds. A group of concerned artists helped to put the production together in the span of just a month, then performed the piece in a grove of pine trees at the dedication of the Meriden Bird Club, a sanctuary for birds in New Hampshire. The socially conscious message drew supportive invitation-only crowds, including President Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Ellen Wilson. The Wilsons’ daughters even performed parts in the play.
The plot, set in verse, tells the story of a hunter’s redemption by the spirit of his prey. Today, conservationists credit the play with contributing to the passage of the Organic Act establishing the National Park Service in 1916, as well as a treaty in 1918 preventing the hunting of migratory birds. The popularity of the play ultimately led to the creation of more than 100 bird sanctuaries around the country.
The free anniversary production will take place at two national parks this weekend:
- Saturday, August 24 at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Woodstock, Vermont
- Sunday, August 25 at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire
Exhibitions and demonstrations will begin at noon; the play will begin at 2 p.m.
About the author
Jennifer Errick Managing Editor of Online Communications
Jennifer writes, edits, and moderates online content for NPCA.