The History of the Haverstock Tent Show: "the Show with a Million Friends"
Although rural America supported more than seven hundred tent repertoire groups during the first half of the twentieth century, little is known about the many players and companies that strolled the land to bring live entertainment to small towns. Thus, Robert Lee Wyatt’s chronicle of a pioneer dramatic tent repertoire company is more than just a fascinating story; it is also a particularly significant piece of American theater history. Founded in Roosevelt, Oklahoma, in 1911 by Harvey (Haver) and Carlotta (Lotta) Haverstock, the Haverstock Tent Show proved to be one of the most enduring of these tent theater companies—and of family enterprises. Rolland Haverstock, the founders’ son, played leading-man roles for thirty of the company’s forty-three years, and Rolland’s wife, Peggy, who joined the company in 1933, toured with the group until it dissolved in 1954.
As Wyatt reports the life and work of this remarkable family of thespians, the schedule sounds grueling—at least one new town every week with a different three-act play for each night they worked a town—but apparently the Haverstocks and the actors who traveled with them loved their work. And they thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people in the towns along the route through rural Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois. Unlike many such companies, the Haverstocks made a point of fitting into the community, including going to church with their audiences on Sunday mornings.
Wyatt was exceptionally fortunate in finding such willing and able subjects as he investigated the tent theater movement. Not only did Rolland and Peggy Haverstock spend hours regaling him with tales of the family touring company, but they also provided him with their own archival records. Through these two veteran players, Wyatt had access to family letters, Haver’s memoirs and diaries, copies of scripts, route books, record books, and scrapbooks and photographs, some of which are included here. Wyatt supplemented this material with interviews with those who had worked with the Haverstocks or who had known the company by reputation.