Broadway has always been identified as the symbol of Manhattan's theatrical life. Here stars were born and careers were made. The idea of the dramatic play was reinvented and refined, and the theater as people knew it was transformed. Yet, almost simultaneously, another area in New York was coming into its own in the area of theater life. The Bowery, a dark haven for the poor and newly arrived, was the last place one would expect to find a thriving art life. Known for its saloons and fistfights, it became the symbol of the destitute immigrant population that had infected New York City. Only the upper class looking for some kind of adventure frequented its alleys, returning to their homes on 5th Avenue in the morning hours. Plays performed on the Bowery were seen as entertainment, whereas plays performed on Broadway were viewed as art. The Bowery in essence provided a dark contrast to Broadway and this polarity between the two became the symbol for class distinction. Like poor immigrants who strove to make money and move upwards, towards Fifth Avenue, many artists and performers also saw the move upwards from the Bowery to Broadway as a symbol of success. In this way the idea of upward mobility was not so much a phrase as a physical truth. .
The beginnings of theater on the Bowery began in the 1820's at Bowery Theater and mostly catered to an educated middle-class. As the immigrant population grew in the 1830's and 1840's, and managers had to appeal to a different variety and class of people, the theater changed from putting on Shakespearian plays to performances of mere spectacle. In many cases, the plot of the play ceased to matter as much as the props that were incorporated. The bigger the spectacle, the more money an owner of a club could make. For instance, the Earthquake, which incorporated into it falling walls and rattling furniture, brought in almost eight thousand dollars in revenues in one week, which for that time, when most people lived in cramped tenements and could barely make ends meat, represented a very large sum of money.