Very little is known about Ada Clifton’s early life before she came to the stage in New York. Ireland places Ada Clifton’s debut on the New York stage in 1855 and labels her as a pupil of Mrs. Maeder (642). We do know that Clifton eventually performed with Laura Keene's company, and alongside Edwin Booth and John Brougham after joining with the company at Burton’s theatre on Broadway (Wingate 213). Clifton did star as Ophelia opposite Edwin Booth in Hamlet and also appeared in the title role of Aladdin beginning July 23, 1860 (Odell Vol.7).
Though much of her early life, including her real name and exact date of birth, remains in shadow, Laura Keene is thought to have come from a well-to-do background. She was widely read and spent time in Turner’s studio during her childhood. After performing with Madame Vestris’ company, Keene journeyed to New York in 1852 at the invitation of James W. Wallack. She became the leading lady of his theater and enjoyed great success.
An active theater critic, comedian, and actor, Mark Smith was also a member of an exclusive subset of the Pfaff’s cadre which called itself “The Bees.” This group was composed of actors, writers, dramatists, and artists devoted to the theater who "met regularly for dinner and conversation" (T. Miller 44). The club was formed in 1856, and had rooms on the south side of East Houston Street. Their motto was "Honey Soit." John Brougham was the president, and members included Fitz-James O’Brien, Ned Wilkins, Henry Clapp, Jr., and Smith himself.
Wallack’s Lyceum was located in Broadway near Broome Street. Its productions included original works by Pfaffians John Brougham, Stephen Ryder Fiske, and Fitz-James O’Brien. The Lyceum, run by James W. Wallack, was at one time the leading theater in New York City.