«A somewhat belated Happy New Year to all CONTENTS our Members. The University of Warwick Retired Staff Association (WRSA for short) have introduced a ...»
RETIRED STAFF ASSOCIATION
March 2013 Issue 31
A somewhat belated Happy New Year to all CONTENTS
our Members. The University of Warwick
Retired Staff Association (WRSA for short)
have introduced a few changes to help keep Introduction 1 costs down and to make sure more AGM 2 Members take an active part. The Questionnaire, sent out with the last Transcript of talk by David Coates 2 Newsletter, has given the Committee many Walking group reports 7 ideas for different activities, hoping to appeal to a wider audience.
Questionnaire report 11 Many of the Members are well aware of the Trip to Floriade 12 various activities of the WRSA but for those who are less familiar the following provides a Trip to Windsor 15 brief outline. The Committee and Members Trip to Chatsworth 16 of the WRSA arrange a number of events throughout the year allowing Members to Christmas Lunch 16 meet with friends and keep in touch with the Bursaries 2012-13 17 University. The best attended events are the lunches arranged in the Spring and Autumn, Possible Future activity 18 and the Christmas lunch. There is usually a Membership Report 19 guest speaker at both the Spring and Autumn lunches and this allows the The WRSA Committee 19 Members to hear about the work being carried out at the University.
The website is another source of
http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/assoc/rsa, Dates for your diary The walking group activities were co- ordinated by Malcolm Wilding who also led the majority of the walks. For health reasons Malcolm stepped down from the Committee Spring lunch on 29th April, 2013 in and resigned from his role. Walkers past and Scarman House present will I am sure join the Committee in Speaker: Roger Boxall, Univeristy of thanking Malcolm for his hard work over Warwick Head of Landscaping many years and wish him all the best for the future. We are fortunate in having Kay Rainsley take his place. If you wish to join
Fifty nine Members attended the AGM and were informed by the Chairman of the work carried out by the Association during the year. He commented on the lower numbers attending and thought this may be due to the difficulty with parking. This has now been addressed and the Spring Lunch will be in Scarman House. He thanked those members of the Committee who were stepping down after years of valued service. He announced that Colin Brummitt as Treasurer and Malcolm Wilding as walks co-ordinator were giving up their membership of the Committee. He added that he would be stepping down as Chairman but staying on the Committee for a further year. He was delighted that Joan Cole had agreed to take the role of Chair and Terry Kemp the role of Treasurer and Kay Rainsley as Walks’ coordinator. Other Members of the Committee also gave brief reports. The new Chair introduced herself to the Members and thanked Steve for the work he had done whilst in the Chair. After a hearty buffet lunch the attendees settled down to a presentation by David Coates one of the students awarded a Bursary in 2011-2012. David kindly produced the following article for the Newsletter, and may be contacted for comments or further information at D.J.Coates@warwick.ac.uk.
A Peep Behind the Curtain: Aristocratic Private and Amateur Theatricals in the Nineteenth Century In the Beginning – Amateur Theatricals from 1500 to 1820 While the debate continues over whether it was the chicken or the egg that first came into existence in ‘the beginning’, in the grand narrative of British theatre history, it is now well documented that the amateur performer appeared far earlier than the professional. We understand that the professional theatre of the Elizabethan age developed out of medieval religious performance forms which gradually moved beyond the church and into the streets, and into civic buildings. Professional performers then emerged in the shape of troupes of travelling players who were patronised by royalty and the aristocracy. Soon afterwards, purpose-built theatre spaces were constructed, including perhaps the most famous playhouse on earth, The Globe, which was erected in Southwark in 1599 and is celebrated thanks to you know who!
Despite the emergence of a professional theatre, amateur performing continued into the seventeenth century. Arguably the most fully researched amateur performances are the sumptuous Elizabethan and Jacobean Court masques, in which Queen Anne of Denmark famously performed. Besides these, performances occurred in the houses of the wealthy classes and in civic buildings such as the guildhalls. Later in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries private and amateur theatricals could also be found on naval vessels, in army encampments around the world, in universities and schools, and in hospitals and mental asylums. Also in this period, amateur clubs and societies began to be established and these groups hired out professional theatre venues to perform in; they set up their own subscription theatres; and, later in the early twentieth century, these various groups were pulled together to resemble the interconnected amateur theatre movement which we see today. However, beyond the Jacobean court masques the amateur theatre has largely failed to be recognised as a significant field of study.
One of the few works to have been published on the study of amateur theatre is Sybil Rosenfeld’s Temples of Thespis: Some Private Theatres and Theatricals in England and Wales 1700 - 1820. Rosenfeld, describes numerous theatricals arranged and performed by the aristocracy, nobility and landed gentry in their homes in the eighteenth century. Her case
In my research I’ve come across over one hundred and fifty houses in Britain that hosted private and amateur theatricals in the nineteenth century and I believe that this list is merely the tip of the iceberg. Beyond this, I’ve found evidence of theatricals across Europe - in Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Florence, Rome, Geneva, St Petersburg, Moscow and numerous other cities which were fashionable destinations in the nineteenth century. It is also important to realise that private theatricals were not only a European phenomenon, but in fact a global one, with my findings including a sketch titled ‘Dressing for Private Theatricals’ from nineteenth century Japan. Private theatricals were a common social activity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and were the equivalent to a ball or a dinner party, but for some reason this form of entertainment has been brushed under the carpets of Britain’s great country and town houses. The surviving evidence to prove their existence has lain dormant in copious collections and archives. Dormant, of course, until now!
Why is it Important to do this Research?
My passion and enthusiasm for this wonderful field of research cannot be doubted. Nor can it be challenged that there is a vast amount of fascinating, untapped evidence which survives from the widespread popularity of private and amateur theatricals in this period. However, what people constantly struggle to understand is why this research is important. At first, I too found this difficult to comprehend. It was only when I had my very own ‘Eureka!’ moment, not too long ago, that everything seemed to fall into place and I was able to answer this quite daunting question. Now, each time I find an exciting photograph or manuscript hidden away in an archive, I am faced with the wise words of an inquisitive former lecturer – “and so?”.
There are numerous reasons why I believe private and amateur theatricals need greater recognition in theatre studies and in theatre history. First and foremost this is because amateurs by definition perform for their own enjoyment, and have no drive for commercial success. Without this pressure, they therefore have the potential to be revolutionary. Whilst 4 in today’s society very few private or amateur groups attempt to push boundaries, amateur theatre in the nineteenth century could, and occasionally would, create a stir. We find that numerous plays that had been banned from public performance by the Lord Chamberlain, under the strict censorship laws that governed the theatre in this period, were instead performed by amateur clubs in private. At the fin de siècle, for example, when the campaign for female emancipation was gaining pace, plays which challenged Victorian gender norms and had been given the red light by the Examiner of Plays, instead made their way onto private and amateur stages.
Private and amateur theatricals then could also be political. Audiences at Chatsworth House’s Christmas pantomime in 1904 (Cinderella and the Magic Slipper by Leo Trevor) saw a very modern adaptation of the well known story of Cinderella, filled with topical allusions. The Derby Mercury reported that: “Mr Trevor’s Cinderella evinced no desire whatever to go to a ball, but, with the aid it is true of a magic silver-slipper, found her way to a public hall, where she took part very acceptably in a political meeting and entertainment, promoted by a cryptic organisation known as the ‘Cowslip League’.” As Chatsworth’s audience included the Prime Minister, numerous politicians, members of the Royal Family, various members of the peerage and the local gentry, it is fairly significant that issues such as the New Woman, economic difficulties and foreign policy were addressed in performance.
Not only could private theatricals be revolutionary in content, but also in the way they were presented. At Chatsworth, for example, there was a fully-functioning private theatre which was essentially a miniature London playhouse. The main difference was that the Chatsworth House Theatre held around 300 people in its audience, whereas in some cases the London theatres could accommodate well over 2000. Thus, the Chatsworth House Theatre was almost unique in being small scale but able to afford the best in all of its facilities, from costume design and scenery, to state of the art electric lighting equipment. The result of this was a fantastically equipped intimate venue which created a very different theatrical experience from the public playhouses and other entertainment venues of the period. Leo Trevor, the stage manager at Chatsworth, wrote in an article for the Pall Mall Gazette in 1903, “The effect ‘from the front’ is excellent. I sometimes think that our footlights are not so strong in proportion to the headlights as they are in bigger theatres, and the light distributed by this arrangement renders those terrible red-cheeks, coal-black eyes, and alabaster foreheads of musical comedy unnecessary. For I am told that this primitive method of colouring is employed to prevent the face looking sallow and dirty in that fierce light which beats upon a stage.” In W. G. Elliot’s book of 1898, Amateur Clubs and Actors, Trevor writes, “Of course in very large houses, such as Chatsworth, Craig-y-Nos, West Dean, or Tranby Croft, where you have perfect bijou theatres fitted with electric light, with scenery painted by excellent artists, where you can get night and morning effects, and where properties and furniture are of the best, the amateur is in clover, and really gets a fair chance of showing what he can do. If with all these assistants to his art he cannot make a hit before one of those friendly audiences, let him give up acting and take to manly sports - say spillikins or dominoes.” While private and amateur theatricals arguably pushed boundaries and experimented with new technologies in intimate venues, they also had the potential to pose a genuine threat to the professional theatre and to damage its economy. Rosenfeld tells us in Temples of Thespis that in the late eighteenth century, “….so popular were theatricals... in high society that winter bookings at Bath were seriously affected by those at Blenheim [Palace], Hinchingbrook [House] and Richmond House”. Similarly, The Era of 9 January 1842 says 5 that at some theatres, “…the directors complain[ed] that they have at present some of the high nobility for competitors”.
Although this may suggest that private and amateur theatricals harmed the theatre profession, it is actually more likely that the profession benefitted from the popularity of amateur theatricals. On the one hand, those who took a keen interest in amateur acting were frequent visitors to the professional playhouses, often using these visits to study their favourite performers. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, my research has revealed that the same costumiers, perruquiers, lighting assistants, scene painters, dance mistresses and stage hands that worked in the theatre profession were hired out for assistance with private theatricals. Many of these sectors of the theatre profession seem to have not only provided for private and amateur theatricals but were in fact reliant upon them for survival. In the nineteenth century private and amateur theatricals were so fashionable that some businesses specifically targeted the affluent market who indulged in them. The publisher Samuel French, for example, made his fortune by gearing his business towards amateurs, churning out cheap play texts primarily for the amateur performer to use at home.
Later, his business began to hire out scenery, make-up, an entire fit-up theatre and other theatrical apparel.
Numerous other arguments have emerged from my research to answer the ‘and so?’ question, but I have not the space here to talk about each of them. In brief, private and
1) were an opportunity to trial new plays;
2) were a training ground for performers;
3) gave a voice to women, often in situations which were not as ‘private’ as they may at first seem;
4) were a British export which were taken around the world on the grand tour and performed by and for the armed forces and on board naval vessels; and
5) created a circle of what I term ‘professional amateurs’; a group who could not tread the boards as professional performers due to their given rank and status, but were well known and celebrated for their talents.