Lillian Leitzel’s celebrity, agency and her performed femininity
Lillian Leitzel was one of the highest-profile circus celebrities of the 1920s in an industry where women occupied a prominent position, performing in virtually every discipline either as soloists or in mixed troupes. Leitzel became famous for performing an extraordinary feat of aerial endurance in an act that was witnessed by audiences in their millions throughout America and Europe. Not only did she perform as part of a circus, she also used her celebrity status to secure engagements in vaudeville/variety venues. Leitzel’s celebrity was unusual, and this chapter explores the ways in which her performance of femininity reflected concerns regarding the role of women in the interwar period as key to her pre-eminent celebrity status.
Actresses, female performers, autobiography and the scripting of professional practice
Maggie B. Gale
There are an extraordinary number of autobiographies written by British female theatre professionals working during the period. This generation of actresses and female performers were concerned, in part, with locating themselves in a public culture of self-affirmation and reflection. Their autobiographic writing evidences an awareness of the growing interest in their activities as public figures and practitioners, in a labour market where women were now becoming firmly professionalised. The chapter explores how their ‘autobiographic confessional histories’ can be read as a body of work, as cultural interventions that make an explicit contribution to our understandings of the development of professional theatre practice more generally, during the era.
Women performers and the law in the ‘long’ Edwardian period
In the period leading up to the First World War, British women increasingly used the courts as a platform to challenge their lower legal, social and political status in Edwardian society, most notably in the defences mounted by militant suffragists at the Old Bailey in May 1912. In a different way, women performers – frequently backed by their commercial managers and publicists – were using the courts to argue for self-determination and control, particularly of their public image. This chapter explores the social, legal and commercial context of a range of libel cases – some successful, others not – brought by women performers.
Film created new opportunities for work and posed a challenge for some established stage actors: the performer’s relationship with the audience was fundamentally changed and new professional interactions were required, with those in entrepreneurial roles emerging from the production and marketing of film. This chapter examines the film work of the iconic actor Ellen Terry (1847–1928), known internationally for her Shakespearean and other performances on stage. The circumstances of Terry’s involvement in the new medium of film are considered as well as her descriptions of the new experiences of performing and viewing performance in film.
The Australian and New Zealand repertoires and fortunes of North American performers Margaret Anglin, Katherine Grey and Muriel Starr
In the early twentieth century the careers of female professional actors generated complex webs of international activity, with prolonged touring mixed with occasional sustained residence in national regions. The performers explored in this chapter were all significant Australian theatre stars for varied periods. Most of their careers were played out working with major commercial managements and venues, in vehicles which typically placed at the centre of the spectacle the charismatic, socially transformative or suffering feminine. Their varied careers exhibit the typical early-century generic syncretism wherein probing explorations of contemporary life and social change effortlessly spanned modernism and social or costume melodrama.
This chapter explores how a street theatre company deploys different aesthetic and rhetorical tactics to engage with working-class heritage and local identity before and during urban redevelopment. PlayRec (2006–08) and SPP (2011–12), by KompleXKapharnaüM, offer two models of theatre archaeology that re-enact the excavation of the industrial past and the construction of local memory. PlayRec uses montage and shock aesthetics to restage the collection and distortion of personal testimony. SPP plays on the relation between irony and authenticity to engage spectators in the construction of a blatantly invented past for a blatantly invented neighbourhood (the Carré de Soie, straddling Villeurbanne and Vaulx-en-Velin, on the eastern outskirts of Lyon). The peculiar theatricality of each project reveals how street theatre can engage in critical praxis while caught up in redevelopment: its capacity to make change is linked to its capacity to make sense of change.
This chapter explores the personal and professional networks created by female theatre practitioners in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century through a detailed case study of Gabrielle Enthoven – actor, playwright, translator and theatre collector. Born into privilege, Enthoven was the daughter of a colonial administrator who grew up in Egypt and the Sudan. She lived in Windsor, met Oscar Wilde and played with the royal children, spending her twenties messing about on boats and in theatres with the local soldiers. She then married and moved to Chelsea and began to network with theatre and arts professionals before devoting her life and wealth to creating a world-class collection of theatre ephemera that she donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This chapter introduces the book's primary focus: street theatre's production of postindustrial space. The introduction makes clear that there is no such thing as a postindustrial society: forms of labour accumulate rather than cleanly replacing each other. Nonetheless, deindustrializing communities have a vested interest in relegating industry to the past and presenting themselves as happily and healthily postindustrial. Street theatre is crucial to this process as a theatrical form that claims space as public, carves events from ongoing situations, and rescripts everyday behaviours. The necessity of street theatre to the production of the postindustrial means that street theatre companies benefit from and participate in redevelopment, but it also means that through street theatre the industrial may reassert itself in unanticipated ways. The introduction proposes working memory as a central metaphor for the theatrical and performative processes analysed throughout the book.
The introduction contextualises issues of professional agency in relation to the history of women theatre and performance workers in the first half of the twentieth century. It provides a framework for the book as a whole and explains the chapters and their relationships with one another.
Lily Brayton was one half of the twentieth century’s first celebrity couple on the London stage. Together with her husband, Oscar Asche, Brayton dominated popular theatre for a decade with her brave and ingenious characterisations of the ‘oriental woman’ in a series of plays from Kismet (1911) to Cairo (1921). She had come to fame, often in breeches roles, in popularised versions of Shakespeare plays since the turn of the century. Her ‘New Woman’ characterisations and performances were matched equally by her offstage business acumen. The chapter explores Brayton’s positive and successful image of woman, both on and off the stage, and sets this against her near erasure from theatre history as her separation from the stage occurred simultaneously with her separation from her husband.