Crossing boundaries and negotiating the cultural landscape
Author: Janice Norwood

Victorian touring actresses: Crossing boundaries and negotiating the cultural landscape provides a new perspective on the on- and offstage lives of women working in nineteenth-century theatre, and affirms the central role of touring, both within the United Kingdom and in North America and Australasia. Drawing on extensive archival research, it features a cross-section of neglected performers whose dramatic specialisms range from tragedy to burlesque. Although they were employed as stars in their own time, their contribution to the industry has largely been forgotten. The book’s innovative organisation follows a natural lifecycle, enabling a detailed examination of the practical challenges and opportunities typically encountered by the actress at each stage of her working life. Individual experiences are scrutinised to highlight the career implications of strategies adopted to cope with the demands of the profession, the physical potential of the actress’s body, and the operation of gendered power on and offstage. Analysis is situated in a wide contextual framework and reveals how reception and success depended on the performer’s response to the changing political, economic, social and cultural landscape as well as to developments in professional practice and organisation. The book concludes with discussion of the legacies of the performers, linking their experiences to the present-day situation.

The 1889 dock strike on and off the stage
Janice Norwood

The late 1880s is characterised as the era of ‘New Unionism’ as workers from various trades and industries banded together to demand higher wages and better working conditions against a background of growing socialist feeling. The East End of London was the setting for many of the most notable disputes, such as those occurring in 1888 at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, in March 1889 at the Beckton gasworks, and later the same year at the docks. This chapter surveys the range of responses to the dispute from theatrical establishments in the East End, and the performativity of the strike itself, especially the daily processions each day during the strike. The lines of marching men physically and symbolically penetrated the nation’s financial centre. At a time of growing concern about the lawlessness of the underclass in the East End and fears of contagion from its hordes, the presence of the disciplined ranks of marchers performed a counter-narrative of dignified but oppressed labour.

in Politics, performance and popular culture
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Janice Norwood

The introduction situates the professional touring of Victorian actresses within the context of theatre history and scholarship. It provides an overview of the era, explains the cultural and gendered expectations of women in a period dominated by ‘separate spheres’ ideology, and outlines key features of the nineteenth-century theatrical industry. Following a rationale for the focus on the careers and lives of neglected ‘mid-tier’ actresses, brief individual biographies of featured performers are given with discussion of the source material researched for the book. Explanation of the organisation of the volume, which follows the stages of an actress’s lifecycle, concludes with a summary of the contents of each chapter.

in Victorian touring actresses
Janice Norwood

This chapter illustrates various routes into the dramatic profession in the Victorian period and analyses the potential advantages of different means of learning acting and stagecraft through examination of the early performance history of selected actresses. Some commenced work as child performers while others began as adults after receiving private tuition from a professional, performing on the amateur stage or giving dramatic readings. Discussion of the strategy of gaining experience in provincial or minor London theatres before risking appearing on the more prestigious West End stages reveals multiple benefits in terms of skill enhancement and press and audience response. The examples are used to argue for the importance of British provincial theatres, not only as training grounds for performers but also as instrumental to the economic health and stability of both the actress and the theatrical industry.

in Victorian touring actresses
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Janice Norwood

For an actress with ambitions of stardom on the competitive Victorian stage, establishing a recognisable name and identity was fundamental to her success in gaining and then maintaining employment. This chapter addresses issues of identity by considering how it is framed by the repertoire she adopts and how she chooses to present her own history. Career advancement in the mid-nineteenth century was linked to a stratified framework embedded in the stock company structure and divided into distinct lines of business. Analysis focuses on the progression from juvenile to leading lady and two contrasting dramatic specialisms – the burlesque actress and the ‘heavy woman’ – to reveal the implications of playing specific types of role in terms of employment opportunities and image creation. Featured cases include cross-dressed Hamlet portrayals and spurious self-fashioning.

in Victorian touring actresses
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Janice Norwood

For the successful actress, developing her career through a move into theatre management was less easy as a woman than for her male co-workers. This chapter explores the dynamics of different managerial and business models adopted by some of those who took the risk in the mid nineteenth century and considers the challenges and misogyny that attended their endeavours. It examines the factors that could lead to success, such as repertoire choice, favourable critical reception and understanding of audience taste, and conversely analyses examples of financial failure leading to bankruptcy. Featured studies cover tenures in geographically disparate centres including London, Nottingham, New York, Melbourne and Dunedin.

in Victorian touring actresses
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Janice Norwood
in Victorian touring actresses
Janice Norwood

This chapter examines the actress’s working life in the UK, looking particularly at the material business of touring and showing how women’s careers reflected and were impacted by changes in the industry and the environmental circumstances in Victorian cities. The nature of nineteenth-century travel meant that accidents and injury were common while working conditions in the theatre placed arduous demands upon the actress’s body, stamina and mental health. Featured examples demonstrate that the performer’s ability to accommodate bouts of ill health while working depended partly on her wealth and status within the profession. Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is used to analyse how the actress’s engagements were organised. To explore the advantages of different modes of touring, the practicalities negotiated by a ‘star’ performer operating in provincial theatres is contrasted with those of an actress in a touring company, revealing disparate patterns of financial remuneration, mileage and agent employment.

in Victorian touring actresses
Janice Norwood

This chapter considers the professional and personal consequences of the choices made by the actress in her private life, examining how aspects of her offstage conduct, sexual liaisons and marital situation impacted upon her public image, creative practice, working partnerships and family. Particular focus is given to mutual support networks provided by theatrical families in which several generations worked in the industry. The advantages and drawbacks of marriage to men working within or outside the profession are illustrated by studying the dynamics of different relationships. These are contrasted with examples of actresses who provoked scandal through divorce. The practicalities of coping with pregnancy, childcare responsibilities and family life as a touring actress are explored in relation to mid-Victorian notions about the role of women.

in Victorian touring actresses
Janice Norwood

This chapter examines the experience of the growing number of British actress who toured in North America in the mid nineteenth century, focusing on how the specific local circumstances affected dramatic practice and performer reception. It demonstrates the impact of the volatile nature of Anglo-American relations in the aftermath of the American Civil War on those women who crossed the Atlantic in search of theatrical work. Analysing the American reception of British actresses and how it was reported at home uncovers conflicting attitudes towards gender, nationality and even beauty. The example of Adelaide Neilson, who achieved substantial transatlantic touring success, is also used to explore how gift exchange functioned within nineteenth-century American theatre, and to consider the extent to which celebrity actresses, whose images were widely featured on merchandising products, were complicit in commercial exploitation.

in Victorian touring actresses