This page aims to provide a list of researchers and practitioners working on nonprofessional performance under any guise and in any period. If you would like to be added to this list, please e-mail mary.isbell[at]gmail.com. Please try to keep ‘blurbs’ to no more than 200 words. Scholars are listed in alphabetical order.
Jeanice Brooks, University of Southampton
I’ve been working for the past few years on domestic musical performance in Britain c. 1800. You can follow the link to learn more about At Home with Music: Domestic Music-Making in Georgian Britain
Gilli Bush-Bailey, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London
As Professor of Women’s Performance History my research focuses on women working as professionals and as amateurs in Britain’s theatres and drawing-rooms. I am interested in the many forms of one-woman show and monologue entertainment in the late -19th and early – 20th c that cross between and over often contested lines between amateur (often charity performance) and professional engagement. The technological changes that saw women move from stage to airwaves, to big and small screens reveal the shifts in style and content appealing to performance makers and their audiences.
My PhD was on music in the country house, with particular reference to domestic music-making in Georgian Britain, but my research interests, both as a performing harpsichordist and teacher, encompass a wider historical period of amateur musical performance.
David Coates, University of Warwick
My research includes:
- Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Private and Amateur Theatricals
- Purpose-Built Private Theatres
- The Nineteenth Century Amateur Repertoire
- The ‘Professional’ Aristocratic Amateur
- The Economics of Private and Amateur Theatricals
- Innovation and Transgression in Private and Amateur Theatricals
- Laws, Licences and Private Theatricals
- Amateur Clubs and Societies
- Garrison and Naval Theatricals
- University Theatricals (including the OUDS and the Cambridge ADC)
- The Twentieth Century Amateur Theatre Movement.
My broader interests include:
- Theatre Historiography
- Nineteenth Century Theatre History
- The History of the Country House
- Elizabethan and Jacobean Court Masques
- Travelling Players
- Elizabethan Performance Spaces
Previous Research Includes: A Case Study of the Chatsworth House Private Theatre.
Eileen Curley, Marist College
As a theatre historian, I am particularly interested in amateur theatre’s historiographical challenges and relationship with commercial theatre. My current research focuses on the performance and presentation of gender and propriety on the amateur stage in the nineteenth century in the context of post-Civil War social upheavals. I am also interested in amateurs’ adaptations of commercial theatre technology, manipulation of charitable giving traditions as a means of acquiring social power, and use of the press as a means of creating celebrity.
Michael Dobson, University of Birmingham
Interested in non-professional and semi-professional performances of Shakespeare; historical pageants
My work encompasses both contemporary and historical practices in amateur performance and private theatricals. I am interested in practice-based research concerning performance in historic houses, heritage sites and museums. I undertake projects both as part of academic research and as part of my professional creative practice in interpretation. My particular interest is challenging histories, and to this end I have developed approaches to the histories of slavery and abolition, industrial revolution, conflict, colonialism and medical ethics. This often involves re-interpreting documents and traces of past performances, including those that might be considered amateur and or private.
Heather Fitzsimmons Frey, University of Toronto PhD Candidate
My current research focus is on late Victorian children’s private or “at-home” theatricals for family entertainment, in which a striking number of playwrights created characters that invited girls to play daring, independent roles, and to “try on” a variety of possible adulthoods. As adult women were making steps towards suffrage and gender equality, scripts with unconventional roles for girls are notable within the middle and upper class domestic space because performing in the drawing room was risky but socially acceptable, liberating but controlled, and full of tantalising, perhaps seductive possibilities within a world of gender-limiting rules and barriers. The fact that the theatrical experiences of nineteenth century parlour theatrical participants might encourage girls to re-imagine their futures and make choice regarding their identities makes these scripts particularly potent. The project considers Victorian theatre culture, domestic space, Victorian ideas about youth, childhood, adolescence, girls, and education, and the performance of every day life. Although rooted in dramatic texts, I am interested in material culture, youth periodicals, diaries, letters, and related ephemera. I believe the stakes were high for young Victorian thespians: in the somewhat public, somewhat private spaces where Victorian girls could “play” under the watchful eye of guardians, the seeds of a future full of choice, agency, and potential power could sprout.
Viv Gardner, Professor Emerita, University of Manchester
I am a theatre and performance historian, working on gender, sexuality and performance (on and off the stage) at the fin de siécle, particularly the exchange between the radical and popular, and spectatorship in the period. I am currently editing the autobiography of musical comedy performer and suffragette, Kitty Marion, with historian, Diane Atkinson, and working on a book, Staging the New Sex: performances of gender and sexuality 1890-1914. My interest in amateur performance and private theatricals stems from my work on the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, 1875-1905 (I pose therefore I am: performance and performativity in the lives of the 5th Marquis of Anglesey) and other fin de siécle aristocrats who moved between amateur and professional performance. I am also very interested in the realisation of historical performance material in original contemporary performance and have collaborated on works based on my research most notably ‘Gloria Days’, a multi-disciplinary performance based on the life of the 5th Marquis of Anglesey with dancer/performer, Marc Rees, and Tanz Compagnie Rubato.
Ellen Karoline Gjervan, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim
Gjervan contributes to the research project Performing arts between dilettantism and professionalism. Music, theatre and dance in the Norwegian public sphere 1770–1850 (pArts). The group is arranging an international conference in November 2013.
Judith Hawley, University of London, Royal Holloway
Judith Hawley is a Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her interest in non-professional drama stems from a youth engaged in am dram and student theatre. She is currently engaged in researching and re-thinking private theatricals 1780-1850. She has organised a series of conferences called ‘What Signifies a Theatre?’ on the subject of non-professional drama, information about which can be found on a WordPress site: http://whatsignifiesatheatre.wordpress.com One of her aims is to explore the possibility of restaging private theatricals as both practice-based research and a way of engaging audiences with historic sites (her colleague, Elaine McGirr, experimented with a performance of Elizabeth Craven’s Nourjahad at WSAT? 1 at Chawton House, 2010). She has an essay forthcoming on Elizabeth Craven, Margravine of Anspach in a collection of essays on Stage Mothers edited by Elaine McGirr and Laura Engel. With Mary Isbell, she has co-edited a collection of essays on private and amateur theatricals in a special issue of Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film.
Mary Isbell, University of New Haven
I am an Assistant Professor of English and the Director of First-Year Writing at the University of New Haven. My book project, “The Debut of the Amateur: Nineteenth-Century Theatricals,” theorizes how the careful maintenance of amateur status shaped theatrical culture in the long nineteenth century. I recover the material conditions of amateur theatricals to document the widespread popularity of the practice with diverse social groups including aristocrats, middle-class families, university students, office clerks, and sailors aboard naval vessels. My work has been published in Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, and Victorian Literature and Culture. With Judith Hawley, I have co-edited a collection of essays on private and amateur theatricals in a special issue of Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film. I have also worked with my students on practice-based research into the history of shipboard theatricals through a production of a nineteenth-century farce aboard US Brig Niagara and the performance of a collaboratively written rehearsal play aboard USS Constitution.
Ann Mazur, University of Virginia
I am a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Virginia, currently working on my dissertation The Nineteenth Century Theatre: Women and Periperformativity. My project aims to recover the 19th century cultural phenomenon of the parlour play—to recognize the importance of theatre and acting in the everyday life and in the most domestic of spaces for the Victorian woman. I am especially interested in how the home theatrical brings together the culturally meaningful spaces of theatre and the Victorian parlour, and in the linguistic implications of this genre for women writers. I have a forthcoming article appearing in the Spring 2013 Victorian Institute Journalentitled, “Victorian Women, the Home Theatre, and the Cultural Potency of A Doll’s House,” which won the Patrick Scott Prize. A shorter version of this article is available in the VIJ Digital Annex on NINES.
I am also president/founder of the Victorian Theatricals Society of the University of Virginia, an entirely graduate student run enterprise which puts on several authentic 19th c. parlour plays per semester for various conferences (including those for INCS and the VI), but also in professor’s homes and for UVa English Dept. at large. Past performance highlights have included selections from H. J. Byron’sSensation Dramas for the Drawing Room, a cast written adaptation of Lady Audley’s Secret, and Florence Bell’s “Red Riding Hood”.
Janet McGaw, Department of Performance Studies, University of Sydney
I am researching amateur theatre in New South Wales country towns from the end of the Second World War to the late 1960s, a period of unprecedented growth in amateur theatrical activity across Australia. Dramatic societies had existed in the regions since the 1850s, but in the majority of cases, their activities were circumscribed by isolation, poor communication systems, reliance on itinerant workers with theatrical expertise and the absence of performance venues. This began to change from the mid-1940s with the formation of new dramatic societies and the resurrection of older groups that had disbanded, the establishment of play reading groups, drama festivals, playwriting competitions and training schools, and the opening of community and civic theatres. I am seeking to uncover the reasons for this rapid surge in activity and to assess its impact on the social and cultural life of regional communities. I am also exploring what country dramatic societies can reveal about changes in Australian society and patterns of leisure, and the extent to which they reflected theatrical developments in the metropolis.
Floris Meens, Assistant Professor of Cultural History, Radboud University Nijmegen
As Assistant Professor of Cultural History at Radboud University (The Netherlands), my research focuses on domestic music cultures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I am particularly interested in the harmonies and dissonants in social life that are connected to private music making and related emotions.
Helen Nicholson, University of London, Royal Holloway
My main research interests have been in community-based performance and applied theatre, which has taken me to research theatre-making in many settings, including schools, hospitals, prisons, hostels for the homeless and care homes for the elderly. Recently, this interest in the relationship between theatre and community activity has led me to research amateur dramatics. In July 2013 I shall begin a new research project, Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Time and Space, with my colleagues Dr Jane Milling (University of Exeter) and Professor Nadine Holdsworth (University of Warwick). This major project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will focus particular attention on amateur dramatics in constructed communities, that is communities conceived to fulfill particular social and institutional functions (military bases, naval ships), or designed as utopian imaginaries of urban life (Garden Cities/ post-war New Towns and suburbia) and rural villages constructed in the transition from organic communities to commuter dormitories. This research into contemporary practice will be informed by the history of amateur dramatics in these contexts, and by a national overview of the range of amateur activity in theatre today.
Mikko Olavi Seppälä, University of Helsinki
My research interest is the Finnish workers’ theatre in the late 19th and early 20th century. In my project, I am looking at particular (and mostly theatrical) amateur performances. I have written a “formation study” of the Finnish workers’ theatre before 1920s but it was published only in Finnish (“Suomalaisen työväenteatterin varhaisvaiheet”, SKS 2010). Workers’ theatre was largely amateur activity but, because of the undeveloped professional theatre field of the country, in some towns workers’ theatre managed or at least tried to to turn professional. Critical or radical performances was largely pushed to the margins. Now I wish to take a closer look at those margins…
Alice Shinall, University of London, Birkbeck
For my postgraduate work in Victorian Studies this spring/summer, I am conducting an exploration of amateur/drawing-room theatricals in Victorian fiction to identify how scenes of domestic theatricality figure as devices of revelation for female protagonists. Specifically, I am examining how home theatricals provide an opportunity for cross-dressing and gender reversal in Jane Eyre, Villette, and The Return of the Native. In a comparison of Rochester’s role as the gypsy woman (and Jane’s abstention from performance), Lucy’s ‘vaudeville de pensionnat’, and Eustacia’s stint as a mummer, I will also be considering the impact of Brontë and Hardy’s female/male authorial voices, their disparate narrative perspectives, and the different parts of the century in which they were writing. Additionally, I will be comparing (with their fictional, amateur counterparts) the experience of professional Victorian actresses, such as Marie Bancroft, cross-dressing in male roles. In a separate project, I am also exploring the effects of Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals on both amateur and professional acting techniques. At the Ph.D. level, I would like to extend my literary and historical research of amateur theatricals in fiction across the long nineteenth century.
Susie Steinbach, Hamline University (St Paul, MN)
I am an historian of gender and the law during the long nineteenth century (1780-1914). My research focuses on the breach of promise of marriage action, in which women whose fiancés had broken their engagements sued ex-lovers for damages. This work has led to an interest in nineteenth-century theatre, and particularly amateur theatre. I focus on the ways in which law courts and theatres were both venues in which women—especially those of liminal class status—created their identities by performing them, and on the ways in which the two venues were comparable to but not identical to one another. My article “From Redress to Farce: Breach of Promise theatre in cultural context, 1830-1920” (Journal of Victorian Culture 13.2 (2008): 247-276) explores amateur performances of breach of promise plays.
Sheila Thomas, University of Southampton
I am a PhD student in History. My thesis concerns eighteenth-century aristocratic men and domestic music-making. My Director of Studies is Professor John Oldfield and I am co-supervised by Professor Jeanice Brooks of the Music Department.
Jane Troughton, University of York
Music in the Yorkshire Country House, 1770-1850
I studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of York, 1980-83. In my capacity as museum curator, I have worked with various historic houses. As soprano, I have performed as a soloist throughout my career, especially in country house settings. My current doctoral studies draw together these interests. My research has focused on four Yorkshire houses to establish a picture of contrasting musical activity in elite households between 1770 and 1850. The four houses selected, Castle Howard, (York), Harewood House, (Leeds), Temple Newsam, (Leeds), and Nostell Priory, (Wakefield) hold manuscript and printed sheet music and/or musical instruments that date to the period under examination. These collections are supported by other primary evidence. From these sources and evidence from other aristocratic households, I am addressing a number of questions, such as the relationship between professional and amateur musicians in the country house, patronage, music and domesticity, the relationship between practice and social expectation, amongst others. I also create and perform concerts in country houses based on my research which relate to the history of the venue and draw upon social and literary anecdotes of the period.
Meike Wagner, Stockholm University
I am a theatre historian working on amateur theatre in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. My special focus is on German theatre associations whose members established and performed their bourgeois citizen identity through amateur theatricals. I have recently published an article on the question of aesthetic education and non-professional theater practice in Berlin around 1800: „Das Spiel der Liebhaber. Ästhetische Bildung im Amateur-Schauspiel“ („The Play of the Amateurs. Aesthetic Education in Amateur Theatre“) in Forum Modernes Theater, 31:1, 2020, 7-25.“
Robin C. Whittaker, St. Thomas University (Fredericton, NB)
My research focuses on the social practices of contemporary nonprofessionalizing theatre companies, particularly those in Canada that rejected professionalization during the onset of Canada’s professional era in the mid-twentieth century. My work examines the culture borderlands, at once symbiotic and contestational, in which professionalized and nonprofessionalized theatre practices emerge and engage. And it traces the changing and multiple usages of fraught terms such as “amateur,” “community,” and “professional.” My publications in the field include articles in the journals Canadian Theatre Review and Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film, and the edited play anthology Hot Thespian Action! Ten Premiere Plays from Walterdale Playhouse (AU Press 2008). I am currently writing a history of Toronto’s Alumnae Theatre Company (1918- ), Canada’s second-longest-running English-language theatre, in advance of its one-hundredth year.
Elizabeth Wright, Bath Spa University
I am very interested in early 20th private theatricals and my article entitled ‘Bloomsbury at Play’ appeared in The Woolf Studies Annual last year. I gave a paper on the same subject at the WSAT conference in 2011. I have also written a play called ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ which has had a successful European tour over the last year, and hope to research a monograph on twentieth-century amateur theatre in the next few years.