22 January 2021 / Blogs
Victorian Touring Actresses
Janice Norwood, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Hertfordshire was the recipient of an STR Research Grant in 2016. She writes about how this helped her publish her book ‘Victorian Touring Actresses’:
‘While undertaking research for the book, I was the fortunate recipient of an STR award in 2016 and used it to part fund a trip to the United States to consult archives at the Billy Rose Theatre Division (part of the New York Public Library) and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. The latter proved a particularly rich source of original material relating to Adelaide Neilson, who was famous for her interpretation of Shakespearian heroines, although I discovered that her letters were frustratingly short of information about the experience of touring abroad. In the New York archives I found plenty of ephemera and visual images relating to Neilson (including, bizarrely, a lock of her hair) and to the burlesque performer Eliza Weathersby, who made a permanent home in America. My most exciting finds were some unpublished photographs of Julia Seaman that I had not previously seen and a newspaper clipping giving a history of Lucy Rushton’s early career that contradicts the biography that I had previously uncovered. The research trip proved tremendously valuable and many of the details that I uncovered about the actresses’ private and working lives and their reception once they crossed the Atlantic have found their way into the finished book.’
About the book
Victorian Touring Actresses throws new light on women’s experience of working in mid-nineteenth-century British theatre and affirms the central role of theatrical touring, both within the United Kingdom and further afield in North America and Australia. Drawing on rich archival research and featuring examples from a spectrum of largely forgotten ‘mid-tier’ performers in dramatic specialisms ranging from tragedienne to burlesque performer, the book provides a detailed examination of the practical challenges and opportunities typically encountered by the actress at each stage of her working life. It explores the career implications of strategies adopted to cope with the demands of the profession, the physical potential of her body, and the operation of gendered power on and off stage. 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 exploring her contribution to developments in professional practice and organisation. The volume is plentifully illustrated with portraits and ephemera, some of which have not previously been published.
You can purchase ‘Victorian Touring Actresses’ here.
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The deadline for applications and references is 26th March 2021.