Susan Bennett is University Professor in the Department of English, University of Calgary, Canada. She is widely published across a variety of topics in theatre and performance studies, including Theatre Audiences (1997), Theatre & Museums (2013) and Sound (2019).
Sonia Massai is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London, UK. She has published widely on the history of the transmission of Shakespeare in print and in performance. She is currently working on a new book on Shakespeare’s Accents: Voicing Identity in Performance and preparing a new edition of Richard III for the Arden Shakespeare.
“I was photographed three times a week[,] for which I received a settled income…
Two famous dressmakers, one in London and one in Paris, dressed me for nothing, and a famous English designer called her models after me and made my clothes at a very nominal fee…
My picture advertised all sorts of wares, and face creams and soaps, and I gave advice in all the papers on how to keep healthy and beautiful and young. If I had followed the regime I laid down, I could never have finished in the twenty-four hours…”
So writes Constance Collier in her 1929 memoir Harlequinade, reflecting on her time as a ‘Gaiety girl’ on the 1890s Strand. On 8 February, I’ll be talking about Collier as part of an event at the London Transport Museum, themed around London love stories, representing the Centre for Life-Writing Research’s Strandlines project (an online archive of stories about ‘life on the Strand, past, present and creative’ – do contribute if you haven’t already…). I’ll be describing how Collier and her co-stars won the hearts of late Victorian Londoners with a series of racily contemporary ‘musical comedies’ combining cutting-edge fashions, romantic spins on everyday scenarios and saucy/sentimental songs. Pitched somewhere between ‘legitimate’ theatre and burlesque, musical comedies turned Gaiety impresario George Edwardes into a very rich man and many of his ‘girls’ into household names. Continue reading Reinventing Stardom on the Strand→
Productions of Shakespeare’s plays have been regularly used to comment on the political and public affairs of their performance moment – occasionally provoking heated responses. In 2017, for example, the Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park prompted a media furore (led by Fox News), because the presentation of Caesar bore a striking resemblance to Donald Trump.
The Public Theatre, other news media, and Shakespeare scholars (such as Stephen Greenblatt) were quick to point out that Shakespeare’s play hardly condones the assassination of Caesar and that it explores, instead, the conspirators’ flawed and extreme reactions to a democracy under threat. But audience responses cannot be contained by a careful reading of the text, and, while a production may clearly announce its relevance to contemporary politics, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific application or to control public responses to it.
by Julia Pascal, Research Fellow, Department of English, King’s College London
It’s a century after some British women were allowed to vote, and a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett has been unveiled in Parliament Square, so why is women’s presence on the English stage still unequal to men’s?
In a recent survey, the Sphinx theatre found that just a fifth of English theatres were led by women, who between them control just 13% of the total Arts Council England (ACE) theatre budget.
The feminist campaigning organisation the Fawcett Society has called for quotas to get more women into key positions, after its Sex and Power Index revealed startling gender disparities in the public arena. The situation in theatre, where I have worked all my life, is a startling gauge of the marginalisation of women.
The Conference of Women Theatre Directors and Administrators began auditing the number of females on stage in the 1980s. That we are nowhere near equality, almost 40 years later, was only too evident at the Olivier awards this year, when the prizes for best director and best new play went to men. When women do not have equal representation in theatre, it is impossible for them to have an equal chance of winning prizes. The Equal Representation for Actresses campaign group is among those pushing for change, but the male ruling elite refuses to share power.
By Rachael Nicholas, PhD candidate (University of Roehampton), MOOC mentor, and alumna of the King’s MA in Shakespeare Studies
In case you’d missed it, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Whilst some of the celebrations have commemorated the man himself, the catalogue of performances and special events comprised a celebration of afterlives, focusing on the 400 year history of encountering Shakespeare and his works. Their sheer range is a testament to the part that adaptation across different media has played in the construction of what we understand as ‘Shakespeare’ today.
The proliferation of media technologies has not only given rise to new modes of adaptation, but also to new ways of distributing and accessing Shakespeare’s work. It is now possible to open out live performances to audiences around the world through live broadcasts to cinemas, and increasingly, for free online. The question of what it means to encounter performances of Shakespeare through the digital – for both production and reception – is central to my own research project on live relay audiences. But to encounter Shakespeare through ‘performance’ is of course not the only way to encounter Shakespeare.