Get Out The Tennis Racquets And Persian Carpets! It’s Victorian Garden Party Time!

The season for garden parties is almost here. Soon your mailbox will be overflowing with invitations. You must get a jump on your party planning, because as the anonymous author of  Party-Giving On Every Scale writes, “The ladies of each county consider it incumbent upon them to entertain their neighbors at least once or twice during the summer months.” You must come up with menus, erect tents, and find a military band to play at your party. And, if you’re like me, you don’t have a household staff to take care of the trifling domestic matters. Luckily, keeping you from social disgrace is Party-Giving On Every Scale, published in 1880. This lovely volume contains the secrets to throwing a wildly successful Victorian garden party, which is sure to make you the envy of your friends and neighbors.


Garden Party is a popular and not expensive form of entertainment, as hospitality can be shown to a large circle of guests at a very modest cost. These afternoon garden parties take place from four to seven, but are only held as a matter of course from June to October. Garden parties are fashionable entertainments, and are frequently given on a very large scale. Royalty itself leads the way by giving afternoon parties to which from 800 to 1000 guests are invited, which is more or less followed by all ranks of society, including bishops in their palaces, officers in barracks, and members of yachting clubs on the lawns of the club houses, while in the suburbs of London these entertainments are very general, and in the country itself, garden parties are an institution in every county, and the young ladies are able to count their invitations to them by the score. The ladies of each county consider it incumbent upon them to entertain their neighbours at least once or twice during the summer months, and those who have extensive grounds find that a garden party, of all entertainments, entails the least trouble and expense.

At large garden parties, where the guests assemble by hundreds instead of by tens, there is generally one or two military bands in attendance; if given by a regiment, assaults of arms take place at intervals for the amusement of the company.

Garden Party – Philip Leslie Hale

Refreshments at these entertainments are invariably served indoors; but in the country refreshments at smaller garden parties are sometimes served in a tent, or on tables placed under the trees. At large garden parties tents of various sizes are erected on the lawn, and fitted up with seats in addition to the numerous chairs and garden seats that are indispensable, these are placed in rows in the vicinity of the band, and in all available shady spots.

At suburban or country garden parties rugs and Persian carpets are spread on the lawn under the trees, upon which seats are placed, so that should the grass be damp the guests need not fear taking cold.

The guests usually arrive from half-past four to five, and are received by their entertainers either on the lawn itself or in a tent, the names of the guests being announced by the butler or by the head-waiter.

A garden party at Buckingham Palace on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Guests on their arrival usually inform their servants at what hour they purpose taking their departure, and expect their footmen to be in readiness at the time named to call up their carriages.

The usual run of garden parties given on a small scale averages from forty to one hundred guests, and in giving the details of the expenses consequent upon providing for a garden party, it is purposed to take the medium number, seventy-five; that in calculating the expenses for a larger or smaller number of guests it may be arrived at by adding to or deducting from this given number.

Lawn-tennis is now generally played at garden parties, so much so that garden parties are often designated lawn-tennis parties. In town and in the suburbs a military band is generally engaged to play from four to sevenin town a military band means the bands of the 1st or 2nd Life Guards, or that of the Royal Horse Guards Blue, and the bands of the Grenadier, Coldstream, or Scots Guards. These fine bands are a great attraction at a garden party, and a band belonging to either of these regiments can be obtained at the following barracks: Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Wellington, and Chelsea Barracks, and at the Tower. The permission of the colonel of the regiment, or that of the “president of the band,” has to be solicited as a matter of courtesy or form, when the bandmaster is applied to for his band, subject to this permission being granted. The cost of the band is regulated by the strength of its numbers, the charge ranging from 10s to 15s. per man.

People who reside within twelve miles or so of London when they require a band to play at a garden party, usually apply to the nearest regiment quartered in their vicinity, such as Hampton Court or Hounslow, while those who reside in the neighbourhood of garrison towns, such as Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth, Dover, etc., have quite a choice of bands, and the cost of these averages 8s. to 10s. per man, and five guineas is the usual price to pay for twelve performers.

Those who reside at a considerable distance from a town where a regiment is quartered fall back upon the band of the county militia, yeomanry cavalry, or local volunteers; the cost of which bands average also from 8s. to 10s. per man, exclusive of railway fares and refreshments.

The usual refreshments provided for a band at a garden party consist of cold meat, ale, or sherry, or claret, as the bandmaster may prefer:—the cost of which would amount from 25s. to 30s.

Unless a garden party is given on the most economical scale, and it is desirable to spend next to nothing upon it, it is always advisable to engage a band, as the expense is small in comparison with the pleasure derived from it; but when a garden party is merely a small friendly gathering of from five-and-twenty to forty guests, the expense of a band is considered unnecessary, and its presence rather pretentious than not.

In providing garden seats and chairs for the accommodation of guests at a garden party, seats for one-third the number of those invited would be sufficient, in addition to the seats in the drawing-rooms, tea-room, and elsewhere.

Various descriptions of tents are usually erected at garden parties, umbrella tents, round wall tents, canopy tents, and small marquees. The cost of hire of these tents and marquees ranges from £1 10s. to £20, according to size and description of tent.

Bright-looking Persian rugs for spreading on lawns can be bought from 9s. 6dto 70s. each; the cheaper ones, although of coarser and commoner materials, answer the purpose equally well; although our transatlantic neighbours, with their usual disregard of expense, make a grand display of handsome Persian rugs at their fashionable garden parties; but this comfortable custom may be followed without going to any considerable expense in the matter of rugs, always bearing in mind that old and faded hearth-rugs and mats have not an inviting appearance, and that squares of carpet do not offer sufficient resistance unless of the thickest texture—velvet-pile, Turkey, or Axminster. The ubiquitous crimson drugget, although available at all other entertainments, putting as it does a bright face upon much that is dingy in the way of carpets in corridors, landings, cloak-rooms, etc., is at a discount at a garden party.

Tea and Tennis – Edward Frederick Brewtnall 

The refreshments are almost invariably served in the house itself, for several reasons—it entails far less trouble to serve refreshments in a tea-room, where all conveniences are at hand, than to arrange a buffet on the lawn under the trees. When it is desirable, however, that refreshments should not be served in the house from want of space, or some equally good reason, a large tent or marquee is hired for the purpose, the cost of the hire of which, say one 20 feet square, ranges from £and upwards; but, unless the guests number over one hundred, the expense of a tent for refreshments is seldom incurred, besides which a marquee is by no means a cool retreat on a sultry August afternoon, and a dining-room of a house, well ventilated and kept cool by the exclusion of hot air, is a far pleasanter resort for a large party of guests. Again, guests at a garden party find the change from the gardens to the house rather an agreeable one, and for this reason the reception rooms of a house or mansion are thrown open at a garden party, including drawing-rooms, library, billiard-room, or picture gallery if the house boasts of one.

The largest ground-floor room of a house, with the exception of the drawing-room, is usually converted into a tea-room, in which tea is served on dining tables in the centre of the room, or from a buffet at the upper end of the room, as at an afternoon dance or five o’clock tea. Trays with refreshments are carried on to the lawn by the men-servants in attendance during the afternoon, and handed to the guests,—one servant carrying a tray with cups of tea and coffee, another a tray with glasses of sherry or ices.

The refreshments indispensable at a garden party are tea and coffee, sherry and claret cup, cake, and biscuits. Fruit and ices are given in addition to these refreshments when a saving of expense is not of paramount importance to the giver of an entertainment.

For a party of seventy-five guests, 1 lb. of tea would be used, 1 1/2 lbs. of coffee. This quantity of tea and coffee would make 3 gallons of each, allowing a little over 5 ozs. of tea to the gallon, and 8 ozs. of coffee to the gallon. Tea should be made as required, in an urn holding 1 gallon, while the whole quantity of coffee is made in a 3 gallon coffee-kettle or copper; half this quantity should be served hot, and half as iced coffee in glass jugs, prepared with the proper quantity of milk and sugar, the coffee having been placed in ice some hours before required for serving.

Iced claret cup is also made as required, and 2 gallons is usually found sufficient for this number of guests, allowing 8 bottles of claret and 8 bottles of soda-water for the quantity of cup, in addition to about 2 lbs. of loaf sugar; the cost of this claret, at 18s. the dozen, would amount to 12s.; the price of soda-water, as has been before said, ranges from 1 1/2dto 3dper bottle, according to where it is purchased.

Badminton averages the same as does claret cup. Champagne cup and Moselle cup are but seldom given, but when provided, sweet champagne or sparkling Moselle, the former at 42s., and the latter at 36s. per dozen, would be good enough for this purpose. The same quantity of either of these wines would be required for this as for claret cup, viz.: 8 bottles of wine to 8 bottles of soda-water, but the quantity of cup drunk at a garden party depends upon the number of gentlemen present, and also whether they are players of lawn-tennis, in which case there would probably be a run upon iced cups; thus less than 2 gallons, or more than two gallons, would be drunk, according to circumstances. When matches of lawn-tennis are played at a garden party, a table is placed on the lawn, with iced drinks, sherry and seltzer-water, for the benefit of the gentlemen. Sherry and seltzer is rather a favourite drink with men in general, and 6 to 8 bottles of sherry would probably be drunk, or even less, according to the number of gentlemen present; thus, from 1 1/2 to 3 dozen seltzer-water would be required, but, as has been before said, it entirely depends upon how many gentlemen are present.

In some remote counties, for instance, the gentlemen at a garden party are represented by three or four young curates and two or three old gentlemen, while the ladies perhaps muster from forty to fifty, in which case very little wine is drunk. When garden parties are held in or near London, or in the home counties, or in or near cathedral cities, in or near university towns, and garrison towns, &c., the numbers are more equal, and generally one-third of the guests are gentlemen ; therefore, a hostess, when providing wine for a garden party, naturally takes this into consideration.

Susanna’s note: The author breaks out the amounts of ices and strawberries required and their respective costs. She refers to other sections in the book for the expenses of cakes, biscuits, and china rental. If you are writing or researching or merely curious about these topics, do peruse the sections of the chapter I have omitted.

Refreshments are served from 4 to 7—from the commencement to the termination of a garden-party. Two women-servants should pour out the tea and coffee; a third should serve either ices, or strawberries and cream, when given, while the guests help themselves to all other refreshments on the tables, whether to fruit, wine, or cup, etc. One man-servant should also be in attendance in the tea-room to offer any assistance in the way of opening soda-water or pouring out wine. An attendant is hardly required in the cloakroom, unless the party is a very large one, as ladies are not always shown into the cloak-room on their arrival at a garden-party, and many ladies prefer to leave their wraps and dust cloaks in their carriages.

A Love Poem By Paul Laurence Dunbar

I recently came across several lovely illustrated volumes of poetry by American poet, novelist, and playwright Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872 – 1906. The last line of his playful poem “Dinah Kneading Dough” caused me to sigh, so I’m passing it along for your enjoyment.

You can find the poem in Candle-Lightin’ Time (love that title!) published in 1901. I’ll post more of his poems in the future!

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Making It On The Victorian Stage – You’ve Been Cast! Now What?

Welcome to another installment of my Victorian theater post series! Leman Rede’s book The Road To The Stage, Or, The Performer’s Preceptor, first published in 1827, has sparked my imagination to write about an actor or actress character in a future book. Imagine the possibilities for a character who is knowledgeable of fencing, stage makeup, and maintains an expansive wardrobe of costumes and wigs! Perhaps such a character could find a murdered body in the Victorian London sewer system (as described by my post on the subject) and, perhaps, might have to solve the mystery. See, there’s a method to my blog madness 😊.

Originally I had intended to create three posts based upon the many incarnations of Mr. Rede’s book. However, I’ve decided going forward to reduce the size of my blog posts in order to 1.) maintain my fragile sanity 2.) have more activity on my blog.  Therefore, I’ll have a few more posts based on Mr. Lede’s book in the future. Today, I’m excerpting passages from a later Victorian version of his book titled The Guide To The Stage, Or, How To Enter The Theatrical Profession, Obtain An Engagement, And Become An Actor. Founded On And Partly Taken From Leman Rede’s Book.

Enjoy!

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Should you have been engaged prior to the commencement of the season, you will be called with the company by a notice in the papers, to attend a meeting in the green-room, generally two or three days before the theatre opens ; but if you are engaged any time during the acting season, you had better call at the Theatre every evening in order to ascertain whether your name is cast in any of the pieces. It has been customary in all well-ordered theatres, for the call-boy to notify at their place of residence, such of the performers as are in the pieces to be rehearsed; but I think you better manifest your early zeal by calling yourself, as I have stated.

The first thing after you receive a part, is to become perfect in the words as soon as possible; in a new piece, never be seen at the last rehearsal with the book or MS. in your hand.  Should the play be in manuscript it will be read to the company in the green-room, to which you will pay particular attention.

It is usual at the commencement of the season for the stage-manager to list upon the door of each dressing-room containing the names of the persons who are to occupy the apartment; but should this not be done, you will consult the stage-manager at once. Having ascertained your room, and the place which you are to occupy in dressing,

You will next proceed to the wardrobe, and learn of the master or costumier what style or articles of dress you will have to be furnished with, in order that you may throw in what extras you may want from your private stock to make up the character; having settled all these matters, go home and select such articles and private properties as you will need for the night, and then read your part over.

When called to the theatre, be careful to make your appearance at the very time specified, this will not only exhibit a commendable devotion to your profession, induce a regularity in your business habits, and prevent your liability to a reproof from the stage-manager or prompter, and prevent a deduction from your week’s salary as “ a forfeit.”

Upon entering the green-room … look at the cast case, see what you are concerned in, and make a memorandum of the parts, &c. If the plays be standard pieces, or such as published, it is expected that you will furnish your own books to study your parts from. Should the play or plays be in manuscript, a written part will be handed to you— this you will take care of, and give back to the prompter or call-boy, when the piece is withdrawn from the stage.

Sarah Siddons

You will next look at the call-board, ascertain what pieces are called for rehearsal; the hour at which each rehearsal is to take place. Should you be concerned in any of the pieces called, see to getting the play, or the part that you are to perform, and study the words of the character, and then appear at rehearsal at the stated-time, and go through your business,&c.

Take a seat in the green-room, examine your part, ascertain which side of the stage you are to make our entrances and exit, the precise entrance or wing, and your cue for entering, which is the last line spoken previous to your going on, and then wait quietly till you are summoned by the call-boy, at which you will proceed immediately to your place of entrance, arrange your manner of entering, and listen attentively for your cue.

Charles Kean

At rehearsal, if there is any particular movement or action, technically termed “business ” for you to perform, the stage-manager or prompter will explain it to you, and show you how to go through it.

Having rehearsed one scene—should you have another, or anything farther to do in the piece, retire to the green room, until you are again called ; never, under any circumstances, leave the theatre, or be out of the way, when you are liable to be called for the stage.

It is the duty of the call-boy, to summon you from the green-room only, unless your presence is required in the music-room for some especial purpose.

Operas, ballets, pantomimes, and some particular pieces are generally called for by the act; that is all concerned in the piece, are summoned at the commencement of each act, and are expected to be at their places of entrance, &c., without further notice.

Should there be any changes made with your entrances, or in anything else at rehearsal, always mark your part according to such alterations, and also make a memorandum of the stage properties, which you are to carry on or use at night, in order to avoid trouble or difficulty, in case the call-boy should forget or neglect to hand them to you.

Be sure to check out the earlier posts in this series!

Making It On The Victorian Stage – Do You Have What It Takes? And The Right Clothes?

Dear Reader,

I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to abandon you, but life was kinda kicking my backside these last months. I am continuing my posts on Victorian theatre. If you recall in the first post, we learned about the various type of productions, the different theatres, rules concerning the theatres, and the agents. Now let’s look at some of the accomplishments recommended in Leman Thomas Rede’s book The Road To The Stage, Or, The Performer’s Preceptor for an actress or actor entering the profession.

Dance

Many of those who will honour me by perusing these pages, may remember an actor, in the character of Corinthian Tom, dancing in the Almack scene; although the gentleman’s  performance  of that character was very excellent, yet, from not having cultivated an acquaintance with Terpsichore, he in this one scene destroyed all our prepossessions of the all-accomplished Tom; whereas Connor, if he did not, by his admirable Hibernian jig, completely make the character of Dr. O’Tool, at least considerably heightened the effect of it.

Elliston was the only Doricourt upon the stage who danced the Minuet de la Gour, and this he made a great feature of his performance; while Egerton, though he opened in the Duke Aranza, at the Hay­market, did not dance at all, thus marring the whole effect of the scene, as the duke pointedly insists on Juliana dancing, and declares his intention of joining the merry circle himself.

Opera

There is one theatre in London for which no actor will be engaged unless he has some knowledge of music, viz.-the Theatre Royal, English Opera House. Although the season is a short one, yet this theatre, under the able management of Mr. Arnold, has been the stepping-stone to some of our leading actors. Harley, Wilkinson, and J. Russell, all made their first metropolitan bows in one season here; poor Chatterley also appeared the same year. Miss Love’s first introduction to the stage was on these boards; here it was that Miss Kelly developed her splendid endowments; and it has been the arena where Mathews has displayed all his versatility.

There is no line of the drama in which it may not be requisite to sing. Iago, Falkland, Edgar, (” King Lear,”) and include all vocalize, and it cannot be very agreeable to the feelings of any tragedian, after being highly applauded for his exertions in the course of the character, to be laughed at for his attempt to sing. In light comedy, it is continually requisite to execute music, and sometimes of no very easy character, as Baron Willinghurst, Captain Beldare, and Delaval (as originally written), Sparkish, The Singles, &c. &c. Old Men and Low Comedians must sing.

In melodrama, and serious pantomime, a slight knowledge of music is indispensable, where a certain number of things are to be done upon the stage during the execution of so many bars of music; the cues too for entrances and exits are frequently only cue changes of the air, and unless the ear is cultivated (if naturally bad) the performer will  be led into error. At the time I was myself in the habit of perpetrating divers melodramatic characters in the provinces, I was obliged to get my brother to attend me behind the scenes to tell me when my music was on.

Fencing

Fencing on the stage is more cultivated for effect than anything else, and a very slender knowledge of the art is sufficient; grace goes further than skill; a few lessons, if the pupil is not uncommonly dull, will be sufficient; it is not essential to rival Kean, or the late Bengough, in the use of the sword, but utter ignorance of the art is destructive to anyone, Edwards’ failure in Richard, at Covent Garden, was decided by his wretched combat–I need  not  add how Kean’s success was enhanced by his excellent one.

French

A knowledge of this language is a component part of that education every actor should have received; to a light comedian, and the performer of eccentrics, it is indispensable. Crackley, in “Green Man,” and a multitude of other parts, cannot be personated by a man ignorant of the Gallic tongue.

The 1872 Americanized edition of Rede’s book also includes the plays that all actors and actresses should know.

There is a vast amount of study required before the novice applies to a manager to become one of his company He must possess a thorough knowledge of the old standard dramas, for their characters are the standpoint from which all others are determined. The manager, for instance, in describing different parts uses the following phrases:

It is a kind of Bob Acres part, or that it is somewhat similar to Martin Haywood, or that still another part resembles Mrs. Haller; consequently you must judge what these characters are like and as Bob Acres is from “Rivals,” Martin Heywood from the “Rent Day” and Mrs. Haller from the “Stranger,” a knowledge of these plays and many others is most essential; besides, there are very few, if any, theatres in the United States which do not, in the course of a year, play one of the following pieces.

The following plays should, without no exception, be read. Nearly all of Shakspeare’s particularly:


And here’s a funny prerequisite to the modern reader: the would-be actress or actor must possess her or his own costumes! Here is an excerpt from the 1836 version of Rede’s book regarding costuming.

The number of actors that of late years have been in the habit of furnishing their own wardrobe has given the managers a hint which they have pretty generally taken. Every man likes to appear to ad­vantage, and many therefore find their own dresses, if they do not approve of the old suits in the stock ; but as our best actors have generally been the poorest men, it is necessary for me to state the things it is absolutely expected that an actor is to find himself in.

Never build while you can buy, is a rule with regard to tenements–never make dresses while you can purchase them, is a dramatic maxim. Theatrical things made at home always cost treble what they could be purchased for [on the street].

Rede includes extensive costume and property lists for various stock characters. These are page images from the 1836 edition. Enjoy!

Making It On The Victorian Stage – Managers, Agents, Theatres, and Roles

“A dog of mine,” says the celebrated Mathews, “should not go upon the stage,” and he says wisely, for the profession is fraught with toil, anxiety, and misery, beyond any other; but if that dog cannot be happy out of this hotbed of misery, in Heaven’s name let him be a miserable puppy in it.”  — from the preface of Leman Thomas Tertius Rede’s 1827 book The Road To The Stage, Or, The Performer’s Preceptor: Containing Clear And Ample Instructions For Obtaining Theatrical Engagements, With A List Of All The Provincial Theatres … And A Complete Explanation Of All The Technicalities Of The Histrionic Art

While watching “Stitch In Time”, a BBC series about the history of clothes, I was intrigued when a  costume historian stated that she used old theater photos to study historic clothes because, back in the Victorian day, actors and actresses had to supply their own costumes and, thus, most bought used clothes off the streets.

I have come across numerous theater photos through the years, so, naturally, when I went to look for some, they seemed scattered away. That’s how it works for me—I can’t find what I’m looking for, and I find plenty of other fun things.  In this case, I dug up this wonderful volume that began its long bookly journey first published in 1827 under the title The Road to the Stage. Sadly, the book’s sage author, Leman Thomas Rede, would die a few years after its initial publication, yet his book would live on, being updated and revised through the years, including altering its title and adding tips for the American actors and actresses. I was able to find several versions of the book between the years 1827 and 1872.

For this series of four blog posts on Victorian Theatre, I will use the 1836 edition because it’s in the early Victorian era but still useful to the Regency enthusiast.

This edition contains a kind, short memoir about its late author.

LEMAN THOMAS TERTIUS REDE (the author of the following pages) was the son of Mr. L. T. Rede, of the Inner Temple, author of ” An Essay on the Laws of England,” ” Anecdotes and Biography,” &c. &c., who died at Hamburgh, December, 1806, when the writer of the little work to which this notice is· affixed was only seven years of age, he having been born on the 14th of October, 1799, in Clerkenwell Close, London. At an early age, Mr. Rede chose the law for his profession; but his design of treading in the steps of his father and that father’s father, was frustrated by a dramatic bias, which induced him to leave and attempt the stage. He made his first appearance as Wilford, in the town of Stafford, in 1819; and in the year 1821 appeared at the Adelphi Theatre, London, in a farce called ” Capers at Canterbury.” An accident, which befell him at Margate shortly afterwards, induced him to resign the idea of making the stage permanently his profession; he became connected with the press, and devoted his attention to literary pursuits.

As a companion, he was much sought; his powers were less dazzling than engaging; and, perhaps, few men had a more extensive circle of convivial acquaintances. In 1829, he returned to the stage, and conducted the Queen’s Theatre for a short period; and from that period to the time of his death, he occasionally (though seldom) acted. In November, 1832, he performed The Gentleman in Black in his brother’s drama of ” The Loves of the Devils,” at Sadler’s Wells, for the benefit of Miss Forde. On the 12th of December following, he expired (after a short but severe illness) of a disorder of the heart.

His remains were interred in Clerkenwell Churchyard. Of one, whose social qualities, talents, and disposition, made him the delight of every circle in which he mingled, much more might justly be said, but the subject can only involve the obtrusion of private sorrows on the public ear. Mr. Rede’s enemies (if he had any) will declare that he was in heart and mind a man, in manners a gentleman, in acquirement a scholar, of unquestioned courage, gentle, charitable, and unassuming; formed to adorn any station, from his personal as well as mental advantages. He met death as a certain visitor, who came sooner than he had hoped, but whose approaches he encountered with an unchanged mind. He left a widow, but no child, to deplore him; and is survived by his mother, by three sisters, and a brother, who feels his irreparable loss too much to add one word more to this brief notice.

The illustrations and actress mini-bios in this post are excerpted from a rather dubious 1844 publication titled Our Actresses: Or, Glances at Stage Favourites, Past and Present, Vol. II. ( *Vol. I contains biographies of Regency actresses)

Let’s dive into the world of the Victorian stage!

THAT a general prejudice exists in the breasts of parents and preceptors against the stage, is as undeniable, as that a love of it is common to the young and inexperienced. That the oft reiterated complaints of the uncertainty attending this ill-fated profession are true, I shall not attempt to deny, but it must be remembered that its rewards are also considerable. If we are to be told that numbers have existed in barns, and expired in workhouses, we should also recollect that many have rolled in carriages, that could never, but for the stage, have emerged from behind a counter.

John Reeve quitted a banking-house contrary to the advice of all his relatives, yet he has cause to rejoice in a resolution that has raised him at once to an income he could never have hoped to have gained in his original station-indeed, be blesses the day when he left off being a cheque-taker to turn comedian.

Perhaps that father would most truly study the welfare of his child who should, on discovering his dramatic bias, send him at once to some country company, instead of driving him, by his opposition, to duplicity when at home, and to seek his favourite amusement in private theatres abroad;-as long as acting affords entertainment to the performer, he must like it–make it his business-his duty-and, in nine cases out of ten, a cure will be effected.

Sarah Siddons

The practice that a private theatre affords is usually pernicious, and mistaken are those parents who consent to their children performing at those establishments, to learn the rudiments of the profession. At private theatres, no man studies rudiments–every one grasps at first-rate characters, which are awarded, not to strength of intellect, but of pocket-­ for the merest booby that ever carried a banner, who could command two pounds, would be cast Richard, in preference to a Kean, if he could only afford ten shillings.

I do not wish to join in the common-place censure levelled at private theatres, though I have reason to fear there is too much truth in the character generally given of these places. There are indeed exceptions, but their number is limited.

*Susanna’s Note: The original 1827 edition mentions Mr. Pym’s theatre on Wilson Street and Mr. Durrant’s on Gloucester Street exceptions.

To any person whose mind is so far engaged with the dramatic mania, as to be unsettled with regard to other professions-to one to whom all other modes of existence appear “flat, stale, and unprofitable”­- I should say enter it at once-and now the how becomes the question.

I shall reserve the mention of the things necessary for any performer on his outset for another part of the work, and proceed at once to explain the method of procuring a situation. At the Harp (a public­ house in Russell-street, immediately opposite the pit-door of Drury), resides Mr. Sims, the theatrical agent, and his hours of business are from eleven o’clock until three. On the payment of an introductory fee of seven shillings, he enters the name of the applicant in his books, together with the line of the drama he may wish to fill-and, on the procuration of a situation, he proportions his demand to the amount of the salary obtained; but it seldom exceeds the total of one week’s stipend.

Mr. Sims holds the situation held for so many years by his father; to the manners and acquirements of a gentleman, he adds an intimate knowledge of the profession, and his promptitude in business is only equalled by his urbanity and good­nature. It has been matter of regret in the profession, that Mr. Sims has not chosen some other place for his house of business, as it is peculiarly unpleasant, especially to ladies, to make calls at a house of public entertainment.

Mr. Tumour (of Covent Garden Theatre) has an office in Bow-street, and is also a dramatic agent­ his mode of transacting business is similar to that of Mr. Sims.

Mr. Kenneth, at the corner of the same street, also procures engagements for aspirants, and Mr. Miller, of Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, is in constant communication with all provincial managers (as agent to the Dramatic Author’s Society) though he does not act as an agent between actors and managers except indeed such as meditate a transatlantic trip.

Ira Aldridge

Though every creature that places a foot upon the boards does so in expectation of becoming a favourite in the metropolis, it is ascertained that only one in one hundred, on an average, comes to the royal theatres in any capacity at all–nor do I mention this as matter of regret. Many provincial situations are preferable to London ones; the favourite of the Bath, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Glasgow Theatres, may, with reasonable prudence, realize from four to five hundred pounds per annum; and an income equal to that has been amassed in the York circuit. An engagement of twelve guineas per week at a royal theatre amounts, with the deductions made during Lent, Passion week, and the usual vacation to something less than five hundred pounds a year.

The book then lists the managers, towns and circuits, and salaries of provincial theaters and sharing companies. The later version will include lists of American theaters, as well as American agents. I will insert a snippet of the list of English provincial theaters. 

All mentions of travelling troops, such as Richardson’s, Scouton and Holloway’s, Ryan’s, Adams’s, &c. would be here out of place, as these persons its is presumed do even style themselves theatrical managers.

Sharing Companies

The system of sharing companies being nearly exploded, it is only necessary to briefly explain the principles on which they are conducted. If there were eight actors and four actresses, besides the manager, the receipts would be divided into seventeen parts or shares: One to each actor and actress; One to the manager, as an actor; One to him for dresses ; One for scenery; One for properties ; One also as manager. Thus if the receipts any one night amounted to 17l., the manager took 5l., and the company ll. a piece. In addition to this, as some little outlay must occur, the manager advancing this called it a stock debt, for which whenever they had a tolerable house, he made a large deduction.

London Theatres

On a rough calculation the United Kingdom is supposed to contain about 3000 performers; that is to say, individuals of both sexes who really understand their business–the amount of persons connived at by their friends and the public as actors and actresses must be about seven times that number.

As music is becoming daily more popular in this country, first singers are proportionably in request. At Liverpool the leading vocalist has a salary of five pounds per week; and such is the dearth of male singers, that that is now considered the most profitable and safe line, and one for which an engagement can always be obtained.

Tragedy is, it has been justly observed, going out of fashion. Whether England will ever become so completely fashionable as to dislike Shakespeare it is difficult to say, but certainly he has been latterly played to houses, that would indicate that the immortal bard’s attraction was declining ; but as improvements generally originate in the metropolis, so also do innovations, and tragedy, though unattractive in London, is not yet scouted in the provinces. As nearly all aspirants commence as tragedians, this line has always numerous professors; it is now, from the arrangements of modern managers, become imperative that a leading man should provide his own wardrobe. A tragedian always commands the best salary in the theatre, and in large establishments his situation is easy and profitable; in small ones he is expected to blend the light comedy with the serious business, and thus his labour, though not his profit is marvelously increased.

Genteel Comedy has been long called the most profitable line upon the stage–it requires a good modern wardrobe. In small theatres the light comedian must play the seconds in tragedy (Macduff, Richmond, &c.)–the salary is generally first-rate ­- at all events next to that of the leading man.

 Low Comedy is supposed to be the best line, with reference to the benefits it ensures, but this is trusting to a very precarious chance–the salary is generally on a par with the light comedians.

First Old Men obtain somewhat similar terms.

Walking Gentlemen (Charles Stanley, Henry, Moreland, Harry Thunder, &c.) is a line that also requires an extensive wardrobe; this business is usually assigned to persons learning the rudiments of the profession-the salary is generally low ; in Dublin even, not exceeding two guineas per week, and in many respectable companies not more than one.

The observations already made, apply to the other sex equally with regard to the First Tragedy–Fine Ladies–Singing Chambermaids–Old Women–and Walking Ladies.

First Singing Ladies are much more numerous than male vocalists, a circumstance which the system of modern education accounts for–and, perhaps, for a Lady, the Old Women may be considered the most profitable and safe line. Any young lady embracing this line, and possessed of even a moderate share of talent, could seldom lack a provincial engagement, and would stand an excellent chance of metropolitan distinction.

Having premised thus much, it is now necessary to place before my readers the regulations of provincial establishments.

Rede then lists the general rules governing the country theatres including rehearsal and performance and the fines accrued for infractions on these rules. For example, “Every performer is expected to go on the stage and assist in all the processions and choruses, where it has been customary in London for principals to be engaged, as in Macbeth, Pizarro, Juliet’s dirge, Alexander’s entry, &c.-non-compliance with this regulation subjects the party to a fine of ten shillings” and “Saturday is considered the first day of the week, as in the London theatres.”

For rehearsals, “Notice of pieces to be rehearsed to be posted in the green-room, and the time of beginning, before the end of the play on the previous night of performance; and it is the call-boy’s duty to give notice to every performer who does not perform that evening” and “For not being reasonably perfect at the last rehearsal (sufficient time having been given for study), five shillings.”

An actor was fined a guinea for being intoxicated during a performance and five shillings for “omitting or introducing a scene or song without the consent of the manager.”

In the coming post, we will look at the skills required of men and women entering the acting profession.  In the meantime, here is a little 1899 theatrical gem.