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.


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!

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