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’sbookThe Road To The Stage, Or, The Performer’s Preceptorfor an actress or actor entering the profession.
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.
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 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.
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!
“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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.