This chapter introduces the book's primary focus: street theatre's production of postindustrial space. The introduction makes clear that there is no such thing as a postindustrial society: forms of labour accumulate rather than cleanly replacing each other. Nonetheless, deindustrializing communities have a vested interest in relegating industry to the past and presenting themselves as happily and healthily postindustrial. Street theatre is crucial to this process as a theatrical form that claims space as public, carves events from ongoing situations, and rescripts everyday behaviours. The necessity of street theatre to the production of the postindustrial means that street theatre companies benefit from and participate in redevelopment, but it also means that through street theatre the industrial may reassert itself in unanticipated ways. The introduction proposes working memory as a central metaphor for the theatrical and performative processes analysed throughout the book.
The introduction contextualises issues of professional agency in relation to the history of women theatre and performance workers in the first half of the twentieth century. It provides a framework for the book as a whole and explains the chapters and their relationships with one another.
Lily Brayton was one half of the twentieth century’s first celebrity couple on the London stage. Together with her husband, Oscar Asche, Brayton dominated popular theatre for a decade with her brave and ingenious characterisations of the ‘oriental woman’ in a series of plays from Kismet (1911) to Cairo (1921). She had come to fame, often in breeches roles, in popularised versions of Shakespeare plays since the turn of the century. Her ‘New Woman’ characterisations and performances were matched equally by her offstage business acumen. The chapter explores Brayton’s positive and successful image of woman, both on and off the stage, and sets this against her near erasure from theatre history as her separation from the stage occurred simultaneously with her separation from her husband.
In 1946 Mabel Constanduros published her autobiography, Shreds and Patches, as an account of her journey from shy middle-class wife and mother to creating and realising her very public role as ‘Grandma Buggins’ for BBC radio. This chapter focuses not so much on the well-trodden path of the performer’s rise from suburban obscurity to fame, but rather on the less well documented network of influence that enabled performing women to train and tailor their professional work in the fast-changing industry of the early twentieth century. Training with Elsie Fogerty and developing her skills as a ‘diseuse’ on amateur and professional stages between the wars, Constanduros wrote and performed for radio, film and later television. As one of many women making their way in a professional structure that welcomed their practice, if not always their insistence on agency, Constanduros offers a more coherent model of professional ambition and practice than the self-deprecating title of her autobiography suggests.
There has been little attempt to place Margaret Rutherford (1892–1972) historically, other than in a trajectory or tradition of roles typically defined as ‘eccentrics’. Even Rutherford herself referred dismissively to ‘my usual dotty old lady stuff’. This chapter, however, engages with the paradox that ‘eccentricity’, which normally refers to unconventional views or behaviour, has its own set of theatrical characteristics and is, in fact, central to the English comic inheritance. A comparative analysis is made of some of the ‘classic’ female roles that Rutherford took on, alongside an exploration of some of the famous parts she initiated, in light of the work of other contemporaneous actresses who may be said to have carried on the eccentric tradition in their own distinctive ways.
Actresses, charity work and the early twentieth-century theatre profession
This chapter considers aspects of public charity work undertaken by actresses in the 1910s, focusing on their work selling for charitable causes within the commercial sector at Harrods department store in London. Charity labour has been overlooked in understandings of the theatre industry during this period, yet the considerable amount of voluntary work that actresses undertook was significant to the continuing improved social and cultural position of the British stage more generally. Charity work at home and overseas brought an increasing level of professionalisation to actresses’ work in the voluntary sector and wider recognition of the charitable activities they undertook.
Winifred Dolan worked as an actress, theatre administrator, teacher and producer. She outlined her early work in West End theatre in her memoir, A Chronicle of Small Beer, but this narrative does not cover her subsequent work as a drama teacher and producer of amateur theatre. This chapter examines Dolan’s West End practice as her formative experience and focuses on her subsequent career: teaching drama and designing suitable spaces for that teaching and for amateur productions. An analysis of the range of evidence left by Dolan reveals the rich and complex links between professional theatre work, the teaching profession and the amateur theatre movement in the first half of the twentieth century.
This concluding chapter analyses two works of outdoor installation art that exemplify the production of postindustrial space. Compagnie Fer à Coudre’s Floraferrique and Fabrice Giraud’s Le Murmure des Plantes 2.0 fuse natural flora with industrial aesthetics. This chapter examines the installations as street theatre, demonstrating how they invite spectatorial participation even as they create a doubled temporality that complicates the call to action. Through their interplay of human and non-human agency, engagement with ecology, and construction of alternate pasts and futures, these projects offer new insight into street theatre's temporal, spatial, and political work.
This chapter analyses the conversion of a rural factory (camera case manufacturer Photosacs in Corbigny) into an arts centre and base of operations for street theatre company Metalovoice, a project designed to transform Corbigny into a rural cultural hub. But it risks being intelligible as part of a scenario of development that has long subordinated rural workers (especially women) to urban markets and consumers. In response, Metalovoice position themselves as artisans with familial ties to industrial heritage. The discourses produced by and about a street theatre institution and the industrial aesthetics of Metalovoice's inaugural event are linked by the folded logic of reincorporation: material from the past is resurrected for use in the present, changing the meaning of past and present in the process. Attempts to refashion history by discursively and aesthetically linking industrial workers and artists might grant both groups symbolic clout, but they might also obscure the gendered specificities of a local labour history. Through an intentionally micro-level analysis – of one event at one factory in one small town – the chapter links street theatre’s present economic function to its ability to reorder people, spaces, and times.
This chapter analyses the discourses and practices of the creative economy and reveals its fraught relationship to forms of labour and leisure it has supposedly replaced. The conversion of the Nantes shipyards into a tourist and cultural destination and base of operations for street theatre company La Machine has reconfigured the site as both public space and workspace. In keeping with the model of the creative city, spectators are invited to actively participate in the project, but this chapter questions the nature of that participation. The chapter further demonstrates that La Machine company members must simultaneously be industrial workers and replace them; they embody past repertoires even as they herald a post-Fordist transition to affective or immaterial labour. Ultimately this urban redevelopment project and its theatrical components must promote the selective memory of industry's success while smoothing over the rupture of its collapse.