For the past few years I have experimented with what a small theatre company of today could look like if you unteathered it from the ties of -what’s-been-done-before and the even more dangerous this-is-the-way-it-is-done.
I have recently become interested in what an individual theatre artist of today could be, also unteathered from the usual heirachies and ways of doing things. In order to look forward, I always begin by looking backwards first.
Lately I have been researching old-timey actor-managers. I’m looking at how these distinctive entrepreneur/artists of yesteryear can perhaps shine light on today’s theatre artists. Reading a book about the almost-lost-to-history actor-mananger Wilson Barrett I came across this passage:
The era from 1870-1900 witnessed the complete transformation of the European stage from its neoclassical heritage into what can now be recognized as modernism. As an actor-manager, Wilson Barrett was among those most responsible for this remarkable theatrical revival, for, as E. J. West has pointed out, it was mainly the collective managerial skill of the actor-managers and not (as is commonly supposed) the quality of native drama, acting, or business improvements that provided the motive force behind the theatre of the period. Moreover, Barrett was perhaps the most perfect paradigm of the complete actor-manager, combining as no other could, all the skills of actor, director, producer, critic, author, and thinker and using this combination as a tool for progress in theatrical reform.
If ever there were a definition of what we need nowadays in the theatre, there it is, glancing at us from the past…
The book is The Art of the Actor-Manager: Wilson Barrett and the Victorian Theatre by James Thomas (1984).