Chapter 5: Venal, playful, charming: the hallmarks of professional performers
Chapter 5 Venal, playful, charming: the hallmarks of professional performers
The middle decades of the nineteenth century witnessed important changes in the career prospects of professional performers. In much the same way as painters, Victorian actors experienced the transition from the old system of patronage to a more autonomous occupational system, which was subject to the demands of a competitive cultural marketplace. Still “closely associated with individual patrons” in the eighteenth century1, performers became paid employees in the following century and offered their services in a large variety of work places “rang[ing] in status from patent theatres to penny saloons”2. Around the middle of the century, moreover, they were slowly “admitted to a more or less unquestioned professional standing”3. Included in the list of “educated persons” in the 1841 census, they were attributed a professional status in the 1861 census4, even though their group was quite heterogeneous and lacked the basic requirements of qualification. In describing the transformations underway in the category of “players” in the early nineteenth century, Penelope Corfield observes: “But in fact the work was haphazard, the training informal, and the level of skills and rewards exceptionally variegated. That made it very difficult to forge a collective identity, let alone a professional closed shop”5. ← 173 | 174 →
While rapidly increasing in numbers during the century, Victorian performers thus remained disorganized as an occupational group. The absence of self-regulatory bodies which could provide training and rules of professional access was only...
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