Laborers of the Nineteenth-Century Theater: The Economies of Gender and Industrial Organization

by Tracy C. Davis
Laborers of the Nineteenth-Century Theater: The Economies of Gender and Industrial Organization
Tracy C. Davis
The Journal of British Studies
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Laborers of the Nineteenth-Century
Theater: The Economies of Gender and
Industrial Organization

Tracy C. Davis

In the purview of theater history, as on the theatrical stage itself, performers' and writers' command on attention is almost complete. Ancient Greek gave a word to its mask builders (skeuopoio), but apart from distinct vocabulary, history leaves few traces of theatrical labor- ers. A glance through any number of theatrical books, periodicals, bibliographies, biographical guides, and encyclopedias reveals the pre- dominance of performers in the public eye, though managers, direc- tors, designers, and critics occasionally attract scholarly studies. Even among novels, journalism, and theatrical guidebooks-genres that venture behind the scenes-the personnel that dress, light, paint, and build shows are rarely present. Their identity and labor is marginalized in the annals because it is marginalized in the conceptualization of what is important in theater production. Susan Todd takes unusual measures to challenge this tradition by documenting the experience of women stage managers in the contemporary theater,'but in the histori- cal realm this has not been attempted. Writers devote attention to how the stage actually worked (how stage effects were achieved and how the creative chain of command f~nctioned),~

but to date no one has examined the structures and traditions of backstage labor by asking basic questions about the sociopolitical organization of the work.

TRACYC. DAVIS is associate professor of theater and English at Northwestern Uni- versity.

'Susan Todd, ed., Women and Theatre: Calling the Shots (London: Faber, 1984).

'Michael Booth, Victorian Spectacular Theatre (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981); Percy Fitzgerald, The World Behind the Scenes (1881; reprint, New York: Benja- min Blom, 1972); M. J. Moynet, French Theatrical Production in the Nineteenth Century (1873; trans. Max Reinhardt Foundation and Centre for Modern Theatre Research, 1976); Terence Rees, Theatre Lighting in the Age of Gas (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1978).

Journal of British Studies 33 (January 1994): 32-53 O 1994 by The North American Conference on British Studies. All rights reserved. 0021-937119413301-0002$01.OO

Only in highly esoteric treatises or the lightest of literature do theatrical jewelers, armorers, weavers, hosiers, basket makers, shoe- makers, furnishers, cosmeticians, perruquiers, costumiers, seamsters, dressers, property makers, carpenters, gas fitters, printers, or ticket takers usually appear. These are all specialized trades and occupations indispensable to the building and running of nineteenth-century theatri- cal entertainment. In contemporaneous parlance, they are among the employees known as "theatrical operatives" (a generic term for arti- sans, mechanics, and workers active in the production of industrial arts) or "theatrical servants" (inclusive of backstage and front of house staff). Usually social and economic histories focus on a plant or, more broadly, an industry. The theatre offers a unique situation, for as an industry its workers encompass the gamut of nineteenth-century manufacturing occupations including textiles, metallurgy, leather, chemicals, paper, engineering, building, and service trades.

Manuscript evidence, including financial records, documents op- eratives' existence and wage rates and implicitly reveals the gendered basis of employment. Very precise employment records exist for Cov- ent Garden's 1820-21 season. All these hgures were compiled in an attempt to identify excessive staffing and to cut costs. One hundred and sixteen operatives were regularly employed (though there may have been slightly more carpenters in December, and fewer after the Christmas pantomime rush was over).3 The Theatre Royal was large, seating up to 3,000 people, and forty-three male box and doorkeepers (at 15s. a week) and money takers (at 12s. a week) were retained. One of these men doubled as the manager's messenger, taking an aggregate salary of f 1 13s. a week; among waged operatives, his earnings were exceeded only by the superintendent of the gas works (£2 10s.) and the gas maker (f 1 16s.), whose work was not only skilled but also dangerous. Covent Garden's conversion from older lighting methods of candle and oil to gas was a concession to technology as well as competitiveness, and the mechanisms had to be maintained. The chan- delier cleaner's job was dangerous but unskilled, and he earned £1 10s.; since this work could only be done in an empty house, he was able to augment his salary by 2s. a night walking on stage as a supernu- merary. Three additional men cleaned the 483 other lamps each day, earning f 1 5s. to f 1 10s. Employees whose labor was unskilled and

'The usual number of carpenters was thirteen; it was suggested that the theater retain twelve to fifteen in December and only seven or eight once the Christmas piece opened. After the austerity measures were adopted, only five were in regular employ- ment. (Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., bMS Thr. 267.56116-17.)

strictly terrestrial were worse off. The music porter called musicians to rehearsal, attended them from morning until midnight, then carried their instruments home. He worked an approximately eighty-four-hour six-day week, took home 18s., and like almost every operative in the company was laid off during the summer months. The coal carrier kept all seventy-three fireplaces in the theater stocked with fuel for the same level of compensation. The wardrobe keeper's status is marked by his receipt of a salary (approximately f 104) rather than weekly wages.

Cleaning was a female occupation, as designated by the title "chairwomen" (obsolete for "charwomen"), though three men were retained to sweep the pit and ingress passages, galleries and staircases, and streets surrounding the building. The men received 18s., whereas the sixteen chairwomen and eighteen female dressers were paid at rates ranging from 9s. to 13s. 6d. a week, though one long-serving chairwoman received 15s. and one dresser received 17s. The distinc- tion between male laborers, who generally received extra pay for extra duties in the evening whether as box keepers or supernumeraries, and female laborers, whose duties overlapped departments without extra remuneration, made it inadvisable to lay off too many women. The accountant argued,

[The chairwomen] are employed from 8 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon. They again return at 5 o'clock to light their fires-and most of them attend the Dressing-rooms until the performance is over [midnight or later]. At Drury Lane they had 16 Chairwomen, which is now reduced to 12 but there, everyone is paid 12sI- a week. Note.-Were it not for these women attending the [dressing] rooms, there must be a greater number of Dressers employed.

Altogether, the 116 operatives received £71 8s. 3d.-a bare 13 percent of the total wages paid to numerically fewer performers. The records do not specify who among the nonsupervisory members of the tailoring department (designated as dressers) were of which sex, but if half the dressers were women, 22 percent is a fair estimate of the female percentage of operatives employed. At the time, performers' wages ranged from actor-manager Charles Kemble's £22 to humble players' f 1. William Charles Macready (f 18), Joseph Grimaldi (f lo), and John Liston (£7) filled the spectrum of the middle ranges4

4Harvard Theatre Collection, fMS Thr. 14911-10 and bMS Thr. 267139-57. All calculations exclude the orchestra, which was another all-male enclave.

A document from a smaller theater, circa 1827, lists thirty-four support staff (nonmanagers and nonartists) ranging from scene paint- ers, carpenters, tailors, front of house, security, and publicity person- ne1.5 With a total of eighty-three employees, the support staff com- prised 41 percent of personnel but only 28 percent of the weekly payroll. This is remarkably close to aggregate average figures for the prestigious Lyceum Theatre from 1879-99; of the acting, supernumer- ary, stage staff, and front of house personnel, the stage and front of house staffs salaries comprised 30 percent of the payr011.~ Less than a fifth of the operatives in the 1827 list are women (three seamstresses, two housekeepers, and plausibly one out of three check taker^).^ Only three jobs are singled out for mention as women's, and in each case they were paid less than male counterparts in the same line of work: the tailoress received f l 10s. to the master tailor's £2, and two female tailoring assistants were paid 15s. to the male assistant and dresser's £1 10s. Correlations of prices, wage rates, and buying power are so disputed in the 1790-1850 period that it is impossible to say whether these employees were better off than Covent Garden's seven years earlier. Wages varied enormously in the radical swings of recession and boom that plagued the early nineteenth century, and in many in- dustrial sectors the relativity of wages and prices is further complicated by drastic differences between regions. Indices of real wages and pur- chasing power are somewhat more reliable for the second half of the century; moderate historians estimate an equatable cost of living in the years 1850 and 1900 while the "average" male wage increased from 20s. to f 1 15s.~

Theatrical wages may not have kept up: records of J. L. Toole's miniscule theatre in 1884 show the limelight operator receiving £1 8s., the messenger f 1 5s., the housekeeper f 1 Is., and the leading lady £8. Only the actor-manager J. L. Toole was apprecia-

5The document is from the Harvard Theatre Collection's Elliston Papers (TS 1091. 192F, vol. 2 [of 31) and is reproduced in Pieter van der Merwe, "The Staffing and Finance of a Minor Theatre c. 1827," Theatre Notebook 43, no. 3 (1989): 100-104. See also the note by William George Knight, Theatre Notebook 44, no. 3 (1990): 125.

~ohnPick, The West End: Mismanagement and Snobbery (Eastbourne: John Of-ford, 1983), p. 89.

7A woman's possible presence as a check taker is inferred from the traditional gendered lines of employment, supported by inspection of manuscript census data from each of London's theatrical districts and several provincial centers.

'E. H. Hunt, British Labour History, 1815-1914 (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1981), pp. 57-1 16; D. E. Baines, "The Labour Supply and the Labour Market, 1860-1914," in The Economic History of Britain since 1700, ed. R. Floud and D. Mc-Closkey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 2:163; M. W. Flinn, "Trends in Real Wages, 1750-1850," Economic History Review 27 (1974): 395-413,

bly better off, for he generally allotted himself £60 a week.9 Theatrical laboring did not necessarily provide lucrative pay; the earliest figures from one cine-variety in the provinces shows wages of 3s. a week for stagehands and lime operators, suggesting this must have been part- time work. ''

The presence of a small ballet troupe in the 1827 list determines that it is a minor (nonpatent) house skirting the regulations governing licensing of dramatic theaters. Many such establishments defied the law in the 1820s and 1830s, leading to the liberalizing of licensing in the Theatres Act of 1843. The act was passed in the midst of a reces- sion that forestalled a building boom, but eventually the number of places of entertainment grew all over the nation. As the population shifted into industrialized regional cities, standards of living steadily rose and disposable incomes increased, unpatented theaters prolifer- ated, the music hall business boomed, and more and more theatrical laborers were required. The Britannia Theatre in London's East End parallels this industrial growth. Documents from 1862 list fifty opera- tives among 104 employees, comprising 48 percent of personnel (ex- cluding the orchestra and saloon staff)."

By midcentury, nonperforming employees in some theaters formed large labor blocs. The Britannia kept only two gasmen and one tailor (probably a self-employed woman) on the payroll after the pantomime was over, but as this 1865 account of a Drury Lane panto- mime attests, the amount of operative employment increased enormously at Christmas time in proportion to the lavishness of the specta- cle: "In busy times, four dozen persons are engaged in perfecting the wardrobes of the ladies and gentlemen. Only to attire these and the children, forty-five dressers are required; and the various coiffures you behold have busily employed half a dozen hairdressers. If it should occur to you that you are sitting over or near a gasometer, you may find confidence in knowing that it is being watched by seventeen gas- men."'* The costumes for a single mid- or late Victorian production could number in the thousands and require tens of thousands of hours to build, providing a major expense but also one of the most important

Toole's Theatre Wages Book, January 12, 1884, Harvard Theatre Collection, MS Thr. 303, vol. 1.

''This refers to the Palace Theatre, Rushden, March 16, 1913 (Northamptonshire Record Office, Acc. 19781102 c. 1). Figures from 1915 show the assistant engineer and chief stagehand earning 6 s. to 7 s. while other rates remained the same.

"See petitions from Samuel Lane to the Lord Chamberlain in 1862 on behalf of the Britannia's employees. (Public Record Office, LC1.) l2 Dr. Doran, cited in W. Macqueen-Pope, Pillars of Drury Lane (London: Hutchin- son, 1955), p. 187.

drawing cards of the pantomimes, extravaganzas, and musical come- dies. The following description of some of the costumes in a single scene of The Forty Thieves in 1886 gives a flavor of the spectacular scale and, by implication, the laborers required to draft, cut, sew, and fit so many garments:

It is very difficult to give a detailed description of the costumes in the great scene of the Cave, with its marching and countermarching and kaleidoscopic evolutions of hundreds of, doubtless, the most costly cos- tumes ever seen on any stage. The most striking can alone be singled out for description. Each member of the Forty Thieves is followed by a reti- nue of twelve or upwards, whose dresses serve to repeat or intensify, either by harmony or contrast, those worn by their respective lead- ers . . . the dresses of all the personages in this superb procession are supplemented by handsome draperies of the richest brocades furnished by the loom. Silk, satin, velvet, gold, and silver tissues are in turn em- ployed separately and in combination, and all the emporiums of these rich stuffs have in turn been ransacked and exhausted for the selection of the most striking and characteristic patterns and materials.13

Scenic spectacles also required legions of laborers to build, paint, move, light, and set dress the miraculous transformations. The drama was more modest than other genres, yet for The Corsican Brothers Henry Irving employed ninety carpenters, thirty gas engineers, and fifteen property handlers.14During a scene change for The Cup (1881), another drama designed by Hawes Craven for Irving's Lyceum,

Men emerge from every side; the hills and banks, the steps leading down the hill, the massive pedestal that flanks the entrance to the temple on the right and approaches are lifted up and disappear gradually; the distant landscape mounts slowly into the air; the long rows of [gas] jets are unfastened and carried away. In three or four minutes the whole is clear. Then are seen slowly coming down what appear three long, heavy frames or beams . . . Soon busy hands have joined these three great joists by bolts and fastenings; the signal is given, and it ascends again. Meanwhile others have been bringing out from the 'scene dock' the pillars and their bases, ranging them in the places marked in the ground for them . . . We have glimpses in the galleries aloft of men hauling at ropes and pulleys or turning 'drums;' other men beIow are bearing in the altars and steps with the enormous idol at the back over twenty feet high.15

l3 Era (January 8, 1887), cited in Booth (n. 2 above), p. 163.
l4 Fitzgerald, p. 49.
l5 Fitzgerald, pp. 43-44.

The labor that ensured productions were lavishly sewn, dressed, built, moved, lit, and served in a myriad of capacities is inseparable from the appeal of the entertainment. While the results of the work were quintessentially visual, the work itself and the personnel who carried it out were invisible both to audiences and to the historical consciousness about the era.

In most theatrical writing there is an implicit acknowledgment of the rigid gender division of employment in casting (the premise of the dramatis personae), but perhaps it is not surprising that no attention whatsoever is given to the fact that gender was a significant determi- nant in laborers' employment. Like other businesses and industries, the theater apportioned most aspects of its workload on gender lines. Confirmation of the divisions is found in manuscript enumeration books of the decennial censuses in the Public Record Office (London) and Scottish Record Office (Edinburgh).16 According to the mid- Victorian censuses, both women and men worked in the front of house (as check takers and ushers) and in theatrical textile making (as lace and ornament makers and weavers). Women dominated numbers but were not unique in the clothing trades (as wardrobe keepers, dressers, and seamsters, categories that sometimes overlapped). Men dominated but were not unique to wig making, property making, hairdressing, and prompting. Whereas the only theatrical occupations preserved for women were the domestic labors of cleaning and housekeeping, men exclusively handled manufacturing and scientific tasks (as printers, pyrotechnists, gas engineers, and limelight operators), building and general labor (as scene painters, carpenters, and circus grooms), and the supervisory responsibilities of stage doorkeeperslporters and those known as firemen and watchmen. Men were also the treasurers, though that is a managerial rather than operative function. In other words, men solely controlled technical trades, the running of shows, and su- pervision of property, whereas women carried out menial labor and participated in the capacities that necessitated dealing extensively with people (including wardrobe, dressing, and front of house).

l6 These remarks are based on exhaustive searches of manuscript censuses of central Glasgow, central Liverpool, and the London parishes of Lambeth, St. Paul (Covent Garden), St. Anne (Soho), St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. Mary-le-Strand, and St. Clement Danes in 1861 and 1881. Additional verification has been sought in Hoxton in 1861 and 1871, St. Johns Wood in 1861 and 1881, and Leeds in 1881. See Tracy C. Davis, "Theat- rical Employees of Victorian Britain: Demography of an Industry," Nineteenth Century Theatre 18, no. 1 (1990): 6-34; and Tracy C. Davis and Jim Davis, "The People of the 'People's Theatre': The Social Demography of the Britannia Theatre (Hoxton)," Theatre Survey 32 (November 1991): 137-66.
(N PER 1,000 PERSONS)     Sex Ratio,     PER DECADE
Females     Males     Females :Males     Females     Males

Sov~ce.-Published censuses, Parliamentary Papers, 1861-1911.

The number of jobs this gender division yields for women and men is reflected in the aggregate national and civic data in the pub- lished censuses. Intriguing temporal changes are evident. In England and Wales as a whole, the numbers of operatives grew remarkably over the fifty-year period between 1861 and 1911, but prorated statistics for each sex show growth of significantly different magnitudes and rates (table 1).

Examinations of both the manuscript and the published censuses reveal that no single provincial center provides a sufficient population of theatrical operatives to give a statistically meaningful sample. In London, however, operatives resided in sufficient numbers to bear close investigation (table 2). In contrast to the nation as a whole, Lon- don's increases were quite modest-particularly when measured by multiples of increase-however, the sex ratio varies markedly. The most obvious reason for variations comes from changes in the theatri- cal industry. Rises in numbers of laborers in London and the provinces reflects a more plentiful and profitable entertainment sector, including the music halls that expanded and turned professional after 1860. Par- ticularly in the provinces, this allowed operatives to switch from part- time to full-time theatrical work, which was more likely to be declared on the census. London's more modest rate of growth may reflect the earlier popularity of spectacle, in which case the boom in employment was probably registered there prior to 1861, when census takers did not collect reliable occupational data.

Neither of these observations accounts for the profound fluctua-
(N PER 1,000 PERSONS)     Sex Ratio,     PER DECADE
Females     Males     Females :Males     Females     Males

SOURCE.-Published censuses, Parliamentary Papers, 1861-1911,

tions in the sex ratio. With the data available it is not possible to broach definitive explanations; however, the following remarks sug- gest interpretations that accord with changes in theatrical production and business practices. The theater was not isolated, but existed within a wider labor marketplace; consequently, these remarks take into ac- count the theater's possible interaction with events that affected the Victorian economy as a whole.

Aesthetics and Industrial Reorganization

Demonstrable growth in the number of theatrical venues and in the level of capital investment for production are partly in response to rapid increases in urban populations, particularly in London. How- ever, the boom in theater building and greater availability of theatrical work is counteracted by a change in business practices typified by Marie and Squire Bancroft. Their introduction of long runs of single pieces at the Prince of Wales' Theatre in the 1860s signals the disinte- gration of the stock system, beginning in the West End of London then spreading to the provinces. When managements produced only a few new plays a year rather than rotating many in stock, the initial outlay of time and labor was extravagant but merely transitory. The necessity to retain permanent in-house construction staffs passed. The industry responded with a massive reorganization of labor. As George Comer, a provincial author, complained in 1893:

Managers now cannot afford to pay the salaries they otherwise would, when they have to branch out in expenses-necessary to a certain extent, as things go at present, but which really are for the support of trades that have been built up on the profession since the disappearance of stock companies; trades which thrive on the profession, while the profession itself goes short; trades which dominate the profession to such an extent that it is now less a question of plays and players than it is of printing and stage-carpentering."

Comer refers to the vogue for spectacle integrally with the farming out of work to independent entrepreneurs who set up businesses to con- tract for work that was formerly carried out within each theater. The first such businesses may have been established in the West End by James Webb (a theatrical ornament maker) and Edward Williams (a theatrical shoemaker) circa 1842; on the other hand, these traders' declaration of specialty may reflect the growing market for theater supplies rather than an exodus of laborers from within theaters. Covent Garden's "List of Tradesmens Bills &c. from January 1818 to July 1820" shows payments to a hosier, shoemaker, peruke maker, foil maker, spangle maker, and sword cutler (among many other suppliers). The list totals £15,296 8s. 2d., yet there was not enough theatrical business in London to support any of these traders full-time.'' Even William Henry Clarkson's theatrical wig-making enterprise (which ex- isted as early as 1848)19 is an example of a business that favored theatri- cal clients but also catered to other sectors into the twentieth century.

Inventories and auction catalogs document the extent of ward- robes maintained by large enterprises such as the Theatre Royal Bir- mingham in the 1820s, while Covent Garden's bills show raw material purchases from haberdashers supplying sewing goods and mercers and drapers supplying silk, wool, and linens.''Thread, buttons, and fabric were transformed within the theater building into costumes. This cus- tom changed profoundly in the mid-nineteenth century, paving the way for dispersal of numerous other operative tasks. According to the Post Office Directories, costuming was the first type of theatrical work to attract independent entrepreneurs in any significant number. From 1856 independent costumier businesses contracted with theaters to

"George Comer, letter, "Imports on Touring," Era (February 11, 1893), p. 12.

l8 Harvard Theatre Collection, bMS Thr. 267155.1.

I9Roger Jenkin, The Wig-making Clarksons: In Search of their Lives and Times (Ilfracombe: Arthur W. Stockwell, 1982), p. 38; and London Post Office Directories.

"Birmingham Reference Library, Lee Crowder Deposit 409-10; Harvard Theatre Collection, bMS Thr. 267155.1.

supply costume^;^' they in turn probably assigned the labor of con- struction to a combination of outworkers and permanent employees. Manuscript diaries of the Britannia's stage manager indicate use of one such contractor by the mid-1860s, which explains how this stock company could function with a single tailor on staff.22 When the Britan- nia needed something that was not in its own wardrobe, it could be acquired from Samuel May's at short notice. In other theaters where the stock system was abandoned, it no longer made sense to retain either a significant store of costumes or the people to make and main- tain them. Inventories of costumes available for loan accrued outside theaters' own wardrobe collections, and the financial advantage per- petuated and solidified the convenient new system.

This situation was advantageous both for small business owners who could profit by their entrepreneurial skills and for theaters that could call on unlimited reserves of goods and labor to respond to sudden or great needs. The liability of paying wages in slack periods was transferred from theaters to other businesses. The unprecedented appearance in the early 1870s of merchant manufacturers specializing in theatrical hosiery, jewelry, armor, and billboards along with sev- eral more wig makers and costumiers strongly suggests that the suc- cess of Webb, Williams, Clarkson, and the wardrobe suppliers was imitated by other artisans selling and renting specialized hand-manufactured customized and standard goods and that theaters recog- nized the advantage of contracting from them.23 This is a familiar pat- tern in London's tertiary sector: as in the shoemaking, silk weaving, and warehousing trades, theaters were converted from in-house work- shops with versatile laborers to assembly points for manufactured

component^.^^ Concentrations of these suppliers in each of London's theatrical districts (the West End, South Bank, and East EndICity) suggests that from the outset the conversion was not a factor limited

2' Daniel Brice commenced business in Lambeth; T. Brown, Moss Cantor, Samuel Cantor, Samuel May, Lewis Henry Nathan, Isaac J. Nathan, John Simmons, and Sim- eon Simmons each carried out business at a different address in the West End; and James McLean operated a business in the City.

22 Diaries of Frederick C. Wilton, Mitchell Library, Sydney, New South Wales, MS 1181. See also Jim Davis, ed., The Britannia Diaries, 1863-1875: Selections from the Diaries of Frederick C. Wilton (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1992).

23 Data are derived from London Post Office Directories, but this source is not comprehensive. Though never listed in the Directories, Richard Alliston (wig maker in the Strand), for example, had enough fame to attract postal enquiries from theatrical concerns in Birmingham (Birmingham Reference Library, Archives, MS 72519).

24Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship between Classes in Victorian Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971).

to any particular artistic category of entertainment or theater for one social class.

The operatives who facilitated the growth of the spectacular genres and long runs experienced a diaspora to a multitude of small capitalistic enterprises; theatrical dressmaking (an occupation domi- nated by women) was the first to be affected. But because demand for their products did not diminish (and probably increased significantly), the employment for dressmakers simply moved from within theaters to private contractors' businesses. Although at an early period in his business (1861), Samuel May employed sixteen men and only ten women, the percentage of women operatives declaring their occupa- tions as theatrical dressers and dressmakers in the hand-enumerated census records of Westminster's theatrical parishes remained consis- tent from 1861 to 1881.25Three sets of figures cited by Michael Booth explain the impact of this phenomenon on a single theater. The produc- tions he refers to show how the scale of production increased at Drury Lane, the most spectacular of West End houses producing pantomime, and how new business practices impinged on the running of the theater:

Even in 1865 . . . it was estimated that the total theatre staff [operatives and performers] for Little King Pipkin was nearly 900, including 200 chil- dren, 60 in the ballet, 48 seamstresses and wardrobe ladies, 45 dressers, and 17 gasmen. Another set of figures is available for Drury Lane in 1881, probably relating to the Mother Goose of the previous year. The orchestra then numbered 40, the chorus 20, the ballet and extra dancers 100, supers 100, carpenters 50, property men and assistants 30, gasmen 15, limelight men 18, dressers 20, scene painters and assistants 12, firemen 10. In the front of the house were 8 policemen and 20 money- and ticket- takers . . . During the run of the 1881 Robinson Crusoe, a more lavish production than Mother Goose, a comparable set of figures estimated the orchestra at 30, the ballet and extra dancers at 150, children and supers at 260; the total theatre staff was put at 700 or 800.26

Covent Garden had eighteen dressers/dressmakers in 1820, while the document from circa 1827 lists five wardrobe personnel; Drury Lane employed ninety-three dressers/dressmakers in 1865 but only twenty in 1881 (all of whom were dressers, not seamsters). The expan- sion of theaters' wardrobe staff between the 1820s and 1865 reflects the increased scale of operations in nonstock companies in the

25 From the manuscript censuses.
26 Booth (n. 2 above), pp. 85-86.

mid-nineteenth century. The dwindling of wardrobe and dressing staff between 1865 and 1881 represents the contracting out of the production part of the labor process rather than any decrease in the number of performers needing to be costumed and dressed.

The manuscript censuses and a complementary series of articles from the trade paper the Stage provide valuable information about the gender division of employment in numerous supply and service businesses. All twenty-one theatrical perruquiers identified in the nine- teenth-century Post Office Directories were men. In 1861, Clarkson employed one man and two boys, but by 1883 he and one of his major rivals, Charles Fox, each employed approximately a dozen women to make the wigs in the shop, while others worked ~utside.~' 111 the bumper season of 1890-91, Clarkson supplied over 3,000 wigs for pan- tomimes, ballets, operas, light operas, dramas, and comedies at fifteen of London's leading theaters in addition to more than thirty provincial productions, numerous amateur dramatic societies, private masquer- ades and for hundreds of music hall artistes." A large staff of outwork- ers would certainly be required to fill custom orders and maintain the stock inventory throughout such a season, and most were probably women. Elsewhere, women were also employed to do the fine, labori- ous work of perruquiers: John Edwards, who operated a large mask- making business, employed men to do the wax work and women to do the hair

The theatrical fringes sold at Hale's were woven at home by work- ers credited as male, yet because theatrical fringe was made in the old-fashioned way on obsolete hand machinery in a labor intensive procedure, it probably occupied as many members of a family as were available. William Waghorn-enumerated as a theatrical lace maker along with his wife Rebecca in 1861 and as a theatrical trimmings maker along with his second wife Louisa in 1881-fits this mold, but the working circumstances of numerous other weaving specialists in the manuscript censuses are unknown. The Stage includes a reference to a spangle made by a woman in the workshop;30 by the 1880s, En-

27Michael R. Booth, ed., Victorian Theatrical Trades: Articles from the Stage, 1883-1884 (1883-84; reprint, London: Society for Theatre Research, 1981), pp. 5-10. This promotion does not accord with the manuscript census of 1881, but the women may have lived beyond the neighborhoods surveyed.

Harry J. Greenwall, The Strange Life of Willy Clarkson: An Experiment in Biogra- phy (London: John Long, 1936), pp. 24-25. Greenwall probably had access to Clarkson's business records soon after the proprietor's death, but the records have disappeared and the data cannot be confirmed.

29 Booth, ed., p. 27.

30Ibid, pp. 15-17.

glish-manufactured spangles were prohibitively expensive (a shilling more per pound than those made on the C~ntinent),~'

so the in-house manufacture of spangles at Hale's may have been so unusual as to be worthy of note, and its female operative may represent part of the establishment's cost-saving measures for custom goods, as women were almost universally paid less than men for the same work. No doubt the fewer number of spangle, lace, and trimmings makers in the 1881 census reflects England's uncompetitiveness in these related trades and the conversion from manufacturing to merely retailing con- cerns.

Theatrical boot and shoemaking-largely a custom trade-evolved differently. Theatrical shoemaking was rarely credited to women, though a female theatrical shoemaker was identified in the manuscript census of Glasgow. Among nontheatrical shoemakers, it was common for husbands to be enumerated as shoemakers and their wives or daughters as clickers (leather cutters) in what was clearly a single venture. Among theatrical shoemakers, household members were not necessarily required to meet the financial exigencies of a custom business: Edward Williams and his son Thomas were enumer- ated together as theatrical boot makers in 1861, but in 1881 Edward was widowed and enumerated alone, yet still carried on the trade. Likewise, the theatrical shoemaker Charles Plimpton had no relative to assist him, for he was enumerated as an unmarried lodger. William Shail's wife is enumerated as without an occupation; there is nothing to preclude her or her teenage children from participating in boot mak- ing in some capacity but neither is there cause to insist that the male head of household was assisted by anyone.

Among the other branches of theatrical labor in which women in London participated it is typical to see husband and wife teams or widows carrying on the businesses. Both the Hopewell and Reid ho- siery businesses, first noted in 1873, were partnerships of spouses (at least in the practical, if not legal, sense). After Robert Hopewell's death circa 1876, his wife carried on alone for at least a decade. When a reporter called on Reid's in 1883, he discovered "Mr. Reid was in, [and] his business-like wife was also in-very much in indeed-for it did not require any expert at character-reading to ascertain that Mrs. Reid was well able to look after the establishment by herself, or a regiment of soldiers either for that matter."32 Although both Reids could work the looms, most manufacturing within their London work-

3' Ibid., p. 19.
32 Ibid., p. 2,

shop was carried out by three male employees, while women served customers in the front. Harriet and John Harrison are alternately listed as theatrical costumiers at an address in Bow Street from 1857; the appearance of the Harrison Brothers' business next door in 1861 sug- gests this was a two-generation family trade. Other married couples in this trade include George and Amelia Stevens, John and Elizabeth Dallas, and Westin and Elizabeth Gray (whose son Frank specialized in making wigs for blackface performers). Sister teams are quite com- mon in theatrical dressmaking: Mary Fisher, listed in the Post Office Directories from 1893, was enumerated as a theatrical costumier along with her sister Katherine in 1881. Sarah Dunckley and her sister Maria Unwin are also enumerated together as costumiers in 1881, as are a three-generation team consisting of Maria Harris, her daughter Pattie, and her mother Sarah Fawcett. Women enumerated in family units tended to labor in cooperative endeavors. Women enumerated alone are far less likely to show up in the Post Office Directories and there- fore probably were not in business for themselves.

Instead of making a consumable product from start to finish within a single set of walls, the theatrical supply businesses fragmented the labor process into parts carried out at a number of locations. Mid- Victorian theatrical labor was transformed over a period of approxi- mately fifteen years from a system of medium-sized workshops full of craftspersons to a classic model of the factory system: no longer the locus of production, the theater building became a rallying point for goods manufactured elsewhere. Typical of the bona fide factory organi- zation, the separation of manufacturing processes created more spe- cialized laborers, a great intensity of labor, mechanized procedures, and an increased scale in the individual units of production.

As in most industrial sectors, these developments affected men and women differentl~.~~

While the labor of construction and mainte- nance was moved outside theaters (including sewing and hair and wig dressing), simultaneous developments in theater technology necessi- tated increasing numbers of employees to run the shows during perfor- mances. Two bastions of male employment-scene shifting and light- ing-grew in importance. Because these tasks had to be performed in the theaters, male trades remained closest to the production process. Not surprisingly, these operatives were the first to organize, initially under the "bosses" who represented them to management and who distributed their wages (late Victorian payrolls such as Toole's show

33Maxine Berg, ed., Technology and Toil in Nineteenth-Century Britain (London: CSE Books; Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1979).

a single entry for the "Master carpenter and assistants," "Propertyman and assistants," or "Gas engineer etc."). In 1866, scene shifters at thirteen theaters all over London struck for a 6d. a night increase (parity with Covent Garden's scene shifters, who earned 2s. a night, the same wage the Standard Theatre in the East End paid to the fly, stage, and cellar-level bosses).34 This effort and others like it were not wholly successful. In 1890, twelve male carpenters at the Adelphi Theatre approached their boss for a wage increase and were summarily di~missed.~~This

incident directly resulted in the formation of the The- atrical and Music Hall Operatives' Trades Union (renamed the Na- tional Association of Theatrical Employees in 1900 and now known as the National Association of Theatrical, Television, and Kine [Cine- matic] Employees).

Citing remarks from Charles Booth's Life and Labour of the Peo- ple in London (London, 1896), Michael Chanan upholds the view that the jobbing system meant that stagehands such as carpenters worked in theaters when they could and at other locations when theater work was scarce. "There was, in other words, a full-scale system of subcon- tracting within the entertainment world which covered many of the same kinds of work in which large numbers of semi-skilled workers who were now undergoing proper unionization for the first time were also employed."36 Thus, the impetus to unionize may have been hur- ried by trends in other branches of the building trades, including the trend to close shops to casual laborers. It was in men's interest to gain a fair wage as well as contracting directly with theatrical management, breaking the boss tradition. Whereas men were responsible to subcon- tracted gas, carpentry, or property bosses and were employed as labor blocs within theaters, women's trades were practiced outside theaters, making it much more difficult to unionize even if the impetus existed. Meanwhile, the women dressers and sempsters who still found em- ployment within theaters were often employed singly and were ac- countable to individual artists rather than to subcontractors or manage- ment, and thus inhibited from organizing. As Fanny Stirling advised one of her affluent pupils (Harriet Taylor's daughter, Helen) in 1856, it was the individual performers' choice and responsibility to employ a dresser who combined her responsibilities at the theater with those of a personal dressmaker and servant: "If you only engage a woman

34 Diaries of Frederick C. Wilton, Mitchell Library. 35 Jack Eaton and Colin Gill, The Trade Union Directory: A Guide to All TUC Unions, 2d ed. (London: Pluto, 1981), p. 309. 36Michael Chanan, The Dream That Kicks: The Prehistory and Early Years of Cinema in Britain (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), p. 168.

or girl as your dresser at the theatre they are paid at the rate of a shilling per night, from that to nine shillings a week according as they are useful, or good or bad. If you engage a woman to be with you entirely, that is to work for you at home, & dress you in the evening Mrs. Curl tells me you ought to give less in the way of money because you find them in bed and board in that case [pay] about six shillings a week."37 Likewise, the well-bred Violet Vanbrugh traveled throughout America in 1889-91 with her "companion," paid for by Vanbrugh's personal patroness the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, not the Kendal man- agement.38 It is no wonder that in the early years of the Theatrical and Music Hall Operatives' Trades Union its membership was wholly male3' and that it became crucial under organized conditions to include female operatives in order to be effective in strike situations. Seasonal and irregular work, low wages, no overtime pay, reductions in employ- ment after opening nights, and the tradition of service had to be tackled by a unified action on the part of all employees.

The Economy of Gender

Women's working conditions can be further contextualized by statistical data. The type of statistical data available makes it impossi- ble to discern seasonal or short-term cycles in employment, but it is possible to detect major swings over the long term. Figure 1,representing the ratio of male to female theatrical operatives abstracted from tables 1 and 2, highlights the marked fluctuations in London, whereas in England and Wales the figures are comparatively stable, particularly from 1881 to the turn of the century. The variations in these ratios warrant investigation. While the national ratio shows that women made gains in the 1860s, figures for London show that men significantly increased their dominance of the trades during that decade. Nationally,

37 Fanny Stirling to Helen Taylor, November 27, 1856, vol. 54 (Harriet Taylor Pa- pers, London School of Economics).

38 Violet Vanbrugh, Dare to Be Wise (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1925), p. 48. Male actors could, but rarely did, retain personal dressers, partly because their costum- ing did not require it. The higher their billing, the higher their wages, and the higher the likelihood that they performed in uncomplicated conventional attire with few changes. The few who retained personal dressers were likely to be the managers themselves or music hall artistes who played several houses a night and changed en route in their carriages.

39A history of the North American union (National Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees [NATSE], later International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees [IATSE]) likewise mentions only male trades in connection with the earliest conventions (1893 onward). Robert Osborne Baker, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada (Ph.D diss., University of Kansas, 1933), pp. 1-3.

England ond Woles + London

FIG.1.-Sex ratio, N males per female (adjusted to the general population). Source.-Published censuses.

women's short-term gains were reversed by 1881, whereas in London the number of men markedly decreased in the 1870s and women were more prevalent than ever before.

Meanwhile, the number of theatrical supply businesses listed in the London Post Office Directories climbed very slowly from ten in 1856 to fifteen in 1870 (fig. 2). Between 1870 and 1873 there was a significant spurt of new business start-ups, bringing the total to twenty. The rise that is probably the most noteworthy occurred in the middle years of the 1870s, for in 1875 there were thirty businesses, a level maintained for a decade (except for a high of thirty-seven in 1877, a watershed year when several failing businesses overlapped with several new ones). This is significant because the sudden growth and then maintenance of a steady number of businesses during this decade coincides with a period when the British economy experienced a decline in industrial production, reduced wages, depressed trade, and falling wholesale prices.40In other words, theatrical supply businesses sprang up despite (or perhaps in response to) a depressed economy and hung on for the duration of the worst part of the recession of 1873-96. The "surplus women question" certainly affected women's need to enter all aspects of theatrical empl~yment,~~

but it does not

40S.B. Saul, The Myth of the Great Depression (London: Macmillan, 1969).

"Tracy C. Davis, "The Sex Ratio: Social Demography and the Female Surplus Question on the Victorian Stage," Nordic Theatre Studies 3 (1990): 71-74.

FIG.2.-Number of theatrical supply businesses in London, 1855-99. Source.-Post Office Directories.

justify London's turnaround in the sex ratio in this sector between 1871 and 1881.

Money supply was probably a crucial factor. Falling employment usually indicates a fall in the rate of growth, but when it coincides with rising female employment it often indicates a decline in the profitability of any given type of endeavor rather than a change in the amount of activity. Too little is known about operatives' wages to conclusively prove that the employers hired women because they would work for less in a period of high unemployment or that, indeed, a growing number of women actually earned less than men were for- merly or concurrently paid for the same work. It is difficult to discern from theatrical trade papers what the true state of box office receipts were at any given time, and a great deal of research needs to be done on extant business records before the impact of the recession on the theater is fully understood. In the meantime, an explanation can be posited for the coincidence of flourishing supply businesses, fairly steady numbers of operatives in the provinces, and the rising number of female operatives in London while male operatives in the capital declined. The coincidence of growth in businesses and decline in male employment may suggest that theatrical laboring became less lucrative in the period and that females consequently had better chances of gaining opportunities in the trades. This is fully borne out by data derived from the Post Office Directories. In the 1870s, women not

only gained greater access to theatrical trades, but they also started businesses in significant numbers. More than half of the new costumier outlets were established by women under their own names: Sarah Ann Price, Sarah Warlow, Sarah Ann Alias, and Marie Elizabeth Fisher. (The rise of couturikre houses with women designers may be a related phenomenon, but though they dressed actresses on and off stage their principal clientele was private rather than theatrical.) Whether or not women's numerousness in this particular trade made it likely that female-run businesses were able to hire proportionately more women than previously is indeterminable.

Subsequent changes in London's sex ratio of operatives are also interesting. According to the published census figures, women's repre- sentation among theater operatives recovered remarkably quickly from the 1871 low of 14 percent: women's representation doubled to 29 percent in 1881. Slight fluctuations are evident in the next two decades, as the rise to 31 percent in 1891 is offset by the 1901 figure of 27 percent. Considering that women's representation was further reduced to 22 percent in 191 1, the 1901 figure should be taken seriously. In other words, during the decades when the total number of operatives was undergoing rapid growth nationally, in London-the hub of em- ployment-women again lost ground at an ever-increasing rate as in the 1860s.

New technology, particularly electrification, greatly influenced theatrical practices in the later period. From 1881, theaters added in- candescent lighting to their gaslight systems, creating a new subsidiary industry geared to serve theaters (but not exclusively catering to them). Some theaters retained both the old and new lighting devices, but by the end of the century, electrically generated light predominated and the number of operators required by theaters decreased. This re- duction in male theatrical employment contradicts a general trend of growth from the 1880s. From 1881 to 1911, the number of male opera- tives employed in London doubled each decade; the same is true of women, though in 1911 they had barely achieved the level men enjoyed twenty years before. This enormous boom in employment for men is probably the result of another new technology: cinema.42 From its first appearance in British music halls in 1894, men dominated the cinematic industry, not only in the production of films but also in the technical and business aspects of projection. Filmmaking created jobs for female performers, but inroads were not made for women in other aspects of the industry.

42 When projectionists became eligible to join IATSE in 1908,the rate of new mem- bership each year more than doubled (Baker, p. 7).

There are two small bright spots. During the 1890s, women opened two-thirds of the new costume businesses, but among other branches of theatrical supply only one woman, in the wig- and boot-making partnership of Mary and Henry Rayne, began operations even partly in her own name. Men's numerical dominance of these sectors in Lon- don in the 1890s is reminiscent of the situation in the 1860s, another period of widespread economic prosperity and dramatic investment. Women's embarkation into new costume businesses in the 1890s may merely render visible what had gone on before on a freelance basis, but in any case its entrepreneurial stance suggests a break with the servile traditions of dressmaking and dressing. New departures are also evident among female employees inside theaters, reflected by changes in the membership of the operatives' union. In 1890,897 mem- bers were registered, and the number grew to 2,000 by the next year.43 Judging by intermittent reports in the Stage, the union was very con- cerned that it failed to incorporate women into its ranks and actively tried to rectify the situation. According to one source this campaign was successful, for in 1908, the year after the crippling music hall strike in which performers and laborers cooperated, the Historical Directory of Trade Unions reported that the operatives' union num- bered 18,000 members, reputedly evenly divided between men and women.44 Other data suggests that a one in five split-still a significant gain-was more likely.45 In 1982, the union numbered 9,400 male and 9,600 female members.46

Compared to other industrial sectors, the theater was slow to pro- vide benefits to employees, to develop negotiating processes between labor and management, and for associations to evolve into unions.47 The nature and apportionment of theatrical labor in the nineteenth century provide important keys to understanding changes in the struc- tures and economic viability of entertainment. Discovery of opera- tives' distribution and identity is facilitated by conventional theatrical sources (trade journals, letters, reviews, and biographies) but is sig- nificantly enhanced by analysis of trade directories, the manuscript censuses, and financial records. Although statistical data are not defin-

43 5. M. Fournier to J. L. Graydon, manager of Middlesex Music Hall, August 18, 1891 (Greater London Record Office, LCCIMINI10, 855). 44Arthur Marsh and Victoria Ryan, Historical Directory of Trade Unions. Vol. 1 Non-manual Unions (Farnborough, Hampshire: Gower, 1908), pp. 142-43. 45Ba~edon the total number of theatrical service personnel in the 1911 published

censuses of England and Wales and Scotland.

46 Eaton and Gill (n. 35 above), p. 309.

47 Tracy C. Davis, "Theatrical Charity and Self-Help for Women Performers," The

atre Notebook 41, no. 3 (1987): 114-28.

itive, they do correlate to the changes in aesthetic practices and tech- nology that are crucial to the process of transformation from work- shops to the fully industrialized large-scale operations with high capital financing and add to knowledge about the gendered apportionment of employment through every phase of the transformation. The data sug- gest that throughout the Victorian years an aristocracy of operative labor coincided with firm gender divisions in most trades, restricting women to lower-paid positions and aspects of the production process that were among the first to be sloughed out of theaters and into inde- pendent enterprises. The newly organized industry seemed to respond to economic recessions by employing women in greater numbers than otherwise. But women's participation in the production process ap- pears susceptible to fluctuations in marketplace demand and seasonal requirements, and it is highly likely that men crowded into the opera- tive trades at times of economic prosperity as in the initial start up of specialty suppliers and the burgeoning cinematic industry, relegating women to the industrial reserve.

Tradition rather than scholarship determines that representation is virtually the sole concern of theater research. The material circum- stances of production and labor apportionment are integral to the eco- nomic viability and thus the quality and aesthetic practices of theater. In recent times, when the high costs of unionized labor and publicity are blamed for the exorbitant prices of theater tickets, there is greater awareness of operatives' existence and contribution. The unions are stronger than ever, and specialized entrepreneurial businesses still abound. Whereas changes in the scale of nineteenth-century produc- tion resulted in more employment, twentieth-century minimalist styles are dictated in part by the cost of operative labor. In the nineteenth century, gendered employment was partly a measure to reduce costs but also a map of male entrenchment and authority within theatrical institutions; the latter observation endures, reflecting not only eco- nomic but also sociopolitical foundations of the art.

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