Workshop 2: Exchanges Between Producers, Performers, and Consumers of Culture

The Theatre building on Princes Street opened in 1769 and before it was rebuilt in 1830 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd / Public domain (Wikimedia Commons)

Our second themed workshop—Exchanges Between Producers, Performers, and Consumers of Culture—held at St. Cecilia’s Hall at the University of Edinburgh (June 2018) interrogated questions surrounding the influence of the ephemeral nature of live stage performance on cultural and social imaginaries and spectators, and explored the physical spaces of theatres and their survival or documented existence. We asked what exchanges and connections developed among national and international performers, and what were the received views of Scottish and European nineteenth-century performers as transhistorical figures. It began with a keynote lecture given by Dr. Jenny Nex (Edinburgh) on the International Exhibition of 1890 from a Musical and Performance Perspective. Nex opened with a discussion about how in 1851 London hosted The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, for which Crystal Palace was constructed in Hyde Park. This became the most famous of a series of such events arguably begun by the French in 1798 when the authorities attempted to bring people together to celebrate achievements in different fields or by particular nations. Following the success of the Great Exhibition, many cities around the world, from Nizhny Novgorod and Saigon to Philadelphia and Cape Town, staged their own versions. In Scotland, there was one Exhibition in Glasgow in 1880, while Edinburgh held seven between 1856 and 1890. Nex’s keynote centred on the 1890 exhibition, for which the named focus was electrical engineering. This was organised to mark the opening of the Forth Railway Bridge in 1889. Alongside the central displays there was a busy programme of musical and sporting events. Dr. Nex discussed the music programme, which was structured around organ recitals, brass band concerts and choral society performances, and considered the repertoire and performers within the wider context of cultural and scientific life in Scotland’s capital at the end of the nineteenth century.

International Exhibition of Electricity, Engineering, General Inventions and Industries, Edinburgh, 1890. ©HES

The site of the 1890 exhibition was a green located to the south of Edinburgh, and included an eighteenth-century pleasure garden with a bandstand. Nex explained how the exhibition was set up, its dates, where things were exhibited, the prominent visitors to the exhibition and the different types of tickets and days that ran throughout the programme. There was a full programme of entertainments, including sports, music hall entertainment, orchestral performances and science demonstrations, including ‘scientific swimming demonstrations’, which were sometimes accompanied by a band. Football matches were a popular entertainment, and ethnographic encampments, e.g. a Lapland encampment, also featured. There were lectures linked to the theme of the exhibition and displays of objects demonstrating innovations. Music also had its part to play in demonstrating new technologies: it was played through the telephone. Fireworks were supplied by Pain’s Imperial Fireworks, and a daily programme listed activities and fireworks displays. There was also an Art gallery and sculpture court in the exhibition. Robert Marr put together the programme for musical events. It was structured around bands, choral societies and organ recitals. There were thirty-one bands and short histories of bands and biographies in the daily programme. Organists had a prominent role both in recitals and in supporting the bands. Most came from Scotland and the North of England and most were in their 20s and 30s. There was one female organist: Miss Caroline H Charters. Choirs were mainly amateur societies, including children’s choirs. Soloists also performed with the choirs and were mainly from the North of the UK. There were musical anecdotes in the programme as well—stories about composers and musicians e.g. Handel. Musical instrument making firms exhibited at the exhibition and there was a historic exhibition of instruments, manuscripts and prints exhibited in one space. Private collections and those from the University of Edinburgh were loaned and included British, European and world cultures, as well as related letters, visiting cards and paraphernalia. The programme included many different advertisements and the names of instrument makers exhibiting. An exciting programme of events was important for bringing in visitors to recoup costs. The programme targeted Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee holiday periods to encourage visitors. Special event days had higher visitor numbers, but it is difficult to quantify the exact impact of music and/or football matches on visitor numbers. Looking at the exhibition through a gendered lens is another way to consider what was on offer and the influence of the programme: the exhibition was a largely male-dominated event whose purpose was internationalism, education and entertainment.

The keynote was followed by a first introductory talk by Dr. Anselm Heinrich (Glasgow), who discussed the differences in the function of theatres in Germany and Britain, be they for industry, art, educational, or entertainment purposes, and asked what their respective roles were in society. In Britain, theatre was considered to be commercially driven, whereas in Germany theatre was regarded as educational—Germany subsidized the theatre system in a way that Britain did not. In Britain, theatres were seen as private affairs and often as morally suspect in the Victorian period. However, theatrical entertainment was extremely popular in the Victorian period and various theatres tried to make themselves more respectable and attract the middle-classes. In Germany, Schiller described the theatre as a ‘moral institution’ that was important ‘to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage’. State-funded theatre in Germany was seen as education to ‘better oneself’, and was part of nation-state building rather than simply for entertainment. Operas and plays were performed for citizens to learn the ways of the world and the lessons of history. There were also fears in Germany of the constraints of market forces and state subsidies were seen as giving greater artistic freedom. Britain’s theatres were controlled through licensing and censorship. Illegitimate theatres still operated, though. The state in Britain was generally non-interventionist, however, and people were against an interfering state and promoted free trade. Policies reflected this view, and in 1843 the Theatres Act established theatrical free trade resulting in an increase of venues. Music halls were regulated by local councils as they were outside the Theatres Act. In Germany, by 1869 there had been an attempt to regulate theatre as a trade: there was an increase of places of entertainment, including circuses. Discussions on theatre remained against it as a business, however. At the turn of the twentieth century there was more focus on theatre as education for the public good and access for the lower classes was granted. Municipal subsidies increased and most theatres went into public ownership; thus, theatres became civic institutions. Heinrich concluded that both countries viewed theatre as an industry by the mid- to late nineteenth century. Subsidies began in Germany and theatre became a civic institution. Britain continued as an industry, and Germany continued with the support of state subsidies. The state remained illusive in mid-Victorian Britain, putting the onus on the individual. It was not a caring state, but one that curtailed processes.

The second introductory talk presented by Clare Sorensen (Historic Environment Scotland) discussed theatres built in Scotland and how they were used. The Reformation affected the theatres in Scotland in a different way from the rest of Britain. Theatre in Scotland was seen as amoral. However, thanks to the Enlightenment ideas there was an increase in theatres in Scotland and legitimate theatres were granted licenses, but the Presbyterian Church was still against theatre per se. Permanent theatres only started to be legal in the late eighteenth century and were called Theatre Royals. Interior layouts of theatres were included in 1850 in the first ordinance survey maps. Sir Walter Scott was influential on Scottish theatre in the early nineteenth century, with adaptations of his novels forming national plays e.g. Rob Roy (1822).

Claire Sorensen of Historic Environment Scotland discusses theatres built in Scotland during the long nineteenth century, and how they were used. ©Katharine Mitchell

Theatres were built on commercial opportunities, and in Scotland this meant most were constructed in the late nineteenth century. Only one purpose-built opera house was built in Scotland—it opened in 1875 and closed in 1877; it was sold to the Presbyterian Church. Regulations for theatres were relaxed in 1843, which resulted in the rise of minor theatres and music halls. The draw of music halls was that they were able to sell alcohol, which wasn’t the case in theatres. The popularity of cinema in the early twentieth century meant that short silent films were introduced into music halls. This increased the risk of fires, and fire was a common hazard in theatres or music halls. The average lifespan of a theatre was twenty years due to smoking and fires. Variety halls developed that looked more like theatres and also separated audiences with ticket prices and entrances. The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of the actor-manager and owner-manager: a theatre’s success was down to single individuals. Professional theatre architects also emerged—buildings had to fulfill technical requirements. Architects were influenced by the European theatre design of the horse-shoe shape, but also innovated along those lines using new materials like concrete or cantilevering the galleries so columns were not needed. Numerous theatres were built across Britain at the turn-of-the-century. Frank Matcham was especially prolific—he had family links between different professions of theatre design, including architects and interior designers. A comparison of weekly wages shows that women could earn extremely high wages if they were successful. The highest earning performer of his time, the German ‘The Great Lafayette’, was remembered by the BBC on the 100th anniversary of the fire which killed ten people at the Edinburgh Empire Theatre on 9 May 1911.

Scottish-born Pansy Montague, aka ‘La Milo’, commanded a very high salary – one akin to that of comedian Harry Lauder. By George V Hubbard ©National Portrait Gallery (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

During the afternoon, Dr. Paul Barnaby (Edinburgh), examined how Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) was transformed into Salvatore Cammarano’s libretto for Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor (1835). Critics have generally attributed the many differences between these two works (in terms of plot, historical setting, and dramatis personae) to operatic convention. Barnaby showed that many of the most startling changes had already been made in a succession of intermediary texts. These include: Auguste-Jean-Baptiste Defauconpret’s French translation of the novel (1819); the theatrical adaptation by Victor Ducange (1828); an Italian translation of Ducange’s play (1829); and no fewer than three earlier operatic libretti by Giuseppe Luigi Balocchi (1829), Calisto Bassi (1831) and Pietro Beltrame (1834). In the course of these many reworkings, Scott’s original is progressively shorn of elements that may have been deemed politically sensitive in post-Napoleonic Europe or unacceptable to late sentimental aesthetics, which forbade, for example, a morally or psychologically dependant hero, or a heroine active in the public sphere.

PhD candidate John Ritchie (Stirling) discussed Scotch comics, in particular Harry Lauder (1870-1915), who was perceived by Hugh MacDiarmid as a mere peddler of hokum and an overpaid clown. Ritchie argued that Lauder actually used ‘hokum’ as his calling card and was well aware of doing so. Additionally, he was a sophisticated and intelligent artist who took full advantage of the early capitalism to further his career on the international stage. Lauder was known as a Scotch comic who was a regular feature of music hall performances. He had international success and targeted the Scottish diaspora. Lauder was seen by some as embodying Scottish identity, whilst others saw him as out-of-date. For many, hokum was seen as old-fashioned, worn-out, and anti-modern. However, as Ritchie argued, Lauder was not ‘anti-modern’ and exploited his global audiences and the new technology of phonographs to record singing with accompanying photographs. Lauder had an appeal to the Scottish diaspora. He represented Scotland as it had been and what it was imagined to be. Lauder came to represent the epitome of Scottish identity, even if it was a somewhat self-deprecating caricature of Scottish identity and made his fortune by peddling hokum. Questions that emerged from Ritchie’s talk revolved around the idea of whether moving away from Scotland increases one’s connection to ‘Scottish identity’ and how the different generations of emigrants responded to Lauder’s comedic acts.

Harry Lauder (1870-1915). Cooper NY / Public domain (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Helen Kingstone (Glasgow) discussed how panorama paintings were often used to depict recent historic events such as Napoleonic battles, and considered them as a ‘show culture’ form of presenting contemporary history. Kingstone mentioned how British panoramas are often read as highly nationalistic and patriotic; for example, they would show a moment of victory for British forces against the French, and French panoramas presented equivalent French victories, thereby limiting the kinds of exchanges that could be made across national boundaries. Panorama paintings were often nationalist and patriotic. They were invented in Edinburgh and then spread across Europe from 1799. Moving panoramas also went on tour, and they generally depicted the victories of the country that created them. Kingstone discussed the different subjects of panoramas including local landscapes, classical subjects, exotic and colonial subjects and military subjects. They were also used to depict geological and paleontological subjects to help disseminate science and were a powerful tool of propaganda and education. She concluded that their immersive quality is similar to current immersive technologies.

Edinburgh Castle: March of the Highlanders c.1834-5 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Bequeathed by R.H. Williamson 1938. ©Tate (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) Available from

Dr. Eva Moreda Rodriguez (Glasgow) discussed Armando Hugens, a Frenchman who settled in Madrid in the late nineteenth century and pioneered the introduction of the phonograph in Spain. In 1897 he opened the first gabinete fonográfico in Madrid, Sociedad Fonográfica Española Hugens y Acosta, selling imported phonographs and producing and selling his own recordings employing mostly local singers. Rodriguez spoke of how Hugens was active in shaping discourses around recording technologies which connected to ideals of modernity, progress and national regeneration active in Spain at the time. She also discussed evidence regarding Hugens’ connections with markets in France and Latin America. Owners of these phonographic studios created a discourse around these products as being a modern, civilised and scientific pastime. Each recording was unique as it could not be duplicated in Spain. Hugens capitalised on recordings being an art form compared to the mass-produced recordings in France, where they had the technology to duplicate recordings.

Finally, Iain Fraser, co-founder of Opera Scotland discussed the Scottish opera singer Mary Ann Paton (aka Lady Lennox; Mrs Joseph Wood, born Edinburgh, October 1802, died Chapelthorpe, 21 July 1864). The soprano had a starry twenty-year career as a leading operatic performer and, like the majority of women performers of the time, and not only in Scotland, was valued for her beauty as well as for her vocal and acting abilities. She is most remembered for creating the part of Reiza in Weber’s Oberon (1826). She sang mainly in London but returned to perform on stage in her home town. She also went on tour in North America. Fraser mentioned nine opera singers who had been born in Scotland during the long nineteenth century, five of whom had performed in Scotland. Many of these trained and performed across Europe.

Mary Ann Paton, Scottish opera singer. By Peter Paul Skeolan ©National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Recurring themes that emerged from the discussions throughout the day included

  • the combination of technology, science, communication and the arts in ‘Great Exhibitions’, as well as local products and transnational networks/connections
  • how national regulations shaped attitudes towards the theatre and what was performed
  • the transnationalism of touring performers performing shared repertoires and national identities
  • exporting and selling ‘tartanry’ in an increasingly globalised early-Capitalist economy
  • the emotional attachment to ‘home’ and belonging, for example in Scottish performers and audiences among the Scottish diaspora, particularly in the United States
  • the importance of early technology which was used in different ways

All these areas point towards the ways in which practices of transnational performance was

  1. strongly influenced by national regulations and perceptions as well as local aims and objectives. Local performance traditions were at the same time connected through touring performers as well as shared repertoires and architecture
  2. catering to diaspora communities’ need for emotional belonging and positioning
  3. negotiating an increasingly globalised technology, adapted to national or nationalist contexts

At a methodological level, the discussion also highlighted the need to contextualise materials, as well as to develop methodologies that will allow us to explore the complex dynamics of multipolar connectedness.