STRATEGY FOR BUILDING-BASED PRODUCING THEATRE
The birth of artistic policy for regional theatre
This paper is arranged in two sections:
- Part one is a discussion of the founding artistic ethos and organisational characteristics of building-based producing companies, or repertory theatres.
- Part two is an examination of how the companies took shape between the 1890s and 1910s, in the exploratory work of several pugnacious London stage societies.
These subjects may serve as a fountainhead for many of the high-quality artistic ambitions and efficient business customs that characterise Arts Council and local authority subsidised resident theatres in the 2000s.
I hope that this paper will be of interest to the artistic directors, executive directors, chief executives, education officers, marketing experts and board members who The Laughing Audience assists in strategic business planning.
The roots of artistic policy and precedents for repertory theatre organisation
Repertory was conceived as an artistic ideal, dedicated to the creative staging of important plays, to art, to experiment and to the new. Some of the repertory movement’s original purposes were literary, educational and recreational. In its serious application, repertory denoted a new attempt to aspire to permanence and to understand the potential of social organisation in the theatre’s relationship with its audience. At root, repertory understood that it could be a cultural, economic and social institution, not only a theatre building. Within the repertory model, a theatre would be a permanent resource: a theatre building that might facilitate and cultivate a tradition, defining innovation through a stable environment dedicated not only to high-quality productions but also to the training of new writing, acting, directing and design talents. However, it might be other things too. Many theatre‑makers believed that the repertory model of theatre-as-institution could provide more than the business driven world of profit-seeking, ‘commercial’ theatre. In the ‘business’ theatre, competition was often deemed ‘the mortal enemy of art’. In contrast, supporters of the repertory model, which, like today, was predicated on a broader social and cultural role, looked for a way to improve creative talents in a systematic way. The new model supposed that penetrating scripts, an accomplished acting ensemble and new ideas of direction and scenography would excite audiences. A company of mostly resident artists, and the staff who supported them, would be stimulated by the sum of these parts and, in turn, they would share their dedication and understanding with theatregoers who would be pleased to attend most productions.
However, the setting up of a repertory theatre was expensive: the word also connotes organisational factors. Ambition, skill, talent, recruitment, planning and selling are all inextricably entangled with, and often compromised by, various legislative and economic exigencies; by the pressures of competition, cooperation, rivalry and marketing, by unpredictable audience tastes and modish interests and, after 1945, other factors such as changeable government policy and fluctuations in subsidy.
The aims of the first British repertory theatres were artistic rather than political. Artists and producers created them organically. This points to an intriguing contrast with the continental national theatres that were founded, usually, by central governments or monarchies, sometimes as part of a national arts strategy. Nevertheless, and largely because of their pursuit of private endowments and, progressively, a quest for local and central government subsidy, many of the British theatres were to bring about a new politics of theatre organisation. The early companies sought to justify their survival on artistic grounds, but soon became dependent on the measurable impacts of their financial or economic success which were, after 1945, conditioned by subsidy and then, from the 1970s, by the rise of a new profession of arts administration.
As for all theatre systems, definitions of ‘repertory’ – a word that stems from the Latin repertorium (an inventory), via the Italian repertorio (a collection of short speeches created by a commedia dell’arte performer) – are often narrow or one sided. Repertory, with its intricate and wide horizons, has often been treated as if it is composed simply of one of its constituent parts. In defining the nature of this system and discussing the emergence of the movement, a drama critic might have in mind the playwrights, directors, designers and the mis-en-scène, another the location of the company and its theatre’s architecture, and a theatre manager might discuss the economics and business management. Alternatively, the subjects of a board of directors and the political organisation of the company, its audiences, marketing, publicity and advertising might be the purview of an arts council today. Repertory is an association of all these ideas, described by many of its champions as the ‘ideal’ of theatre‑as-public-service, transforming a theatre of commerce into a theatre of art. In it, the processes of production would be, to theatre‑makers but not necessarily to the audience, as important as a finished production.
Repertory is, of course, all these things at once, ‘even though it means one thing to one person, something quite different to another’. None of these elements alone is repertory and, therefore, it is important to perceive them as an ecosystem, not only as fragments. It is equally important to distinguish the purpose of repertory from the companies’ functional management because the two are not the same thing. Reading plays, balanced teamwork, casting, conducting rehearsals, budgeting and accounting, production management, stage management, producing, touring, education and outreach work, access, catering, spending, selling, box-office, fundraising, corporate sponsorship and development, supporters’ groups, enthusing and training staff, wage negotiations, working with boards of trustees and responding to criticism: all these are part of building-based theatre management today. From 1945, but more especially from the 1960s, organisation was also about making grant applications, appeasing arts councils and making friends with local authorities and other stakeholders, whilst attempting to influence their political agendas. Therefore, only by taking all these factors into consideration – the strategic, functional and pragmatic circumstances of ‘producing’ – is it possible for a theatre consultant to analyse and support the aspirations of companies today.
In the first British repertory theatres, a play was produced for a run of one, two or, exceptionally, three weeks. Many of the first repertory theatres performed twice-nightly, staging a new production each week. Such a company is essentially different to the touring theatre system, for most repertory theatres usually had, until the 1980s, a resident company of actors engaged for a season, often of eleven months’ duration from September each year. From the theatregoers’ perspective, a repertory theatre implied an established playhouse, where a spectator could go with the assurance of seeing a digest of good plays of the past and present, well acted and adequately staged. From the viewpoint of theatre-makers, a repertory theatre was a place where the arts of the theatre would be practised creatively. Further, such theatre-making would be free from the ambitions of business managers who, it was alleged by many repertorists, staged plays of whatever artistic merit in the hope of a financial profit. Repertory theatre would be liberated from the demands of the mass audience who supported music halls, variety, touring drama and, increasingly, the cinema. Further, the repertory pioneers sought to create institutions where the several contributing arts of the playwright, the actor and the designer were brought together in a union or synthesis. In the final results, they were stamped with a style, brilliance or quality of a director’s mind and imagination: this implied an aesthetic or artistic policy – now dubbed a ‘house style’ – and a lasting association of creative theatre-makers under the direction of artists and not business managers. Nevertheless, whatever their achievements, these were bound to be determined by the synthesis of staging and scripts with organisation and finance. In practice, this process – that was known as the repertory ‘ideal’ – was further characterised by youthful ambition and idealism: many of the foundation companies were led by people in their early-twenties.
This repertory ‘ideal’ emerged in the late nineteenth-century as a professional response to dissatisfactions with the profit-seeking theatre and, outwith London, the touring system. Repertory in the provinces arose as an expression of distaste on the part of the public with large numbers of forced-fed, pre-digested attractions that went on tour ‘Direct from the West End’. Although London was the stimulant to most professional theatrical activity in the provinces, too often its managers sent shoddy duplicate performances, with tatty scenery and lethargic production standards. Coupled with these productions, the managers used the provinces for ‘try-outs’ that were (and often still are) promoted as being ‘Prior to the West End’ and which were used as opportunities to observe the reaction of audiences, and then to whip the production into shape before London. These productions could be sub-standard and were, in effect, touring dress rehearsals, frequently having little hope of reaching London. Repertory was often regarded, therefore, as the creative ‘salvation’ of the British theatre. In 1913 the critic and novelist John (Leslie) Palmer (1885-1944), considered that:
Repertory is the only system whereby the theatre can be continuously kept in a healthy condition of experiment, discovery and honest work. It is the only salvation for the art of the player, for the conscience of the manager, for the encouragement of the dramatic author.
Even so, the cliché ‘there’s nothing new in this business’ has a ring of truth about it, because repertory theatre had a forerunner in the ‘stock’ company system. ‘Stock’ was a resident or permanent theatre company, from which nightly programmes were cast and which played a supporting role when star actors were engaged. These companies were functionally autonomous, each being a self-contained, self-sufficient, independent producing unit, connected to their communities through continuity of personnel and artists, but disconnected from stock companies in other cities. Most members of these companies, such as Samuel Butler’s troupe at the Georgian Theatre Royal, would sing and dance as well as act, and with some, their versatility extended to the playing of musical instruments and scene painting. The actors were hired, not for runs of a single play, but like repertory theatres, for the season, and often longer. They might lead, therefore, relatively settled lives, because a season could last between three and six months. Being local companies where actors dominated the business of the theatre, they developed a claim on local audience loyalty and affection: they were masters of ‘audience development’, as this quest is termed today. Between seasons the whole company ‘rested’, was unemployed and unpaid or, occasionally, went on tour. The stock companies’ created small provincial circuits, making it possible for theatre to thrive in towns, like Richmond in North Yorkshire, that would be unable to maintain a full-time company of their own, but which might welcome an annual residency of actors that audiences could regard, however intangibly, as their own ensemble or ‘brand’. Sometimes, their actors spent whole working lives in the same region. Unlike today, many actors neither hoped to work in London nor treated the provinces as a second-best sanctuary from London. Their managers kept an eye on developments in the London theatres whilst being in touch with the local audience. The stock company was an essential component of the standardised eighteenth‑ and nineteenth-century theatre, in which there was also ‘stock’ scenery – generic backdrops for chamber, hall and prison for instance, with wings to match – and more or less stock characters performing ‘lines of business’ in drama and comedy alike.
The independence and extensive geographical spread of the stock companies were two organisational characteristics that might be seen to prefigure the ethos and organisation of the repertory movement. Indeed, a leading idea of repertory is that the best theatre is not only a perquisite of big cities and towns; a person in small centres and even villages having an equal right to its enjoyment. Another characteristic of stock was the interaction between the management of the theatre itself and the stock company that occupied it. The theatre’s resident management either owned the theatre or leased it outright. In either case, it exercised complete control of both the theatre and the company and ran the two together. If the manager was the lessee, a fixed rent was paid to the owner for the exclusive use of the theatre, in the manner of the tenancy today. Unlike the operation of the provincial touring system, there was no question of a division either of the box-office receipts or of the expenditure, and therefore no conflict of authority. The theatre owner, when not the manager, leased the theatre to the stock company, generally for a season or longer and, thereafter, did not interfere with its policy and operation, other than to protect the building and collect the rent; at Edinburgh, for instance, the arrangement at The Theatre Royal when built in 1769 was that of combined proprietor and lessee, with manager David Ross raising the capital costs of the building by mortgage and then running his theatre and his stock company as a whole.
Later, the end of the stock system was brought about by the change from three- and four-part programmes of mixed-bills to one play a night, the rise of the actor-managers and, in the provinces, their national touring companies. With the development of the nationwide touring system, the two fundamental characteristics of stock – independence and the integration of producing with theatre management – were uprooted. Two competing and complementary strands of business replaced them: play producing and theatre ownership-management. This division between producer and building has been the cause of much trouble for modern repertory, although a reunification of the systems is now underway through co-productions and strategic partnerships, even though many arts administrators deem this reform as their new laid, creative ‘salvation’ for theatre organisation at the start of the twenty‑first century.
However, unlike many future repertory theatres, the stock companies were not concerned with experiment, discovery or the frequent production of new plays. During the early years of the touring system, the managers of provincial theatres continued to maintain stock companies that performed in the intervals between the visits of the tours, and which sometimes would continue to tour to adjacent, smaller towns while London tours were occupying their own theatres. Public support increasingly withdrew from local stock companies that offered decreasing variety in scenography. Also contributing to their demise, in the design of the auditorium, was the steady encroachment by stalls seats on pit space, the consequent movement of the noisier pit occupants to the cheaper gallery benches and, from the stage, the withdrawal to music halls and variety theatres of the vocal, musical, comic, and acrobatic acts that had performed interludes between the plays. In the new ‘divided’ theatre system, stock companies could not compete with the London touring productions, which performed from the mid-nineteenth century in the provincial circuits of large, new theatres that they could reach rapidly through the railway networks. These touring companies also took advantage of the accompanying development of popular national newspapers which reported in detail on the lives of actors and the reinforcement offered by high-circulating theatre advertising. Further, mass-theatregoing in the big industrial cities was facilitated by new systems of urban transport and the growth of street lighting that made it safer to go out at night and for larger numbers of people to travel to the theatre cheaply and conveniently. Gradually, the stock companies faded. Their demise accompanied the theatre’s entry to the modern, industrialised world. In many aspects of their organisation and decline, such as through changing leisure habits, they cast light on the challenge facing building-based theatres at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
The sea-change from stock to touring was effected, most of all, by the actor-managers who, in complicity with theatregoers, sponsored and encouraged the rise of the star system with its big salaries. Most actor-managers were not, of course, obsessed with financial returns only. Although they chose and financed their plays, most were genuinely motivated by the art of acting and many liked to tour the provinces. The problem was that they could be tempted to make their roles greater than the whole experience of the production and to select plays as opportunities for their individual prominence, in preference to a play’s dramatic merit and content. Moreover, the subject matter of their plays was compressed and receded by the audience perception of an individual star. It followed that audience recognition of actors-as-great-people might not transgress their appreciation of the art of acting but the public went to the theatre in order to revere the charisma and prestige of their idol, in preference to discussing and understanding a play. Merely advertising an actor as a star on the posters often led audiences to accept the actor as such. Thus, with star after star offered in top billing larger than the play title, the public might easily regard any play as inferior that did not include a star in the production. Inside the companies, the result was that the actor-managers, bucked up by the audience support of their publicly exaggerated status, would sidetrack other theatre talents – playwrights as well as other actors. In turn, however gifted these other theatre people were, they might be inclined to feel inadequate unless they were the star. In this paternalist structure, it was not good for a supporting actor to shine too brightly. In passing, it is notable that the main features of this touring-star system, that is an extension of the London theatre, have continued to the present day, despite being, from the 1920s, undermined by the cinema: where it was possible to see galaxies of even better known stars in films that could be exhibited at a much lower ticket price. Indeed, audience reaction in the touring houses is still often more concerned with the presentation than with the play itself. In their preference for building-based theatres, many critics do exactly the same thing, although this is the reaction of the connoisseur, the initiated and, perhaps, a root of perceptions of ‘elitism’ in the theatre.
In part, the purpose of repertory was therefore a desire to encourage audiences to respond intellectually and emotionally to plays with a feeling for the whole production. However, most companies have always faced considerable obstacles from the star system as well as competition from those touring houses that promote the antithetical philosophy. There was, frequently and understandably, mistrust and competition between repertories and touring – between ‘originating’ theatres and ‘receiving’ theatres – sometimes polarised by repertorists and critics as a tension between elitism and populism. One of the significant features of the serious repertory theatres has been their response to competition: often a passionate rejection of popular mass audience forms, the star system and ‘the market’. They have always shown a determination to fix their own objectives, principles and standards, in some companies to experiment deliberately with new modes of expression and organisation whilst attempting to convert, attract or ‘develop’ a ‘new’ and ‘intelligent’ audience. Even so, the public has often remained unwilling to attend plays without foreknowledge or to watch actors unless they are celebrities.
In some respects, therefore, because of the high artistic ideals of repertory, pre-1900 stock might not be such a substantive counterpart, except in its organisation and structure. But alongside its creative ambitions, repertory was often associated with derision or pity for ‘ham’ acting by the ‘rep player’, performing domestic comedies and thrillers in a ‘fit-up’ company with ‘three raps and a blackout’. The word ‘amateur’ was often applied to early repertory theatres, used sometimes as a derogatory term, associated wrongfully with a lack of seriousness. Nevertheless, many amateurs were torchbearers of theatre idealism, founding ‘Little Theatres’, that sometimes influenced the professional companies in their choice of plays or functioned as training grounds for actors and other personnel. Many of these amateur groups, or societies, used the word repertory to describe their activities, although critics often complained that they had no right to use the title. Because of these associations – the professionals’ frequent disdain for volunteers and the need to distinguish the movement from ‘stock’ – the term repertory has often been an uncomfortable description for its promoters and critics, as the critic Frank Vernon wrote in 1924:
It is no doubt a misnomer, but some word must be used to indicate the difference between those stock companies, which regularly produced new plays in addition to reviving old ones, and the ordinary stock company that uses old plays only. There was a difference, too, in the kind of play, and the word ‘repertory’ has established itself as the name of the permanent local theatre with a permanent company reviving good plays and producing new plays with a little more regard for their artistic values than for their immediate drawing power.
Nevertheless, some distinguishing title was necessary to promote the notion of resident artists playing in several productions for a long season rather than in a long run. Recycling the term ‘stock’ would have been redolent of an old-fashioned, routine professionalism with visiting stars to top the bill, although, interestingly, this has been retained in many summer repertory theatres in the United States of America. Repertory aimed higher than British stock, for as Vernon noted, it is commonly understood that a ‘genuine’ repertory theatre is one where a certain number of plays are always ready for presentation, so that as many as five or six may be given in the course of one week, and which is frequently adding new plays to its repertoire.
A great advantage of rotating productions from night to night (and sometimes from matinee to evening if the stage was large enough to accommodate multiple sets) would be the protection given actors from the lethargy of performing the same lines repeatedly. Thus, the practice of casting one play several times over and switching actors off from night to night would intensify the spontaneity of performances and, further, stimulate versatility, in contrast to the long run which was often damned as deleterious for the development of actor training. Repertoire, which in the British system adopted the epithet of ‘true’ repertory, would also keep new plays alive for longer periods than the straight run, where plays were often forgotten forever against the chance of another company reviving them in the future, hopefully ‘kindling the smoking flax of dramatic genius into a national conflagration’. It is, of course, the case that opera and ballet companies had been performing in repertoire from the eighteenth-century and many continental European drama theatres carried this system successfully. However, in the London free market, the stage societies were to prove that no theatre could maintain such a pattern. In 1910, the critic, actor, dramatist and director Harley Granville Barker (1877-1946) offered a repertory creed, based upon German theatres’ repertoire practice:
A repertory theatre is not an institution for producing plays successfully and removing them from the bill as soon as the public manifests a wish to see them. Nor is it a theatre for producing plays foredoomed to failure, though some do maintain there is evidence in support of this definition. Repertory is not the production of one play a week or fortnight or a month. It is not the putting on of the ‘new’ drama; or the ‘uncommercial’, or ‘intellectual’ or even the ‘serious’ play. Nor has it anything particular to do with Socialism. It is not necessarily a philanthropic enterprise nor is it the idea of the lunatic.
Strictly speaking in practice, and as suggested by his inverted exposition, the repertory movement in Britain was incapable of precise definition. As Granville Barker noted, a bona fide repertory theatre is one with a more or less resident company of actors and several productions always in readiness so that a different one can be presented each night if necessary. He went on to compare ‘true’ repertory with a library:
It is the putting of plays in a theatre as books are put in a well-stocked library. A book must be upon the shelves that one man may take it down. Plays are hardly as portable as that. But a theatre so organised that, having produced a play and justified its production, it can keep the play reasonably ready for use while it is likely that five or six hundred people at a time will want to see it, is a repertory theatre.
It might be argued that this concept of permanence, especially to the extent of repertory having a home in its own theatre, had been attempted in London by the actress Marie Wilton (1839-1917), who leased a worn-out playhouse north of theatre-land in Tottenham Court Road and, with a clear sense of its importance, renamed it the Prince of Wales Theatre. Between 1865 and 1872, she ran a resident acting company of even talent, where no actor was permitted star rank. This model was developed by Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905), who managed to run a classical repertoire company for 25 years at the Lyceum Theatre. Irving was, unlike many leaders in subsidised theatre today, a manager who regarded himself as both an artist and business person, feeling no need to distinguish between the artistic, commercial and social mission of his company. In his biography of Irving, the author and theatrical manager Austin Brereton (1862-1922) submitted that:
Irving made the Lyceum Theatre a national institution, not by vote granted by Act of Parliament, but by the consensus of opinion amongst those take most interest in our acted drama. The Lyceum, under his management, was a national theatre.
However, because Irving’s repertoire also included popular melodrama, it could be argued that his theatre was also pure recreation.
Meanwhile, a veritable national theatre – the Comédie Française – founded in 1680 by royal decree – toured to London in 1879. Upon seeing its productions, the eminent essayist and theatre enthusiast Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), who was concerned to moderate the artless materialism of the industrial revolution, argued that the theatre was, possibly, the most forcible instrument for the cultural education of the masses. He argued that if the theatre could be reformed and organised, this would enthuse his many mistrusting supporters to re-examine their anti-theatrical prejudice. What had been achieved in France could be achieved in Britain, but not in the profit-seeking theatre. In his 1891 essay comparing English with French theatre, Arnold foresaw the establishment of an authentic National Theatre in London, but he also expected it to be part of a publicly financed, integrated civic theatre stratagem for the whole nation:
I see the whole community turning to the theatre with eagerness, and finding the English theatre without organisation or purpose or dignity, and no English drama at all except a fantastical one. And then I see the French Company [The Comédie Française] showing themselves in London [at the Gaiety Theatre] – a society of actors admirable in organisation, purpose and dignity….the performances show us plainly not only what is gained by organising the theatre but what is meant by organising it: simple and rational. We have a society of good actors, with a grant from the State on condition of their giving with frequency the famous and classic stage plays of their nation; and with it a commissioner of the State attached to the society and taking part in council with it. But the Society is to all intents and purposes self-governing…. The pleasure we had in the visit of the French company is barren unless it leaves us with the impulse to mend the condition our theatre…. Forget your clap-trap, and believe the State, the nation in its collective and corporate character, does well to concern itself about an influence so important to national life, education and manners as the theatre…. The people will have a theatre; then make it a good one. Let your two or three chief provincial towns institute, with municipal subsidy and co-operation, theatres such as your institute in the metropolis. So you will restore the English theatre. And then a modern drama of your own will also, probably, spring up amongst you, and you will not have to come to us for pieces like Pink Dominoes… And still now that the French Company are gone, when I pass along the Strand and come across the Gaiety Theatre, I see a fugitive vision of delicate features under a shower of hair and a cloud of lace, and hear the voice of Mdlle Sarah Bernhardt saying in its most caressing tones to the Londoners: ‘The theatre is irresistible; organize the theatre!’
Being a public figure outwith the flawed London theatre world, Arnold’s ideas were discussed by an expanded audience, reached by the contemporary growth of popular journalism and reputable criticism. His final, commanding plea led to decades of debate about theatre as a cultural institution, as well as becoming a famous, but truncated, quotation. Plans to shake up the commercial theatre system gathered momentum from his essay. The Paris model, particularly with its structure and state subsidy, was nowhere entirely demonstrated in any one London theatre; even when Irving staged several plays from the classical heritage at the Lyceum, he operated the star system and he was the star.
Critics such as Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) protested that Irving did nothing to advance new plays because his priorities were stardom and management. Repertory was, from Irving’s practice, not a new development in the history of the theatre but another means whereby he might show his versatility in a number of star roles during one week. Shaw was, perhaps, overly churlish. Irving’s company toured the provinces and abroad, especially after his Lyceum Theatre operation went bankrupt in 1902. During these tours he campaigned for the spirit of repertory, which he systematically argued in several intricate speeches on the arts in general and municipal theatres in particular. These claimed that the theatre need not be part of a commercial production industry, but could be run by artistic and social dictates, financed by local authority subsidies (as was already the case with pleasure grounds, art galleries, libraries, museums, some provincial orchestras and general purpose city halls) and could perform to intelligent, cultivated theatregoers. Most people had relatively little to say about the philosophy of theatre but Irving, like Arnold, did. Most especially, after he was knighted in 1895, an honour he accepted on behalf of the art of the theatre, he became the first actor to infiltrate the Establishment of his era. He was able, through this new respectability, to argue forcefully for a revolution in theatre, to be raised from mere entertainment because, like other cultural institutions, it had roots in the social environment and hence could be a means of social and educational activism.
Although there were touring repertory companies other than Irving’s precursor, these have been described as ‘examples of what repertory nearly is and characteristically is not’. A touring repertory company, like the profit-seeking touring system, would be disconnected from a particular community. However, it might share the characteristics of ensemble with a resident company and therefore offer a high quality of acting. The advantages of ensemble acting – like the hyped up ‘new ways of working’ instigated in the ‘permanent company’ at the Northern Stage Company of Newcastle upon Tyne in the 1990s – were a goal of most early repertory theatres and were described by the playwright Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929) as unquestionable, because:
By constantly playing together, actors learn to give and take, and to help each other. Half the effect of any single performance in any play is due to the fit and nice responses the actor gets from his brother actors. Constant association enables actors to play up to each other. In a repertory company the actors learn each other’s play, and it is each member’s interest to serve his fellow in certain situations, in order that he himself may be served in other situations. And further, it is to each member’s interest that the organisation should score as a whole. When an actor is only occasionally engaged for the run of play he is naturally tempted to force his part into unfair prominence, and to play for himself, seeing that unless he manages somehow to score in this one part it may be long before he gets another engagement. It is from these considerations that repertory companies always seem to attain a very high level. Each individual actor gets infinitely more and better chances of showing what he can do.
Since Henry Arthur Jones’ statement, the debate about ensemble has ebbed and flowed through a century of the repertory movement. In theory, the principle holds well, and is essential when productions are performed in repertoire, as at Pitlochry Festival Theatre today, so that they can be easily revived in practice, with original casts. To give big parts to guest actors would hinder the progress, in technique and range, of rising members of an ensemble, as well as demoralise them and tend to cause theatregoers to rate the permanent actors less highly than guest actors. However, these suppositions of ensemble do not always hold good in practice and several things are likely to interfere with its easy working. It was argued that theatregoers’ familiarity with actors could breed contempt: ensemble might just as easily lack quality or surprise. In the London system of long runs an actor seldom appeared as more than two characters annually, but a company member in a provincial repertory theatre might appear in 30 to 40 roles in one season. In these circumstances, even if actors were never more important than their roles, the audiences would not long continue to regard them as characters in a play, but would regard the actors as personalities in a production and, as in the actor-manager system, often that same person throughout the season. With only one, or at best two weeks’ rehearsal, there would be little time to develop new characterisation, and the theatregoer would become disillusioned with broad-stroke characterisations. Such over-familiarity, where the actors were ‘type-cast’, ‘behaving’ rather than ‘acting’, was an argument for actors not remaining in any a single repertory theatre for more than a year or two. Even so, the term and purpose of repertory arose, largely, to denote this feature of an ensemble, with actors working together for long periods. The acting ‘company’ would be the organised public face of the theatre. Indeed, it is notable that the word is still used today to denote ensemble or distinguish a producing theatre, as opposed to the more widespread meaning of a formal business association.
Concepts of ensemble also comprised other elements within the company, including democracy. Because everyone – actors, designers, stage managers, technicians, publicists, office staff, front of house attendants and cleaners – was part of a ‘company’, it was presumed that everyone was interested in, or even obsessed with, ‘the company’. The dedication of every person employed had to be encouraged to extend beyond the respective duty of each staff member, often for an entire career in one theatre. Until the onset of numerous administrative staff in many subsidised theatres, this was a workable aspiration providing the staff remained responsive to the theatre’s objectives and were long-standing supporters of its familial values. Thus, even without an exclusively resident acting company, this broader application of ensemble could permeate the rest of the institution – including the board of volunteer directors. Frequently, however, pressures from external modes of management led many theatres to compartmentalise their hierarchies. Later, low wages and the ensuing gravitation of staffs to better paid jobs in the arts funding system or other cultural industries, led to a decomposition of ensemble off stage, with repertory seeming to be an effort-wasting theatre career for young people today. The spirit of camaraderie deteriorated over a number of years so that by the 1980s, when the employment of short-serving and higher paid administrators in a company often outnumbered the artists and production staffs, the spirit of equal, devoted and excited contribution became a disappearing act, with employees disinclined to revere their leadership.
For management matters, this private face of repertory-as-ensemble amounted to a shift from the pattern of nineteenth-century actor-manager as proprietor of a business, towards a non-profit organisation established and governed by citizen shareholders. The stress between the private organisational forces of the theatre and the public art of the theatre is significant. It had, as observed, been exacerbated in the provinces by the new touring system. However, in view of the prominence of the economic influences in all theatre, it follows that the non-profit repertory movement, even with professional expertise and ideological values, could never escape being commercial. It had to sell tickets. The strength or weakness of a profit incentive does not challenge the fact that the theatre is always commercial, because there are always costs involved in the production of a play or the operation of a theatre. These costs must be met. The business aspects of repertory are not accessories to the creation of theatre. The dominance of an artistic motivation in the repertory movement does not alter this speculative and uncertain characteristic, despite the arrival of public subsidy from 1945. It merely shifts the incidence of the financial burden within the general influences of supply and demand. In all theatre what can be presented is dependent on what the public is prepared to see. The new artistic aspirations of repertory could never free the organisations from this concern: the short lifespan of many of the early companies, and the difficulties of maintaining acting ensembles, underscores this fact. Nor did the general attitude of the repertory pioneers imply a conviction that the system of the profit-seeking touring theatre had to be destroyed. Yet many people in repertory, particularly when state subsidy surged in the 1960s, regarded the profit-seeking theatre as calculating because London producers chose plays only by criteria of whether they thought they could make money, rather than because they were artistic, bore some relation to contemporary culture or, especially, because they served some reform purpose.
Although new working methods may have been different in aspiration they were, in practice, complementary and the two systems have always worked side by side. They often had to collaborate, as when a repertory company went on tour through the commercial circuits or when, before it owned or leased its own theatre, it rented a touring house in its home city on a short and insecure play‑by‑play or seasonal basis. There are many examples of profit-seeking theatres and non-profit repertories working arm in arm: it has been incumbent on most repertory theatres to extract the best from the commercial theatre, to avoid artistic iconoclasm as much as blatant commercialism, and to strive for artistic goals while keeping a wary eye on the box-office. It is in this interface of the two systems that definitions of repertory always require qualification because distinctions between art and commerce are always blurred. Thus it is that repertory theatres were destined, despite their ambitions for permanence, to be as precarious and insecure as the preceding and accompanying system of profit-seeking theatre.
Of course, most commercial managers cared about theatrical art, and most repertory companies have always cared about making money, even in the 1960s when new subsidy served a prevailing doctrine of the ‘right to fail’ in many subsidised theatres. Naturally enough, actor-managers worried about their artistic reputations and many were positively committed to their art. Nevertheless, the business aspects of the commercial and touring system were dominated by publicity, advertising, hectic and long, possibly nine-month itineraries of one week visits, the bolstering of the star system and, after the actor-managers, the power of the business managers, such as Sir Oswald Stoll (1866-1942), Richard Thornton (1839-1922) and Sir Edward Moss (1854-1937). These potentates were focused on commercial success, which in their work militated against artistic seriousness more had been the case with the preceding actor-managers. To these London managers, performers may have been ‘commodities’ to be exploited for commercial ends but, in a pre-subsidy era, their theatres reverberated with an enviable entrepreneurial vigour and flair and they did so through the box-office, not through government grants and the grip of cultural administration. The London managers, with their stars, local theatre manager-representatives and circuits, were intimately in touch with a wide social range of theatregoers through the common touch of unmediated management techniques. They proved remarkably resilient through good times and bad but, for repertory, they represented a vigorous, businesslike system to react against.
Repertory prototypes: the stage societies
Latterly, critics and the organisers of subsidised drama have often regarded repertory theatres as better theatres than the London ones – wherein new working methods were possible – whereas, at first, the instigators merely regarded them as different theatres:
We admit that the stage owes much, in many ways to the actor-manager and the long run. Both of these institutions have their merits…. What is harmful is the commercial theatre’s present predominance over the whole field of theatrical enterprise. In the interests both of authorship and of acting, repertory theatres ought to co-exist with the actor-managed, long run theatres.
Undoubtedly, an economic motive can be assigned to the long run and touring systems, just as the emergence of the repertory movement found credence in artistic impulse. The critic P.P. (Percival Presland) Howe, after recapitulating a definition of repertory, described the disjunction of the repertory system as:
The idea of a theatre which shall make itself the home of a number of plays, providing for each the environment which shall enable it to retain its freshness and be always at its best, as an alternative to the system of devoting itself to one play after another and giving each the longest possible run that is consistent with popular support – this idea has brought the two forces in the theatre to a point of cleavage which is sharp and distinct. That is the significance of the repertory idea.
Howe’s well-aimed statement is still admissible but it could also summarise the policy of a succession of significant but intermittent London repertory experiments. These were organised by progressive managers from 1871, when John Hollingshead (1827-1904), playwright, journalist and manager of the Gaiety Theatre, presented ‘Experimental and Miscellaneous Morning Performances’ staged ‘to invite trials of actors, actresses, authors, and pieces, without much regard for the old restrictive practices of management’. In 1881 Edward Compton (1854-1918) established the Comedy Company, specialising in eighteenth-century plays and, in 1883, Frank Benson (1858-1939) established his first Shakespeare company. In 1886 Ben Greet (1858-1936) ran a season of outdoor productions and, in 1889, the actress-manager of the Novelty Theatre, Janet Achurch (1864-1916), staged matinees of serious plays from the profits of evening performances of long runs. More experiments followed when the manager of the Haymarket Theatre, Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1854-1917), interspersed long runs with ‘plays that were generally above the average playgoer’s intelligence’. Although Tree was aware of European national theatres, such as the Comédie-Française, he shared the opinion of many actor-managers that their performances were over-institutionalised and dull, and that, unlike most commentators today, state subsidy was wrong for the theatre:
A manager is, alas, bound to keep one eye on his exchequer, and the exchequer demands that a successful play runs its course. It sometimes happens that, in his attempt to evade the quicksands of the Bankruptcy Court, the manager perishes in the stagnant waters of commercialism. It is obvious that a manager should be freed from these sordid considerations and I believe that in almost every country but England the theatres are state-subventioned. It is an open question, however, in a country in which individualism in all departments is looked upon askance – whether a national or subsidised theatre would be for the ultimate benefit of the community. Other countries do not tend to show that the State-subsidised theatres are in touch with the age.
A more full-hearted experiment before 1900 was that pioneered by the Dutch manager-critic J. T. (Jacob Thomas) Grein (1863-1935), whose Independent Theatre ran Sunday and Monday matinees of twenty-eight productions from 1891 to 1898, presenting more foreign plays than English: and a repertoire that included Ghosts and The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). In 1892 it introduced Bernard Shaw as a playwright, with the premiere of Widower’s Houses. Two years later, Arms and the Man (Bernard Shaw, 1894) was presented at the Avenue Theatre in a production financed by Annie (Elizabeth Frederika) Horniman (1860-1937) who became a key figure in the development of the repertory movement. These first steps in repertory confirm their assertion of the pioneers’ independence from the constrictions of the London West End establishment.
At this time, the West End was in thrall to the import of American plays and musical comedies more than to new British plays. This was a matter of marketing rather than quality, for plays that had reaped box-office success in New York were attractive to London managers. Even so, The Independent Theatre was not entirely a British product: Grein also had detailed knowledge of similar currents in continental theatres. From an administrative standpoint, it was created as a joint‑stock limited company with a group of directors drawn from the society membership. They participated with shared interests even though their background was outside the theatre, ‘preferring legal responsibility for the funds entrusted to them to the old system of moral responsibility only, the discharge of which left them heavily out of pocket.’ But although the directors’ services were ‘voluntary’ to the extent they earned no fees or dividends from their shares, this company did not, formally, adopt the legal personality already obtainable by incorporation as a non-profit distributing organisation. Formally the Companies Act 1862 had conceived the non-profit company apparatus, with its notion of a ‘disinterested’ and unremunerated board of directors. But no stage society or repertory theatre used this altruistic structure until 1926; the form being associated with more manifest social causes such as philanthropy for the relief of poverty, or the advancement of self-helping education and religious organisations in which the state had been reluctant to intervene. Additionally, because The Independent Theatre continued parallel constitution as a club it was, like other stage societies, exempt from the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship and some other licensing regulations, helping to make its choice of plays more enterprising.
Another important landmark for new ideas was the organisation of the Incorporated Stage Society in London in 1899. The Society, which included in its membership both amateurs and professionals, also gave performances on Sunday nights and occasional matinees and continued into the 1930s. It staged Shaw’s early plays and introduced many foreign playwrights to London, such as Gerhardt Hauptmann (1862-1946), Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), L. N. Tolstoi (1828-1910), Georg Kaiser (1878-1945) and Frank Wedekind (1864-1918). However, the most influential experiment was that of Harley Granville Barker and John Eugene Vedrenne (1867-1930) at the intimate 614-seat Court Theatre from 1904 to 1907. Then, as now at the Royal Court Theatre, this tightly focused auditorium was the single most successful playhouse for original drama. In three years, eleven plays by Shaw were presented, six for the first time. Although Shaw dominated the Court seasons, the Court also introduced plays by John Galsworthy (1867-1933) and John Masefield (1878-1967), as well as enabling Granville Barker to stage The Voysey Inheritance (1905). The enterprise was repeated at the Savoy Theatre in 1908, although the results were less successful because of the difficulties of filling its larger 1,100 seating capacity. The Court was another model for future repertory theatres, as well as for a national theatre, for it nurtured new plays without subjecting them to the raw criteria of market forces. In passing, the organisational difference between repertory and a national theatre was that whereas repertory was locally financed but privately controlled, a national theatre would be financed by the state, though not in Britain run directly by the government. Both were imbued with doctrines of national significance and public service.
The stage societies were influenced by the ‘art theatres’ in continental Europe, but in practice they could not afford to resemble their organisation, even though they aspired to emulate their ideologies and spirit. Within the British context, it was the stage societies that first employed a ‘director’ to orchestrate a concept into a mosaic of all stage functions. Directors impressed their personal interpretation on a play. These new gurus were generally considered not to be originating artists but were nevertheless masters of interpreting their material. They were known successively as stage managers, artist-directors, resident producers, staff directors, directors of productions, artistic directors and even, in the 2000s, chief executives. They became the technocracy of the repertory movement. The stage societies brought them to power as the new managers of theatre companies. For repertory, they were important for making the playwright more prominent than before, although despite their importance, dramatists have – after Granville Barker, W. B. Yeats of the Abbey Theatre, the founders of the Ulster Literary Theatre and James Bridie (1888-1951) of the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow – rarely run a theatre. Indeed, Sir Alan Ayckbourn (1939- ) of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (that he has led since 1970, retiring in 2009) and John Godber (1953- ) of the Hull Truck Theatre (since 1984) are the exceptions that prove the rule today.
The successful project of the Stage Society at the Court Theatre was followed by Charles Frohman’s (1860-1915) seminal seventeen-week repertory season at the 1,100-seat Duke of York’s Theatre in 1910. Granville Barker directed many of the productions and was, effectively, the artistic director. This was the first British experiment in ‘true’ repertory since the era of stock: by the third week, for instance, four separate productions were given in rotation. Unlike the Court Theatre, it made a heavy loss, perhaps because of the expense of repertoire, compounded by the strain of technically limited backstage conditions for quick turnarounds of settings. Moreover, theatregoers were unacquainted with the nightly, juggling changes of repertoire and a wide-ranging – and therefore confusing – choice of plays. The management was criticised for ‘lacking a single mind quite clearly made up as to what public it was going to serve, and at what it was aiming’. Doubtless, the venture did not employ today’s scientific niche marketing techniques. Nevertheless, it did have popular successes, including the opening production of the premiere of John Galsworthy’s Justice – that was rescheduled throughout the season for a total of 26 performances and quickly given subsequent productions in provincial companies – and a revival of Arthur Wing Pinero’s Court Theatre success, Trelawney of the‘Wells’ (1898). This was given for all it was worth in order to recoup the losses on other productions, with 42 performances. The season offered inspiration and caution to other repertory pioneers, highlighting, in particular, the need for lasting subsidy with the protection and stability that might offer to develop identity and theatregoer loyalty, something which could not be achieved in only four months. Furthermore, through the practice of combining the repertory ideal with the benevolence of an astute West End commercial manager, it was also a precursor of subsidised theatres’ exploiting their most popular productions by transfer to the West End, today. Being preoccupied with experiment, something generally impossible in the commercial theatre of this time, these London stage societies, and particularly the Frohman repertoire gambit, often produced plays that the public were not likely to want. In contrast, the repertory ideal had, seriatim, to offer a balance of popularity and experiment.
- This paper has explained the emergence of the repertory ‘ideal’ as a desire for ensemble acting in short runs of high quality plays, whether classical or new, to be staged by locally owned and managed theatre institutions, thereby fuelling a renaissance of theatre-making in the provinces. The notion of repertory was, partly, a reaction against the London West End theatre system with its long runs and accompanying provincial touring. In its practical application, the new system was the counterpart to provincial stock companies that had occupied a theatre for a whole season or longer and which often scheduled their productions in repertoire.
- The first manifestation of building-based producing theatre was in the London stage societies. In their independence, transience and preference for new plays, these societies might also be seen as the forerunners of the London ‘fringe’ and, in Scotland, club theatres such as the Traverse and Pool theatres, Edinburgh and the Close Theatre, Glasgow. They also influenced, but did not destroy, the commercial theatre, by offering opportunities for theatregoers to appreciate the merits of plays through attention to detail, good casting and teamwork, rather than through the talents of a leading performer or star who might prejudice the playwright’s material. The societies also interested theatregoers in the other theatre arts of costume and scenic design and, in time, provided the London and foreign commercial theatre with new plays and playwrights. For instance, plays by Bernard Shaw, first staged by the Incorporated Stage Society, the Court Theatre and at the Duke of York’s Theatre, were subsequently revived throughout the English-speaking world.
- For business matters, the stage societies represent the beginnings of subsidised theatre, with their small endowments from patrons, such as Annie Horniman. Particularly at the Court Theatre, the societies showed a preference for seasons of short-runs, scheduled for a fixed term of one, two, and three or four weeks – or for ‘rehearsed readings’ in single performances. A production was taken off at the end to be followed by another, however successful it might have been. In this system, the societies therefore denied themselves the possibility of a profit but they gave themselves, and their small audiences, variety in new methods of production.
- In their distinctive artistic policies, but not yet in governance practices such as the adoption of a non-profit company limited by guarantee, the stage societies offered the provinces a repertory theatre prototype. Indeed, many of the directors, actors and writers from the Court Theatre and Duke of York’s repertoire seasons worked in the first repertory theatres. Many of the stage societies’ new plays were given subsequent productions in the regions.
- An examination of the history of management practices in the stage societies offers perspectives for the evaluation and benchmarking of building-based producing theatre today.
- An understanding of the retrospective strategic, functional and pragmatic circumstances of ‘producing’ assists in supporting the aspirations of theatre companies today.
 William Archer, The Old Drama and the New, London, William Heinemann, 1923, p.369.
 Joel Trapido, (ed.), An International Dictionary of Theatre Language, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1985, p.719.
 Allardyce Nicoll, English Drama 1900-1930, The Beginnings of the Modern Period, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1973, p.56. Nicoll says that some influential companies ‘deliberately refused to apply the term to [their] company; some enthusiasts preferred to speak of ‘Endowed Theatre’, or ‘Artistic Theatre’, or ‘Organised Theatre’, noting that the difficulty of treating repertory as an independent unit, because ‘their activities cannot fully be appreciated without considering the associated work of scores upon scores of dramatic and theatrical societies established’ during this period.
 This concept of artistic synthesis is debated in Harley Granville Barker, The Exemplary Theatre, London, Chatto and Windus, 1922, pp. 59-63.
 The ‘try-out’ system, in particular, gave the provinces an inferior deal to post-London tours and, for a regional city and its theatre, premiering productions was not the measure of artistic kudos or programming originality that it is today. Prodigious lists of new plays premiered on tour in the provinces were listed periodically in Clement Scott, (ed.), The Theatre, A Monthly Review of the Drama, Music and the Fine Arts, London, Strand Publishing, from January 1888, [fourth series – extensive, variant citations in Lowe, Arnott and Robinson, English Theatrical Literature, London, Society for Theatre Research, 1979, p.410, entry 4240]. For instance, in the two weeks to 2 July 1888, [issue of 1 August, 1888, p.112] there were six ‘world-premieres’ opening, respectively, at the Theatres Royal Newcastle, Dewsbury, Preston and Brighton, the Comedy Theatre Manchester and the Prince’s Theatre Bradford, described successively as ‘original comedietta’, ‘romantic comic opera’, ‘farcical comedy’, ‘new musical absurdity’, ‘revised drama’ and, more frenziedly, ‘newly revised but original modern domestic drama’. In the winter months, when more touring was undertaken, there were often twenty ‘try-out’ provincial premieres in a month. None of the titles from this sample is mentioned in corresponding or later lists of London-seasons of notable productions or revivals. In addition to using the ‘try-out’ to make radical changes, the problem of finding a London theatre was a factor in the profusion of ‘try-outs’, for a manager often had to orbit the provinces until the London theatre with whom he had negotiated was ready to receive the play, at the unforeseeable termination of a preceding production’s long run: often this would not be known until a few days beforehand. Managers probably over-emphasised the value of these hurriedly altered productions, for the reaction of an audience, even in a big city such as Glasgow or Manchester, would have been a misleading barometer of the response of a London audience, just as the responsiveness of a London audience would not always accurately indicate the reception a production would receive when toured to the provinces after London. The ‘try-out’ system was more disdainful to the provinces than post-London tours and was, undeniably, an influencing factor on the start of repertory.
 John Palmer, ‘The Future of Repertory’, in The Future of the Theatre, London, G. Bell & Sons, 1912, Chapter VI, pp. 74-91, p.75.
 The vintage description of stock companies’ management is Tate Wilkinson, The Wandering Patentee; or, A History of the Yorkshire Theatres, from 1770 to the Present Time, York, For the author, 1795, Four Vols. For discussion of Wilkinson’s business affairs, artistic policies and further description of how the stock system worked, see Charles Beecher Hogan, ‘One of God Almighty’s Unaccountables: Tate Wilkinson of York’, in Joseph W. Donohue, Jr., The Theatrical Manager in England and America: Player of a Perilous Game, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1971, pp. 63-86.
 James C. Dibdin, Annals of the Edinburgh Stage, Edinburgh, Richard Cameron, 1888, pp.151-153.
 Kate Dunn in her gossipy, anecdotal Exit Through The Fireplace: The Great Days of Rep, London, John Murray, 1998, has chronicled the lighter and hysterical side of the repertory movement. Although entertaining, it contains, unhappily, innumerable errors and is prone to uncritical reportage and the notorious tendency of theatre people telling a good story by spicing up a routine or ordinary event. Richard A. Jerrams’, Weekly Rep: A Theatrical Phenomenon, Droitwich, Peter Andrew Publishing Company, 1991, is, like Dunn, a haphazard history of the commercial centres of repertory and which, in this book, observes fourteen companies, including the Wilson Barrett company at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, from 1940 to 1955 and Perth Theatre from 1935 to 1936. Exceptionally, these hand-to-mouth daily repertory company customs may be better observed in a novel set in Liverpool Playhouse in 1950: Beryl Bainbridge, An Awfully Big Adventure, London, Duckworth, 1989. This novel builds upon uninvented work as an assistant stage manager in this company, recalled in her ‘First Night in the Theatre’, Ronald Harwood, (ed.), A Night at the Theatre, London, Methuen, 1982, pp. 15-20. For unexpected plain truth about repertory practice, see or read the hilariously effective farce by Michael Frayn, Noises Off (1982), about a repertory company rehearsing a farce, Nothing On. For discussion of the allied phenomenon of seaside repertory, see Peter Hepple, ‘Summer Rep’, Theatrephile. Popular Theatre Research, London, D.F. Cheshire and Sean McCarthy, 1984, Vol. 1. No.3, pp. 44-46.
The era of ‘fit-up’ companies from the late nineteenth-century should also be noted as a legitimate category of repertory theatre. Scores of these companies toured until after the Second World War, including the Lauderdale Repertory Company (1892-1935), The Charles Edwards Players (1910-1935) and, in Scotland, one of the last, The Kinloch Players (1939-1963), that performed throughout Grampian, Fife and Ayrshire on a circuit that makes today’s honourable, subsidised ‘access’ and ‘outreach’ efforts appear decidedly languid. These companies may have been in a class by themselves, but gave vintage training for actors’ progression to weekly rep. They usually toured a repertoire of seven distinct productions, performing one-week stands with no subsidy. They were often family based, had their origins in the strolling players of medieval times and the fairground booths of the eighteenth-century that saw the start of Victorian ‘portable theatres’. Fit-up theatre may be the lowest order of twentieth-century repertory, but as the novelist Berta Ruck wrote to the Earl Armstrong Repertory Company in 1945:
It is astonishing how versatile you all are and yet the work in each play seems as finished as that of a CEMA company who were here lately and giving the same play!
Her praise of ‘fit-up’, together with a fuller analysis of its accomplishments and shortcomings, is given in a belated account by Fern Bevan, Twentieth Century Fit-Up Theatre: An Oral and Documentary History, Droitwich, Peter Andrew Publishing, 1999. For an actress’s observation of management in makeshift travelling repertory – including old-style but successful audience development accomplishments in Aberdeenshire in the 1940s – see Lorna M. Pobjoy, Over The Footlights and Far Away. A Farewell to the ‘Fit-ups’, London, Tiptol, 1998, pp. 23-28.
 Sometimes, smaller professional repertory companies used the term ‘Little Theatre’, as at The Little Theatre, Bristol, founded in 1923. Although terminology is a difficulty in any description of the repertory movement, of more consequence is the notorious tendency for many theatre professionals to regard amateur theatre as déclassé, distinguishing between the repertory and amateur movements as a barrier between good and bad. Nevertheless, amateur theatres constitute the largest group of theatre organisations in Britain. Non-professional drama goes back to the beginnings of theatre, when amateur artists performed the Mystery plays in Guilds, Court Masques in Stuart England and, later, is witnessed by the abundance of home theatricals in the nineteenth-century. They have more lineal ancestry than any repertory theatre: for instance, the still functioning Canterbury Old Stagers was founded in 1842 or, in Glasgow, ‘The Shakespeare’ club from 1845. Present organisation of self-owned and managed amateur theatre societies, which developed in parallel to the repertory movement, now totals over 900 groups. They often afforded scope for experiment impossible in the repertory theatres. A model example of an amateur theatre was the Norwich Players at the Maddermarket Theatre, begun in 1911 by (Walter) Nugent Monck (1878-1958) to perform plays of literary merit in a re-creation of an Elizabethan playhouse that opened in 1921. This volunteer theatre endures today, with a paid artistic director. Its success is one reason why professional, resident repertory has never settled in Norwich. See Andrew Stephenson, The Maddermarket Theatre Norwich, Norwich, The Norwich Players, 1971 and, for an update, Clare Goddard, (ed.), Eighty Years of the Maddermarket 1921-2001, Norwich, Maddermarket Theatre Trust Limited, 2001. For an oracular enquiry about the amateur, see Bonamy Dobrée’s lecture, The Amateur and the Theatre, London, Hogarth Press, 1947.
 Frank Vernon, ‘Queen Horniman’, in The Twentieth-century Theatre, London, George G. Harrap, 1924, p.80.
 John Palmer, The Future of the Theatre, op.cit, p.78.
 Harley Granville Barker, ‘Two German Theatres’ in The Fortnightly Review, London, Fortnightly Review, 1910, quoted in Anna Irene Miller, The Independent Theatre in Europe, 1887 to the Present, New York, Ray Long and Richard R. Smith, 1931, New York and London, Benjamin Blom, 1966, p. 141.
 Ibid, p.141.
 Marie Wilton described these seasons with her husband, Squire Bancroft (1841-1926), in Mr. and Mrs. Bancroft, On and Off the Stage, London, Bentley and Son, 1891, pp. 83-184. Perhaps because of her absorption with burlesque – she staged many new comedies by T.W. Robertson (1829-1871) - and location in an over-ornamental theatre, commentators do not usually describe this company as repertory incarnate. Even so, except for ignoring classical plays, its ‘behind-the-curtain’ organisation corresponded to many aspects the eventual system, including its small resident company of well-treated actors in short runs, where productions were often suspended at the height of fashion, in order to exploit box-office demand for revivals. A censorious response is offered by John Pick, ‘The Refinement of the Bancrofts, 1865-1885’, in The West End, Mismanagement and Snobbery, Eastbourne, John Offord, 1983, p. 46, arguing that they ‘significantly formed the [exclusive] character of the West End theatre’ by ‘relying on a regular attendance of privileged theatregoers able to pay higher admission prices’, thereby discouraging other managers in the following decades from building and running larger popular theatres. Pick uses ‘refinement’ as a diminutive for their class prejudice, which has also been a trait in the social practices of some repertory managements.
 Austin Brereton, The Life of Henry Irving, London, Longmans Green, 1908, Vol. I., p.297.
 In itself, the visit of the French company was not as exceptional an event in Victorian and Edwardian London theatre as overseas’ appearances in London are today. For instance, in 1906, when the New Royalty Theatre was styled the French Theatre, it presented 21 French productions (performed in that language) between 8 January and 3 March. Likewise, 46 German plays were produced at the Queen Street Theatre in late 1904. The international outlook of this period is staggering, making subsequent efforts by the British Council, The World Theatre Seasons of the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Barbican Centre and London International Festival of Theatre seem meagre. See Bampton Hunt, (ed.), The Green Room Book or Who’s Who on the Stage, London, T. Sealey Clark, 1906, pp.404-405.
 Pink Dominoes was a farcical comedy by James Albery (1838-1889), staged at the Criterion Theatre, London in 1887. It ran for 555 performances in its first production, was revived in 1889 for a further 144 performances and then toured the provinces for four years. The long run, and the persiflage of this play in particular, was a target for theatre reformers. John Parker, in ‘Long Runs on the London Stage’, observed that the concept was of comparatively modern growth. Before 1822, no play had ever obtained the coveted season of 100 continuous performances, and it was not until the start of the comic drama Tom and Jerry that any play achieved what was to be this industry definition of a long run. See Who’s Who in the Theatre, Ninth Edition, London, Pitman, 1939, p.1846.
 Matthew Arnold, ‘The French Play in London’, in Irish Essays, London, Smith, Elder, 1891, pp. 87-88. This reproduced his essay from The Nineteenth Century, August 1879, pp.242-243.
 For an example of Shaw’s taunts at Irving, see H. A. Saintsbury and Ceil Palmer, (eds.), We Saw Him Act: A Symposium on the Art of Sir Henry Irving, London, Hurst & Blackett, 1939, pp.401-402. ‘My own art’, wrote the playwright, ‘the art of literature, is left shabby and ashamed amid the triumph of the actor’. However, Irving had rejected a play by Shaw.
 See, for instance, Irving’s claims for the theatre ‘that it may be, and is, a potent means of teaching great truths and furthering the spread of education of a higher kind – the knowledge of the scope and working of the human character’, given in an address to the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution in 1881, reproduced in Jeffrey Richards, (ed.), Sir Henry Irving, Theatre Culture and Society, Keele, Ryburn Publishing and Keele University Press, 1994, pp.181-191.
 J.W. Marriott, The Theatre, London, George Harrap, 1931, p.136.
 Henry Arthur Jones, The Foundations of a National Drama, London, Chapman & Hall, 1913, pp. 244-245. This is a collection of lectures on the abstractions of an English national drama, by one of the unflagging advocates of subsidised theatre.
 A record for ensemble casting, and a signpost to the way in which resident companies forced beginner actors to learn about acting on the job by playing everything, may be that of the young Henry Irving who played in the first two years and six months of his career (1857-1859), at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, no less than 428 different roles. See ‘Parts Played by Henry Irving’, Austin Brereton, The Life of Henry Irving, op.cit, Vol. II., pp.337-343.
 Members of a skilful acting ensemble might also require serious training and it is noteworthy that the beginnings of repertory were coincident with the growth of professional acting schools. Hitherto there had been, apart from the vanishing training ground of stock companies, a haphazard tradition of private tuition that amounted to little more than elocution lessons. Such casual methods were hardly an endorsement of organised professionalism. In its need for actors who could meet the requirements of the new dramatists, the repertory movement was underpinned by the formation by Herbert Beerbohm Tree of the Academy of Dramatic Art in 1905 (later to be RADA) and by Elsie Fogarty of the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1906. See ‘The Edwardian Theatre and the Establishment of Professional Training’ in Adrian Cairns, The Making of the Professional Actor, London, Peter Owen, 1996, pp. 69-75.
 Another actor-manager who was conspicuously dedicated to the ‘art theatre’ was John Martin Harvey (1863-1944), one the last of the last of his sort. See R.N.G.-A., (ed.), The Book of Martin Harvey, London, Henry Walker, 1928, p. 79, for a convincing example of his magnanimous approach to the educational functions of theatre and its relationship to individual, private enterprise. Diverging from some actor-managers, Martin Harvey, like Irving for whom he had worked as an actor at the Lyceum Theatre, was one of the first to believe that the work of commercial theatre would benefit by sharpened competition from a subsidised theatre. He was galled that the public frequently attended ‘works of little merit if not actual rubbish’ and held that the ‘the higher the pitch to which the taste of the theatregoing population can be educated, the better it will be for the actor-manager, who will then be encouraged to produce plays of a type which it would be impossible for him to consider in a period when taste has deteriorated for lack of standards.’
 William Archer and H. Granville Barker, A National Theatre: Scheme & Estimates, London, Duckworth & Co., 1907, pp. xvi-xvii. This was the published version of a 1904 draft, which had been privately circulated: ‘On no account to be communicated to, or criticised or mentioned in the public press’. Their study applied the benefits of the repertory ideal to the proposed National Theatre, offering an early example of a theatre business plan, in which the authors ‘hope and believe that our Scheme and Estimates will prove helpful to the organisers of Repertory Theatres of whatever scale’, p. xvii. This sound antecedent of contemporary theatre enquiries offers a probing organisational analysis, containing perspicuous arguments about the theory of subsidy. It was updated in a shorter version, by Granville Barker alone, A National Theatre, London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1930. In the 1910s, the subject of a National Theatre was also debated by, for example, Walter Stephens, A Plea for a National Repertory Theatre, London, For the author, 1905. Unlike Henry Arthur Jones’ The Foundations of a National Drama, op.cit. or R.N.G.-A., (ed.), The Book of Martin Harvey, op.cit., the Scheme & Estimates concentrates on organisational details.
 P.P.Howe, The Repertory Theatre: A Record and a Criticism, London, Martin Secker, 1910. p.18
 John Hollingshead, Gaiety Chronicles, London, Archibald Constable & Co, 1898, p.179.
 Hesketh Pearson, The Last Actor-Managers, London, Methuen, 1950, White Lion edition, 1974, p.12. Pearson suggests, in Beerbohm Tree, His Life and Laughter, London, Methuen, 1956, p.60, that Tree was the father of the repertory movement because he was the first prominent commercial manager to stage an Ibsen drama in Britain. This reputation may also have been perpetuated because of a famous riddle. When asked, ‘When is a repertory theatre not a repertory theatre?’ Tree returned the answer, ‘When it is a success’. The anecdote had much significance because in Tree’s day a repertory theatre was often associated with failure and a short life.
 Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Some Interesting Fallacies of the Modern Stage: An Address Delivered to the Playgoers’ Club at St. James Hall, on Sunday, 6th December, 1891, London, William Heinemann, 1891, reprinted in Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Thoughts and After-Thoughts, London, Cassell, 1913, p.185.
 The principal studies of The Independent Theatre are N.H.G. Schoonderwoerd, J.T.Grein, Ambassador of the Theatre, 1862-1935: A Study in Anglo-Continental Theatrical Relations, Assen, Van Gorcum, 1963 and that of Grein’s wife, Michael Orme [pseudonym of Alix Grein], J.T.Grein, The Story of a Pioneer 1862-1935, London, John Murray, 1936.
 Grein, et al were influenced by The Free Theatre, established by André Antoine (1858-1943) in Paris in 1887. This has been described as the cradle of the repertory movement, ‘an essentially fighting theatre, not a commercial theatre’. See Samuel Montefiore Waxman, Antoine and The Théâtre Libre, Harvard, Harvard University Press, 1926, reissued New York, Benjamin Blom, 1964, p.195. Then came the Théâtre de L’Oeuvre, also in Paris. From these, parallel movements spread to Germany with the founding of the Berlin Freie Bühne in 1889. Shortly thereafter came the Art Theatre in Cracow, Poland, created by Stanislaw Wyspiański and, in 1898, Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938) opened the Moscow Art Theatre. Max Reinhardt (1873-1943) propagated the movement in Germany, at the Deutsches and the Kammerspiele: these theatres staged twenty productions per season, in repertoire, prompting Granville Barker to state that they offered, ‘in one week a greater variety of good drama than any two London theatres will give in a year’. Grein also modelled The Independent Theatre on the Royal Netherlands Stage Society. The work of these theatres, and the influence of other continental companies on the British theatre, is discussed by the Glasgow scholar Alasdair F. Cameron, in The Repertory Theatre Movement, 1907-1917, PhD thesis, Warwick, Warwick University, 1983.
John Stokes’ case study ‘A Literary Theatre: The Lessons of The Independent Theatre’ in his Resistible Theatres: Enterprise and experiment in the late nineteenth-century, London, Paul Elek Books, 1972, pp. 111-180, considers the relationship of Antoine to the foundation of The Independent Theatre, notes that an appeal was made to novelists to write for the Society but failed and suggests that, other than Shaw and Ibsen (such as productions of The Master Builder and The Wild Duck), it never attracted distinguished playwrights. This leads Stokes to a detailed consideration of the theory of symbolism, whilst emphasising the concurrent primacy of the actor-manager in the frivolity of the commercial theatre.
 Dorothy Leighton, ‘Short Summary of the Position and Prospects of the Independent Theatre’ (1896), quoted in N.H.G. Schoonderwoerd, J.T.Grein, Ambassador of the Theatre, 1862-1935: A Study in Anglo-Continental Theatrical Relations, op.cit, p.111.
 There were two kinds of non-profit company. One had a share capital and the other, which was limited by guarantee of the members for any sum from £1, had no share capital. In Gordon Sanderson, Theatre Ownership in Britain: A Report Prepared for the Federation of Theatre Unions, London, Federation of Theatre Unions, 1953, the earliest registration of a non‑profit theatre company limited by guarantee (without a share capital) is that of Northampton Repertory Players Limited, registered on 30 January 1926 and which began production in the season of 1926‑1927, p.240. This is the form prevailing in repertory today. Until 1945, most other repertories listed are proprietary companies limited by shares. The hybrid form of a non-profit company limited by shares was discontinued by The Companies Act 1980, by which time most repertories had converted.
 Dennis Kennedy, in an essay scrutinising assumptions about the commercial viability of the stage societies, ‘The New Drama and the new audience’ in Michael R. Booth and Joel H. Kaplan (eds), The Edwardian Theatre, Essays on performance and the stage, op.cit., pp. 130-147, notes that The Independent Theatre Society never had more than 175 members, the Stage Society’s maximum membership was 1,200 (Bernard Shaw described them as a congregation, not an audience) and that ‘no matter how committed and vocal’, this ‘was not large enough to support an art theatre that was self-sustaining’. In a high-brow, low-brow summary, he suggests that the avant-garde, art theatre’s suspicion of popular, commercial success, combined with a defensive ‘loathing for the audience’, eventually divided twentieth-century art into two parts. The bigger world of commercial theatre sold the tickets but received little critical attention. The smaller part, playing to a charmed circle of ‘intellectual would-be playgoers’, received the critical and historical applause. Kennedy also discusses this issue in ‘The Transformations of Granville Barker’, in Jan McDonald and Leslie Hill, (eds.), Harley Granville Barker, An Edinburgh Retrospective 1992, Glasgow, Theatre Studies Publications, 1992, p.25, admitting that although it is a limited view of the artist’s relationship to theatregoers:
Wave after wave of reforming movements actively scorned or reviled their audiences or potential audiences. Since theatre depends upon audiences, this was a curious position for theatre practitioners to take. Indeed, a powerful notion in the twentieth-century has been that artists of high seriousness should NOT be popular or financially successful.
The shunning of mainstream theatregoers by some of the stage societies, although an extension of the general stress between art and the box-office is a foretaste of the instances of overindulgent programming by some self-absorbed artistic directors in provincial repertory theatres. This has frequently been demonstrated when they moved from a small theatre in London, which might without difficulty perform to a cultured minority of self-recognising theatregoers, to a larger provincial theatre in a smaller city. Here, public interests might be less cosmopolitan, at least in the eyes of an artistic director from London. Moreover, the general public would normally outnumber the knowledgeable theatregoers who might never have seen a play before. Thus, some artistic directors, after failing to select plays to suit their new audiences, became ambivalent about the local culture, heaping abuse on the public (and the board of directors), at their peril.
 The Incorporated Stage Society, Founded 1899, Incorporated 1904: Ten Years, 1899-1909, London, For the Society, 1909, is a chronology of playbills for all productions in its first decade. It performed on Sunday evenings and Monday afternoons, using professional actors from the West End theatres on their night off, operating with an increasing cult-subscription-membership of between 500 and 1,200. Marion O’Connor, in Claude Schumacher (ed.), Naturalism and Symbolism in European Theatre, 1850-1918, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p.334, suggests that these ephemeral societies initially made little difference to the mainstream theatre, which exploited their theatres commercially by society performances on dark nights during long runs. The achievement of 100 performances was an industry definition of a long run. Her observation is similar to Allardyce Nicoll, in English Drama, 1900-1930: The Beginnings of The Modern Period, op.cit., p.54, who argues that these early repertory companies were, for the most part, important for what they aimed to achieve and were ‘remedial’ in that they ‘aimed principally to correct defects in the current theatrical regime rather than to inaugurate something new…and that not one of them gained any large body of support even among the more intellectual group of playgoers’. More recent discussion of these societies, and other contemporary London repertory experiments, appears in Dennis Kennedy, ‘The New Drama and the new audience’, in Michael R. Booth and Joel H. Kaplan (eds.), The Edwardian Theatre, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p.134, who summarises their characteristics:
they eluded the censor’s power and other licensing restrictions; they ensured a small but determined audience at each event, already committed financially to the season; they enabled the events to be mounted on an irregular basis; they freed themselves from audience repudiation of unconventional plays; and they validated their own advanced status by controlling the admission of the general public.
 Desmond McCarthy, in The Court Theatre, 1904-1907: A Commentary and a Criticism, London, A.H.Bullen, 1907, pp.2-3, describes their aim as being truth as opposed to effect, to get the public to appreciate a more natural style of acting, by getting away from ‘artificial and theatrical in methods and traditions’ as a practical protest against the tyrant of the ‘well-made play’, to produce plays for short runs and to foster a new school of young playwrights.
 32 plays by 17 playwrights were produced, and 946 performances were given. McCarthy, The Court Theatre, 1904-1907: A Commentary and a Criticism, op.cit, contains reprints of most programmes from these seasons, pp. 125-169. A further measure of the seasons’ vitality is in the number and choice of international authors, including Euripedes (?485/4-407/6 BC), Arthur Schitzler (1862‑1931), Maurice Maeterlinck (1862‑1949) and Gerhart Hauptmann (1862‑1946).
 This paper does not offer a discrete discussion of the well-charted campaign for a British National Theatre, which began in 1848 with the London publisher Effingham Wilson’s Proposition for a National Theatre. Although using Shakespeare as the cornerstone for artistic policy, this short manifesto includes several aims resembling those of the repertory movement, such as reasonable ticket prices to keep it within the reach of all, and a resident acting company. The Proposition is reproduced in Geoffrey Whitworth, The Making of a National Theatre, London, Faber and Faber, 1948, pp. 28-29. The National Theatre was not realised until 1963 when it opened at the Old Vic Theatre, after incubating in a repertory theatre: the Chichester Festival Theatre. It was the repertory movement which, latterly, paved its foundation: a National Theatre’s classical artistic ideals and non-profit organisational characteristics were, like the various theatres at Stratford upon Avon before the Royal Shakespeare Company’s founding in 1960, representative of the repertory ideal. Commentators have frequently stated that these two national theatres have, with substantial subsidy, been the only two companies in Britain to maintain resident companies with a true rotating repertory schedule. In fact, the Chichester Festival Theatre (built 1962) and Pitlochry Festival Theatre (founded in 1951) have always performed in repertoire, albeit for long summer seasons, as has (from 1999) the Lakeside Theatre, Keswick.
 A touchstone for the stage societies was the radical impulses of theatre theorists such as Adolph Appia (1862-1928) Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and the symbolists, who proposed alternatives to the mainstream of realism and naturalism. See, for instance, Claude Schumacher’s ‘General introduction’ to Naturalism and Symbolism in European Theatre, op.cit, pp. 1-9. Then, as often today, theatre in Britain was generally isolated from these trends, such as the practical work of the composer-librettist, designer and manager George II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen (1826-1914) who had overthrown the star system in Germany with an ensemble that toured Europe for fifteen years from 1874, even though they visited London in 1878. Although the designer, director and teacher (Edward) Sir Gordon Craig (1872-1966) – who, like Granville Barker, argued that the theatre could be respected as an absolute art and craft – was English, the British theatre failed to recognise him and he became an essentially continental figure. Craig recommended deposing the actor-managers in favour of a more organic concept: light and sound, colour and movement would flow together, suggesting to the theatregoer profound and universal images. The person who would superintend these productions would be neither an actor nor manager nor dramatist but a stage director. He argued for a new craft within the theatre and his new ideas called for new leaders. There were no ‘directors’ in mainstream British theatre when Craig wrote The Art of the Theatre in 1905, London and Edinburgh, T.N.Foulis, 1905. (This book was revised and expanded as On the Art of the Theatre, London, William Heinemann, 1911). Actor-managers produced plays, but what passed as directing would be unacceptable today, because provocative plays with a balance of characters rather than one dominant role for an actor-manager would need someone to ‘shape’ the production.
 Charles Frohman was a leading theatrical manager in America and, after 1897, also in London, where he was lessee and manager of the Duke of York’s Theatre, presenting the first productions of The Admirable Crichton (1903) and Peter Pan (1904). He was also the first to realise the possibility of an extensive interchange of New York and London productions. See John Parker, (ed.), The Green Room Book, or Who’s Who on The Stage, London, T. Sealey Clark, 1909, p.195.
 128 performances were given of eight productions, which included one triple bill. A summary calendar of performances, scheduled mainly in repertoire and indicating their order of popularity (but not comparative attendances) is given in P.P.Howe, The Repertory Theatre, op.cit, p.221.
 P.P.Howe, The Repertory Theatre, op.cit, p.159.
 See Dennis Kennedy, Granville Barker and the Dream of Theatre, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 195-199, where ‘The value of repertory’, concludes that the Duke of York’s season was ‘a working example of the freshness and value of repertory acting, even if it did not draw the necessary houses’. P.P.Howe, The Repertory Theatre, op.cit, Appendix One, pp.207-227, describes this season in detail. Jan McDonald, in The ‘New Drama’ 1900-1914, London, Macmillan, 1986, p.45, also emphasises the impact of these first London repertories on the provinces, especially the Court Theatre, ‘as their inspiration and their model’, not only on organisation, but as a catalyst ‘to create a regional school of ‘new dramatists’.
 The relationship of producer (Frohman) to artistic director (Granville Barker) is, in all likelihood, open to more than one interpretation. Eric Salmon, Granville Barker, A Secret Life, London, Heinemann, 1983, p.129 suggests, reproachfully, that Frohman was a commercial manager who spent a whole lifetime being dazzled by the theatre’s glamour’, that ‘his vocabulary consisted, really, of a single word, ‘star’. Though he respected the repertory idea in theory, he did not really understand it or its aims, much less its plays: what he understood was the glitter of big, public personalities. No doubt, Granville Barker was the mainspring of the season, choosing the plays, planning the calendar and selecting actors. Moreover, he had concocted the British version of repertoire, but Salmon, in his otherwise judicial chapter ‘Director of Repertory’, appears, almost at random, to resent business managers more than do artists. In an appreciation of Frohman, written by J. M. Barrie in the foreword to Isaac F. Marcosson and Daniel Frohman, Charles Frohman, Manager and Man, London, John Lane, 1916, the playwright, who had helped to convince Frohman about the worth of the Duke of York’s experiment, emphasises that Frohman kept to his financial promise of underwriting the losses, had a love of dramatic art and did not exploit it as mere commercial enterprise, saying that ‘as a theatre manager he was as proportionately honest, able, sensitive and idealistic as those in any other of its departments’ and that ‘he was much needed’.