What signifies a theatre?' - Private Theatricals, 1780-1820 10-11 December 2010

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Professor Judith Hawley, Department of English, Royal Holloway, University of London
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'What signifies a theatre?' - Private Theatricals, 1780-1820
Symposium and Performance Friday 10th – Saturday 11th December 2010
Chawton House, Alton, Hampshire GU34 1SJ, England

In 1801, Richard Graves complained that 'There is hardly a family in high or low life, that has not its theatre of some kind or other, and its occasional performers.' The most famous fictional private theatrical is the abortive production of Lovers' Vows in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, where Henry Crawford asks 'what signifies a theatre?' This symposium will explore the craze for private theatricals which raged from 1780 to 1820. It will begin with a restaging of a particular production: the performance of Nourjahad (adapted from Frances Sheridan's oriental tale) on 24th February 1803 at Brandenburgh House, Hammersmith, home of Elizabeth Craven, Margravine of Anspach. The aim of the performance is both to investigate the history of private theatricals and to experiment with the possibilities of bringing alive the heritage of country houses with historical performances.
Chawton House brings its own heritage of literary connections and contemporary experience of involvement of the academic and local community in cultural events. Chawton is associated with Jane Austen who, with her family and friends, frequently staged performances at Steventon, it now houses not only a unique library of women's writing (including works by and about Elizabeth Craven and the manuscript play of Sir Charles Grandison, in Jane Austen's hand), it also maintains strong links with both academic institutions and the general public.
We invite papers for the one-day symposium which investigate all aspects of private theatricals and amateur dramatics during the height of the craze in 1780-1820. Topics might include, but are not confined to such issues as:
• Individual venues, performers and performances
• The relation of private to patent theatres, including the involvement of professional personnel in private theatricals
• The rise and decline of the trend
• Literary and polemical responses to private theatricals
• The effect of practical considerations on repertoire and editing choices
• The effect of theatricals on the social and sexual hierarchies within the household and wider community
• Ways of staging performances in heritage spaces
This is the first in a series of meetings intended to develop a network of researchers, practitioners and stakeholders in the heritage industry. A second conference will be held at Royal Holloway, University of London 17-18 June 2011. Participants are invited but not obliged to attend both events.
The performance will be directed by Dr Elaine McGirr and the conference organised by Professor Judith Hawley. Please send one-page proposals for 20 minute presentations by Friday 25th June 2010 to Professor Judith Hawley, Department of English, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 OEX j.hawley@rhul.ac.uk.