A Cultural History of Theatre: A Prospectus

Christopher Balme, Tracy C. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


If theatre historians had been paying attention to the proceedings at a Gilbert and Sullivan conference in Lawrence, Kansas in 1970, they would have heard a gauntlet strike the ground when Michael R. Booth delivered Research Opportunities in Nineteenth-Century Drama and Theatre. He called for research on audiences (cultural levels, class origins, income, tastes, and development), performance in the hinterlands (we know that in 1866 60% of the theatre seats in metropolitan London were outside the West End), economics (theatre profits and losses, actors' wages, authors' income, management and organization, the pricing of seats), and performance techniques (technical developments in set construction, staging, lighting, traps, and special effects as well as acting style). This cri de coeur to break the hegemony of literary teleologies is recognizable, in 2015, as a mandate to reorient inquiry toward how repertoires were delivered rather than how authorial talent was paramount, what buttressed profitability rather than what constituted fame, and who sustained a gamut of theatres rather than what demarcated elite taste. It set the agenda for aligning theatre studies in wholly new directions, and without citing a single source or calling out any particular historian it inventoried how theatre history could come into line with social history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)402-421
Number of pages20
JournalTheatre Survey
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 7 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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