Tag Archives: child

From child stars to lost theatres: capturing our ephemeral history of live performance


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Ivy Emms with the man she married, Jack Bent, on a music catalogue for the song Just a Ray of Sunlight. After performing patriotic songs as a child in popular pantomimes, Emms later worked as a choreographer at Melbourne’s Tivoli Theatre.
NLA

Gillian Arrighi, University of Newcastle

In 1825, Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld watched an Aboriginal Dance of Welcome at Newcastle’s East End Settlement. From the AusStage database – the research gateway to crucial information about live performance in Australia – we can learn it was held “in consequence of our coming among them”.

The papers and reminiscences (1824-1859) of Threlkeld, who trained with the evangelical London Missionary Society, were published in 1979 and can be accessed for further research. The singing and dancing he described may have looked like the Corroboree around a campfire painted by the convict artist Joseph Lycett in the Newcastle region circa 1817.

Corroboree around a campfire by Joseph Lycett.
NLA

A simple search of the database using the term “corroboree” reveals hundreds of records of corroborees across the continent between 1816 and 1927, the earliest being 300 men and women singing and dancing at Main Beach opposite George Rocks in Tasmania. The early settler who witnessed this event also recorded the name of one of the male performers: Tolobunganah.

A map of corroborees reported around Australia from Ausstage. The corroborees that are mapped are Aboriginal initiated performances drawing from their own traditions of entertainment.
Ausstage

The first theatre production to be staged by white settlers in Australia appears in the database as well — the Irish playwright George Farquhar’s 1706 play, The Recruiting Officer.

Portrait of Arthur Phillip by Francis Wheatley 1786: Phillip watched Australia’s first play staged by white settlers.
Wikimedia Commons

A scan of this entry reveals convicts performed it in Sydney in 1789 “in a mud-wall hut in honour of the birthday of King George III”, and gives the complete cast list. Captains Arthur Phillip and Watkin Tench were noted as in the audience.

From its beginnings 18 years ago, AusStage is now recognised globally as the “gold standard” for open access records of live performance. Based at Flinders University, AusStage is the result of a pioneering collective research effort between 18 universities and industry partners. In May this year, the 100,000th record of live performance in Australia was added to it.

The database, which dates from 1789 to the present day, acknowledges the significance of professional and amateur performance for Australia’s performing arts ecology. Live performances in regional towns and rural locations are of equal importance to those in major cities; even animal and android performers are recorded.

Down the rabbit hole

Delving deeper into our theatre history is made possible through AusStage’s links to records on books and articles held in other collections and domains. Entering the database is like going down the proverbial rabbit hole. It has the capacity to inform complex journeys of discovery on Australian theatre history, the production and consumption of commercial and non-commercial performance, and audience analysis. It also enables researchers to track artists’ national and international careers.

Music catalogue featuring a young Ivy Emms.
NLA

For example, my current research on child actors between 1880-1920 is significantly helped by AusStage. Ivy Emms (1905-1949) was a hard working juvenile singer and dancer in regional Victoria during World War I. A search of the database reveals that 30 years after she performed patriotic songs in popular pantomimes, she was working as a choreographer at Melbourne’s Tivoli Theatre. (An obituary from The Argus states that she died after a brief illness.) AusStage makes visualisation of her creative relationships possible.

As of July 11, AusStage held records on 102,643 performance events, 142,285 contributors, 15,536 organisations, 17,170 works, 9,991 venues and 64,088 resources. During the period from 1st January 2018 to 11th July access to it has been from 138 different countries with 78% of the users in Australia.

Visualising theatres

AusStage’s goal is to preserve and retrieve Australia’s performing arts heritage, and make it freely available through digital means. Currently, research teams from 12 Australian Universities are developing visualisations of some of Australia’s historically significant theatre venues.

This floor plan of Newcastle’s Victoria Theatre is just one element contributing to a digital recreation and 3D experience of the theatre and its colourful neo-Grecian interiors during its first year of productions, 1891-92. The Victoria is the oldest standing theatre in New South Wales.

Remodelled in the 1920s when it was primarily a Variety theatre, the installation of cinema projection technology in the 1920s saw the Victoria host live performance and cinema for many decades more. Finally closed in 1999 and currently derelict, the theatre’s new owners, Century Venues, reportedly have plans to re-open it.

Newcastle’s Victoria Theatre photographed in 2007.
Wikimedia Commons

AusStage is also facilitating research on historical theatres, using virtual technology. Several projects are building VR versions of Australian theatre venues that no longer exist. From these models, we can understand how performance in them operated.

Ian Maxwell of the University of Sydney is looking at two lost theatres of Sydney. The Royal Victoria Theatre on Pitt St, which opened in 1838 with a production of Othello, was a grand, state of the art building accommodating 1900 spectators.

The Paris Theatre, with a façade designed by Walter Burley Griffin, was located on Whitlam Square. In 1979 the Paris was home to the Paris Theatre Company, the short-lived experimental precursor to the Sydney Theatre Company under the direction of Jim Sharman and Rex Cramphorn. The Royal Victoria burnt down in 1880, while the Paris was demolished in 1981 to make way for a residential high-rise.

These are just several of the dozens of projects that have been, or are, facilitated by the database. “Capturing lightning in a bottle” is the phrase sometimes used to describe what AusStage does. It sums up the fragility and excitement of the task.

The ConversationThe performing arts are ephemeral events, physically passing from the world once they cease to be presented to audiences. AusStage ensures they do not pass from our historical memory.

Gillian Arrighi, Senior Lecturer in Creative and Performing Arts, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Elite companions, flute girls and child slaves: sex work in ancient Athens



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A painting depicting a debate between Socrates and Aspasia, by Nicolas André Monsiaux, circa 1800.
Wikimedia Commons

Marguerite Johnson, University of Newcastle

In our sexual histories series, authors explore changing sexual mores from antiquity to today.

When the Athenian politician Pericles delivered his famous Funeral Oration at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), commemorating those who had fallen during the course of the year, a rumour emerged that his companion, Aspasia was the real author. The claim was made by no other than Socrates, whose testimony was recorded by Plato. This assertion may not be that difficult to believe in view of Aspasia’s role in Athenian society.

Bust of Aspasia, identified through an inscription. Marble, Roman copy after an Hellenistic original. From Torre della Chiarrucia.
Wikimedia Commons

Aspasia (c. 460-400 BC) was a hetaira, an elite companion or courtesan trained in the arts of pleasing wealthy, upper-class men. This training included acquiring musical skills, developing the art of conversation and, of course, being able to sexually satisfy clients.

While Aspasia may not have been a typical hetaira, but rather an exceptionally successful and fortunate one, there is ancient evidence to attest that this class of women was educated in literary arts, philosophy, and rhetoric. In this sense, they could converse with men in a way that traditional wives could not, owing to the limited access to formal education afforded Athenian girls and women of citizen families.

Yet Aspasia may not have born into the trade. From a wealthy family from Miletus (in modern-day Turkey), she seems to have acquired her extensive education through virtue of their prominence and her father’s decision to allow her tuition. The circumstances behind her arrival in Athens are debated, although as a resident alien, Aspasia had little options once there. She could not legally marry an Athenian citizen, nor could she seek legitimate work.

Other hetairai, like Neaira, were put into the trade as children and trained for a life of satisfying wealthy clients. There are comparatively extensive records for Neaira, who lived in Athens in the 4th century BC, owing to her involvement in a court case on charges of illegally marrying and passing off her daughter as a legitimate Athenian. Through the course of the proceedings, Neaira’s life was detailed, and it tells a very different tale to the comparatively glamorous accounts of Aspasia’s time with Pericles.

As a little girl, Neaira was sold to a woman by the name of Nicarete and trained as a sex worker in her brothel in Corinth (in southern Greece). Accounts of her life as a child reveal that she was working for Nicarete, along with six other girls purchased at the same time, before she had come of age (before puberty). As she matured, Neaira was sold, passed around, and finally found herself in court on charges of illegally marrying.

Kylix with a hetaira holding a large cup playing kottabos (a drinking party game where men flicked the dregs of their wine at a target), circa 500 BC.
Wikimedia images

Modifying girls to please men’s tastes

The lives of other girls and women reveal the hardships they faced. In addition to hetairai, there were those who worked their whole lives (until they were of no further use) in brothels. The price of women varied according to their age and condition and the quality (or lack thereof) of the business. As the hetairai were trained in the skills required to please men, women in brothels were sometimes modified to suit certain male tastes.

In an extract preserved from a comic play from the 4th or 3rd century BC, the lengths to which a pimp would go to alter the appearance and behaviour of new girls is recorded:

One girl happens to be small? Cork is stitched to the sole of her
delicate shoes. One girl happens to be tall? She wears a flat slipper,
and goes out drooping her head on her shoulders, thus
taking away some of her height. One girl doesn’t have hips?
She puts on a girdle with padded hips under her clothes so that
men, on seeing her beautiful derriere, call out to her.

Comedies, which regularly dealt with what society deemed as the less salubrious aspects of life, have provided historians of sex with significant evidence of brothel life. The passage continues:

One girl has red eyebrows? They paint them with lamp soot.
One girl happens to be black? She anoints herself with white lead.
One girl is too white-skinned? She smears on rouge.
One part of her body is beautiful? She shows it naked.
Her teeth are pretty? She must, of necessity, smile so that
the men present may see what an elegant mouth she has.
But if she does not enjoy smiling, she must spend the day
indoors and, like something positioned by a butcher
when selling goats’ heads,
she must hold upright between her teeth a thin stick of myrtle;
that way, in time she will show off her teeth whether she likes to or not.

In another comedy from the same era, the playwright describes the women on display in brothels. They are depicted as “sun-bathing” with their “breasts openly displayed” and “naked for action and lined up in rows.” As with the modification of the women described above, this passage also discusses the variety of women available:

From them you may select one for your pleasure:
thin, fat, round, tall, short,
youthful, antique, middle-aged, or overly ripe …

The passage also includes a statement that explains the popularity of paying for sex in ancient Greece; namely the safety-net it afforded men who could not even look at freeborn women for fear of reprisals.

Courtesan and her client. Tondo of a red-figure cup, circa. 510-500 BC.
Wikimedia images

Did temple prostitutes exist?

As a woman aged, the chances of being able to access a means living through sex work became decidedly more difficult. Turning to a comic play once more, there is a description of an aged hetaira called Lais and the difficulties and humiliations facing her, which is evoked by the lines: “it is easier to get an audience with her than it is to spit”.

Lais was an actual person who lived around the same time as Aspasia, and was reputed to have been a stunningly beautiful hetaira. Once courted by elite men, and described as having a haughty disposition, the aged Lais is depicted in this comedic passage as roaming the streets, taking on any client she could get, and having become “so tame … that she takes the money out of your hand.”

The existence of so-called “temple prostitution” in Greek, Italian and Near Eastern antiquity has been recorded by several ancient authors, including Strabo in his Geography, written in the first century BC, which details “temple slaves” in the precincts of Aphrodite at Eryx (Sicily) and Corinth. Some sources, including Strabo, imply that the women were dedicated as votive offerings to the goddess, and that they serviced clients as a form of “sacred sex.”

Nevertheless, some scholars now question the practice, offering several alternative explanations, including the possibility of brothels having been associated with such temples but not strictly related to them, and the confusion over accounts of women donating to temples of those goddesses under whose divine ordinance they practised their work.

In addition to hetairai, lower-grade sex workers who populated brothels from the slave and resident alien classes and possibly, temple slaves, there were also young men who serviced clients. Like their female equivalents, young men worked in the ergasterion (workshop) and the porneion (brothel) at the bottom end of the market, which were were dismal environments for the porne (harlot) and pornos (rent-boy) alike.

The word hetairos (male companion) is also attested in some sources but rarely in its reference to sexual activity. As with females, youthful men were the most desired, with a preference for those between the ages of 12 to 17. These young men also worked alongside the women often referred to as “flute girls” at the male gatherings called symposia. At these social events, young sex workers would entertain the guests, serve them food and wine, and if required, service them.

The ConversationOutliving Pericles by almost 30 years, Aspasia was said to have become the companion of another politician, Lysicles. She was a survivor and experienced an exceptionally long life as a hetaira. As such, she was a rarity.

Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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