Flicking, Feeling, Viewing; Experiencing

In the 2011 I came across a flip book that has fascinated me ever since.

Flipbook of a static trapeze artist, 1897, TW Eggers, New York, Mander & Mitchenson Collection, University of Bristol Theatre Collection, MM/O/32/50.

That summer, as part of my MA, I undertook a placement with the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, (also one of our partners on this project). Working with artist Clare Thornton, I co-curated the Unfurl exhibition that featured this flip book and its partner: a skirt dancer. These two flip books came to stand in for Clare and I, allowing us to have our own presence in the exhibition as each image flicked through on screens within the space. The items we brought together were all chosen for their potential to articulate and visualise Thornton’s interpretation of Deleuze’s Fold1 which centred on the capacity of the shape to conceal, transform and reveal. And, in many ways this particular flip book has continued to unfold itself to me, revealing more hidden corners and layered meanings.

As part of this project, I found myself thinking again about this particular nineteenth century object. One of the things I’ve found fascinating about it is the relationship it reveals between touch, eye and movement. In many ways, it sums up a lot of how I’ve come to think about nineteenth century viewing. (Although, I am a little resistant of words like ‘viewing’ and ‘spectating’ because they risk diminishing the other senses involved).

First patented in 1868 by John Barnes Linnet, the flip book exhibits the characteristics of many nineteenth century optical entertainments such as the thaumotrope and stereoscope. The viewer is guided by the creator and the technology, but controls and activates the promised experience through their bodies. In this case, through the activity of their fingers touching and manipulating printed card. This physical activity and its relationship between hand, eye and perception is one that Tom Gunning argues, when analysing the thaumotrope, had the capacity to open up an imaginative virtual reality. It is through creating motion that the thaumotrope’s seperate bird image and cage image become a single image of a bird fantastically placed in a cage.2 However, in this experience and the flip book’s flicking there is a feedback mechanism triggered as the experiencer receives back the sensation of air disturbed. It is also one that in its invitation to connect solo fingers and a singular pair of eyes contains an intimacy.3 This is a long way from passive spectatorship.

Fast forward to October 2020 and I’m browsing Twitter. An item in The Guardian on flip books and their relationship to early film causes me to think about this item again. I’ve always wondered quite how this series of images came into being. Were the images created for flip books or for some other purpose? Recent scholarship indicates that flip books hold the potential to reveal the big screen’s forgotten films (or their trial runs)4 captured in a portable minature format held within the grasp of a hand.

Follow the fold backwards to somewhere around 2015, and I’m sat at the Albany circus training space in Bristol. In conversation with two of my aerialist friends, the flip book comes in conversation. I have my laptop with me, so I show them the images and we start to discuss repertoire. The aerialist is performing a series of strength moves that include a planche and a meat hook. Interestingly, all of the movements performed in this sequence have been adapted to appear under the trapeze bar, suggesting their sequencing for this specific recording. At the time I’m researching the preeminent international 1920s aerial celebrity, Lillian Leitzel, who was known for revolving her body around her wrist repeatedly in what are termed planche turns. I find myself wondering if this could be one of her female family members? Could the reliance on strength moves like the planche, mean this is her mother, the aerialist, Zoe Pelikan? …or, is that me attempting to impose a narrative that is a little too neat?

Today, as I return to the images of an unnamed aerialist in minature and gigantic form, I find myself wondering if they reveal something more interesting entirely. My work on aerialists has tended to focus on stars because coverage of the lesser acts seldom makes it into printed word or image. Perhaps, this flip book is a window into a performer’s repertoire who didn’t ‘make it’ and whose obscurity let their movements to permanently disappear. Perhaps when I flipped those pages I might have performed a double trick of reconstruction: I might have reactivated the lost film of a forgotten aerialist.5

This thought leads me to try finding out more about TW Eggers using today’s technology. Googling TW Eggers and following the lead on Silent Film’s website to consult Pascal Fouché’s catalogue of his over 10,000 flip books, I find only flip books dated 1897 that cover what probably were vaudeville or variety acts. Here are men boxing, ‘cats’ boxing, the skirt dancer I recognise and various acrobats. This flip book is a snapshot of three different popular entertainments who organised the same visual materials in different ways: minature flip book, lifesize aerialist (albeit with an adapted act) and gigantic film. Only the minature material media remains to tell the story of an enmeshed entertainment industry.

It will be a long time before this particular item will lose it’s fascination for me; an allure that is magnified by the haptic promise it holds.6 I still hope some day to use this historical object and its moving image to produce a creative work that plays with the potentiality of stuttered aerial movement. It is just a little more time until that particular fold will reveal its form and structure…


1 Deleuze, Gilles (2006) The Fold, trans Conley, Tom, London: Continuum.

2 Gunning, Tom (2012) Hand and Eye: Excavating a New Technology of the Image in the Victorian Era, Victorian Studies 54(3): 512-3.

3 Doane, Mary Ann (2009) The Location of the Image: Cinematic Projection and Scale in Modernity, in Stan, D & Eamon, C (eds) Art of Projection, Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz: 153-4.

4 Lecointe, T, Fouché, P, Byrne, R, Hutchinson, P (2020) Discovering the Lost Films of Georges Meliés (1896-1901), New Barnet: John Libbey Publishing.

5 As I’m not a film scholar, I’m unclear if it is actually ‘lost’. All I know is that my initial investigations mean I’ve not found a record of it online (including within Niver, KR, (1985) Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress. Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress.)

6 I use this term deliberately to activate Helen Freshwater’s use of allure, with its capacity to erroneously charm, as it feels like an object that has already suggested deceptive links. Freshwater, H. (2003) ‘The allure of the archive’, Poetics Today, 24(4): 729–58.

Exhibitions Update

Back in 2018 when we started this project, one of my (Kate Holmes’) tasks was to curate two exhibitions with the University of Bristol Theatre Collection and Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. Both of these museums have a huge wealth of holdings related to nineteenth century entertainments.

Theatre and performance historians are already likely to know the significance of the material the University of Bristol Theatre Collection holds, but art historians may be unaware of the artworks relating to theatre and performance they hold. What may be more of a surprise to both is the amount of material Bill Douglas Cinema Museum contains. Don’t be fooled by the name. Bill Douglas holds materials on ‘pre-cinema’ such as magic lantern slides and a range of broader visual entertainments. You can find material on pleasure gardens but also on the diverse panorama that ranged from handheld objects to large scale circular rotunda panorama.

However, as with many things over the last eighteen months, our plans for these exhibitions have had to change as both were due to open in the Spring and Summer of 2020. In the months that followed we repeatedly revised our plans and have finally taken the decision that the exhibitions we planned aren’t going to be sensible in their original format. For that reason, we’re going to be putting on smaller displays in both archives and concentrate on putting a little more material online.

…watch this space for more…

New Connections: Our Association for Art History session, ‘Theatre, Art and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth Century’

Patricia Smyth

John Parry, A London Street Scene, 1835, Alfred Dunhill Coll.

Our session at the Association for Art History conference this year brought together six scholars working at various points of intersection between art history and theatre history. The interdisciplinary nature of the ‘Theatre and Visual Culture’ project is reflected in the makeup of our team, but so far our main academic networks have tended to be in theatre and performance, so this occasion was important to us as an opportunity to connect with art historical research in the field of nineteenth-century transmediality and to open a dialogue with art historians that we hope will lead to future collaborative work. This year’s AAH conference was hosted online via the Aventri platform. While we felt the loss of the social interaction and informal chats of a live event there was an unanticipated upside to going online in that all of us were asked to pre-record our papers in case of illness or technical failure on the day. We didn’t need to use these during the conference, but we are now able, with the blessing of the AAH conference organisers, to offer those recordings to anyone who may not have been able to attend our session. 

The session got off to a flying start with Marika Takanishi Knowles’ paper on French féerie and Romantic visual aesthetics. Marika proposed some fascinating connections, not just between art and theatre and between what we regard as ‘high’ culture and commercial entertainment, but also between Britain and France in the form of a line of influence from Constable’s showing of The Haywain at the Salon of 1824 to the gas-lit and spangled mise en scène of French féerie. Moving between works by the French artist and devotee of Constable, Paul Huet, and the landscape tableaux of féerie, Marika revealed a common identification of atmospheric effects of dappled light, air, and humidity as markers of the ‘real’. As art historians are aware, painting of the period was thought to embody certain national characteristics, Constable’s landscapes exemplifying what was regarded as a distinctively British interest in natural light and atmospheric effects. However, Marika highlighted an important issue in showing the extent to which the field of optical entertainments and stage technologies traversed these distinctions. Central to her argument was the issue of the moving image. While British pantomime typically included a moving panorama as part of the evening’s entertainment, French féerie offered landscape tableaux of shimmering ‘micro movements’ in which a combination of light and reflective surfaces evoked the movement of wind through trees and dappled sunlight.

Elena Cooper’s illuminating account of the legal context of nineteenth-century transmediality revealed changing attitudes toward the circulation of specific compositions and motifs between media, which was such a dominant practice in this period. Elena offered us a fascinating insight into the paradoxical relationship between aesthetic and legal frameworks. As she argued, the practice of realization, in Martin Meisel’s definition, the ‘translation into a more real, that is more vivid, visual, physically present medium’ of a given image was only possible within a legal definition of the arts as fundamentally different. Hence, the artist John Martin was unsuccessful in his attempt to stop the exhibition of a copy of his Belshazzar’s Feast at the British Diorama in 1833. Elena described how resistance to this practice in the late nineteenth century, often on the part of artists, was driven by concerns not only about lost income, but also about potential damage to their reputation, as highlighted in one case in which works of art were realized as ‘living pictures’ on the stage of the Empire Palace Theatre. The issue of copyright law is currently a focus of great interest for art historians and it certainly prompts some important questions with regard to nineteenth-century transmediality. In the discussion that followed, we wondered how the concerns about respectability that Elena described may be mapped onto the reassertion of the boundaries between the arts that is a feature of modernist discourses. 

We were thrilled to be able to include Stephen Bann in our second pair of papers, especially given his pioneering work on artists such as Paul Delaroche, a key figure in the emergence of a new kind of transmedial visual culture in this period. It would not be an overstatement to say that Stephen’s open-minded approach to Delaroche in his monograph of 1997 made it possible for those of us that followed to reconsider this artist, long regarded merely as a retrograde foil to the modernist narrative. Both my own paper and Stephen’s dealt with the genesis of Paul Delaroche’s Assassination of the Duc de Guise, a picture that was subsequently remediated in countless variations, as well as on stage, in a number of films and, most recently, in a virtual reality attraction at the chateau of Blois, where Guise’s murder took place in 1588. My analysis of the relationship between this picture and Alexandre Dumas’ groundbreaking Romantic drama Henri III et sa cour of 1829 is indebted to Stephen’s earlier work, in particular his identification of a set of Delaroche’s drawings as a response to that production. While I explored the connections between one painting and one play as a lens through which to consider the relationship between the arts in a broader sense, Stephen uncovered an intricate network of influence reaching further back into the 1820s. The Duc de Guise has for some time been recognized as the model for a new kind of history painting in which the viewer is invited to reconstruct a violent event through contemplation of its disorganized aftermath. It was therefore fascinating to see how much Delaroche owed to a series of paintings and prints dealing with the motif of the aftermath of a duel, a subject that, for contemporary viewers, was threaded through with complex political meanings. 

We finished the session with a final pair of papers from Sophie Thomas and Gülru Çakmak, which both in their different ways dealt with attempts to revivify the classical past and, in particular, with the emotional response of the spectator. Sophie’s probing account of staging Pompeii moved between a range of nineteenth-century media, from optical entertainments such as Robert Burford’s panorama of The Ruins of Pompeii, to paintings including John Martin’s The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, theatrical productions, and amusement park ‘pyrodramas’ to consider the cultural factors driving audiences’ desire to witness time and again the destructive power of Vesuvius. Sophie explored the influence of Edward Bulwer Lytton’s novel The Last Days of Pompeii on artistic and theatrical representations, but artefacts unearthed during archaeological excavations emerged as just as important to the affective power of Pompeii. 

Gülru Çakmak brought us back to the present day with a paper on the contemporary artist Yadegar Asisi’s Pergamon Panorama, which, housed in a specially constructed building under the auspices of the Berlin State Museums, offers a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the Hellenistic city during a festival day in the year 129 CE. While Asisi’s panorama is dependent on twenty-first century absorptive digital technologies, Gülru drew out the consonances between contemporary museum practice and nineteenth-century paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Asisi’s decision to represent the altar and its precincts bloodied by sacrificial offerings has a precedent, Gülru argued, in works such as Gérôme’s La Rentrée des félins, which presents the viewer with the mutilated remains of Christian martyrs following a day’s ‘entertainment’ at the Roman circus. As with Gérôme’s scene of carnage, Asisi’s panorama creates an ‘unstable position of oscillation’ for the spectator, who feels both implicated in the visual pleasure of violence and distanced from an historical moment viewed from a position of hindsight. This paper, like Sophie’s, was concerned with the theme of decadence. Just as nineteenth-century Londoners recognised in Pompeii a city of excess on the brink of inevitable disaster, Gülru drew out the present-day associations of ancient Pergamon with themes of violence and self-indulgence. 

The theme of historical rupture united these two papers, and also ran through my own. The sense of history as ‘radically separate’, in Gülru’s phrase, may be traced to the nineteenth-century and continues as a feature of our own experience. We yearn for a past that is always just out of reach, our attempts to recreate it in all its material detail stemming from a desire for sequentiality that can never really be satisfied. Such were my thoughts following a richly stimulating session. Thank you to all our speakers and to the conference organisers Cheryl Platt and Claire Davies for making it possible.

See and hear these papers for yourself on our YouTube Channel:

2020 Project Conference: identity, invention, and agency

Patricia Smyth

Kitty Lord’s ‘symmetricals’, ©  Museum of London

This year’s project conference on ‘Embodied Spectatorship’ focussed on the body, inviting participants to consider the spectator’s share in the theatrical experience. Over two highly engaging days of papers and discussion, some key themes emerged. The question of identity ran through several presentations. We talk about a new kind of modern spectator in the nineteenth century, but how do issues of class, gender, race, and national or regional identity complicate this idea? Martyn Jolly’s paper on ‘The Flying Dutchman or the Phantom Ship’ examined the ways in which this phantasmagoric spectacle was tailored to appeal to the particular sensibilities of colonial audiences, while Alessandra Grossi discussed the social makeup of spectators for classical burlesque, and Jennifer Schacker considered what Joseph Grimaldi’s racialised performance in a pantomime of the Cinderella story may tell us about the attitudes and expectations of the Drury Lane audience.

The nineteenth century still tends to be associated with the notion of ‘passive’ viewing, but the question of the spectator’s agency was threaded through papers that drew our attention to audiences’ capacity for self-fashioning. In her discussion of the ‘swell’, Alessandra proposed that the classical burlesque performances patronised by these fashionable men-about-town both parodied and reinforced their own masculine identity, while Ani Bezirdzhyan considered the performativity of the costermonger subjects photographed to illustrate Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

The themes of technology and innovation have always been central to our inquiry, and this conference raised some important questions about this aspect of nineteenth-century visual culture. In her intriguingly titled paper on ‘Panoramas and Dioramas as Simulation Mechanisms’, Sofia Quiroga Fernandez traced a trajectory of ever-increasing transparency in the production of immersive experiences throughout the century. On the other hand, in his account of lithographic theatre posters, Martin Maryška foregrounded the issue of medium, inviting us to imagine the experience of nineteenth-century urbanites confronted by a city of competing and often contradictory images. In their evocations of two contrasting types of attention, both papers spoke to the broader (and ever-elusive) question of how we can recapture the sensations of historical spectators.

One of the most striking aspects of this conference was the variety and inventiveness of the methodologies that participants brought to the table, among which Jed Wentz’s performance of ‘The Raven’ using the American operatic singer David Bispham’s original score incorporating text, music and photographs of his ‘affective attitudes’ was particularly memorable. Viv Gardner’s examination of costumes worn first by the cross-dressing 5th Marquis of Anglesey and later bought by male impersonator Vesta Tilley at his bankruptcy sale, where some items were incorporated into an impromptu comic turn by ‘faithful Jerry, the auctioneer’s man’, drew out the layered significance invested in these garments. Veronica Isaac’s evocative paper on variety artist Kitty Lord’s ‘symmetricals’ (padded pale pink tights designed to bestow the desired silhouette) also focused on costume, proposing an approach to performance history through the stories told by wear, damage, and repairs.

Kitty Lord (1881-1972) ‘Chanteuse Excentrique Anglaise’ c.1900-1910. © Harvard Library 

See our current call for papers for details of this year’s project conference on ‘Modern Visuality in Nineteenth-Century Performance’, 31 August to 3 September 2021.

CFP 2021 Conference: Modern Visuality and Nineteenth Century Performance

Grieve Family, Design for a Diorama of Paris for a Covent Garden production, Special Collections, Senate House Library.

University of Exeter

31 August – 3 September 2021

Keynote speakers:

Michael Gamer, University of Pennsylvania 
David Taylor, Oxford University

The nineteenth century is associated with the transformation of traditional ways of life, rapid technological advances, radical changes to the environment, and the emergence of new conceptions of subjectivity. Theatre was central to the culture of this period, so how far did it reflect or shape the experience of modernity? The Modernist experiments of the latter part of the century used to take centre stage in discussions about modernity, but how far can the popular, commercial theatrical culture of this period be seen as the locus of an emergent modern aesthetic?

This is the third and final conference of our project investigating nineteenth-century stage spectacle, the viewing practices associated with it, and its relationship to the wider visual culture of this period. With this event, we return to one of our core concerns: to consider nineteenth-century spectacle as a new and experimental form and as both a facet and product of modernity. We welcome ideas for papers on all aspects of the visual culture of theatre, from theatrical ephemera to links with the world of ‘high’ art, to new spectacular and immersive technologies. We particularly welcome submissions that bring questions of methodology to the fore, offering new contexts through which we may understand the theatrical spectacle of this period.

Possible questions/themes include, but are not limited to:

  • How far were increased connections between theatre and visual art in this period rooted in popular (as opposed to elite) culture?
  • What attitudes, prejudices, and/or desires were brought to bear in discussions of theatrical spectacle in this period?
  • How did the transformation of urban space and other aspects of modernity impact on theatrical spectacle and its reception?
  • What is the relationship of theatre and performance to immersive technologies such as the Panorama and the Diorama?
  • How can theories of perception and visuality enable us to rethink the nature of theatrical spectacle in this period?
  • Popular spectacle continues to be associated with the notion of ‘passive viewing’ and political inertia. What evidence is there for the agency of spectators in the active construction of meaning?
  • How did the spaces of nineteenth-century performance prime spectators for certain types of engagement?

The deadline for proposals is 17 May 2021.

We are hoping that this will be a hybrid conference with the option to present either in person or remotely; however, this will of course be subject to developments this year and we may need to go fully online. Having taken last year’s ‘Embodied Spectatorship’ conference online, we will be including in this event papers originally scheduled for 2020, but which could not be fitted into the online programme. For that reason, we are only able to accept a limited number of new papers in response to this new call.

Given current uncertainty about whether the conference will be hybrid or fully online, we assume that, in submitting a paper, you are committed to taking part in either capacity. Also, since this will be an international event, we expect that all participants will be happy to have the recording of their paper available to delegates for a limited time (password protected).

This call for papers has closed.

A Whole Ton of Learning by Doing: Conferencing Online…

2020 brought us all online in ways we would never would have imagined at the beginning of the year. For our team, this included taking our 2020 conference online. Although all of our team members have run plenty of in-person conferences this was a new experience. I (Kate Holmes) had been quite proud about our commitment to livestreaming, but going completely online was a bit of a gear shift. Having taken the lead on the conference, I thought it might be helpful to share our thoughts on how our approach worked.

Going online meant a complete rethink of the programme due to the dangers of screen fatigue. This meant we had to schedule fewer, shorter sessions in a day; the knock on being that we had to ask people to volunteer to defer to 2021, when we hope to run an in-person event (gods allowing!) Otherwise, it would have been a full week of papers.

Our next issue was time zones. Those who chose to lead the way by presenting in 2020 did not fit neatly into one time zone and meant we were working from something like -9 GMT to +11 GMT. As we were asking people to join us from their homes, this meant we had to be sensitive to that and schedule panels according to linking themes and time zones. This led us to two blocks of time, one to suit North America and one to suit Asia and Australia (as much as possible), with the opportunity for those blocks to catch up later. Take a look at what this meant for the eventual programme.

These are the tools we used to adminster it at no cost beyond our time:

Eventbrite for registration and sending out joining instructions.
Zoom meetings rather than webinars were used so that people could ask questions on camera to speakers. (We also asked people to turn on cameras at the start of each session to try and give speakers the sense of a listening public. Although, we set everyone to enter spaces on mute to try and minimise echo etc). Zoom also permits recording sessions that can be shared as links with passcodes (although this is fiddly) that can be set to expire after 30 days. It also allowed us to put people easily into break out rooms for the 20 minute networking sessions that followed each panel.
YouTube was used where video was a priority. I uploaded videos as unlisted and shared them in the chat as playback in Zoom can be a bit dodgy.
Google Docs was used as a hub for people to pick up links (set to view only) such as recordings and, in a separate file, to allow those watching to contribute to the themes and connections they saw emerging if they were watching back later. We wanted people to feel engaged and included whenever they were watching, as well as helping us out!
Flipgrid was where individuals could upload short video introductions to a video wall. This was to fulfil a couple of purposes related to not physically sharing space. This included trying to facilitate conversation in the networking sessions, allow people to share contact details which we can’t due to GDPR (made more significant by the number of delegates) and to make people feel like they had visibility at the conference regardless of whether they were speaking or not.
Microsoft Forms – for gathering people’s thoughts about how the conference went and any standout things they wanted to share. This also allowed us to request permission to add people to our project mailing list and to try and learn how we can improve administering an online conference. I’ll be honest here, use Google Forms if you can. Because we were gathering personal data and the University of Exeter considers Microsoft the best security-wise, I went for them. But, a few users did encounter a log in page when they shouldn’t have. (This is a known Microsoft issue which I only found out when one person hit the log in page).

Pros/Cons:

– Going online is a great way to encourage people to attend your event if you can make the conference free. Our first 2019 in-person conference had around 40 delegates and a good number of individual live-streamed panel views with round 15-20 people online (you only get YouTube data per panel, so that’s a guesstimate). Going online in 2020 pushed us over 200 registrations and we ranged from 40 to 60 participants live on Zoom which felt like a good number of contributors.
– Prepping an online conference took a long time and a lot of careful logical thinking. I think much of this is because it wasn’t a known beast in the same way as an in-person event. Make sure you share around roles and responsibilities. I found it helpful to create a list that outlined exactly who was meant to be doing what when. I saw this list as a bit of a cue list for everyone. However, you will have to adapt too. For instance, I discovered that I had to take back one role on the day because of how privileges differ between Hosts and Co-Hosts in Zoom. Testing had sorted most of these out, but not all…

Communication & Thinking Ahead:

– The University of Exeter’s institutional Zoom account requires a higher than average security level to access it and prevent Zoom bombing. For that reason, we tried a few different ways of explaining how to access sessions and settled on a step by step process. Unlike other meetings we hosted this seemed to do the trick and we didn’t have anyone let us know they struggled to get in.
– Have standard responses ready for issues you can anticipate with links to further support available. If you’re monitoring your email, twitter and listening to sessions this can take a little pressure off.
– One of our team encountered problems receiving Eventbrite emails so we included information on our website and Twitter about how to work around this and to flag when communications had gone out.
– Schedule tweets and Eventbrite emails so you don’t have to think about them in the moment and review them on the morning of the conference to check it reflects any adjustments to the programme.
– Ask for Twitter handles when you invite abstracts so that you can include @mentions in your pre-scheduled panel tweets.
– We asked people to send through their presentations in advance so they could preserve bandwidth by turning off their camera to let one of the team run their presentation on their behalf.
– I also offered each speaker the opportunity of a test call so that they were clear on how to share their screen in Zoom. Presenting online can be nerve-wracking, so this was about ensuring smooth running sessions and giving people confidence in tech.
– Uploading a video of the presentation to YouTube can also be an additional back-up if a participant is concerned about their internet, such as we had from one person located in China. I’ve heard of other conferences asking this from all participants, but we felt it was probably unnecessary and didn’t need to deploy any of these solutions in the end as everyone’s internet cooperated. (Peace of mind is great though!)
– Communicate clearly with your speakers, chairs and delegates thinking about what they need to know with clear emboldended deadlines. Don’t be afraid to remind, speakers in particular, about what you need with bullet pointed emails. Send chairs, speakers and your team a meeting request with joining instructions so they can start from their calender. Send tailored reminder emails with joining instructions to everyone on the morning of the conference so they can quickly access sessions.
– Although this will be less relevant as we all get a bit more au fait with conferences online, let your chairs know any norms you wish them to promote. We did not chair any sessions ourselves because of the various roles we took on and made sure they were not presenting in order to take the pressure off speakers working in this less familiar format.

Things I didn’t realise you could do:

– You can link Zoom to Eventbrite so that Eventbrite can automatically let people in. However, you can only set that up if you have the event as one session. We were working with two chunks of time so set up two… Letting people in is something that co-hosts can do, so don’t be afraid to hand that task off if you need to.
– If you include all of your panels as one long session, you will have to wait until the session has ended until your Zoom recordings become accessible.

Doing Things Better:

Although our questionnaire revealed that the break out rooms were really appreciated, this was the main thing people thought could have worked better and that I’m going to think about for the next online conference I plan. I wasn’t that familiar with Zoom break out rooms and chose to go for random allocation. Some people would have preferred more autonomy over where to go, perhaps with speakers allocated to separate rooms so that they could ask questions once the panel was done. Another suggestion was for some discussion points if conversation took a while to get going (something we’d thought about but discarded as being a bit too teachy!)

Setting the Tone

A couple of days before the conference, I initially thought the FlipGrid was a bit of a waste of time as few people contributed to that and to our crowdsourcing themes and connections google doc. However, there is something in both these things that I would want to preserve and develop: it let our conference-goers know that we were interested in them; it set the tone for an event where people knew we wanted them to be active and engaged audience goers. Something that seems particularly fitting bearing in mind the conference’s focus on embodied spectatorship…

The Wild Card Quality of the Visual: starting conversations on Repetition, Realization and Remediation ahead of ASTR 2021

Patricia Smyth

Our virtual pre-conference seminar on Saturday 7 November with the participants of our ASTR working session was a lively affair, leaving us eager to carry on our discussions in San Diego in 2021. The general conference theme ‘After Repetition’ spoke to several of the key concerns of our project. Nineteenth-century staging often aspired to replicate real environments while ‘realisation’, the practice of transposing well-known works of art into three-dimensional stage tableaux, is a form of transmedial repetition. Yet the wild card quality of the visual leaves it always open to new interpretations and therefore to interruptions in the replication of meaning.

The event took the form of a two-hour loosely structured getting-to-know-you session, which we hoped would reveal points of connection, raise questions, suggest potential methodologies, and provide food for thought for next year’s conference. It turned out to be a wide-ranging discussion peppered with exciting exchanges and interwoven with parallel discussions in the Zoom chat. There was a brief pause in our discussion as Stephen Cedars informed us of Joe Biden’s just announced election victory, allowing us to hear, via his laptop speakers, the jubilant honking of horns in the New York street below. These were joined by the whiz and bang of fireworks from a belated bonfire night display by one of my Nottingham neighbours, lending a festive atmosphere to our discussion.

The repetition of tropes over time emerged as a dominant theme, from the mounted knight as a figure of Georgian melodrama to the ‘Woman in White’, appearing and reappearing in various contexts from Wilkie Collins’ eponymous novel to lynching narratives. But what was the effect of repetition? While we acknowledged its power as an instrument of ideology, in many cases meanings were altered over time, becoming less virulent or even open to subversion, as in Sharon Weltman’s example, which examined the adaptation of an anti-Semitic trope in a pro-Jewish emancipation melodrama, The Echo of Westminster Bridge. Adaptation theory offers one approach to the processes at work in these repetitions, but given the current pandemic, metaphors of virus mutation seemed particularly apt. In any case, the shifting and open nature of meaning in these case studies raised questions about the spectator’s share in their interpretation and put paid to the persistent notion of audience passivity in this period.

Scene from Elizabeth Polack’s The Echo of Westminster Bridge, 1835

It was striking that the scenic designs, lithographs, photographs, sound recordings and realisations we talked about lacked a unifying terminology. They were certainly modern, relying in many cases on sophisticated new technology, but this popular, commercial visual culture was distinct from modernism. In its broad appeal and transmediality, it was perhaps modernism’s ‘other’, although the postcards of Henrik Ibsen discussed by Penny Farfan reveal the relationship as one of mutual dependence.

This is not a definitive summing up of our wide-ranging and productive discussion. However, if our diverse topics, which ranged from lithographic prints of Lincoln’s assassination to commercial sound recordings of popular Yiddish theatre, had an over-riding common factor it was the popular audience. Indeed, it was in order to reach this group that so many of the new reproductive technologies of this period were developed. That being so, how should we understand late nineteenth-century resistance to repetition? How far was the modernist concern with originality and truth to materials a judgement not only on popular commercial imagery, but also on its audience? Perhaps, as was suggested, legal copyright cases may reveal competing interests and shifting definitions of authenticity as they were played out in this period.

We look forward to next October when we hope to meet each other again, this time face to face.

To find out more about the working group session originally planned for this November in New Orleans, see pages 30-1 of the ASTR 2020 Conference programme.

Changing places: 2020 Embodied Spectatorship and 2021 conferences

First we had hoped to be welcoming speakers from across the globe to Exeter in June to our 2020 conference. Then we hoped to do the same in December, but as time goes on and international travel continues to look tricky in our new COVID-19 world, we’ve decided to take our conference online.

Rather than completely deferring our conference for a year, we wanted to maintain the momentum of our first conference in Warwick by moving online. In consultation and with the assistance of our speakers, this new format has meant offering a reduced programme on Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th December. For more details on what December’s Embodied Spectatorship (online!) conference will look like check out our current programme.

So, what does this mean for our 2021 conference? It means we already have a host of impressive speakers waiting in the wings, ready to give their papers at our next in person event.

So, here’s your teaser for 2021:
Papers range from shadow plays, anatomy theatres, panorama to telephone broadcasts.
We’re looking forward to welcoming: Isabel Alexander, Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, Gillian Arrighi, Barbara Bessac, Hayley Bradley, Kathleen Chater, Keith Cavers, Depelchin Davy & Jonckheere Evelien, Maire Fox, Michael Gamer, Nick Havergal, Joe Kember & John Plunkett, Agata Koprowski, Heidi Leidke, Josip Martinec, Atsuko Miyake, Laura Monros-Gasper, Anna Myers, Janice Norwood, Jane Pritchard, Catherine Quirk, Marlis Schweitzer, Isabel Stowell-Kaplan, and Clara Zarza.

As ever, best wishes from the Theatre and Visual Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century team in these uncertain times.

Socially-Distanced ‘Glorious’ Seaside Entertainments

We’re delighted to see our project partners, Promenade Productions, safely entertaining the public on Teignmouth seafront with their special brand of historically-inspired showmanship.

To find out more about how Uncle Tacko, Sergeant Spike and Professor Gayton are charming and delighting seaside audiences with their ‘glorious’ shows and reinvigorating the seaside tradition in these socially-distanced times, read this wonderful write up in the Guardian.

ASTR Working Group Call for Papers: Repetition, Realization, Remediation: Theatre and Visual Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century

This Working Session seeks to interrogate different modes of repetition in play between visual and performance cultures in the long nineteenth century at a time when different art forms sought not only to replicate the natural and material world, but also to borrow and copy from each other. We want to investigate the manifold ways in which repetition took place within and between performance and visual cultures through, for example, adaptation, realizations (frozen moments staged as tableaux based on popular pictures and illustrations), and remediation. We ask how ‘remediation’ can take us beyond repetition, providing a further way of thinking about temporality, progress and change. We are interested not only in the impact of the visual arts on performance, but also in questioning the ways in which tableaux, dioramas, panoramas, spectacle, scenic design often constitute discourses of repetition within performance and in considering the notion of ‘copy culture’ in reference to the authorised and unauthorised copying of stage set designs (between theatres) and of famous art works. Realizations of art works on stage remediated them as kinetic, temporal and immersive environments, relocating familiar 2D images in a more convincing, immersive medium rather than scaling them up as static backdrops. Although our primary focus is historical, we are interested in how the process of adaptation and repetition also extends into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as witnessed by the transformation of The Octoroon into An Octoroon with its re-emphasis on what constitutes spectacle over time. Overall, we are looking for papers that offer innovative approaches to the exploration of the relationship between visual culture and performance in the nineteenth century, especially in relation to repetition, realization, remediation, adaptation, stage realism, disruption and slippage at a time of social, economic and political upheaval created by new technologies and the onset of modernity. 

This Working Session aims to elicit papers of 2,000-5,000 words to be circulated among participants at least 3 weeks in advance of the Conference. We will group papers thematically as far as possible and appoint a respondent for each individual paper (or themed group) according to numbers. Within the three- or two-hour session, we would allocate time in each grouping for short statements by the respondents, responses by the authors of individual papers and more general discussion.

The convenors of this Session (Professor Jim Davis, Professor Kate Newey, Dr Patricia Smyth and Dr Kate Holmes) are the recipients of a large UK Arts and Humanities Research Council Grant funding a three- year project on the relationship between Theatre and Visual Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century. We would hope the Working Session would enable us to explore this topic in greater depth, extend our network of contacts internationally and enable ongoing debate beyond the conference. 

Please note that all submissions must be received formally through the ASTR website. The form will allow you to indicate second and third choice working groups if you wish; if you do so, note that there is a space for you to indicate how your work will fit into those groups.

The deadline for receipt of working group participant submissions is 1 June 2020 and we anticipate that participants will be notified of their acceptance no later than 30 June.