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Workshop: Theatrical Trade Routes (1850-1945)

Workshop of the Global Theatre Histories Project. 24-26 March 2011, Munich

24.03.2011 – 26.03.2011

Workshop of the Global Theatre Histories Project
24-26 March 2011, Munich

The notion of theatre as trade is a familiar one to theatre historians. Since the early modern period theatre has in many of its manifestations been carried out as a form of commercial enterprise. Although the commercial operation of European theatre was until the middle of the 19th century strictly regulated in most countries, the operators of theatres regarded their activity as trade rather than art (although claims to the latter could often be employed to good strategic purpose). From the mid-19th century on, however, the theatrical trade expands exponentially throughout Europe and the USA, and in the wake of a colonial empires into most other parts of the then known world. As the colonies expanded, and the settler populations grew, so too did the demand for theatrical entertainment of many kinds. The trade was itself very much a two-way traffic, as ships bearing theatrical troupes from London, Paris, Amsterdam or Madrid, often returned carrying animals and native peoples contracted to appear in a variety of entertainment and pseudoscientific formats.

The purpose of this workshop is to map (perhaps quite literally), characterize and theorize this theatrical traffic as it grew in intensity and density from the middle of the 19th century until roughly the outbreak of the Second World War. Although the bulk of the traffic was commercial in orientation, parallel to it emerged another concept of theatre that has been more closely associated with modernism or even the avant-garde. Amongst colonists and local elites there emerged small groups of theatre artists and a public sphere dedicated to creating a new form of theatre, whether spoken, sung or danced, that was carried by artistic and ideological imperatives usually focused on questions of
national identity.