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‘The Elasticity of Her Spirits’: Actresses and Resilience on the Nineteenth-Century Colonial Stage

Woollard, J ORCID: 0000-0002-7271-7452 2017 , '‘The Elasticity of Her Spirits’: Actresses and Resilience on the Nineteenth-Century Colonial Stage' , Australasian Drama Studies, vol. 70 , pp. 7-34 .

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Eliza Winstanley (1818-82) and Maria Taylor (1805?-41) were English-born actors who were among the early leading performers in Barnett Levey's acting company at his Theatre Royal in George Street, Sydney.Taylor's parents were 'singing actors' who, in the first years of the nineteenth century, performed at London's Haymarket and Covent Garden theatres, and were regularly engaged for the summer seasons in provincial theatres.Winstanley also came from a theatrical family - her father was a scenic painter and her younger sister Ann was a performer.This article describes how Maria Taylor and Eliza Winstanley brought their theatrical skills and resilience to the task of building a theatrical culture in Australia.Both women faced many challenges in their personal and professional lives, but both possessed the capacity to bounce back, continuing to practise and refine their craft in difficult circumstances. Winstanley observed and worked with many performers over the course of her thirty-year acting career in Australia, England and America.In the preface to her first book, Shifting Scenes in Theatrical Life (1859), Winstanley writes that her narrative is 'founded on facts, gathered in the course of an extensive professional career'.Winstanley adds that her characters 'are also equally real, but sufficiently disguised in their portraiture ... to avoid the charge of ill-natured personality'.Her intention in writing Shifting Scenes, she claims, is to celebrate the skills, qualities and virtues of performers, which she describes as the 'best qualities that do honour to human nature'.In this article, I propose that the 'best qualities' Winstanley identified in her colleagues can be described as 'personal resilience'.I reflect on how the resilience of Maria Taylor and Eliza Winstanley was shaped by their personal traits and aspirations.Both women used the press to defend their reputations or confront enemies.However, Maria Taylor's 'giddy and volatile disposition' prompted her to defy convention with bold and risky choices in her personal life.In contrast, Eliza Winstanley placed a high value on conventional respectability, and carefully maintained her reputation as a skilled professional performer and moral servant of the public.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Woollard, J
Keywords: Australian nineteenth-century theatre, actresses
Journal or Publication Title: Australasian Drama Studies
Publisher: La Trobe University
ISSN: 0810-4123
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Copyright 2017 La Trobe University

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