New Theatre Quarterly

Research Article

Entertaining Children: an Exploration of the Business and Politics of Childhood

Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow

Abstract

This article explores the conflict between the constructions of childhood and their political/legal implications in the context of the entertainment business, as related to the demands imposed upon children by parents and theatre managers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Once children could move freely both within and between countries, these conflicts and concerns assumed a global dimension. Through a number of case studies, the authors offer some fresh observations about how legal and social imperatives affected the transmission of values about children employed as entertainers between Britain and Australasia during the period from 1870 to the start of the First World War – from the Education Acts of the 1870s to the legislation of 1910–1913 restricting the export of child entertainers. Gillian Arrighi is a Lecturer in Drama at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She has recently published articles in Theatre Journal (Dec 2008), Australasian Drama Studies (April 2009 and Oct 2010), and in Impact of the Modern: Vernacular Modernities in Australia 1870s–1960s (Sydney, 2008). She is associate editor of the e-journal Popular Entertainment Studies. Victor Emeljanow is Emeritus Professor of Drama at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and General Editor of the e-journal Popular Entertainment Studies. He has published widely on subjects ranging from the reception of Chekhov in Britain and the career of Theodore Kommisarjevsky, to Victorian popular dramatists. He co-wrote with Jim Davis the award-winning Reflecting the Audience: London Theatregoing 1840–1880 in 2001, and his chapter on staging the pirate in the nineteenth century was included in Swashbucklers and Swindlers: Pirates and Mutineers in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, edited by Grace Moore (2011).

Key words

  • child entertainers;
  • child legislation;
  • theatre in Australasia;
  • politics of childhood