The Diary of an Actress: Or the Realities of a Stage Life

By Ellerslie, Alma | Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

The Diary of an Actress: Or the Realities of a Stage Life


Ellerslie, Alma, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film


The Diary of an Actress: or the Realities of Stage Life was published anonymously in 1885, edited by the Reverend Henry Cary Shuttleworth. It has been attributed to an unknown actress and middle class, educated woman from a non-theatrical family, Alma Ellerslie, and covers some two years (January 1775-February 1777?) of her life as a provincial performer in the England and Scotland in the mid nineteenth century touring theatre. It gives a detailed account of her experiences of touring conditions, rehearsals and performances, and of the particularly difficult circumstances she encounters as a single woman working in theatre at the time.

Key words: Henry Cary Shuttleworth, Alma Ellerslie, provincial performer, nineteenth century touring theatre

TO MRS KENDAL, WHO HAS SHOWN SO CONSPICUOUSLY, BY CONSISTENT PERSONAL CONDUCT, THAT HER PROFESSION DOES NOT NECESSARILY INVOLVE ANY SACRIFICE OF THE HIGHER QUALITIES OF HER SEX, THESE EXTRACTS ARE DEDICATED BY PERMISSION, IN SINCERE ADMIRATION OF HER GREAT TALENT

EDITOR'S PREFACE

I have been asked to render slight service as was asked of me for this little book. Apart from any interest of its own, it seems likely to aid in removing misunderstandings and misconceptions, and so to serve a useful purpose. The modern feeling with regard to the stage is not always healthy, or always wise; and it may be well to state at once that any readers who may expect sensational 'revelations' will be disappointed in these pages. This Diary is a plain record of a real life. To the men and women of the stage and to those who know the stage well, it will be an old story, not without sad memories; but it may help to open the eyes of outsiders, who still fancy that the theatrical profession is an easy one, to the fact that few callings demand more patient study, and more steadfast labour. Further, this book may teach a wholesome lesson to stage-struck young men and women, dazzled with the blaze of the footlights. It will show them how hard is not only the work of a player, but the life. The beginner must start, as nearly all the leaders of the modern stage have started, at the foot of the ladder; and to some extent, at least, must share the experiences of the writer of this book. Many have imagined, as she did, glowing ideals of the life and the work, only to suffer the heartache of her disillusionment. Many have struggled, as she did, with poverty, temptation, loneliness, uncongenial work, and distasteful surroundings; or, worse than all, with a morbid or nervous, self- tormenting temperament. And there are many who, like her, have never through it all lost faith in God and right, have never given up their high ideals of their profession.

This book may also, perhaps, help to make clear the fact that members of the dramatic profession are, no worse, if no better than other people. There is no more need of any special 'mission' to them, than of a mission to lawyers or clergymen. Every profession must needs have its characteristic temptations and failings, and the stage is not exempt. The vulgar notion of'stage immorality' is as unjust an exaggeration as are most other hasty generalisations. If those who waste strength and money in persistently hitting out in the wrong place, would condescend to be guided by facts, they might possibly discover far more reason for regarding moneyworship and jealousy as the moral pitfalls which most beset the theatrical path. It is well for the members of all professions that their faults should be shown to them. But to be of real service, such warning should be accompanied by a setting forth of a true ideal of the profession in question. There are still well-meaning folks who libel the stage as 'an unhallowed calling', and who do their utmost to disgust young actors and actresses with their art. These good people would serve their own cause far better by helping them to delight in their art, and to regard their calling as hallowed or unhallowed according to the spirit in which it is followed. …

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