The development of American theatre management practices between 1830 and 1896



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Texas Tech University


The objective of this study is to examine the changes in American theatre management practices between 1830 and 1896. During this period theatres in the United States evolved from a system based on the actor-manager who owned his theatre and had a resident repertory company to a system controlled by a person interested primarily in the business aspects of the theatre, who leased the theatre from stockholders and brought In touring stars for the leading roles in productions. The system then changed to one of domination by resident or landlord managers who rented the theatre to complete theatre troupes or combination companies. In 1896 a group of businessmen known as the Theatrical Syndicate took over control of the "combination system" and attempted to organize the management and booking of the theatres and touring companies. This completed the evolution of American theatre management from "artistic" to "commercial."

The areas of theatre management included in the study are: 1) the general economic and financial problems of the theatre during the period; 2) box office practices including ticket prices, receipts, speculation, and complimentary tickets; 3) advertising practices; 4) the personnel practices for performers including the organization of the company, salaries, the use of benefits, contracts, imposed rules of conduct, and methods of booking; 5) the personnel practices for the staff including number and type of staff hired, responsibilities of management positions; 6) the acquisition of a place to perform; 7) the selection of the season and nightly offerings; 8) the acquisition of performance rights; 9) the modes of transportation used by the theatres and performers of the period.

These areas are dealt with in three chronological periods: 1830-1896, 1860-1879, and 1880-1896. The first is the final era of domination of the repertory stock company. The second is the period when theatres depended upon stars who travelled from theatre to theatre. The third period was dominated by the touring combination companies. By 1896 the theatre was a mature, profitable industry and the conditions were created, in an historical period dominated by monopolies and trusts, for a take over by a theatre trust created by businessmen interested only in efficiency and economy. Thus, the changes occurred in four stages: repertory stock company, touring star, combination company, and the Theatrical Syndicate. The latter stage has been explored in several sources and is not discussed in this study.

This study was compiled from extant manuscripts of theatre records, theatrical histories of individual cities, histories of individual theatres, general histories of theatre, autobiographies and biographies of performers and managers, newspaper advertisements and articles, magazine articles, modern books on the theory of theatre management, and dissertations and theses on nineteenth century theatre.