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Performing for the provinces: touring theatre troupes and the French political imaginary, 1824-64.

HORROCKS, SOPHIE,ALEXANDRA (2024) Performing for the provinces: touring theatre troupes and the French political imaginary, 1824-64. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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In this thesis I investigate the working practices and artistic conditions of travelling theatre troupes performing sung and spoken repertoire across France during the first half of the nineteenth century. The troupes d’arrondissement performed in a network of provincial towns between 1824 and 1864 as part of the government-managed infrastructure to provide nationwide access to stage culture, established from 1806. The practices of these troupes and the discourse that surrounded their work reveal an artistic environment profoundly shaped by artistic and physical mobility, by local priorities as well as communal theatrical bonds across an arrondissement, and by the demands of a state framework established to oversee and control theatrical experience. These varied conditions offer a new insight into the nineteenth-century French musical and theatrical industry that scholars have so far approached mainly through the capital, with notable exceptions. In my research, I not only resituate the working practices of an overlooked cultural environment within nineteenth-century French musical life, but I also draw attention to the ways that touring directors, performers, critics and administrators brokered theatrical connections between the touring environment, Paris and wider France through their actions and discourse. I argue that itinerant theatre articulated varying spatial relationships between the nation’s peripheries and its centre, but also connections within the peripheries themselves, and links with the wider European theatrical and social landscape.

I draw on extensive archival research to examine four case study areas: the Nord/Pas de Calais departments in the north; the Pyrenees in the south-west; western Brittany; and Alsace, on the eastern French border. In Chapter 1, I investigate how ministerial officials conceptualised the shape of, and need for, national theatrical legislation between 1806 and 1824. In Chapter 2, I shed light on the way in which touring theatre established intra-provincial communities and hierarchies between departmental and town administrators, and between provincial critics. In Chapter 3, I focus on the work of touring troupe performers, considering how provincial companies outside Paris provided artistic training that was recognised by theatrical professionals and ministers as part of a national career ladder. In Chapter 4, I examine how the provincial dissemination of grand opéra, and local and central debates about a national artistic framework for performances of this genre embodied and/or resisted centre-periphery dynamics. In Chapter 5, I consider how regional theatrical priorities and identity pushed back against the national theatrical system in a case study of the Franco-German troupe competition in Alsace.

Throughout my chapters, I reveal that travelling performances allowed provincial audiences, administrators, critics, directors and performers, to situate themselves at times as a part of, and at times in contrast to, a national community, depending on the geographical context and on the actions and priorities of local agents. In this way, the work of touring troupes, and the local socio-cultural contexts which their work helped to shape, embodied power dynamics and spatial relationships between French spaces during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:theatre; opera; music; region; France; nineteenth-century; culture; society; government; borders; mobility; network; artistic; local
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:19 Mar 2024 11:20

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