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This productions chronology attempts to map the pre-1930s Australian popular culture entertainment industry, both in terms of Australian-written works and the career movements of the performers and practitioners involved.
The major influence on the chronology’s conceptual design and implementation is the Calendar of Plays Premiered in Australia (Vols 1 and 2), edited by Dr Veronica Kelly of the University of Queensland. The AVTA chronology differs from the Calendar of Plays, however, in that all revivals of each particular work are attached to one primary record, rather than being listed as separate entries in later years. Each work and any subsequent revivals have therefore been entered according to the first known year of performance.
Researchers can access individual works by several methods:
1. Searching via the Index (if the name of the work is known)
2. Searching for productions via individual authors, songwriters, composers, lyricist etc who are included in the AVTA Practitioner files
3. Searching through a particular year.
• Research Parameters: A number of works have been entered into the chronology which fall outside the parameters of popular culture musical theatre (opera, comic opera, plays with music, for example). They have been retained, however, because variety industry practitioners (performers and/or writers/directors/producers) were often involved in the production or creation of these ‘more serious’ theatrical works.
As noted in the Archive’s introductory page (“About”), 1935 has been chosen as the cut-off date as it effectively marks the end of the post-1890s depression and World War One variety industry expansion era. In this respect a very small percentage of the vaudevillians who began their careers between circa 1890 to 1925 were still actively engaged in professional variety by the mid-1930s, a period notable for the Great Depression and the rise in popularity of the ‘talkies.’ Indeed, while cinema and variety theatre had coexisted on a fairly equal basis throughout the 1910s and for most of the 1920s, by 1928, the film industry had finally succeeded in ousting live theatre as the dominant entertainment medium.
As the chronology shows, only a few revusical companies were still plying their trade up until the mid-1930s – notably those led by Jim Gerald and George Wallace. While a small number of variety stars were still able to find engagements – Roy Rene, Sadie Gale, Charles Delavale, Amy Rochelle, Bert Le Blanc, Charles Norman, Alex Kellaway and Keith Connelly (both ex-Stiffy and Mo Revue Company members) and Charles Zoli, for example, employment opportunities became ever-more scarce, and the industry essentially collapsed in on itself. Only the Tivoli organisation was able to continue, with once established companies run by the Fullers and Harry Clay being forced to either close down their theatrical operations or become film exhibitors themselves.
• Authorship of Works: In many instances the exact authorship of the music or text is unclear. In those instances “n/e” (not established) is indicated. Establishing authorship of the text in many revusicals is difficult because they often included “bis” (comic business) that would have been inserted by particular performers from a repertoire of material they used throughout their careers. Furthermore many works were adapted from other sources and it is often impossible to tell not only which were adaptations but also how much was non-original and how much was original. Because the creative design of most revusicals was generally overseen by the troupe leader (i.e. George Wallace) or principal comedians (i.e. George Ward and Charles Sherman) these individuals are given the authorship credit (if only to help identify the particular works).
The multiple author abbreviation “et al” has not been used in this chronology due to the difficulties in establishing sole/multiple authorships. Nat Phillips, for example, is given credit for writing the majority of the Stiffy and Mo productions, but may have sometimes (or even regularly) also included material from members of his troupe.
It is also rare that the authorship the music in revusical can be identified. Troupe leaders like Nat Phillips, George Wallace and Charles Sherman are known to have written original songs, however, and thus when their contributions in this area have been established this is identified in the credits with “Mus incl.”
• Cast lists: In many instances the cast lists in this chronology may not be entirely accurate. Advertised performers (both principal and supporting) were sometimes changed without this being recorded. The spelling of some names in advertising or reviews is also often suspect, which means that there is some confusion over the identity of particular people.
With revusical troupes, for example, individual members may only be mentioned once or twice within the company’s entire season. Rarely is the entire cast listed. Further to this, the company membership often changed during a season – even during a week long run, and thus it is extremely difficult to accurately chart the membership of that company over time.
Each cast list is therefore an attempt represent as close as possible an idea of who was involved within each individual production over the course of its presentation. Complete cast lists are rarely available, so if in doubt the entry will include only those most likely to have been in that production. In some cases, however, a particular performer might have been sick or simply not needed. If this is known the information is included, but such details are rarely available.
• Cast/Characters: In revusicals each actor generally played a stock part and therefore can generally be assumed to have always played a particular role while they were members of the troupe. In order to avoid unnecessary repetition, actor/character relationships are entered within the production field if this is possible. The information is not repeated unless changes (i.e. a new character name or a switch in roles) have been identified. Hence Nat Phillips (Stiffy) and Roy Rene (Mo) are identified as such in the first known production entry and after that as simple Nat Phillips and Roy Rene.
• Dates: The year in which each work’s details have been entered is the first known date established. There will be many instances, however, when particular works in the chronology were (possibly) staged prior to the date of entry but that these earlier dates are unknown. This is to be expected because the research into this area of Australian theatre history is still on-going.
Any work which was staged overseas prior to being produced in Australia is always entered according to the date of the earlier oversees production.
• Director/Producer: This chronology refers to the roles of “producer” and “director” as we currently apply them, and in this respect they have been reversed.
During the era under investigation it was the “Director” that oversaw the financial and organizational control of a works. Often billed as “Direction by…,” this role could be undertaken either by individuals or companies. Directors usually had only minor influence (if at all) over creative issues, actors, and day to day production. Such people/firms included Fullers’ Theatres (Sir Benjamin and John Fuller), Harry Rickards, Harry Clay, Hugh D. McIntosh, Ted Holland etc. Producers during this period (sometimes referred to as stage managers) were therefore the individuals in charge of the actual staging of a work – directing the actors and production crew and taking charge of creative decisions. With the revusical genre these were invariably the troupe leader – Nat Phillips, Jim Gerald, George Wallace, Paul Stanhope, Con Moreni etc.