restricted access Alfred Dampier as Performer of Late Colonial Australian Masculinities
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Alfred Dampier as Performer of Late Colonial Australian Masculinities VERONICA .KELLY Performers tend to imprint a strongly responsive and sympathetic outline upon the culture of their age. Through their distinctive resources of body. voice, gesture, personality, sex appeal, and manipulation of social personae they both mobilise and embody those identities, desires, and values held by their contemporaries. Spectral traces of their once vibrant and distinctive individual presence are detectable in newspaper accounts of live performances and discernible across a repertoire of varied roles. This actorly presence, while situational and diffused, may be articulated as a fairly constant gestaltconstellation of preferred attributes, vocal and physical presence, affects, and pleasures that are produced in dialogue with the values, emotions, and complex identifications of popular audiences. These affects and meanings will be explored through an examination of the I880s work of the English-born actor-manager Alfred Dampier, who brought his young family to Australia in 1873, working extensively in the Australasian colonies and abroad until his death in Sydney in 1908. While Dampier continued to tour widely in the English-speaking theatre world - England, Canada, New Zealand, the east and west coasts of the United States - he is a highly significant figure in Australian theatre and playwriting. In Australian stage history Dampier is famous for his nationalistic "Australian Theatre" seasons at the Melbourne Alexandra Theatre (1888-92), where he co-wrote and performed in such notable local plays as Marvellous Melbourne (written with I.H. Wranghan, 1889)' and Robbery Under Arl1l.l' (written with Garnet Walch, 1890).' Here I am studying an earlier phase of Alfred Dampier's Australian repertoire, from his arrival in Melbourne from England in 1873, when he performed and stage-managed at the TheatreRoyal, to the point of his return to Melbourne to manage the Alexandra Theatre in late 1888. During the /880s Dampier undertook protracted periods of management of two Sydney theatres, the Gaiety and the Royal Standard, during which he maintained a rapid turnModern Drama, 43 (Fall 2000) 469 470 VERONICA KELLY over of repertoire and commissioned and wrote new plays to suit the audience of these relatively small-capacity houses.3 As a respected and influential performer of predominantly middle-class constructions of masculinity, Dampier made a considerable, long-sustained, and, I believe, under-examined impact on colonial Australian culture. Henry Irving or Sarah Bernhardt were stars, in Richard Dyer's sense of the term performers whose public "personality" transcends and informs their dramatic vehicles4 - but Dampier was an actor, an artist involved in virtuoso displays of mimesis, as well as a manager and playwright. He provided for late colonial culture something perhaps more valuable than the transits of the charismatic stars: a constant and responsive presence; a degree of repertoire versatility within a reasonably coherent artistic programme; audience cultivation and sustained artistic leadership. He is consistently reported as an impressive, dedicated , and compelling performer whose authority depended on building up and maintaining an intimate and quasi-personal relationship with colonial audiences. This involved both winning and maintaining their respect for his craft and artistic judgement while providing the thrilling entertainment they sought. He shrewdly mixed reliable old vehicles with popular new plays of various genres, many of which were dramatic realisations of majorAustralian tropes or adapted literary material. In public thealre, such relationships involve a prolonged balancing act between seduction, service, domination, and sympathy. The audience must believe that they "own" the actor, while the actor must play - and in an economic sense, be - the audience's conscientious and inventive servant while remaining. in a crucial sense, its master: the artistic leader, not the follower. The audience should get what they want, which is the distinctive range of emotions and meanings they have come to expect from a performer, and part of these expectations of actorly "identity" is that he should also occasionally surprise them. Although Dampier did not exactly attain the status of colonial "star," his influence in late colonial Australian theatre as a prominent actormanager and playwright is the more nuanced and sustained precisely because of his high theatrical visibility and reputation, his persistence, industriousness, and adaptable social responsiveness. Of particular value for the investigation of colonial affects is the huge variety...