[DWJ] OT: any actors around?

shawyer at mail.utexas.edu shawyer at mail.utexas.edu
Wed Apr 4 12:42:17 EDT 2007

In general, professional actors in the Middle Ages (in Europe) were itinerant,
and did not belong to a guild. Troupes of performers traveled from town to town
or great hall to great hall to perform on festival days or wherever and whenever
they thought they could make some money. Performing companies were mostly family
groups. Because they were itinerant, actors were often viewed with suspicion as
"masterless men" who did not fit into a strict class hierarchy, since they had
no obvious noble patron. By the mid-16th century in England performing groups
were required to be licensed, and have a noble patron: therefore, the Lord
Chamberlain's Men, the King's Men, the Lord Admiral's Men, etc. Although many
professional acting companies still had family connections, in Tudor England
non-family members could join a company as an apprentice to learn the craft:
for example, boy actors who played female roles on the Elizabethan stage.
Company members with enough cash could buy a share in the company and by doing
so, share in company profits and decision-making. Shakespeare did this.

There were also many amateur actors in the Middle Ages (in Europe), since towns
would sponsor celebratory religious drama on Christian holidays. (Cycle plays
are an example of this.) Scripts would be written by priests (who were
literate) and different guilds would be responsible for casting, rehearsing,
costuming, and performing a specific playlet within the play cycle. A cycle
could all day, or several days.) These actors were guild members: carpenters,
candle-makers, butchers, etc. Sometimes a guild would hire a professional actor
for an important role, or a professional "special-effects" master to create cool
effects like Noah's flood (water pouring off a roof from barrels) or devils in
flaming costumes.

Of course, things were different in Asia, but I'm assuming "Middle Ages" means

Today, there are several unions for performers and theatre-workers: Actor's
Equity, Screen Actors Guild, the Literary Managers and Dramaturg's association,
IATSE for theatre technicians . . .  Each of these would have a website with
lots of information.

(a theatre history grad student and performer who is briefly de-lurking to take
a break from her studies)

> Helen wrote:
> >"Interview a guild member (a person who practices the craft today) and
> >report to the court:
> >a. -what was your guild like in the Middle Ages,
> >b. -what is your guild/craft like today,
> >c. -plus one question of your choosing."
> >
> >I am afraid most of the people interviewed will just say "No clue" to
> >question A! I don't know what the student is supposed to do if that
> >happens.

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