Submission note: This thesis is submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for a Doctor of Philosophy [to the] Theatre and Drama Program, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Victoria
This thesis investigates the early career of a leading performer, Eliza Winstanley (1818 - 1882), in early Australian theatre. In the period from 1834 to 1846, Winstanley developed into a prolific leading actor in Australia, described by her contemporaries as the ‘Mrs. Siddons of Sydney’ and ‘a star of the first magnitude’. She became pre-eminent in tragic, melodramatic and character roles including male roles as well as comic roles both in Australia and overseas. From 1859 she was also known for her sensationalist fiction. The thesis draws on archival and scholarly sources on Winstanley’s contribution to the nascent Sydney theatre in the 1830s and 1840s, which was crucial to the development of Australia’s theatre. It presents a descriptive history on the scholarship and a script, Miss W Treads, together with a creative development performance on film. The thesis asks: how significant was Winstanley’s artistic contribution to the creation of the productions in which she performed, and to new plays written in Sydney during the 1840s? This thesis argues that Winstanley’s contribution to early Australian theatre was more significant than theatre historians have recognised in accounts of Winstanley’s performances and early Australian playwriting (Nance Irvine, Helen Oppenheim, Eric Irvin, Margaret Williams, Veronica Kelly, Katherine Newey, Katherine Brisbane, Richard Fotheringham and Catriona Mills). It adds to this established historical record through an investigation of Winstanley’s oeuvre in archival research and practice, and the creative development investigates Winstanley’s performing and theatre productions through workshop processes; the script and a short film of the creative development are presented together with the written thesis component. The script, Miss W Treads presents possible scenarios in which Winstanley collaborates with her husband Henry O’Flaherty, in order to challenge assumptions that nineteenth-century female performers were less active in the creative process than their male colleagues and spouses.
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