10 Things I Didn’t know about P.T. Barnum (1810-1891)

Contemporary cartoon of Barnum as a “humbug”

Sure, we all know him as a great promoter, showman and founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus (at age 60) but here are some things I didn’t know.

  1. He created America’s first aquarium.
  2. He was a Republican member of the Connecticut legislature and the mayor of Bridgeport.
  3. He started Bridgeport Hospital.
  4. He almost bought the birth home of William Shakespeare.
  5. He created the concept of matinées to encourage families to come to the theater and to lessen the fear of crime.
  6. A self-proclaimed humbug himself, he offered $500 to any medium who could prove power to communicate with the dead in his book Humbugs of the World.
  7. He sponsored a law against contraception that was not overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1965.
  8. He made significant contributions to Tufts University, including Jumbo the circus elephant.
  9. He never actually said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
  10. He made arrangements to read his own obituary shortly before he died.

Source: Wikipedia, “P.T. Barnum”


Barrault, Jean-Louis (1910-1994)

Typical mime positions inspired by Etienne Decroux’s technique. Decroux was the teacher of Barrault.

If you’re like me, you probably admired mimes as a child, then saw too many parodies, which turned them into a joke.

For French actor, director and mime artist Jean-Louis Barrault, however, pantomiming was no joke.

He adapted William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying as a mime play.

He also created Baptiste, a pantomime ballet.

What’s next, a pantomimed Shakespearean play?

Photo source: http://bit.ly/1SUGHmR

Information from Wikipedia, “Jean-Louis Barrault”

Bancroft, Sir Squire (1841-1926)

Scene from The Vicarage

Thomas William Robertson’s play Ours (1866) was scandalous.  Was it because of sex?  No.  Violence?  No.  The furor was caused by a pudding being made on stage.   In The Vicarage (circa 1877) the characters shocked the audience by making tea.  People were not used to seeing such realistic tasks in a stage setting (http://bit.ly/1jqiBBm).

It was Sir Squire Bancroft and his wife who financed and promoted this new realism. They produced and starred in comedies all written by the new young playwright Thomas William Robertson, beginning in 1865.  Robertson introduced realism to the stage, and today, it’s hard to imagine anything else.  In Robertson’s plays, actors

  • talked in normal language (they didn’t “declaim”)
  • dealt with “ordinary” situations and
  • didn’t “act” but behaved like their audience (http://bit.ly/1jqiBBm).

Prior to Robertson, a designer would put as many chairs into a dining room scene as there were actors who needed to sit down.  Robertson would place on stage as many chairs as would realistically be found in that dining room, even if some were never actually used.  Or, if someone came in from a blizzard, snow would blow in from the doorway.  Other Robertson trademarks:

  • the importance of everyday incidents,
  • the revealing of character through apparent small talk, and
  • the idea that what is not said in the dialogue is as important as what is said (http://bit.ly/1o7uobA).

The Bancrofts gave Robertson an unprecedented amount of directorial control over his plays, which foreshadowed the power that directors wield in the theater today (http://bit.ly/1LI51IS).  Robertson insisted on retaining control over his scripts and casting and required that his actors follow his directions–a novel concept for that time.  Robertson was also a leader in requiring a fee from his managers for every performance of his plays, thus pioneering the modern royalty system (http://bit.ly/1o7uobA).

The Bancrofts were innovating, too (http://bit.ly/1jqiBBm).  They constructed rooms on stage which they dressed with the care of an interior decorator, with sofas, curtains, chairs, carpets on their stage floors. Instead of painted flats they had real doors with real door handles.  The actors wore well-made fashionable dress, not the trappings of a dusty theatre wardrobe.  The Bancrofts redesigned their theater to suit the increasingly upscale audience: The cheap benches near the stage, where the rowdiest elements of the audience used to sit, were replaced by comfortable padded seats, carpets were laid in the aisles, and the “pit” was renamed the “stalls.”

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1jqiBBm