18th century street theatre
Posted: Thu May 10, 2012 9:08 pm
The Paris foire St Germain, 1763, after the fire of 1762.
Nicolet's theatre at the foire St Laurent, 1786.
Signora Violante presented entertainments including rope dancing and pantomimes in street booths and legitimate 18th century theatres of Ireland and Britain
The Italian impresario/performer Signora Violante (sometimes referred to as Madame Violante) excited audiences with her extraordinary rope dances and her introduction of ‘Lilliputian’ theatre featuring juvenile players.
Rope Dancer Signora Violante at the Haymarket
Signora Violante (1682-1741) arrived in England in 1720 as member of a company of comedians that presented commedia dell’arte pieces and pantomimes augmented with tumbling and dancing. She appeared first at the Haymarket Theatre, and later at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields playhouse.
Violante, a graceful, trained dancer famous for her extraordinary feats of strength and agility with high rope dancing, met with great success. Through subsequent engagements in Europe and again in London in 1726, she amazed her audiences as she walked backward and forward on a high rope or danced with a flag in each hand. Sometimes, to provide extra thrills for her audience, she danced with a person standing upright on her shoulder, or with a basket carrying a small child tied to each foot.
While Violante and her troupe travelled and performed in various venues, her husband Signor Violante presented his daring feats, sometimes as part of the presentation. In Bristol, England during the summer of 1728, he displayed his skills by sliding down a rope from the top of St. Vincent’s Rocks to the opposite side of the river. He also flew from the walls of the castle, and accidentally hung himself during a performance in 1733.
Smock Alley Theatre Appearances
At the invitation of Smock Alley Theatre manager Thomas Elrington, Signora Violante and her company that included her daughter Rosina, arrived in Dublin in December 1729. French dancing master Charles Lalauze and ‘Harlequin’ William Phillips performed with her. Advertisements hailed Violante as “the most famous Rope-Dancer now living”, and the house filled three times a week.
In late November 1730, Violante contracted for establishment of her own entertainment venue, the Dame Street booth located at the back of a banker’s house. With the addition of five new dancers, the company enjoyed great popularity from its opening until its summer closing in August, and during the following season. Following another successful series of London performances, Violante and company returned to Dublin where, instead of playing at the Dame Street booth, they established a larger one in George’s Lane, and another in Fownes Court.
* Margaret (Peg) Woffington 18th-Century Dublin-Born Actress
* John Gay's Memorable "The Beggar's Opera"
* Dublin Theatre Royal of Smock Alley
Violante, Woffington, and The Beggar’s Opera
Signora Violante, always ambitious and looking for something new and exciting to attract audiences, happened one day to see a shabbily-dressed girl drawing water from Dublin’s Liffey River for her mother’s wash tubs. Margaret (Peg) Woffington, age about 12, was one of two children of a poor widow who sold oranges in a huckster’s shop on Ormond Quay. The girl helped earn money by walking through the poor streets and calling out to attract customers who would buy the watercress she offered.
Peg and her mother accepted Violante’s offer to apprentice the girl in her productions that would feature a company of juveniles in popular plays. The first ‘Lilliputian’ presentation, which delighted audiences, was of The Beggar’s Opera (1732) that was, at the time, extremely popular in London. A shrewd and zealous impresario, Violante spared no expense in providing scenery, decorations, and costumes. As the character Polly Peachum, the talented Peg Woffington was a crowd pleaser who eventually earned her place as a renowned actress in Dublin and England.
Signora Violante in Edinburgh, Scotland
In 1735, Signora Violante settled in Edinburgh, Scotland where she established a successful dancing school and occasionally presented rope dancing and other entertainments. She died there in 1741.