Louisa Lane and Halifax’s Garrison Theatre, c. 1833

Performance Historiographies Seminar, Canadian Association for Theatre Research, Ottawa, ON. June 2015.

While reading the 1899 memoirs of Mrs. John Drew (née Louisa Lane),[1] a doyenne of the nineteenth-century American stage, I was caught off-guard by a brief account of the summer c. 1833 when she and her mother traveled to Halifax to “act with the Garrison amateurs twice a week” (Drew 69). Thirteen years old at the time, she recalls that “[w]e saw a good deal of human nature there — all the personal strife of real actors without the ability. However, it passed the summer away very pleasantly” (69). Mrs. Drew’s short, condescending description of Halifax’s garrison company raises questions about gender dynamics in the company and the relationship between “local” and “foreign” players. If, as some histories suggest, there was an “unwritten rule barring women from acting in garrison productions” (Boutelier 47), what or who prompted young Louisa Lane and her mother to travel from the US to Halifax to play with them that summer? How typical was this kind of engagement and to what extent does Mrs. Drew’s account trouble assumptions about the homosociality of garrison theatre performance? From a broader geographic perspective, how might this record of visiting players (as a child, Louisa Lane also played in Jamaica and the West Indies) invite theatre historians to rethink the contribution of Halifax garrison theatre to the formation of transatlantic, hemispheric, and imperial theatre cultures?

Works Cited

Boutelier, Alex D. “The Citadel on Stage: The Rise and Decline of Garrison Theatre in Halifax.” MA thesis, Saint Mary’s University, 2005.

Drew, Mrs. John (Louisa Lane). Autobiographical Sketch of Mrs. John Drew. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899.

[1] Mrs. John Drew was the grandmother of Ethel, John, and Lionel Barrymore, and great, great grandmother of Drew Barrymore, who also began her acting career as a child.

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