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'Re-Dressing The Part:' The Scenographic Strategies of Ellen Terry (1847-1928)

Isaac, Veronica (2021) 'Re-Dressing The Part:' The Scenographic Strategies of Ellen Terry (1847-1928). In: Scenography and Art History: Performance Design and Visual Culture. Bloomsbury Visual Arts, London, pp. 141-165. ISBN 9781350204447

Type of Research: Book Section
Creators: Isaac, Veronica

Book chapter as part of edited collection.

A leading actress of the nineteenth century, Ellen Terry (1847–1928), is distinguished by the interest she took in the design and creation of her stage dress and, as importantly, the level of agency she was able to exercise over this process. Highly attuned to the significance of dress as an expression of identity, Terry consciously used her clothing, both on and off the stage, to fashion and sustain a position as a figurehead of the Aesthetic movement and an actress who understood the ‘art of dress’. Joslin McKinney and Scott Palmer argue that scenography is ‘not simply a by-product of theatre but [. . .] a mode of encounter and exchange founded on spatial and material relations between bodies, objects and environments’ (2017: 2–3). Similarly, Arnold Aronson suggests theatre scenography resides ‘within a much larger framework of art, architecture and social practice’ (2017: xiv). Building on the ‘expanded’ approach to scenography advocated by McKinney and Palmer, this chapter examines the ‘scenographic strategies’ Terry employed to manipulate the different ‘scenic environments’ within which she ‘performed’. Stephen Greenblatt’s contention that, ‘human identity’ can be ‘fashioned’ as part of a ‘manipulable, artful process’, offers further insights into the ‘scenographic Terry employed to ‘fashion’ her public identity (1980: 2–3). Reflecting on the ‘set of possibilities’ available to women in nineteenth-century society, this chapter considers how Terry – an actress celebrated for her ‘womanliness’ and ‘charm’ – used her ‘scenographic agency’ to negotiate the ‘limitations and opportunities’ associated with this persona (Irwin 2017: 121). Focusing on Terry’s time as the leading lady of the Lyceum Theatre (1878–1902), the discussion highlights the agency Terry exercised over a specific ‘scenographic element’ within Lyceum productions: her costume. Particular attention is paid to her costuming practices in The Amber Heart (1887) and Macbeth (1888): productions which illustrate the impact that Aestheticism had upon attitudes towards stage design and mark the pinnacle of Terry’s professional success. The analysis of the ‘scenographic strategies’ Terry employed in these roles reveals the crucial role Terry’s dress played in ‘co-authoring’ her performances (Barbieri 2017: n.p.).

Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Bloomsbury Visual Arts
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: 17 June 2021
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2022 14:01
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2022 14:01
Item ID: 17850
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/17850

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