Dilettante Theatricals: The elite amateur in the Georgian period

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This article explores the clash of values between upper class amateurs and professional actors at the turn of the nineteenth century. It focusses on the Pic Nic Society, an exclusive private theatrical club which performed in London 1801-02 until it was closed down by the big guns of the patent theatres, backed by the constant bombardment of the press. The battle of the Pic Nics was a case of one powerful interest group clashing with another. Both capital and cultural capital were at stake. In many ways, the Pic Nic Society has much in common with amateur theatre of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. Yet, in key respects private theatricals were substantially different: the social elite were not locked into a system of alternating periods of work and free-time determined by paid employment. The nature of private theatricals complicates the professional/amateur binary and raises simple but important questions: what values were associated with the amateur in that period? And what might this say to us now?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-72
Number of pages6
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number1
Early online date23 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2020
EventHorace Walpole’s The Mysterious Mother: : A Mini-conference - Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, United States
Duration: 2 May 20183 May 2018


  • amateur
  • theatre
  • performance
  • social elite
  • Regency period

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