Victorian Theatre Management

Victorian theatres are typically run by a male or female manager who is or was an actor previously and chose theatre as a source of profit. He/she is both the artistic and administrative manager and in many cases the financier. Victorian theatre receives no subsidies. Occasionally the manager also receives financial assistance from a backer or borrowed money.

Nineteenth century theatre was not and is not a sure thing financially. Many a theatre manager failed financially, including some who managed theatres such as the London Drury Lane and the Covent Garden. As mentioned previously, Victorian theatre was based on the economy and when the economy was poor, it severely affected the theatre. This is not to say that there were no poor managers, as indeed there were, but the majority of failures were based on economic conditions.


The manager rarely owns the theatre, rather he leased it from the owner of the building who in turn pays ground rent to the landowner. Under his lease, the theatre manager is required to maintain the building, pay rates, taxes, insurance and leave all the fixtures as well as a supply of scenery, costumes and props when he leaves.

In addition to the above, the theatre manager is also responsible for all of the burden of running the company and putting on the plays. This included the casting of actors for every play; the selection of the administrative, backstage and front-of-the-house staff; the payroll; the selection and scheduling of the plays and supervising the rehearsals.

Motivation and Capital Investment

A theatre manager's life was not an easy one and required strong motivation and capital. Although many managers did amass fortunes, the incentives proved just as desirable; the opportunity to stand out with distinction amongst one's peers.

Company Organization and Expenses

The cost of running a theatre did not come inexpensively. Upon entering a lease, the manager needed to hire a business manager to look after advertising and printing. He also supervised the money-takers, check-takers, attendants and the box office staff. The size of the company depended upon the size of the theatre leased, the budget and the repertory. These also determined the number of technical staff required (stage carpenters, machinists, gasmen, limelight operators, property men and wardrobe staff). He also had to hire a conductor, musical director and orchestra as there was no such thing as no orchestra in the Victorian theatre.

In 1865, the staff required for a production of "Little King Pipkin, at Drury Lane was approximately 900 which included 48 seamstresses and wardrobe staff, 45 dressers, 17 gasmen, 200 child performers and 60 in the ballet.

Without the hope of profit, there would have been no pantomime and no Victorian theatre. The manager's expense would have to be calculated before he even opened the doors. A single production could end up costing 20,000.

Revenue and Pricing

Sources of revenue for the theatre manager were well defined. A small income came from the sub-contracting of refreshments and catering. The rental was higher if the subcontractor was permitted to sell programs and run the cloak-room. These concessions developed during the mid- to end of the period and provided a modest source of income. Additionally some money could be recouped by selling off costumes and props to other theatres.

The box office was of course "the" major source of income. It isn't until the end of the century that a more efficient ticket selling system is established. The system currently in use (1876) is still the writing of tickets by hand which not only lends itself to error, but in some cases corruption on the part of the ticket-takers. Tickets were also being sold by outside booking agents. The agents purchased the tickets at a 25% discount.

Box office capacity ranged from 160 to 200 totaling approximately 1,000 weekly not including matinees or special performances.

Early in the century, pricing at Covent Garden was 7s.6d for the boxes, 4s for the pit, and 2s and 1s for the lower and upper galleries. At one point the "Old Price Riots" forced a reduction in some prices to 4s for boxes, 2s for pit and 1s for the galleries. However by the 1870s, prices again began to rise.

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