The on and off-stage roles of Abbey Theatre actresses of the 1930s
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Building on the work of Maggie Gale and John Stokes in The Cambridge Companion to the Actress, this doctoral thesis exposes ‘the construction of the actress’ in the context of the Irish Free State (1922 – 1937). (2) It examines the life stories of five women who performed in the Abbey Theatre Company during the 1930s: Eileen Crowe, May Craig, Aideen O’Connor, Frolie Mulhern and Ria Mooney. It sets out the life story of each of these women, including many performances at the Abbey Theatre and two particular American tours with the Abbey Theatre Company (1934-35 and 1937-38), and exposes key elements of their lives and careers. The theatrical lives explored here have been largely forgotten or ignored; yet I posit these women are legitimate subjects for an exploration of the formation of the professional actress in Ireland. I draw on archival material hitherto never collated or used for scholarly purposes. In each case, I re-constitute archival traces and strive to capture a sense of the woman herself: her understanding of her craft, her personal challenges, achievements and failures. The nature of the search, the challenges and material unearthed is commented upon in each section and there is a concerted effort, as Susan Bennett urges, ‘to extend and disturb historiographical method beyond its usual evidence.’ (‘Theatre History’ 55) The length and density of each of the chapters reflects the volume of archival material they left behind. These are partial biographies, based only on archival traces, and such traces vary from actress to actress. However, I argue that, presented together, these biographies facilitate the induction of patterns and engender a deeper understanding of the strategies used by Irish women in their artistic careers at the Abbey Theatre during the 1930s.