Did musical theatre become more female focused during the war?

The titles of musical plays and musical comedies tended to be more female prior to the war. In the 18 months leading up to the outbreak of war there were 27 such plays showed in Manchester with 15 of them having a title that was in someway female. By female titling i mean having a girls name in the title or the words ‘girl’, ‘mistress’, ‘princess’, ‘she’, ‘her’ etc. the rest of the musical plays in that period had gender neutral titles. Between July 1914 and December 1915 there were 44 musical plays performed in Manchester, of these 44 there were 20 that were female titled, so again quite a high percentage. 23 were gender neutral in their title and one was called ‘The Chocolate Soldier’, the only one that could in anyway be seen as a male titled play.

While the titles of musical plays and comedies had always been more female focused, the articles written about the plays were fairly evenly balanced. I noticed that from December 1914, however, the attention seemed to fall more onto the women in the cast than the men. Many of the articles just gave a brief description of the plot and named the composer and some of the main cast members, this was complimented by a picture of one of the cast members (see featured image). Throughout 1915 there were 20 articles written about musical plays and comedies, 17 of these articles featured a picture of a female cast member, whereas only 2 featured a picture of male cast member and 1 included a picture of a man and woman. The articles themselves did not always focus on the women, they continued with their usual commentary on the storyline of the play.

What was the reason for this shift? Could it be due to there being more female cast members with many men fighting in the war? Could it be that they felt it was better advertising to use women in the pictures rather men? Whatever the reason for the shift it did not apply to musical opera. The articles written on the opera companies remained fairly evenly split with some featured photographs being women and some being men.

It would seem that the reason for the shift in musical theatre was not due to a changing and evolving attitude among the men in the business. When Miss Boyle of the Womens Freedom league reported that many women who had been employed as assistants in Public Libraries may be given more responsible posts, Strephon retorted “Anything you like my dear, but don’t let ’em write novels”

by Katrina Ingram

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