Welcome to Performers without Patrons

Will Kemp

The remarkable energies and talents that have investigated nearly every aspect of the theatre in Britain before 1642 have revealed much welcome information. Excavations have uncovered a great deal about the physical sizes and structures of playhouses and innyard playing places, and the companies that worked in them. Much attention has been devoted to the physical conditions of performing inside London, at court, and on tour in the provinces. The histories of the playing companies have been extensively studied, particularly with regard to their profitability, their stability, and their relationships with their patrons. But there has been little attention paid to another source of theatrical and entertainment activities: the companies and individuals who toured and flourished without mention, for whatever reason, of patrons.

Performers without patrons were responsible for a little over a third of the performance activity in Britain, outside London, recorded during the period before the closing of the theatres in 1642 (approximately 3780 instances out of a total of about 11,000). This project presents, analyzes and indexes the records of travelling professional performers in Britain outside London before 1642 for whom no information about patrons survives. These include a multitude of performer types – players, musicians, waits, acrobats, freaks, bearwards, camel-keepers and many others. These materials related to performers without patrons allow us more fully to understand the contexts from which grew the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries – this is the purpose of Performers without Patrons.

As research into early theatre proceeds into new locales, the new data discovered about performers without patrons will be incorporated into the datasheet; it’s likely that the proportion of patron-related and no-patron performers/troupes will not change.

Four links are given in the Menu above; the important one is ‘the Datasheet, explained’, which takes you to the page that introduces the large array of data that this site offers, and gives a link to load the datasheet. That’s the place to start!

At the side (if viewing on a fullscreen) or at the bottom (if viewing on a tablet or phone screen) of every page in the site is a list of all the pages in Performers without Patrons. You can click on any page from any other page, to navigate or return as you please. At the top of the list are six numbered pages which provide you with an introduction to the project and a commentary on some aspects of the information in the datasheet, exploring some of the kinds of information that can be gleaned from the records. You can best go through these pages in numerical order, or you can jump to any of the subjects covered. Enjoy Performers without Patrons!