Lauren Clay ’94 (Photo Courtesy: Vanderbilt University)

New book: Stagestruck: The Business of Theater in Eighteenth-Century France and Its Colonies, by Lauren R. Clay ’94 (Cornell University Press)

The author: An assistant professor of history at Vanderbilt University, Clay studies Old Regime and revolutionary France and its empire, focusing on urban cultural and civic life and the emergence of a commercially oriented society.
The book: Clay explores the making of the French theater industry during the pre-revolutionary era, when more than 80 provincial and colonial cities opened their first public playhouses. Clay “examines why and how professional public theater became a regular aspect of cultural and social life for city dwellers throughout France and its colonies,” she writes. Clay argues that theaters emerged as the most prominent new urban cultural institutions of the 18th century and shaped the cultural practices, commercial expectations, and social norms of the many spectators.


Opening lines: “‘Never has talent been so rare among us,’ complained theater director, dramatist, and talent scout Charles-Simon Favart. Writing from Paris in the early 1760s, Favart maintained that all of France was facing an acute shortage of able and experienced actors, actresses, and singers for hire. ‘We are beating the drum to find them,’ he observed, ‘and if our capital, which is their usual rendezvous, lacks them today, one cannot hope to find them elsewhere.’ Favart, who corresponded widely with performers and auditioned talent in provincial cities as well as in Paris, understood France’s changing talent market well. … Demand for qualified personnel exceeded supply and the reason was clear. ‘Each provincial city wants to have a troupe,’ he explained, ‘and they recruit all the way to our [Paris] boulevards.’”