My published research explores nineteenth-century amateur theatricals as they intersected with contemporary commercial trends. Most detail how women manipulated contemporary gender expectations to achieve public voices. Some pieces also analyze how amateurs adopted and adapted to new developments in technology and publishing.


Food Insecurity Study

This project is an interdisciplinary research study to assess current needs and create future plans for a more visible and robust support system to support students experiencing food insecurity while enrolled at Marist. Funded in February 2019, the study will run through the calendar year.

Sweet Caporal Cigarette Company button and pin picturing Mrs. James Brown Potter.

Sweet Caporal Cigarette Company button and pin picturing Mrs. James Brown Potter.

“Mutual Profiteering: Sensational Journalism, Society Columns, and Mrs James Brown Potter’s Theatrical Debuts,” Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film 46.1 (2019): 73-98.

In 1887 Cora Urquhart Brown Potter left behind her life as an amateur theatrical practitioner in elite New York City society and turned professional amid a newspaper maelstrom. This article explores how Potter used her agency and celebrity as a socialite to lay the foundation for a professional career in the press. By exploiting the concurrent expansion of sensational journalism and society page news, Potter encouraged the press to market her scandalous departure for the stage to sell papers and, in doing so, ensured that her transition from amateur to professional was newsworthy enough to sell tickets outside a traditional producing framework, even if perhaps her acting might not have been up to par.

Calcium Light Burton.jpg

C.E. Burton. Burton's Amateur Actor. (New York: Fitzgerald Publishing Company, 1876), 26.

“Parlor Conflagrations: Science and Special Effects in Amateur Theatricals Manuals,” Popular Entertainment Studies 6.1 (2015): 26-41.

The article analyzes the special effects advice contained in nineteenth-century guidebooks for amateur theatricals. Most of the guidebooks include instructions for potentially explosive effects while simultaneously steering amateurs away from technologically complex productions. By contextualizing the guidebooks within commercial theatrical and popular science publishing traditions, this article argues that the technological advice is included to appeal to a broader popular science readership as well as theatre patrons who are interested in the technology of the stage. 

Alice and Rita Lawrence.

Alice and Rita Lawrence.

“’a most dreadful position’: Amateur Reputations in a Professional World,” PAR 28: A Tyranny of Documents: The Performance Historian as Film Noir Detective: Essays Dedicated to Brooks McNamara, edited by Stephen Johnson, 28 (2011): 160-168.

These next two pieces both explore the historiographical challenges of conducting research into nineteenth-century amateur theatricals. They draw on the archival material from Rita and Alice Lawrence.

This piece explores a scandal about a performance at the Lyceum Theatre in late winter of 1890. The extant documentation provides an alluring if unclear layering of society women interacting with the professional stage, despite lingering societal and familial concerns that a professional stage career might have been an inappropriate choice for members of the New York elite, as it certainly was for the Lawrences in the eyes of their parents.


An undated amateur theatrical program from a scrapbook.

An undated amateur theatrical program from a scrapbook.

“Recording Forbidden Careers: Nineteenth-Century Amateur Theatricals” in Scrapbooks, Snapshots and Memorabilia: Hidden Archives of Performance, edited by Glen McGillivray, (Peter Lang, 2011): 229- 248.

The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the confluence of fads for theatricals and scrapbooking. These combined with developments in newspaper publishing and society column reporting to enable performers to save public and private records of their productions. This article explores the historiographical questions raised by this interplay of sources in scrapbooks. 

New York Drama . This is the interior cover of No. 10 in the series of plays issued for amateur reading and production.

New York Drama. This is the interior cover of No. 10 in the series of plays issued for amateur reading and production.

“A Shot over the Bow: William Gillette and Amateur Play Piracy,” Journal of American Drama and Theatre, 22 no.3 (2010): 23-41

In 1891, the Mansfield Amateur Dramatic Association ignored legal correspondence and continued with an unlicensed production of William Gillette's Held by the Enemy. The resulting lawsuit serves as the basis for an exploration of the uncertain legal terrain in which amateur performers and professional playwrights were operating at the end of the nineteenth century. While publishers - the so-called play pirates - printed unauthorized copies of plays in these days before robust international copyright laws, producers were presented with the choice to perform from pirated or licensed texts. Amateurs such as the Mansfield saw themselves as above these legal restrictions, but the playwrights and courts thought otherwise. 

Mrs. Brown Potter was one of many amateur theatrical practitioners who gained public power through theatricals by exploiting gendered expectations of charitable behaviors.

Mrs. Brown Potter was one of many amateur theatrical practitioners who gained public power through theatricals by exploiting gendered expectations of charitable behaviors.

“Tainted Money? Nineteenth Century Charity Theatricals,” Theatre Symposium: Theatre and Moral Order, 15 (2007): 52-73.

As the nineteenth-century progressed, more and more amateur performers took their theatricals out of private venues and into public spaces, including rented commercial theatres. For many, this move was fraught because of social approbation, but women in particular were able to shield themselves from moral criticism by performing for charity. By exploiting traditional class-based gender roles, the women could simultaneously gain public voices and perform theatricals, safely under the rhetorical cover of charitable giving. 

Mrs. Brown Potter.

Mrs. Brown Potter.

“Amateur Economies: Widowhood and Marriage for Amateur Performers,” in “To Have or Have Not”: Essays on Commerce and Capital in Modern Theatre, edited by James Fisher, (McFarland & Co., 2011): 41-56.

Drama chosen by amateur theatricals performers also sought to counteract any potential societal critiques of immorality. This article discusses a set of popular plays which show young widows who remarry despite having achieved financial and societal freedom. The regular appearance of this character type tempers the actual power being expressed by the young women in these shows. 


I am the Editor in Chief of Theatre Design & Technology, the official journal of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. USITT is the leading professional organization for live performance design and technology educators, practitioners, and students. TD&T is the leading non–commercial publication in the US documenting and advancing the art and science of theatrical design and production. Each article is expected to advance the art of theatrical production while being held to the highest standards of technical accuracy. Every submission is reviewed by at least two content experts and the journal’s editor prior to publication. The current average print circulation for TD&T is 4,100.

Conference Presentation, Book Reviews, and Other Work

Book Reviews:

Review of Child Labor in the British Victorian Entertainment Industry by Dyan Colclough. Theatre History Studies (2017) 325-328.

Review of An Introduction to Theatre Design by Stephen Di Benedetto and Scene Design: Rendering and Media by Wenhai Ma. Theatre Topics 23 (2013).

Review of Arsenic and Clam Chowder: Murder in Gilded Age New York by James Livingston. Hudson River Valley Review 27.2 (2011): 161-163.

Review of The Shakespearean Dramaturg: A Theoretical and Practical Guide by Andrew James Hartley.  Theatre Topics 18.1 (2008): 87 

Review of Strange Duets: Impresarios and Actresses in the American Theatre, 1865-1914 by Kim Marra.  Theatre Journal 60.1 (2008): 155-156.


Selected Conference Research Presentations:

“Society News and Social Networks: Professional Playwrights on Amateur Stages” Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Boston, August 2018

“Women’s Public Voices: Florentine Amateur Entertainments in the Early Twentieth Century.” Women in the Mediterranean Conference, May 2017

“Community-Building through Dogs and Opera: Pre-WWI Florentine Amateur Theatre.” Mid-America Theatre Conference, March 2015

“Charitable Ticket Sales: The Changing Role of the Patroness System and Audience Access to Nineteenth-Century Theatricals in New York.” RAPPT, London, June 2014.

“Troubled Collaboration: Belasco, the Fiskes, and the Society Playwright, Mrs. Burton Harrison,” Mid-America Theatre Conference, March 2014

 “Parlor Conflagrations: Adaptations of Theatre Technology,” Panel organizer and presenter, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Washington DC, August 2012

“Effortlessly Feminine: Debutantes and Performance in Late Victorian London,” Mid-America Theatre Conference, Chicago IL, March 2012

“A Community of Amateurs: YouTube and Pedagogy,” Working Session participant, American Society for Theatre Research, Montreal ON, November 2011

“Performing Ourselves: YouTube, Amateur Performance and Performance Theory in the Theatre Classroom,” Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Chicago IL, August 2011 

“Debuting in Boxes and Ballrooms: Amateur Theatricals amid the London Season,” WSAT2: What Signifies a Theatre 2: Private Theatricals and Amateur Dramatics, 1780-1900, Royal Holloway, University of London, June 2011

“The Economics of Widowhood in Nineteenth-Century Amateur Drama,” Northeastern Modern Languages Association, New Brunswick NJ, April 2011

 “Society Column Skirmishes: Mrs. James Brown Potter’s First Professional Tour,” Panel co-organizer and presenter, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Los Angeles, CA, August 2010 

“An Homage to Sparknotes?  Why Students Plagiarize,” Mid-America Theatre Conference, Pedagogy Symposium, Chicago IL, March 2009

“An Archival Travelogue through Amateur Theatre,” Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Denver CO, August 2008

 “A Shot over the Bow: Gillette Takes on Amateur Play Pirates,” American Theatre and Drama Society Emerging Scholars Panel, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Chicago IL, August 2006

“Tainted Money? Nineteenth Century Charity Theatricals,” Southeastern Theatre Conference Theatre Symposium, Atlanta, GA, March-April 2006.

 “Guiding the Nineteenth Century Home Performer: How Published Advice on Staging Home Theatricals Steered Amateurs Towards the Guise of Respectability,” Seminar Paper, American Society for Theatre Research, Las Vegas, NV, November 2004


Conference Roundtables:

“Writing about Design and Technology for Non-Writers,” USITT, March 2018

“Theatre History Teaching Materials,” roundtable participant, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Chicago, IL August 2016

“Introduction to Theatre Textbook Enhancements,” Roundtable participant, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Chicago, IL, August 2011

“Surviving Graduate School and the Job Market,” Roundtable participant, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Los Angeles, CA, August 2010

“Making it Up as We Go: Advising Student Theatre,” Roundtable organizer and participant, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Denver, CO, August 2008



All images and text copyright Eileen Curley, 2018-2019. Photos of archival materials are all from the author's personal collection.