History Seminar Series, 16 May – Karen Donnelly: ‘The AIF Concert Parties WWI: Pre-war Theatrical Networks and Their Transformation’

Karen Donnelly will present her paper, ‘The AIF Concert Parties WWI: Pre-war Theatrical Networks and Their Transformation’, at this week’s History Seminar Series (Wednesday 16 May, 11am).


Of the 331,781 soldiers who embarked for overseas service, 990 stated on their Attestation forms that their profession was associated with the arts. Of these, 384 were actors, acrobats, vaudeville performers, magicians, singers and dancers, many of whom went on to join AIF concert party troupes. These troupes were independent military units and were structured on a civilian touring theatrical management system. This paper explores these concert parties within the AIF military structure to demonstrate how they created a new theatrical genre and re-imagined the female-impersonator against the backdrop of war.

The process of developing and producing creative material for soldiers was based on pre-existing theatrical practises, and the entertainment format was drawn from the pre-war vaudeville stage. However, in the absence of female performers, the concert party metamorphosed the familiar ‘panto-dame’ into a convincing female impersonator. This paper will examine the types of acts performed by the concert parties, with particular attention to the emergence of the female impersonator, to show how the First World War prompted the emergence of a new theatrical genre for AIF soldiers and post-war civilian audiences.

Karen is a postgraduate student in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University. 

Room Details:

Burwood: C.205
Waurn Ponds: ic3.108
VMP: ARTSED 2 (36917)


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