University of Sydney
Goodbye–Hello: Kate Howarde’s Possum Paddock on Stage and Screen
Little remembered today, Kate Howarde was a pioneering actor, director, writer and producer, whose career lasted half a century, from the late 19th century, where theatre was the primary form of popular entertainment, through the era where film emerged and began to eclipse theatre, and indeed on into the 1930s. In 1921 Howarde adapted her highly successful play, Possum Paddock, and became the first Australian woman to direct a feature film (she also starred in it). Howarde was performing the future at the same time as she lived and worked it.
Thomas Elsaesser has claimed that “cinema was both a continuation of old media and the start of something new”. He was referring to technologies like the magic lanterns and kinetoscopes which preceded film, but we can potentially think of theatre as “old media” too, with cinema as one form of its continuation – goodbye-hello – while co-existing alongside it, and in a complex relationship to it. This nexus between theatre and early film, and in particular the relationship between actress-managers and early film, is under-explored, but as Duckett and Adriaensens suggest “it is precisely the established and tested practices of the nineteenth-century theatre that are embedded in the cinema’s distribution networks, promulgation of celebrity, range of acting styles and theatrical titles on offer”. Howarde’s work across these two genres through her play and later film offers a fascinating case study through which to explore questions relating to the creation and distribution of artforms, artworks and, indeed, audiences, in the early 20th century.
Laura Ginters is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney, serves on the Editorial Board for About Performance and Australasian Drama Studies, and is a member of the Seymour Theatre Centre’s Advisory Group. Her research into student drama in the 19th and 20th centuries includes (with Robyn Dalton) The Ripples Before the New Wave: Drama at the University of Sydney 1957-63 (Sydney: Currency Press, 2018). She is currently pursuing her interest in 19th century women in the theatre, investigating the enormously popular productions of Medea on the Australian Goldfields, as well as the remarkable career of Kate Howarde.