Every Artist an Artiste

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May 25, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

On the one hand, my visit last spring to the V & A Theatre & Performing archive yielded a treasure-trove of ephemera related to the careers of Felicia Firmin and her husband Roy Lorraine. On the other hand, it was a curious sensation looking through the scattered bits of three lives – the third being Roy’s mother Amy Lorraine. Since the focus of the archive is performance, very little had been preserved in terms of personal effects. It’s a bit sobering to see a life winnowed down to one box the size of a magazine holder, even if it is only one aspect of that life.

I had hoped for something of Felicia’s mother, Harriet. But she turned out to exist only by implication here & there in the performance contracts for Felicia as a young child. Alas, I will have to look elsewhere for a photograph of Harriet.

What did happen was that I found myself drawn into the world of Felicia and Roy where, as the program stated, “Every Artist an Artiste.”

Felicia was a good enough performer, or Harriet an enterprising enough agent, or there was enough work available, that for the years where the programs have survived it seems like Felicia had reasonably frequent work in an industry that is not noted for steady employment. Every winter there was a pantomime, most summers there was some sort of touring show. Felicia started out small with recitations at benefit concerts. My conclusion is that her appearance did not fit the stereotype of the leading lady and she was cast more in supporting and “character” roles once she was no longer a child. A review of her contracts might also be an interesting post – what was she paid, what was supplied and what were her expenses (travel, clothing, etc)?

For the present, I will go back to the program that captured my attention and delve into a moment in time, rather than work on a laundry list of every performance I can find. It’s “TO-NIGHT”* at the Great Yarmouth Wellington Pier Gardens, Pavilion and Winter Garden and the show is about to begin. There are many photos of the building, but I’ve yet to see a picture of the inside and the stage so we’ll have to imagine the curtain rising as the show opens with “Mr Floyd and the Company.”

Programme, Great Yarmouth Wellington Pier Gardens.

“The Artists” – program from the Felicia Firmin and Roy Lorraine Collection at the V & A Theatre archives.

Messrs Campbell and Braham are presenting their show “The Artists.” There are 20 numbers split in half by the interval. The program is a mix of solo and company numbers and Felicia was credited with an appearance once in each half. She most likely also appeared in the full company numbers that closed each portion of the program.

If the show was in 1912, Felicia would have been about 18; she had been performing since she was about ten. She was clearly a professional by this time and her first number, the third of the show, was with “the company” in a number titled “Lifeguards,” where the composer was noted only as “Lyle.” In the second half, Felicia had a solo number, “Winter,” a march song composed by Albert Gumble with lyrics by Alfred Bryan. The opening lyrics are: “Winter time is freezing time, teasing time and squeezing time.”

"Winter is a freezing time"

Sheet music for “Winter” as digitized by the University of South Carolina as part of their sheet music collection online.

I imagine Felicia was a lively young woman, able to project the teasing nature of the song.

Felicia Firmin - soubrette and dancer.

In 1921, Felicia was still singing and dancing – a soubrette is a lively maid or coquette character in opera who has a light soprano voice. Caricature by  George Davey from a clipping in the Firmin & Lorraine Collection at the V&A Theatre Archives.

The other performers were (in order of appearance) Mr Edward Floyd, Mr Vere Denys (author of Trench Letters of a Humorist), Miss Clare Wood, Miss Isobel March, Mr Leslie Harold, Mr Frank Oakes, and Miss Doris Cowlrick. Felicia was billed simply as “Miss Firmin.”

*I imagine that with some diligent searching I could discover the exact date of the performance, but it’s not a vital piece of information. Though the programme itself is not dated, I’ve been able to date one song “The Little Damozel” to 1912, so this show must have been produced in 1912 or later.

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