You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Performing Arts’ tag.

I have filched a painting from my late mother and made it my own. Benedicta painted her clown in her teens — not that they were known as such an entity when she was growing up in the 1920s and ’30s. I say filched but I inherited it!

Untitled Clown by Benedicta Leigh

Untitled Clown by Benedicta Leigh

To create a different colour palette for him. I used several 2 Lil’ Owls textures from the Confetti series.

To set the whole thing off, I used another 2 Lil’ Owls texture from the Distressed series for a background on which you can see the faint markings of a musical score.

My mother’s clown now looks as if he is checking himself in the mirror before going on stage, an effect that was coincidental but was pointed out to me by ‘him indoors’, thus prompting the title.

Take care and keep laughing!


Related articles

A story is told that in 1806 a man goes to visit a doctor who is acclaimed for his ability to treat melancholia. “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep,” says the man. “I feel constantly miserable.  Please help me, doctor.”

“Laughter is the best medicine, my friend,” says the doctor. “Take yourself off to Covent Garden Theatre* where you will find The Great Grimaldi performing in Harlequin and Mother Goose; or the Golden Egg. It is exquisitely funny and will cure you of all your ills without any pills or potions from my cabinet.”

The man looks at the doctor for a moment.  “Ah,” he says. “That won’t help.”

“Why not, sir?”

The man shrugs. “I am Grimaldi.”

Grimaldi in 1819 by J.E.T. Robinson

Grimaldi in 1819 by J.E.T. Robinson

Apocryphal or no, I have little doubt the story’s origins go much further back. It would not surprise me if it was first told in Ancient Greece about an actor performing in one of Aristophanes’ comedies. It is a tale that has been attached to several comedians since, not least Dan Leno, whose depression was also legendary.

Joseph Grimaldi came from a line of Italian dancers and performers but was born and brought up in London. It is he we have to thank for the prominence of clowns in entertainment and for British pantomime existing in the form it does. A master craftsman when it came to performing in Commedia dell’Arte, an Italian style that became popular in the 16th century, Grimaldi’s antics in 19th-century Harlequinades transformed the clowning to such an extent that the clown ended up replacing the character of Harlequin.

The It’s Behind You site says this about his performance in the doctor-recommended Harlequin and Mother Goose:

The lack of great theatrical scenes allowed Grimaldi to project himself to the fore ‘he shone with unimpeded brilliance’ once critic wrote. Another marvelled at his performance ‘whether he robbed a pieman, opened an oyster, rode a giant carthorse, imitated a sweep, grasped a red-hot poker……. in all this he was extravagantly natural!’

Next time you go to a Christmas pantomime and sing along, think back to The Great Grimaldi for it was he whose comic songs were so popular that they became a permanent fixture in pantomime.  And if you’ve ever wondered why clowns are so often called Joey, think again of Grimaldi.

Grimaldi by John Cawse

Grimaldi by John Cawse

Andrew McConnell Stott, who has recently written a biography of Grimaldi — The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian — writes:

The audience was in hysterics. Grimaldi had been their idol since he first came to prominence in 1806, having been thrust into the highest sphere of celebrity with a virtuoso comic performance in the original production of Mother Goose, a show that took record profits and ran for longer than any other pantomime in history. Its success brought him national recognition, enormous fees, and a social circle that included Lord Byron, Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean, Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis and the entire Kemble family. The critics Leigh Hunt and William Hazlitt sang his praises, the young Charles Dickens edited his Memoirs….”

Having retired in 1823 from ill-health and exhaustion — ‘I have overleaped myself’ — Grimaldi ran out of money in 1828, though he was then helped by a yearly pension of £100 from the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, and various benefit performances were staged to help him.  He spent his remaining years in great pain from a body that he had pushed to the limit.

When he died in 1837, The London Illustrated News despaired that audiences would ever look upon his like again. It’s Behind You quotes from the periodical:

Grimaldi is dead and hath left no peer… We fear with him the spirit of pantomime has disappeared.

Joseph Grimaldi's grave

Joseph Grimaldi’s grave

Joseph Grimaldi is buried in the courtyard of St James’s Chapel in Pentonville and is commemorated every year on the first Sunday in February at the Holy Trinity Church in Dalston, The Clowns’ Church, with the Joseph Grimaldi Memorial Service. Since 1967, clowns have been able to attend the service wearing their costumes.

*Now The Royal Opera House

Take care and keep laughing!


Related articles

My other blog is all about the performing arts, darlings! Thus I introduce you to its own special page on First Night Design.

Rogues & Vagabonds

“The profession should be and is a kind of relay race – about information, opinions and passions being passed on.”  Alan Rickman, Theatregoer Magazine, November 2001

Take care and keep laughing!


Writer and Theatre Maker Stella Duffy makes very pertinent points in her post about the assumption that a paid piece of art has more ‘worth’ than one that is not. This and every other aspect she addresses is worth shouting about from the rooftops.

Take care and keep laughing!


Not Writing But Blogging

There’s been tons of attention for Bryony Kimmings’ You Show Me Yours blog, and hopefully there will be the same for Daniel Bye’s not-unrelated blog.

Not surprisingly I have some thought on this. Here they are, in no particular order :

I didn’t come into the arts to make money. I came into the arts to change the world.
I was 20 at the time, or maybe 18 (assuming the theatre I made while still studying counts), I was young, I forgive my young self that arrogance, the arrogance that believed that I – simply by my choice to make a difference – WOULD make a difference. I wasn’t totally wrong, but what I know now is that I have to make this difference with others. I have to make this difference with and for others. And sometimes the difference I want to make isn’t one that others…

View original post 1,811 more words

Vintage Actresses Calendar 2014 Vintage Actresses Calendar 2014

Vintage Actors Calendar 2014 Vintage Actors Calendar 2014

Vintage Song Girls Calendar 2014 (US & Canada) Vintage Song Girls Calendar 2014

Calendars for 2014

Take care and keep laughing!


Ballet and Theatre Pillow
Ballet and Theatre Pillow

The origin of this image is unknown, which suggests it is rare.  At a guess, it dates from the late 1910s or early 1920s and was possibly the cover of a ballet and theatre periodical.  It is an image I fell in love with  a couple of years ago when I was exploring Vintage Art Download, an exquisite site full of vintage images — some very rare — offered for sale by Mindy Sommers of Color Bakery.

Click here for all other products with this image.

Take care and keep laughing!


Rogues & Vagabonds

Some of you may have known me in my previous incarnation as  the founder and editor of Rogues & Vagabonds theatre website.  Regular readers of this blog will be aware that my background is in theatre and that I was ‘born in a trunk’.  It’s all change for Rogues & Vagabonds as I have just launched the site as a blog here on WordPress.  Slowly but surely, I am transferring all the articles over here, starting with Lynne Harvey‘s review of a touring production of Jim Cartwright’s Road, originally published on 29 November 2002.  I do hope you enjoy it and feel more than tempted to start following Rogues & Vagabonds for future posts.

Click here for the review and here to read more about R&V.

Take care and keep laughing!


I am delighted to report that my circus collage from 2011 is trending on Pinterest.

Take care and keep laughing!


As I have recently said on Facebook, whenever I sell a theatre-related design on whatever product, my heart leaps. Theatre is in my blood, partly because I spent over 30 years as an actress and partly because I was, as the saying goes, ‘born in a trunk’.  This theatre term used to mean that you were born on tour of theatrical parents and that while other babies spent their days and nights in cribs and prams, you spent yours sustained by the smell of greasepaint and curled up in the theatre’s wardrobe skip, either in the wings or one of  the dressing rooms.  Now it has the more general meaning of having theatrical parentage. I am reminded of another phrase, which was coined by the playwright Tom Robertson, as revealed by Clement Scott in The Drama of Yesterday and Today [Vol. I] (pub. Macmillan & Co, 1899), and of which I am very fond.  Robertson tells a story about a theatre child who has been “nursed on rose-pink and cradled in properties”.*  Aaah!

Imagine my delight, then, when a customer from the U.S. bought a collection of theatrical greeting cards,  which I created from my archive of vintage postcards.  Yesterday, I was thrilled anew by a slew of similar images selling to a British customer. Palace Theatre of Varieties Greeting Cards

Palace Theatre of Varieties

Varieties & Novelties Greeting Card 

Varieties & Novelties
Both the above are from original late 19th century music hall playbills for the Palace Theatre of Varieties, ‘The Handsomest Music Hall in Europe’. It was originally built as a venue for opera by Richard D’Oyly Carte but only one opera – Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe – was ever produced. The theatre was renamed the Palace Theatre in 1911, a name it retains to this day.

Dame Gladys Cooper (1888-1971), mother of the actor Robert Morley and grandmother of the late theatre critic and writer, Sheridan Morley.
Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905), the first actor to be knighted.
Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) as Queen Guinevere in King Arthur at the Lyceum Theatre in 1895
Montage of several late 19th century and early 20th century British actresses.
Top row: Ellen Terry (1847-1928), Irene Vanbrugh (1872-1949), Gladys Cooper (1888-1971), Gabrielle Ray (1883-1973)
Middle Row: Ellaline Terris (1872-1971), Mary Moore (1861-1931), Ellen Terry (1847-1928), Ellen Terry (1847-1928)
Bottom Row: Pauline Chase (1885-1962), Phyllis Broughton (1862 -1926), Phyllis Neilson-Terry (1892-1977), Isabel Jay (1879 – 1927)
Julia Neilson (1863-1957) and Mr Henry Ainley (1879-1945) in Henry of Navarre (1908). Taken from Play Pictorial, an early 20th century equivalent of today’s Theatregoer.

Take care and keep laughing.

About Sarah & First Night Design

*Rose-pink is a lighting gel for the stage; properties are the ‘props’ used by the actors in a production such as a newspaper, a table lighter or a book.

I have always adored the ephemera that attaches to the Circus.  I have never, mind you, enjoyed visits to the ring – in my childhood I found them boring or hated the way they treated the animals, and the slapstick never made me laugh – but give me an old ticket stub or the image of a clown and I’m yours for life!

This collage comprises a mixture of elements, some from my own collection (textured background and boy pierrot), a couple from The Graphics Fairy (lady on horse and cyclist) and a couple from Wikimedia (circus poster and aerialists).

At the Circus

As always, I love hearing from you and always appreciate your comments on my work.

Linking to Brag Monday at The Graphics Fairy.

Join me on Twitter or Facebook for news on when At the Circus is available to buy.

14 August 2012 update: Now available on my Zazzle store.

Take care and keep laughing.



Award-Free Blog

About Me

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 15,486 other followers



Artists 4 Peace


FND on Twitter


FND on Facebook


© Sarah Vernon and First Night Design 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Vernon and First Night Design with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Secret Barrister

Independent Blogger of the Year, The Comment Awards 2016 & 2017

Heritage Calling

A Historic England Blog

British Pathé

Updates from the Archive on WordPress

Homeless up north

My experiences of my time sleeping rough on the streets of North east England

Free Vintage Illustrations

Free full-color vintage illustrations in the public domain! Curated from postcards, books, ads, and more antique media from the 19th to early 20th-century.

Disappointed Idealist

Ranting from the chalkface

%d bloggers like this: