The Australian Variety Theatre Archive (AVTA) is an independent, not-for-profit research website devoted to the period of theatrical activity in Australia that might be considered the 'golden years' of minstrelsy and vaudeville. The motivation for the site has been the need to rectify the exceedingly poor amount of research directed towards this area of Australian history and thus address the many myths, inaccuracies and gaps that are to be found in the present historical record.
The AVTA's primary objectives are two-fold: To celebrate and advance our knowledge of the Australian variety theatre industry which operated between the mid-1800s and the late-1920s/early-1930s; and to provide an on-going information archive which will serve as the basis for further research by both academics and historians, as well as by the general public.
Variety entertainment during the period covered by the AVTA crossed many theatrical genres and media forms (including film and radio). The archive is primarily interested, however, in the following genres: burlesque minstrelsy (including minstrels farces) vaudeville revue revusical (one act musical comedies) pantomime. The archive is also looking to provide biographical details on the people involved in variety the performers (individuals and acts), entrepreneurs and managers, troupes, scenic artists, stage managers, front-of-house managers, costume and property-makers, choreographers, writers, composers, songwriters, lyricists directors, music directors, producers and associated industry practitioners (journalists/critics, advance representatives etc).
The AVTA also publishes Mixed Bag, a monograph series devoted to variety theatre and popular culture entertainment.
This thesis will address the problem of a particular construction of our Australian cultural past through its examination of the life and times of Harry Clay and his vaudeville enterprises. Through its extensive survey of primary source materials the thesis will fill in a number of historical black holes that have occurred in our knowledge of this period of popular Australian theatrical and cultural history. While one particular argument - that Harry Clay was one of the three most important figures in vaudeville management in Australia - is not entirely new, the thesis is nonetheless the first historical survey which has undertaken the task of proving this claim.
In line with this argument I will consider the influence that Clay's Vaudeville Company exerted through the many years it maintained regular employment for performers. Also of importance would be his role in establishing or developing the early careers of a great many performers who later went on to perform on the major vaudeville circuits, and even overseas. Such considerations could add significantly more knowledge to the sad fact that, as Victoria Chance acknowledges in The Companion to Theatre in Australia, only Dinks and Onkus are so well remembered purely from Clay's Theatres" (191). Hence the thesis will also endeavour to bring to light several performers whose once well-known careers in vaudeville (and other areas of the entertainment industry) were linked in some way to Harry Clay's organisation.
The thesis will also investigate aspects of Clay’s institutional and commercial practices which were utilised as part of his day to day operations, identifying several options which actually worked against him in terms of later historical and cultural acknowledgment. As part of its historical focus, too, the earlier career of Harry Clay will be examined, as a means by which the thesis will be able to record and analyse the influences which informed Clay's business methods and style.
In addition to the main body of the thesis, I will present a detailed appendix section which will include information that while important to the historical examination of Harry Clay has not been able to be included as part of the dissertation's argument.