An early arts scene

1. Look closely at the playbill. Ask students to try to read what it says. Use the following questions to prompt a class discussion: 

  • What is the purpose of this document?
  • Which colonial governor might have attended the performance?
  • What does the 1796 playbill tell us about early Sydney? What does it tell us about Australian printing and Australian theatre?
  • Why do you think a printing press was included in the cargo of the First Fleet?
  • How much did it cost to attend The Theatre, Sydney, in 1796?

2. The actors in the plays that this playbill advertises were mainly convicts. Acting in a play was a more favourable occupation than many other convict roles. Ask your students to investigate other jobs undertaken by convicts in the early days of European settlement in Sydney.

3. Sydney in the 1790s was a young colonial settlement, struggling to feed its non-Indigenous population of 3,000 people and to become economically viable. This playbill indicates that, despite the concerns and worries that plagued the colony in that period, there was still time to socialise and enjoy the arts.

The theatre that this playbill advertised was situated in the area known as The Rocks. Divide your students into groups and ask them to investigate The Rocks. Each group should examine one of the following topics and present their work as a poster for classroom display:

  • How The Rocks were built
  • A timeline of population and events in The Rocks
  • Key landmarks and buildings in The Rocks
  • Trades and activities in The Rocks
  • Key people and personalities in The Rocks
  • The bubonic plague of 1900 in The Rocks

4. Ask students to compare the playbill with a theatre or cinema poster that they have seen recently. (You may need to collect some posters from cafes and theatre foyers on the students’ behalf). Students should redesign the 1796 playbill to attract a contemporary audience to see the same plays and dances. 

Other Treasures sources that relate to the concepts explored in this source include: Convict Experiences, First Fleet (Year 4 resource).