Harley Granville-Barker was, in a manner of speaking, born into the theater in 1877. Granville-Barker’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Barker, formerly Bozzi-Granville, was a professional entertainer. The family traveled around together to her engagements, and young Harley was brought up to appear and to recite poetry with her professionally. Little is known of the extent and the nature of his formal education, but, at the age of fourteen he was enrolled in Sarah Thorne’s theatrical school at the Margate Theatre. During his six-month attendance at the school Granville-Barker met Berte Thomas, with whom he collaborated in the writing of his first four plays. Granville-Barker’s first major acting job was touring with Ben Greet’s Shakespeare company, which included Lillah McCarthy, whom he later married. In 1899, at the age of twenty-two, Granville-Barker took the main role in William Poel’s Elizabethan Stage Society production of William Shakespeare’s Richard II. Poel’s production led Granville-Barker to become involved in the newly founded Stage Society, for which he functioned as both an actor and a director. One of the results of his involvement with the Stage Society was his long and close friendship with George Bernard Shaw and, through his involvement with Shaw, his membership in the Fabian Society.
Another, more significant result of Granville-Barker’s work with the Stage Society was the revolutionary Vedrenne-Barker management at the Court Theatre from 1904 to 1907; J. E. Vedrenne acted as business manager and Granville-Barker directed all the plays and acted in many. The Vedrenne-Barker seasons at the Court Theatre were revolutionary not only in the plays they presented (by John Galsworthy, Henrik Ibsen, Maurice Maeterlinck, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Shaw, to name a few) but also in their format of repertory. In 1906 Granville-Barker married McCarthy, who had also been involved in the Vedrenne-Barker productions. Following the Vedrenne-Barker management, Granville-Barker’s involvement with the theater took the form of efforts to...
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