Sarah Baker



  • (c. 1736 - 1816) English theater proprietor, famousfor her indomitable energy and enterprise during a career of morethan 50 years. Although she could barely read and write, she manageda circuit of 10 theaters in Kent.

    Sarah was the daughter of a touring actress and began hercareer with a puppet show. She married an actor in about 1761 butwas widowed eight years later; to support her three children, shemanaged her mother's company before forming her own. Edmund Kean appearedwith her troupe early in his career. She established a touring circuitin Kent and the whole family regularly presented comedies and tragedies.From about 1789 onwards she built her own theaters, eventually owningvenues in Canterbury, Rochester, Faversham, Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells,Deal, Folkestone, Sandwich, Sittingbourne, and Lewes.

    As well as contributing sound effects, Mrs Baker personallycollected admission fees for the pit, boxes, and gallery. She thenstuffed the receipts in her large front pocket and carried them toher room to be added to the money kept in large china punch bowlson the top shelf of an old bureau. Mistrusting banks, she carriedher savings from town to town, once keeping a £200 note in herpocket for seven years.

    Mrs Baker found various ingenious ways of overcoming her literacyproblems. The critic Edward Dutton Cook (1829 - 83) describedher method of creating a playbill by cutting out the titles of a play,an interlude, and a farce from old posters and sewing them together"avoiding the use of pen and ink". Other occasions provedmore embarrassing, especially when she had to replace the prompter.On one such evening, her leading actor James Gardner was playing therole of Gradus in the farce Who's the Dupe? In a scene whereGradus pretends to speak Greek, Gardner's mind went blank. He glancedtowards the prompt side, but Mrs Baker was mute, puzzlingover the playbook. "Give me the word, Madam," he whispered,but she only replied, "It's a hard word, Jim." With desperation,he asked for the next word. "That's harder," she replied."The next," appealed Gardner. "Harder still!"she snapped, then hurled the book on stage and called, "There,now you have them all. Take your choice."