- In the 18th and 19th centuries, a permanent troupe of actorswho performed a limited repertory at one or more theaters. The termsummer stock is still used in America for productions atprovincial summer theaters. The first stock companies were those ofLondon's Drury Lane and Covent Garden theaters in the early 18th century;the tradition continued with the circuit companies in bothBritain and America. They reached the height of their strength inthe 1850s; within 30 years, however, railways allowed professionaltouring companies to move easily about both countries, putting stockcompanies out of business. The last true example was Henry Irving'scompany, which gave its final performance at London's Lyceum Theatrein 1902.
The stock company was an excellent training-ground for youngactors, who were called upon to play a variety of parts. Players eventuallydeveloped specialities in the set roles. The company was led by theTragedian, who would star in parts such as Hamlet, Lear,and Macbeth; second in importance was the Low Comedian, whoplayed the leading parts in farcical comedies and minor roles in tragedies.Other set parts were the Juvenile Lead, a youthful hero orheroine, the Juvenile Tragedian, the Old Man andthe Old Woman, the Heavy Father (or Heavy Lead)who came into his own in the 1830s as a villain in melodrama, andthe Heavy Woman, who played roles such as Lady Macbeth. Minorparts were played by the Walking Lady and Walking Gentleman,General Utility or Utility, and the Supernumerary,or Super, who had a walk-on part. Specialized parts alsoexisted, such as the First Singer and the First Dancer.