The practice of designating a specific performance as a benefit for a particular actor has been traced back to Restoration England. In the 19th century, the benefit became part of the fabric of the theatre throughout Europe and the United States. When the manager of a resident stock company allotted benefit evenings to certain company members, the date could be fixed well in advance, allowing the beneficiary to choose a work that would show herself to advantage and attract the fans who might even pay inflated prices as a manifestation of their respect. After deduction of the house share, the entire proceeds of a benefit performance went to the announced beneficiary. The terms of a benefit were often part of a performer's original contract negotiations. Benefit performances in a resident stock company often occurred at the end of a season. While a leading actor/actress each got an individual benefit, other benefit evenings could be announced for several lesser actors collectively.
   Among touring companies of the latter half of the 19th century, a benefit might be announced for the end of an engagement, however short, before the troupe moved on to the next town. Occasionally a local group of male citizens would together tender a benefit to a performer who had captivated them. To tender a complimentary benefit, the locals might publish a card in the newspaper with the offer to pay all the expenses of a performance of a play on a date of the beneficiary's choosing. For example, as the Breslaw Theatrical Company neared the end of its month-long run in Kansas City in June 1866, the Journal of Commerce published an open letter to Mrs. Breslaw, signed by 20 individuals, with a collective reference to "forty others," offering—in appreciation for her qualities both as an actress and a lady—"a complimentary testimonial" at whatever time she might choose. Her graciously worded acceptance in the next day's newspaper named the date and the play. Having the invitation and the response printed in the newspaper gave the transaction a legal basis and served to publicize the benefit.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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