APAC Study Day: Collections Contexts

by Amelia Brookins

On 22nd November, 2019, APAC members gathered for a Study Day in Stratford -upon-Avon. Quite fittingly, our visit to the Bard’s home town began in a rehearsal space at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) The Other Place. In the same space where stories are brought to life, we discussed how those stories can be preserved.

The continuum of performance

We started the morning off with a welcome speech delivered by RSC’s Artistic Director Greg Doran. Amongst many intriguing tales about the reuse of archive materials in RSC productions, he emphasized “preserving theatre history as part of a continuum”. In other words, preserving pieces of past performances connects us to present and future performances in tangible, meaningful ways.

The morning continued with presentations on the theme Collections Contexts – how archive and library collections are working within the broader context of their organizations.

Erin Lee from National Theatre Archives spoke about the vital role the archive had in a massive collaborative project, called “National Theatre Collections”, which brings material from the archives into an online platform for education.

Rae Seymour from the RSC Education department discussed the challenges involved in building an online learning platform that is appealing to all school age levels.

Karin Brown from the Shakespeare Institute explained how the use of archives is embedded within the curriculum of the Shakespeare Studies MA at University of Birmingham. Through the access of archival materials, students can learn how to look critically at materials as primary sources.

Paul Taylor from Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Robyn Greenwood from RSC explored the difficulties of working with library, archive and museum collections which are housed and catalogued in different locations.

Visits

In the afternoon, we had the pleasure of seeing for ourselves what the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (STB) and the Royal Shakespeare Company collection teams are doing with their fantastic collection materials.

My group went first to the STB collection and got to look at many of the treasures stored there. We saw a range of materials, including early modern texts, show reports, production photos and a rare book which contained illustrations of Hamlet by Henry Moore.

We then went to see the The Play’s The Thing exhibition at RSC. The clever design of the small but engrossing space includes lovely interactive displays. My favourites included a wardrobe quick change timer and a mock dressing room, complete with a digital costume closet in which visitors can see themselves in different costumes from past productions. This creative exhibition is a wonderful example of how performance materials can remain engaging, even after they are no longer on stage.

On the whole, it was a thought-provoking day and no doubt inspired us to continue seeking ways to see collections become more accessible and valued within each institution.

Amelia Brookins is a postgraduate student in Library and Information Studies at the UCL.

Header image by Sam Allard © RSC