This month we put volunteers in the spotlight as Christopher Grant, volunteer archivist, explains how the dedication and achievements of the Kings Theatre archive team were recognised in the recent ‘Portsmouth Inspiring Volunteer Awards, 2018’.
Back in 2010 many unsorted boxes of paperwork concerning the Kings Theatre in Southsea were moved from a small room at the end of the long bar below the gallery, to a newly created archive room on the paint frame high above the rear of the stage. For years items such as programmes and posters etc., had just been put into the room in the hope that one day they would be found of interest.
Thus began the long, and still ongoing, task of sorting out the chaos into some sort of order. An Excel database was created giving the cast and details of every known show which has appeared at the Kings from its opening night on 30th September 1907 when H B Irving performed Charles I, made famous by his father Sir Henry Irving who had died 3 years previous.
Despite management’s best endeavours in engaging all the greats of the Edwardian stage, plays didn’t do well and so in 1908 the Kings went over to twice nightly variety. Thus began a fascinating part of the theatres history. Harry Houdini, W C Fields, Marie Lloyd and Lockhart’s Elephants, to name but a few, all appeared there.
Pete Rann and Chris Grant the theatre’s volunteer archivists are involved in many activities helping to explain and explore the Kings interesting history. These include monthly tours of the theatre and a regular bi-monthly ‘Meet the archivist’ talk and coffee morning. The talks have explored such varied subjects as ‘Circus at the Kings’, ‘Gracie Fields’, and ‘Pantomime’.
At the beginning of 2017 funding for a project on the role of the theatre during the First World War was secured by Katrina Henderson, the theatre’s Community Engagement Officer, from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The project was broken down into several parts involving middle and senior schools and the universities of Portsmouth and Kent.
Pete and Chris were involved with the project by giving advice and support to the 16 volunteer researchers from the area including six university students. Their work resulted in display boards which would go on permanent display in the theatre.
The boards were also transferred to pull up display banners for talks and exhibitions which Pete and Chris have taken to various groups and venues throughout Portsmouth.
The theatre archivists also took part with others dressed in World War One attire during the Theatre of War gala event at the theatre which brought all of the elements of the project together.