Congratulations to the Association of Performing Arts Collections for arranging a fascinating one-day symposium on Performance Collections and their Users last month. Of the six presentations, the most memorable was the dramatic performance of a piece written by five students on the University of Birmingham's MA in Shakespeare and Creativity.
Their brief was to produce a 30-minute work that combined allusions to Shakespeare's plays with references to World War I and the research they had undertaken in several different archives about the role played by Shakespeare in the world beyond the theatre. It was good to hear that all the archives staff they'd worked with had been helpful - whether at the RSC, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust or the Library of Birmingham. As I watched the performance, I noticed not only allusions to Henry V, Macbeth and Much Ado, but also to scrapbooks about life on the home front that were kept in Stratford during the war, an account written by a soldier serving in the local Warwickshire regiment, and the German appreciation of Shakespeare's appeal to the human condition. The work was premiered at the RSC last Christmas, appearing at the Swan immediately before their production of The Christmas Truce.
There was another particularly interesting presentation by Jo Elsworth, director of the University of Bristol's Theatre Collections. She outlined a number of different artistic interventions in the collections over the last year or so. These included an exhibition of new work by members of Bristol Printmakers that was inspired by nineteenth-century tinsel prints in the Mander and Mitchenson Collection and two exhibitions curated by artist in residence Clare Thornton, Corresponding with Conflict and Unfurl. Both of these featured archival items alongside new creative pieces made in response to them.
It's certainly given me a great deal to think about in terms of how our own archives might be used!