Research Project Title: Unfinished Histories: Recording the History of Alternative Theatre Aim: To document the history of the alternative theatre movement in Britain between 1968-88, through interviews and the collecting of archive material. Project Directors: Susan Croft and Jessica Higgs Research Centre: Clive Barker Research Centre for Theatrical Innovation Timeline: 2006 — Related Resources: The Noel Greig Archive, Unfinished Histories website. Keywords: Alternative Theatre, Black, Asian, Lesbian, Gay, Women’s, Disabled, Political, Experimental, TIE, Community-based
Unfinished Histories: Recording the History of Alternative Theatre is a project aiming to document the history of the alternative theatre movement in Britain between 1968 -88, through interviews and the collecting of archive material. Companies involved were among some of the first Black, Asian, lesbian, gay, women’s, disabled, political, experimental, TIE and community-based theatre groups seen in Britain, whose work ranged from experiments in physical and visual theatre or performance art, to vernacular drama, agit-prop and satire, championing a generation of artists whose work has influenced and shaped present day theatre.
Susan Croft, Co-Director Susan is a writer, curator and historian. She was founder Director of New Playwrights Trust, working also as a dramaturg and director. She went on to lecture in Creative Arts at Nottingham Trent University and was then Senior Research Fellow in Performance Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University. From 1997-2005 she was Senior Curator (Contemporary Performance) at the V&A Theatre Museum. She has published widely on women playwrights (including She Also Wrote Plays: an International Guide to Women Playwrights), on black and Asian theatre in Britain and on experimental work/ live art. She also has written on suffrage theatre and co-curated the exhibition How the Vote was Won: Art, Theatre and Women’s Suffrage (2010). She is a Clive Barker Research Fellow at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. See www.susan.croft.btinternet.co.uk and www.unfinishedhistories.com Jessica Higgs, Co-Director Jessica Higgs studied at the Royal College of Music and then worked as a performer, co-founding the company Les Oeufs Malades with Bryony Lavery and Gerard Bell and later Signs of Life theatre company. She has also worked as a stage manager including for Monstrous Regiment. She has been composer and musical director for a wide range of stage productions. She studied Voice Coaching at Central School of Speech and Drama and works widely as a voice coach. In 2000 she established the theatre company In Tandem TC and has produced and directed a range of projects with them, in partnership with other bodies including BSL productions of Pinter’s Mountain Language and Landscape. She has also worked extensively in Disability arts including as a mentor and trainer with Graeae and voice consultant with Deafinitely Theatre. See www.unfinishedhistories.com
Archives and Web Site
- Copies of DVD recordings of extensive audio and/or video interviews with 28 key participants in the alternative theatre movement lodged with British Library, V&A Theatre Collections and University of Bristol and/or University of Sheffield
- Archival material preserved and deposited with British Library, V&A Theatre Collections, University of Bristol, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance or Unfinished Histories own collections including material on Mrs Worthington’s Daughters, Women’s Theatre Group, posters, scripts, original audio and video show recordings, and the Noel Greig and Sue Frumin archives.
- Extensive archive material on alternative theatre companies digitised and selected items made available on the Unfinished Histories web site
- Launch of Unfinished Histories web site including biographies, bibliographies, audio and video extracts, quotations, selected images for each interviewee; listings of over 600 theatre companies, plus key individuals, venues, shows, organizations and events; detailed accounts or archival and oral history holdings on alternative theatre companies throughout the UK, listings of companies by areas of work including Black, Asian, Disability etc.
- 2011-12 Plans are under way to develop a revived Fun Art Bus project in conjunction with recent interviewee and founder of Inter-Action Ed Berman and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.
- An exhibition on the alternative theatre movement ‘Performing Revolutions’ at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and performance to mark the launch of the Unfinished Histories web site (linked with STR Oral History/ Theatre History conference)
- An exhibition at the Unicorn Theatre in celebration of the life and work of Noel Greig (also earlier a version of this display at Contact theatre, Manchester as part of Contacting the World)
- A 40th anniversary celebration of Jane Arden’s iconic play Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven at Toynbee Studios, featuring a staged reading of the play, original music, and a reunion discussion between the original performers Sheila allen and Victor Spinetti and director Jack Bond, documented by the British Library for the National Sound Archive.
- A launch event at the Drill Hall including a discussion with two of the project’s interviewees, Lily Susan Todd and Eileen Pollock, together with Indhu Rubasingham and Lisa Goldman, Artistic Director of Soho Theatre on the issues raised by the women’s theatre movement, today, and by the project,
- An exhibition of posters, flyers, photos and scripts relating to the work of the women’s theatre interviewees and the companies and venues they worked with or ran,
- Workshops for young people, focusing on oral history skills and artistic practices of the era, with Clean Break and Oval House,
- An additional event at the Oval House celebrating the work of interviewee Kate Crutchley, the venue’s programmer in the 1980s alongside a celebration of the work of the late Peter Oliver, who ran the venue from 1961-1974 and transformed it from a youth centre to a remarkable experimental arts venue,
- An additional exhibition of material relating to Oval House in the early years and some of the companies who played there,
- A series of slide presentations, viewable on laptops, of additional scanned images of companies and their work, shown at conferences.
- Unfinished Histories inaugural event at Theatre Museum: a live oral history interview with projection of digitised images and discussion of the women’s theatre movement and its legacy For a recording of this event please go to the following link: http://www.theatrevoice.com/the_archive/
Short films and CDs
- Production of a short edited video, featuring all the interviewees, focusing on the range of work produced in women’s theatre of that era,
- A 46-minute CD of extracts from the audio interviews, looking at the starting points of women’s theatre in the social and political context of the time and the operation of male-dominated companies; collectives, the divisions within the women’s theatre movement and key events like the Women’s Street Theatre Group demonstration at the 1970 Miss World contest among many other issues. This was distributed free to those attending the events and has since been sent out widely to schools, theatres and interested individuals,
- A series of short interviews by Oval House youth theatre associates with audience members. These included former youth club members from the early 1960s whose lives had been transformed by their involvement with Oval House, and members of experimental companies working there at the time, such as Sidewalk Theatre, Lumiere and Son, The Wee Wees, Incubus Theatre, together with stage designers, graphic designers, workshop leaders and arts officers,
- Production of two additional edited films, one Celebrating Kate Crutchley, the other Women at the Oval 1968 to 1980.
Future outcomes include:
- More audio and video interviews with key figures from a wealth of under-documented companies,
- Anthologies of lost plays of the British alternative theatre movement,
- Further development of the web site to include extensive accounts, by participants themselves, of many of the alternative theatre companies of the time, biographies of key individuals, documentation of the programmes of key venues with photographic documentation then and now,
- Further exhibitions of posters, photographs and ephemera including specialist exhibitions on disability theatre and lesbian and gay work,
- Online galleries of material by significant stage and graphic designers and photographers involved in the alternative theatre movement, with interpretative material,
- A learning resource aimed at HE performing arts courses, funded by Palatine through University of Sheffield, including detailed bibliographies of material published by small-presses and hard-to-find journals of the time and digitized versions of selected articles,
- A history of Oval House and its role in the alternative theatre movement,
- Educational DVDs drawing on interviews and digitised material,
- Fun Art Bus?? Build in documentation, assessment and research component.
Unfinished Histories are grateful to:
- Unity Theatre Trust for funding towards two series of interviews.
- The Lipman-Miliband Trust for support towards interviews.
- Society for Theatre Research for technical support, a video camera and travel costs.
- Awards for All for funding for the launch events, CDs and DVD copying in 2008.
- The Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust for support towards the web site.
- Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance for ongoing support, financial and in-kind for the project.
- Individuals including Chris Barlas, Cicely Berry, Kenneth Branagh, Anna Cartaret, Cordelia Ditton, Jodi Myers, Prunella Scales, Adele Salem, Sarah Vernon and Joanna Wade.