Creating an Alternative Theatre Learning Resource
In 2010 Unfinished Histories was successful in getting funding, in conjunction with the University of Sheffield, to enable us to embark on creating improved resources for teaching the history of the alternative theatre movement in Britain between roughly 1968 and 1988. Funding came from PALATINE (Performing Arts Learning and Teaching Innovation Network) the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Dance, Drama and Music, now abolished (though you can still access resources at www.palatine.ac.uk )
Given the oppositional nature of the alternative theatre movement and its position outside mainstream practice, much of the documentation of the movement at the time was in small press publications and listings magazines which, like alternative theatre work itself, reflect the contemporary upsurge of politics and creativity. These include The Leveller, Spare Rib, Race Today, Gay News, Wedge, Red Letters and The Pink Paper. In the 1980s more specialist magazines began to appear devoted to Black and Asian arts, disability arts, feminist culture, including Women’s Review, Artrage, Bazaar, Black Arts in London and Disability Arts in London. Other journals emerged from within bodies formed to support the alternative theatre movement itself the journals of SCYPT, TACT and ITC as well as specialist alternative journals on areas of alternative theatre practice: such as Platform, The Plot and Performance Magazine. Some theatre journals with a more general focus also gave extensive coverage to the movement including Plays and Players , Gambit and Theatre Quarterly.
Today many of these are scattered and hard-to-find and rarely indexed. This project aims to begin indexing a selection of them, bringing together information on articles, reviews, listings, letters to the editor, even selected ads in a database which will be searchable by company name, show, selected individual names, keywords, venues as well as article name, author, publication and date. So if you’re hunting for reviews on Hormone Imbalance, Temba or Broadside Mobile Workers Theatre you will be able to find them with ease. Additionally, where we have obtained permission from the author or where articles are unsigned, digitised versions will be included so users can read the whole piece. If funding can be found, further phases will index and include material on additional publications.
Those with a background in the movement should be able to access their own history more easily while a new generation discovering this history for the first time will find information easier to access, encouraging further study, teaching, research and publication across the field as well as inspiring new work, encouraging theatre-makers to re-visit the working processes of the movement and discover information on its numerous inspiring and important shows. Also indexed are key books and chapters/articles in books.
Meanwhile in Sheffield Bill McDonnell has been working with students on a blueprint for writing the alternative theatre history of an area. Focusing on South Yorkshire and starting from the companies that performed at the Sheffield Crucible, especially its studio, students have started to draw together a map and detailed account of the alternative theatre movement in one area.
Many scripts developed or produced by alternative theatre companies were published but many of these are out-of-print, were in small press editions or in journals. The project will create a linked database of scripts, searchable by author, title, company.
Many more were unpublished and some of these are missing from the archives like the British Library or other collections like the V&A.
If you published articles or reviews at the time, which you are happy to have form part of this resource, please get in contact and, if possible send us a scan or a PDF of the material.
If you know of scripts which were published with small presses or journals and which we may not know about – or recordings of songs from shows, video material, educational resources and other material that ought to be documented and known about, please get in touch.
If you have copies of unpublished scripts, your own or by others e.g. shows you took part in, which form part of this history, please get in contact. We want to ensure they are preserved and are also interested in future in exploring possible readings and publication.
The Unfinished Histories learning resource will be available free-to-access on the Unfinished Histories site, on PALATINE and via the University of Sheffield be accessible to independent researchers and the general public as well as education institutions.
Watch this space for information on the launch conference later in the year!
If you would like to know more about the definitionsof alternative theatre used to decide what work is included, the journals indexed – Artrage, Gambit, The Leveller, Platform, Plays and Players, SCYPT Journal, Spare Rib and Women’s Review (fewer than was originally anticipated due to how massive the project has proved to be) and other information, please see: Definitions
You can click here to read the final report.
The database will be announced here when available. In the meanwhile if you have specific enquiries about information in the index Unfinished Histories can help with your enquiry for a small fee. Please contact Susan Croft to discuss rates and conditions.
This project was supported by a PALATINE Development Award. PALATINE was the Higher Education Subject Centre for Dance, Drama and Music.