The working process of the research project has inevitably been focused in part on the closer definition of terms, and therefore of what material should or should not be included and logged as part of the learning resource. This included the need to define, for example, what constitutes an alternative theatre venue. Is – or was – the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs an alternative theatre venue in this time-frame? Was the Hampstead Theatre, which started life as the Hampstead Theatre Club, one?
The latter was included despite the fact that it became more established and its output and audience became more mainstream in later years. The Theatre Upstairs was included in its sometimes capacity as a receiving house for visiting companies (e.g the influential ‘Come Together’ festival in late 1970) and its hosting of the Royal Court Young Writers’ Festival, a project derived from the Royal Court Activists /Young People’s Theatre (YPT), but not in terms of its in-house productions which, however radical, were a well-established area of the mainstream by 1968.The RSC Warehouse, while it championed especially many playwrights who had got their start in the political theatre, has been excluded for the same reason as the Royal Court .
The term alternative theatre has otherwise been largely based on the companies included in the series of Alternative Theatre Directories, edited by Cathy Itzin. The first ‘Guide to Underground Theatre’ appeared in Jan-Mar 1971 in Theatre Quarterly, under the editorship of Itzin, Simon Trussler and Roger Hudson, and is much more descriptive and polemical in its entries on those companies included than were later versions. Later alternative theatre directories asked for submissions in the form of answers to a questionnaire from companies who therefore increasingly self-defined themselves as part of the movement by their choice to submit their details for inclusion. This basis of definition / inclusion has been supplemented by additional information on, for example, local community companies, gleaned from local and regional arts board publications and other sources on companies clearly sharing similar aims who, for whatever reason, did not submit their information to the national directories.
The work of YPTs and Theatre-in-Education (TIE) companies is included even when the company was linked to a large regional theatre, because the emphasis of the touring companies was primarily outreach to an alternative i.e. school and community audience. TIE at the time was generally a highly-politicised area of practice, riven by fierce arguments over theory and practice that affected all companies, whether their origins were independent and alternative or, like the best-known of the companies Belgrade TIE, as a department of a regional repertory theatre.
A further area of definition has focused on what to include within a resource focused on Britain. While the primary concentration has been on companies based in Britain, given the enormous influence of American work on the development of the alternative theatre scene in Britain in the late sixties/ early seventies in particular, both through the visits of companies like The Living Theatre and La MaMa and the British-based work of American director-impresarios Charles Marowitz and Ed Berman, who produced premieres of many innovative US plays, information and material has been included on key American imports, identified as having particular influence on the local scene. This is also true of other imports such as South African work like that of the Market Theatre of Johannesburg: visiting productions of plays like Sizwe Bansi is Dead or The Island were championed by companies within the alternative theatre movement, such as Temba, and in several cases received further productions of the work by British companies. Companies based in the south in Ireland have also not been the primary focus of attention except where there are close relationships between them and, say, mainland British venues like the Tricycle Theatre.
Reviews of mainstream theatre in publications like Spare Rib or The Leveller have been excluded, though interesting from a feminist or socialist perspective and few enough that it seemed perverse to isolate them from the rest of the journal’s feminist and alternative theatre coverage, but this allowed the focus of the project to be maintained.
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NB If you were a contributor to one of these and would be prepared to allow us to reproduce your material as part of our online database, please contact us.
Artrage: Inter-Cultural Arts Magazine
Artrage was published between 1982 and 1995 by Minority Arts Advisory Association (MAAS). Set up as part of the response to Naseem Khan’s report The Art Britain Ignores (Arts Council of Great Britain,1976), MAAS had a brief that included a focus on the ‘arts of minorities in Britain’ and received funding from the GLC, Greater London Arts Association and the Arts Council itself. Along with African-Caribbean and South East Asian work, Artrage covered work by Chinese, Greek, Latin American artists and groups, among others and focused on the publication of lengthier critical and creative works as well as listings and reviews than could be covered in the monthly pamplet MAAS also published, Black Arts in London. It featured all artforms so theatre coverage was intermittent but present in most issues in the form of reviews and occasionally longer articles. The publication also included listings and adverts, covering most of the black and Asian and other minority theatre companies to emerge during that period. Editors included the writer and poet and founder of Caribbean Theatre Workshop E.A. Markham (1939-2008); Fay Rodrigues, Kwesi Owesu and Rakesh Bhanot. Contributors included Naseem Khan, Iyamide Hazeley, Errol Lloyd, Nick Axarlis, Karin Woodley, Nadir Tharani and Adeola Solanke.
Gambit was published by John Calder publications from the early 1960s till the early 1990s, with a focus on radical, innovative and a strong internationalist brief. The publication frequently included playtexts, including many works in translation, a number of which went on to be published in book form by Calder (or Calder and Boyars). It also included lengthy articles and interviews and, intermittently, short reviews. Most issues were thematically-based, e.g Special issues on twentieth century Polish theatre or German theatre, meaning that these therefore contain no material on British alternative theatre, though there were special issues on Political Theatre in Britain and on Howard Barker among others. Editors included Chris Barlas, Irving Wardle and John Calder himself.
The Leveller was formed by a collective in 1976 and continued publication till 1982 despite many difficulties, fluctuating between a fortnightly and a weekly, and varying hugely in production quality,before its eventual demise. It is instanced as an example of the failure of collectives to address properly the demands of management as a process in the book What a Way to Run a Railroad: an Analysis of Radical Failure by Charles Landry, Patrick McGrath et al , Commedia, (alongside some theatre companies). It was unusual among leftist journals of the time in the space it gave to radical culture as an issue of concern, especially theatre and music (many indie and punk bands are foregrounded). The prominence given theatre was substantially the work of collective member Lloyd Trott, who fought the battle within the collective to ensure the inclusion of theatre reviews, articles and regular listings, which made The Leveller an invaluable guide to the schedules of socialist and other alternative theatre companies.This was no mean feat in a publication where every centimetre of space was filled with content. Other reviewers included Sandy Craig, Terry Bott, David Roper, Dave Rimmer, Paul Collins, Paul Brightwell, Jane Bryce, Helen Scott, Jane Lott, Nigel Pollitt, Barney Bardsley and Carmel Cadden.
Platform was a short-lived magazine devoted to the alternative theatre movement, especially political theatre, that ran for five issues. It was published from University of Essex Drama Dept. then under the academic leadership of Roger Howard and was run by a collective whose members varied, but included Helen Armitage, Steve Gooch, Roger Howard, Lloyd Trott and Michelene Wandor. It included articles, group discussions, interviews and news.The third issue was edited by Guest Editor Diane Abbot and focused on Black Theatre in Britain; the fourth had a strong internationalist focus including articles on the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the fifth included material on Ireland and rural community-based theatre groups. A sixth issue on Feminist Theatre was promised but never appeared.
Plays and Players
Though much of its focus remained on mainstream theatre, from the late 1960s onwards Plays and Players devoted an increasing number of articles to the emerging fringe theatre companies and venues including Lunchtime Theatre shows and new work at spaces like the Hampstead and Bush theatre and the Open Space and Roundhouse. Important editors in this regard were Jonathan Hammond who brought a Marxist perspective to his columns and Peter Ansorge whose series on innovative directors fed into his groundbreaking book Disrupting the Spectacle (1973), the first book on the emergent fringe. Other articles and reviews of note were by John Ford (later Ashford), Michael Kustow, Helen Dawson, W. Stephen Gilbert, Cathy Itzin, Michael Billington, Tony Coult, and a series by David Zane Mairowitz on British Brecht. P&P gave prominence to articles on Pip Simmons Group, the People Show, Dark and Light Theatre and emerging new writers among many others. Contributions from Allen Saddler in the Southwest, Robin Thornber in the Northwest and Cordelia Oliver in Scotland also reviewed touring radical or experimental companies such as Footsbarn, Welfare State or 7:84. P&P was also notable for its publication over each two subsequent issues (earlier one) of a new play including work at the Bush, Half Moon, Hampstead, ICA and by 7:84.
SCYPT (Standing Conference of Young People’s Theatre) Journal
The SCYPT Journal was the space where the Theatre-in-Education movement discussed its work and shared models of good practice, workshop outlines and theoretical writings. Started in 1977 it continued till 1997. Like the movement itself the journal was a contested space that went through several distinct periods, depending on which political grouping was in charge of the Conference, and on the theories that animated their practice, whether those of Augusto Boal or those of Dorothy Heathcote. It was also strongly impacted by the attacks on TIE, identified by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives for its oppositional politics and activism as a target for cuts. Many of the contributions were collectively written, reflecting the devising process of creating shows and workshopping them in schools. Contributors included: Tony Coult, Pam Schweitzer, Geoff Gilham, Gavin Bolton, Dave Pammenter, Dave Holman, Paul Harman and Tag McEntegart.
Originally founded by Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe in 1972, Spare Rib had reorganised as a collective by the end of 1973 and survived a remarkable 19 years, its various ups and downs and changes of emphasis, reflecting those of the wider women’s movement as it struggled to address the politics of race, class, sexuality and dis/ability alongside those of gender. Within this the space and the prominence given to the cultural and to theatre fluctuated wildly as did the kind of attention it received. Alongside critics like Michelene Wandor and Carole Spedding, Spare Rib gave space to numerous individual women, though the critical tone of reviews varied widely between doctrinaire judgments of work for its failure to voice a particular party-line to more discursive and exploratory writing. The Letters columns also frequently voiced disputes and carried ripostes from those who felt their work had been misrepresented. For Wandor, Spare Rib was the space where she first explored the arguments she would develop in the book Understudies: Theatre and Sexual Politics. The sheer range of work covered by Spare Rib, though, in listings, reviews and elsewhere make it an enormously important resource in documenting women’s use of theatre to explore feminist concerns and the growth and development of women’s performance generally throughout that era.
Women’s Review was published as a magazine from Nov 1985 to July 1987and was rare in targeting a general readership interested in women’s culture, a reflection of the women’s movement at the time in this, its accessible price and its inclusiveness of a range of perspectives, rather than operating from one identifiable political position. Its subsequent re-creation for an academic market, as Women: a Cultural Review, with lengthier, more theoretical articles no doubt also reflected a cultural shift of feminism away from the mainstream, albeit one which left the more popular reader/viewership of feminist culture without a forum. Founded by Deborah Philips, Nicci Gerrard and Helen Carr, it included theatre as part of its brief from the first with short pieces announcing forthcoming events, reviews and lengthier articles including writings on Hard Corps, Women’s Playhouse Trust, Pascal Theatre Company and women’s theatre groups generally. Contributors included Mandy Merck, Carole Woddis, Hilary Salmon and Jill Posener.