Details of Special Collections, Libraries and Archives, and their holdings in the field. Not all archives are catalogued; where they are, that information may or may not be online: the following information is based on that given by holding institutions online or as the result of enquiries. Please contact us if you have information on a major holding that could be added to this section.
Most libraries and archives will offer access to collections even where they are uncatalogued. If they do not, it is worth raising this with them to encourage action to prioritise getting them catalogued.
Association of Performing Arts Collections online resource
A good general starting point for archive material on theatre is UK Theatre Collections database in Culture Grid
Unfinished Histories: Archive of the Alternative Theatre Movement:
As a result of the work on gathering oral histories and material for this site Unfinished Histories gradually began to accumulate its own physical archive and library of material on the alternative theatre movement including posters, scripts, audio-video recordings, photos, reviews, designs, letters and other material, representing a general overview of the movement together with more extensive archive collections on certain companies and individuals where we have had material donated. We also have an additional digital archive beyond the material represented on this web site. As of July 2016 the collections have been deposited with Bishopsgate Institute where they will become accessible for reading room use and via online catalogues in late 2016.
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Click on the highlighted collection below you would like to view.
British Library /Sound Archive
National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
Other Major Collections
Bristol University Drama Collection
Goldsmiths College, University of London
Royal Holloway University of London
The Women’s Library
Manuscript Collection Scripts
Before 1968 scripts had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for licensing and copies of these are in the British Library (BL). Some early alternative theatre was performed in club theatres where the licensing requirement did not apply and therefore it is unlikely that those scripts have been deposited. After 1968 it became a legal requirement to deposit archival copies of scripts at the BL and many alternative theatre playwrights’ scripts will be found in the collection. However many post-‘68 scripts, especially those from small-scale, unfunded companies, are missing from the collections. If you have a script that remains undeposited please contact the BL to ensure your work is documented for posterity. The script collections are currently indexed on card catalogues in the Manuscript Reading Room.
Other archives within the manuscript collections hold some material of relevance such as those on individuals who wrote or directed plays for alternative theatre companies such as Timberlake Wertenbaker, Max Stafford-Clark and others.
The Sound Archive holds lots of material of relevance to the alternative theatre movement (including the Unfinished Histories recordings). As well as live recordings of performances taken at the Royal Court Upstairs, BAC and other theatres, there is also material held such as video recordings of Forced Entertainment’s shows and devising processes, and recordings of interviews, discussions and documentaries with actors, directors, designers, producers on their experiences and observations relating to alternate theatre, its work and history.
For a detailed catalogue search across the collections, click here
For information about specific holdings in this area see: Experimental Theatre and Live Art in the British Library Sound Archive: A Rough Guide
National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh:
The National Library of Scotland (NLS) holds extensive theatre archives.
From September 2009 – May 2010 the NLS is hosting the Curtain Up!: 40 Years of Scottish Theatre exhibition, refer to main website for details under Curtain Up on Scottish Theatre and is developing a related web site. Collections held are gradually being catalogued and include the archives of:
7:84 theatre company. John McGrath playwright and director, with actress Elizabeth Maclennan, founded the 7:84 Theatre Company in 1971 and toured Scotland, England and Wales. The company split in two in 1973 to form 7:84 (England) and 7:84 (Scotland). The aims of the 7:84 were to present the realities of working class life and history to working class audiences. 7:84 (Scotland) toured throughout Scotland with its productions. McGrath wrote and directed many plays performed by the company, including Blood Red Roses and The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil and Little Red Hen.
Traverse Theatre. Archive including correspondence, 1964-1970 and submitted scripts of this vital innovative new writing theatre, founded by Jim Haynes, later run by Max Stafford-Clark among others.
Winged Horse Touring Productions. Archive of company that produced plays by Rona Munro, Liz Lochhead, Stewart Conn and others from c1979-1987.
Other relevant material. The NLS hold archives of several individual playwrights associated with the alternative theatre movement including Stewart Conn, Liz Lochhead, and Ian Brown and negatives of photographs by Sean Hudson relating to the Edinburgh Festival, 1980-1997. The NLS also hold archives on many mainstream theatres, the Edinburgh International Festival, and (post 1990) small-scale companies.
V&A Theatre Collections:
(VATC, formerly Theatre Museum)
The V&A hold a wealth of collections relating to alternative theatre, and in recent years have started a variety of programmes creating online catalogues and of digitisation which is gradually making this material more accessible.
The Core Collections consist of files organised by theatre and year, holding reviews, flyers, programmes and press articles for the majority of London theatres (some of the smaller ones filed under Miscellaneous) and many regional venues. Where alternative theatre companies performed at these venues, there is a good chance that there will be material here. In addition there are files on many small-scale companies. This material is not catalogued though there are lists of companies and theatres. There are also file cards listing productions of plays by title. Other material may be found in Topic files e.g. Women’s theatre and Biographical / Personal files (articles etc filed by name) VATC also hold an extensive library of scripts and theatre books, manuscripts and prompt books, periodicals, photographs and negatives, posters, designs, audio recordings, and video, both donated material and recordings made for the National Video Archive of Performance. In all these areas there is some material relating to the alternative theatre movement.
For particular information on VATC’s Black and Asian holdings click here including Black and Asian Performance: a Users’ Guide by Susan Croft, Stephen Bourne and Alda Terracciano.
For details of holdings and to book a Study Room appointment contact email@example.com
All the above as well as information on the Special Collections can be searched for via the National Art Library (NAL) online catalogue.
Since the late 1990s VATC has built up its Special Collections holdings on alternative theatre groups. It holds the following archives or smaller collections.
Arts Council of Great Britain. Archive of material 1928-1996 includes material in files on many alternative theatre companies who were funded or applied for funding. Search under Drama, Touring, New Collaborations Fund, Combined Arts, Disability Arts, Regional Material, Young Peoples’ Theatre etc. A new research project is underway in conjunction with University of Reading to make this material further accessible.
Alternative theatre companies
Black Mime Theatre. Extensive papers, programmes, photos, education and marketing information and videos recordings of this first black mime company, led by Denise Wong, both its mixed company and its later ‘women’s troop’.
Cheek by Jowl. Papers include prompt-books of the company founded by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod.
Lumiere and Son. Major company archive including publicity, scripts, admin papers of this experimental company. Pieces developed collaboratively between Artistic Director Hilary Westlake and writer David Gale, working with a core group of performers.
Method and Madness. Posters and other archival material on this company founded by Mike Alfreds (also co-founder of Shared Experience) focusing on strong physical ensemble work, creating new plays (including adaptations) and reinterpreting classics.
Monstrous Regiment. Archive of one of the first major women’s theatre companies founded in the 1970s, including scripts, posters, touring files.
Open Space and Roundhouse archives. Archival material on these two key venues, the former founded by Charles Marowitz and Thelma Holt, who then went on to run the latter. Papers formed the basis for Off-Centre Stages: Fringe Theatre at the Open Space and the Round House 1968-1983 by Jinnie Schiele (Society for Theatre Research/ University of Hertfordshire Press, 2005)
Talawa Theatre. Archive of key black British theatre company, founded in 1980 by Yvonne Brewster, catalogued by Future Histories in 2008 as part of the Trading Faces: Recollecting Slavery project: www.tradingfacesonline.com
Temba. Collection of scripts, articles, programmes, reviews etc deposited by Temba, one of the first black British alternative theatre companies. Also includes reviews of other black theatre companies and articles on black performers on stage and television, compiled by the company.
Tricycle Theatre archive. Extensive archive including prompt books, photos, posters, production files etc going back to the theatre’s beginnings as the home of Wakefield Tricycle company, and then as a producing venue under Artistic Director Nick Kent, particularly known for black and Irish theatre. Cataloguing in progress as part of a joint Ph.D studentship with Birkbeck College.
Sphinx (formerly Women’s Theatre Group). Archive of Sphinx theatre company including valuable scrapbooks covering the company’s early years, scripts, publicity etc, presented to the Theatre Museum in 2005 to mark the company’s 30th anniversary. See www.sphinxtheatre.co.uk for further information
Alfred Fagon (1937 – 1986). Scripts, correspondence, press coverage etc on this key African-Caribbean playwright who was produced by Foco Novo, Umoja, Black Theatre Co-op and others.
Michele Frankel. Scrapbooks about her work with Beryl and the Perils, Burnt Bridges and as a freelance director.
Ann Jellicoe. Best-known as author of The Sport of My Mad Mother and The Knack at the Royal Court in the 50s and 60s. Material on the community plays she pioneered with Colway Theatre Trust which she founded including The Western Women and other scripts. The V&A also holds materials gathered by the Community Plays Archive and Database.
Eileen Pollock. Scripts, photos and other material from the actress and writer who was very active in political theatre: Belt and Braces, formed Bloomers, worked with Camouflage women’s theatre group, and performed the one-woman shows on Mother Jones and Kathleen Behan, The Mother of all the Behans and with the Irish company, Dubbeljoint.
Adele Salem. Scripts, publicity and other material relating to her work with Hard Corps, Magdalena Project, Women’s Theatre Group and solo work.
Sheila Yeger. Collection of scripts by this feminist playwright who worked with many companies including Theatre Venture and wrote plays on Gwen John, Clara Schumann and others and large-scale community plays.
Other collections of relevance
Royal Court Theatre archive. As well as material on this major new writing theatre during its later tenure by the English Stage Company from 1956 (earlier material is in the Brotherton Library, Leeds), this archive includes material from the Theatre Upstairs which has been a key receiving venue for alternative theatre at various stages of its history.
Birmingham City Archives:
Holds the archives of:
Banner Theatre of Actuality. Initially a Birmingham community-based political theatre company, later professional, drawing on oral history and ‘actuality’ and music to create shows such as Collier Laddie, including work addressing the experience of Asian workers, trade unionists, migrant workers, and documenting black experience in the Midlands.
Charlie Parker. Personal archive of Charles Parker, radio broadcaster, oral historian, socialist, campaigner for travellers, active in the revival of British folk song in the 1960s and 70s and a key founder of Banner Theatre.
Bristol University Theatre Collection:
For further information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0117 331 5086 (daytime).
Welfare State. Major archive of Welfare State International (WSI) the company of artists who performed celebratory spectacle events across Britain and abroad. Founded in 1968 by John Fox and Sue Gill, the group was based at The Ellers in Ulverston, Cumbria, where it also fulfilled an extensive educational and training role. WSI specialised in site specific performances and ritual celebrations, including namings, weddings and funerals, and many of its events featured firework displays, lantern processions, puppetry and music. Its objective was to bring creative performances and installations to local communities.
Women’s Theatre Collection. This collection includes books, many unpublished scripts, press cuttings; miscellaneous photographs; audio tapes (cassette); posters; programmes; personal and production documents, correspondence and ephemera, much of it by women active in writing for the alternative theatre movement. They are keen to collect more items including individual scripts etc
Live Art Archives. The Live Art Archives was an online initiative set up by Professor Barry Smith at Nottingham Trent University which then moved to Bristol and includes much material of relevance to alternative, especially experimental theatre, which overlaps with live art (the definition of each has been much argued over the years). Bristol holds the Live Art Archives the Record of Live Art Practice, the National Review of Live Art Archive, the Digital Performance Archive, the Arts Council England Live Art and Performance Archive the Franko B Archive, and Performance magazine Archive. In addition, the Archives hold the original tapes from the queer up north Video Archive of this important performance festival of lesbian, gay, transgendered and related work (established 1992) together with DVD copies for viewing. The Archives’ holdings also contain a number of smaller collections of Live Art related material in various formats, such as full sets of Hybrid, Primary Sources, and LiveArt magazine, books to support research into Live Art, which are held in the Theatre Collection library and more contemporary material including Liveartwork DVDs.
Conference of Women Theatre Directors and Administrators. Archive of campaigning organisation, founded in thelate 1970s out of Feminist Theatre Group discussions, that conducted the first survey on the Status of women in British theatre (1983) and ran conferences and talks.
Moving Target Theatre Company archive. Working papers of 1980s company that specialised in women’s theatre and Jewish theatre.
Brotherton Library, University of Leeds:
Foco Novo. Archive of company, founded by Roland Rees, active in the 1970s and 1980s, including papers relating to the company’s hugely successful staging of The Elephant Man, which they commissioned and first performed in 1977. An online catalogue is in progress.
Major Road. Archive of long-lived Bradford-based company, touring especially to the Northwest, with new writing, political and community based work for adults and children. A draft finding aid for the collection is in progress.
Joint Stock. Archive of pioneering company started by Max Stafford-Clark developing new writing through workshops with actors and writers.
William Gaskill. Papers, principally related to his period at the Royal Court Theatre, 1965-1972 but including some scrapbooks from his years with Joint Stock.
Other collections of relevance
The Feminist Archive North (FAN):
Holds a wide variety of material relating to the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) from 1969 to the present. Topics covered by FAN include the women’s peace movement, women’s studies, women and development, and violence against women. FAN was created in the 1980s, when material from the Feminist Archive South, the sister archive founded earlier in the South-West, was relocated to the North of England and has been housed at the University of Leeds since 2001. FAN includes personal and organisational documentary archives, conference papers, dissertations, books, and complete runs of important WLM journals such as Spare Rib, Shrew, Women’s Report, Scarlet Woman, Shifra and Women’s Voice. There are also leaflets, video and audio tapes, posters and other ephemera – a wealth of contemporary material, including some material on theatre. To enquire about either the contents of the archive or access to its holdings, please contact the Feminist Archive North: email@example.com
University of East London:
UEL’s Learning Resources Centre is based at Cyprus on Victoria Docks and holds physical archives from Hackney Empire and has developed an online archival resource (ELTA) drawing on archive material held elsewhere.
Hackney Empire. Archive of the venue (1980s – 90s) under the artistic directorship of Roland Muldoon, including material on the New Variety seasons there and on Muldoon’s former political company CAST (Cartoon Archetypal Slogan Theatre) ELTA (East London Theatre Archive) ELTA is an online digital resource which brings together digitised images and descriptions drawn from the holdings of a number of theatre and company archives including:
Theatre Royal Stratford East, Theatre Venture, Newham-based community theatre company, working with new writers, Half Moon Young People’s Theatre, originally developed out of the Half Moon Theatre (see Royal Holloway), touring schools and community venues, especially well-known in the 1980s for its bilingual (Bengali- English work). The resource also includes digitised material from Hoxton Hall, the Victorian music hall that became an alternative venue and base of a community theatre company in the 1970s and 80s and later the home to several experimental initiatives, as well as material on Wilton’s Music-hall and earlier East End theatre including the 19th century Britannia and Pavilion theatres from the V&A’s Collections.
Goldsmiths College, University of London
LIFT Living Archive:
Archive collection and digitised online resource of the important London International Festival of Theatre, founded in 1981 by Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal, that staged theatre and large scale performance events across London, including work by Welfare State and Pip Simmons Theatre Company among a larger international programme. See The Turning World by Fenton and Neal (published: Gulbenkian Foundation, 2005)
Hull University Library:
For further information visit www.hullhistorycentre.org.uk
Out of Joint theatre company. Archives of the later company that Max Stafford-Clark established in the 1990s, following his earlier work with Joint Stock, developing new writing including verbatim theatre.
John Godber. Archive of the influential playwright and co-founder of Hull Truck Theatre company, where his work included Bouncers, Up and Under, Shakers and many others.
Based at Trent Park in North London material is held in the University’s Special Collections
Future Histories. Archive material of this national repository established to preserve and provide access to the archives of African, Caribbean and Asian performing arts in the UK. The Future Histories holdings at Middlesex comprise the records of the Black Theatre Forum and Nitro Theatre Company.
Other collections of relevance
Carnival Collection. A substantial resource comprising publications, documentation, photographs and ephemera for the study of Caribbean Carnival. Not yet catalogued.
Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive. A collection of more than 150,000 press cuttings relating to all aspects of gay and lesbian life since the 1930s. The archive also comprises a library, badges and the Gay News photograph collection. Categorisation of cuttings is almost complete.
Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance:
Contact for bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org Based in Sidcup, Rose Brudford College holds a number of archives in its Clive Barker Centre for Theatrical Innovation, housed within theLearning Resource Centre.
Clive Barker Theatre Collection. Clive Barker was a highly influential teacher, performer and director with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Royal Stratford East, initiator of Theatre Games and later professor at Warwick University. Search via: http://eps.bexley.gov.uk/rooms/portal/page/20_Advanced_Catalogue_Search then select Rose Bruford College Library under Library and then enter Clive Barker under Author
Noel Greig Archive. Archive of Noel Greig (1944-2009), influential actor and playwright who co-founded The Brighton Combination, worked with The General Will and was a key member of Gay Sweatshop, later writing extensively for and with young people through Theatre Centre and many other companies. The archive includes scripts, reviews, publicity material, video recordings and research materials. The College is in the process of acquiring the archive of director and Oval House Theatre Programmer (1980s)
Kate Crutchley –details later.
Royal Holloway Theatre Archives:
Egham-based college of the University of London who hold the following archives:
Gay Sweatshop. Administrative and financial records, production records, tour material, photographs, posters and programmes from this pioneering Gay and Lesbian company that was in existence from 1975 to 1997. Company founded by Drew Griffiths, toured work around Britain including major plays like Mister X, Any Woman Can, Care and Control and As Time Goes By.
For more information see link
Half Moon Theatre. Key East End theatre originally founded by Maurice Colbourne and others in a synagogue in Alie Street in the 1970s, later operating in Stepney Green, staging new work, political plays and a European repertoire and working with the local community, including that produced through the Half Moon Young People’s Theatre (see University of East London).
Red Shift Theatre Company. Innovative theatre company founded by Jonathan Holloway staging highly visual and physical adaptations of novels and other works on tour.
The major UK women’s library (formerly the Fawcett Library) based in the East End of London.
Ephemera, Journals.The Library has flyers and publicity for a number of women’s theatre events in its ephemera, posters collections.
Women in Entertainment. Records of the campaigning organisation (1980-1988) that grew out of the Women Live! festival. Files not yet available.
Berta Freistadt. Papers of the playwright and artist (1947-2009) active in women’s, lesbian and anti-nuclear theatre work and community projects.