Unfinished Histories web archive and resource project: Final Report for PALATINE
Dr Susan Croft, Co-Director, Unfinished Histories, and project researcher
This project was established to create enhanced learning resources for teaching the history of the alternative theatre movement in Britain between c1968-1988.
It was funded by a PALATINE Development Award, as a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Unfinished Histories, building on the extensive work already done by Unfinished Histories in this area (see www.unfinishedhistories.com) and Dr William McDonnell’s work developing models for teaching in this field at Sheffield.
1.0 The Need for the Project
Given the oppositional nature of the movement and its position outside mainstream practices, much of the contemporaneous documentation of the movement was inevitably in small press publications, free and low-cost local newspapers and listings magazines and low-budget journals, often affiliated to particular arts bodies and political organisations.
Other material was published in more established theatre journals of the time, but many of these are not indexed or relevant material is not indexed in terms of its relationship to the alternative theatre movement.
Necessarily much of this vital primary source material is scattered and hard-to-find.
Higher Education courses and research focused on this hugely important movement are impeded by lack of information on resources and the difficulty of accessing what resources there are. The grant was focused on enabling the development of the political and community theatre strands of the archive with a hope that future resources might be found to extend the work into other areas of alternative theatre practice such as experimental work, together with extending the number of publications indexed.
2.0 Work on the Project
Initial work was begun on the project in December 2010 with initial work concentrating on three main areas:
• creating and indexing detailed bibliographies,
• designing and commissioning a database,
• developing the year 3 module ‘Other Theatre’ at the University of Sheffield so that student work could contribute to the overall project.
Work also focused on developing working definitions of the alternative theatre movement, and the area of work to be covered including those materials to be included or excluded and a statement of this can be found under Definitions
in More about Palatine.
Work also included identifying sets of the relevant publication and building relationships with the Libraries and individuals involved. The project is indebted to the Women’s Library, the Rose Bruford College Library, INIVA – Stuart Hall Library, the Marx Memorial Library, the Feminist Library and to Lloyd Trott, Ann McFerran and Imogen Bloor for their support.
3.1 Bibliographical Indexing
A template was designed for detailed logging and indexing (see Appendix B for sample) of bibliographical material from journals, reflecting the major focus of the project on indexing coverage of the alternative theatre movement in contemporary publications that are hard-to-find, unindexed, or unindexed in terms of their alternative theatre coverage. Selected publications were identified for indexing though this list had to be considerably reduced later, when the amount of material uncovered became too much to cope with within the resources available. These publications included leftist and feminist magazines:
– The Leveller,
– Spare Rib and
– Women’s Review
while ‘minority arts’, the phrase current at the time, was represented through:
The project is very grateful to Stuart Bennett who contributed the indexing of the SCYPT Journal on a voluntary basis.
Information on these publications and their focus at the time can be found on the website page More About Palatine.
It had originally been hoped to include more publications in the index such as Arts Lab News, IT – International Times, Performance Magazine, Theatre Quarterly , Bazaar, Black Arts in London, Disability Arts in London as well as theatre coverage in Gay News, Wedge, Red Letters and The Pink Paper as well as journals of TACT (The Association of Community Theatres) and ITC (Independent Theatre Council).
Given the extent of the theatre coverage found in the eight indexed titles and the time taken to log this fully and digitise content, the scope of the project in terms of titles covered had to be reduced. Instead time was devoted to developing the template (which forms the outline structure for the database) extending the keyword and show title listing of those titles covered and developing a blueprint that, if future funding can be found, can be taken further in a follow-up funded project, through voluntary work, or as part of future student assessments.
Time was also taken to create digital lists of those shows/ authors/ companies included in Listings, increasing the usefulness of the resource in enabling the output of individual companies and playwrights to be pinpointed and dated.
Selected other journal articles have been logged and indexed on an ad hoc basis where they have been discovered e.g. including material on alternative theatre companies published later e.g. in Theatre Notebook or articles appeared on alternative theatre in Britain that appeared on an occasional basis in journals with a primary focus on theatre more generally e.g. TDR.
Each article and review was given a separate entry and then indexed by Author (of article), Company/ies and Keywords (such as race, Ireland, mime etc.), Title of Shows mentioned and Writer (including ‘collectively devised’) plus Key Individuals mentioned. Venues/ Producing Bodies are also given, if these are not given in the main title of the review (e.g. with ‘Through the Eye of a Camel: Two Interviews with Naftali Yavin’, to avoid duplicating information Yavin would not also be indexed under Key Individuals).
Though the project is substantially complete a small amount of indexing is still to do . This will be complete by end of June 2012. By that point there should be around 3,000 entries in the database, enabling a huge range of information to be found across the various journals opening up the field of research extensively, and beginning to give a clearer picture of the productivity of this area of work.
So far more than 130 books have been listed and indexed by companies/ venues discussed and by keywords. A thesaurus of keywords is in course of development to limit proliferation of too many fields, but reflecting major concerns of alternative theatre work in the period. A further linked listing has been made of articles in books including, in some cases, works collecting together a series of articles or chapters with relevance to the movement in others individual articles or chapters of relevance within works otherwise focused on other issues e.g. 2 chapters on community arts work in The Unsung Sixties.
These articles/ chapters have been indexed by company, keyword and venue. Books indexed focus on the alternative theatre movement itself and therefore contextual material on the wider culture and society of the time have not been included unless theatre and performance are a central focus of the work. Books on the work of playwrights have not been included where the work discussed is only a script, unless attention is given to the circumstances of its development and its relationship to the alternative theatre movement. In keeping with the premises of the project and its emphasis on the impact of group activity on the theatre of the period, new playwriting is of interest in this context where it emerges from or is deliberately structured for a particular company or further developed by work with them.
3.1.3 Scripts and Audio/ Video
A catalogue has been created giving publication details of plays developed or premiered by the alternative theatre movement, many of which were published in small press editions, in journals or collections or anthologies which are often not fully indexed in library catalogues. Even where this is the case it is rare for such catalogues to give details of the originating company and therefore, with a few exceptions like Caryl Churchill’s and others’ work developed with Joint Stock, this information is little-known. This information should enable further exploration of the relationship between companies and scripts and the working processes behind their development, which, in the alternative theatre movement, were often innovative and sometimes contentious. The logging of published scripts also foregrounds the information of how many scripts in this area of theatre and this period went unpublished or undocumented and therefore highlights the need for future research, collection and documentation in this area.
Alongside this, some information has being gathered on audio and video resources on alternative theatre, published or publicly accessible, though as so little of this work is readily available for sale or view, it has been hard to track down details of available material as this would require a detailed research project in itself working across multiple archives and collections, attempting to trace rights-holders. Therefore this task has been reduced as a priority within the current project. Such resources as are readily available have been listed however.
4.0 Digitisation and copyright
Through the sterling efforts of voluntary research assistant Rabyah Manzoor, the digitisation of the indexed material has progressed apace. Over 3030 items have been scanned as JPEG files to 300 dpi and logged with unique filenames with about 700 more to come by the end of June. These include articles, reviews, short notices and listings along with some longer essays and interviews. These will be preserved by Unfinished Histories as a complete digital record linked to the detailed index of their alternative theatre coverage. There is potential for many of these to be converted in future (with additional funding) to digital text and saved as searchable text or detailed information from them to be otherwise logged to create an extensive record of the movement, its output and venues.
Where the material has been copyright-cleared through contact with its authors/ rights-holders, these files will in future be put on the database and made accessible to users, via the Index. A list of individuals who have agreed to their writing/ photos being reproduced for this purpose is on the Unfinished Histories web site along with a list of those the project would like to contact to ask permission for the reproduction of other articles. Notices are also posted in Unfinished Histories regular newsletters and on other web sites to encourage those who wrote reviews and journalism to allow it to be included. Unfinished Histories will add new articles where authors/ copyright-holders come forward in future.
Plans still remain for the database to operate within the Institutional Repository Network at University of Sheffield, which is part of the White Rose consortium with York and Leeds. The Excel format files holding the current information should allow easy conversion of fields into database format in the future. The database will be searchable by company, venue, author, date, publication or keywords. Further work is needed to ensure these search features are integrated with a search engine operating across the whole Unfinished Histories site, which already contains an extensive documentation of work during this period. Delays at White Rose have meant the conversion has not yet taken place and it has been impossible yet to cost the conversion of the 3,000+ data entries and the attachment of digitised objects/ scans to those entries, with a possible new bespoke ‘front end’ for searches being designed. While the database and online access to the scans remains delayed, students and researchers can contact Unfinished Histories with individual searches/ enquiries, for a small fee. The final database will be available via the Unfinished Histories web site, the University of Sheffield and the Higher Education Academy web site.
6.0 Module Development and Teaching
Students at the University of Sheffield took part in a research-based module, ‘Other Theatres’, which was based upon the Unfinished Histories project. The aim was to create a map of alternative theatre in the city in the period. Yorkshire was central to the development of the alternative theatre movement at regional level, and Sheffield, along with Leeds and Bradford, was an important centre, hosting and producing new works and seeding new companies.
Research began with the Sheffield Crucible Studio archives and the records of the companies that performed there, both local and national/regional touring. Students worked with the Sheffield Crucible archivist examining programmes and other ephemera, and compiled from these records and from the Alternative Theatre Directories and Directory of Playwrights, Directors and Designers, a timeline of performances by Yorkshire and Sheffield based companies. Other research was carried out in the Local History library and the Sheffield City archives, including important newspaper holdings, identifying relevant sources, mapping such documentation as exists, exploring local press coverage and tracking down and interviewing where feasible those involved. As part of their assessment for the ‘Other Theatres’ course, students submitted an exhibition / presentation (including practical components focused on the exploration of scripts and alternative theatre forms) relating to an aspect of the alternative theatre movement. In addition each student created a research journal, where they recorded their investigations, including new discoveries (e.g. identifying ad hoc venues used by groups who did not appear at the Studio; for example CAST). Through their research students produced:
• A draft timeline for alternative theatre in the city 1968-88.
• Detailed annotations of sources discovered during their research which will be available for the archive, and for future student and other researchers.
• A guide to local holdings e.g. from Sheffield Theatres, local history archives, local media archives and extant secondary sources in local libraries.
• At least 12 company biographies as ‘stubs’ or entries on key regional companies which will feature in the History/Companies section of the Unfinished Histories web site (under development) as starting-points for research.
• Additional research fed into biographies of individuals and online bibliographies.
This project has massive progress in collecting and logging materials and gaining permissions including from some key critics and writers of the period, such as Peter Ansorge, Steve Gooch, Naseem Khan, John Ashford and Carole Spedding.
The information gathered has already fed into the general Unfinished Histories project allowing the expansion of the Companies list to include a number of companies not previously registered whose names appear in listings. It has also informed the content of interviews where the interviewer has been able to present the interviewee with a documented history of their work and remind them of a sequence of dates on which they have grown rusty.
Future students and researchers will benefit from being able to pinpoint both the location of critical material and the date of productions, based on when they were reviewed, and being able to put together a clear sequence of the output of numerous theatre companies and their reception.
In many cases material identified is not duplicated anywhere else: for example Lloyd Trott’s article on Cunning Stunts in The Leveller in late 1980 is possibly the only article-length contemporary appreciation of the company.
Reflective context has been written on background and definition of alternative theatre used by this project and the historical scope of the resources indexed and these published online. The descriptions of the journals / magazines highlight the existence and significance for new generations of readers who can begin to explore the wealth of material they contain, both of theatre and other art forms and on the wider culture
8.0 Future Research
The project has identified a range of areas for future research and Unfinished Histories is actively pursuing funding or exploring potential future relationships with academic partners, which might enable these to be pursued.
• to convert the digitised material to searchable PDFs. This would be a huge benefit for users who could then search within the text for material on a given topic, individual or company. Given the goodwill of contributing authors and the extent and usefulness of the material identified, this would seem to be an ideal progression.
• to further develop the existing database of audio-visual resources, with better resources to track, copy digitally and clear rights to reproduce material discovered and make it available online or for loan.
• to put further resources into copyright clearance of articles and extracts from relevant books, by other traceable authors to extend the range of work reproduced in full text versions as part of the resource.
• to develop a further phase of the project to extend the database index to cover a range of the additional magazines and journals detailed in 3.1.1 above.
• to develop a detailed calendar of productions originating from the alternative theatre movement 1968-1988 and, in connection with the earlier Sheffield research project which attempted to trace and locate many of the unpublished scripts missing from the British Library’s post-1968 manuscript holdings, to draw on the information on alternative theatre productions in the database to initiate a further effort to trace missing scripts.
• to build on the model of teaching in this area developed at University of Sheffield, drawing on the online database resources and explore further models of using them in future teaching, undergraduate and postgraduate, and disseminating this model for use in other HE courses, including as a means to document alternative theatre practice in other cities and regions and relevant archive holdings, and to feed this information back into the project.
• to develop a major research project working within the identified materials to map the huge extent and reach of the alternative theatre movement, the titles and dates of plays produced by the companies who were part of it. Much of this information has never been charted before and is only to be found by detailed research through listings and reviews, drawing on the kinds of materials uncovered by the project in Spare Rib, Plays and Players, The Leveller etc. This project has the potential to draw on recent developments in cartographical software and its application to tracing theatre histories, which allow mapping, not only geographically, but the exploration of such cartographies historically, enabling the tracing of influence, inter-connection and a variety of other relationships.
• to further develop the thesaurus and make it available for wider use.
Dr Susan Croft, May 2012
APPENDIX 1: PERMISSIONS GIVEN (as at 24/7/12)
(EST = estate of)
1. Stuart Bennett – SCYPT
2. Gavin Bolton – SCYPT
3. Danny Braverman – SCYPT
4. Norma Cohen – SCYPT
5. Tony Coult – SCYPT
6. John Hazlett Dickinson – SCYPT
7. Dick Downing – SCYPT
8. Tony Gouveia – SCYPT
9. Paul Harman – SCYPT
10. Tony Jackson – SCYPT
11. Louise Jensen – SCYPT
12. Chris Johnston – SCYPT
13. David Johnston – SCYPT
14. Tricia Kelly – SCYPT
15. Tag (Mary) McEntegart – SCYPT
16. John O’Toole – SCYPT
17. Pam Schweitzer – SCYPT
18. Katie Campbell – Spare Rib
19. Betty Caplan – Spare Rib
20. Eileen Fairweather – Spare Rib
21. Petal Felix – Spare Rib
22. Lesley Ferris – Spare Rib
23. Naseem Khan – Spare Rib, Artrage
24. Georgina Lock – Spare Rib
25. Chris Mohr – Spare Rib
26. Natasha Morgan – Spare Rib
27. Caroline Mylon – Spare Rib
28. Angela Phillips – Spare Rib
29. Jill Posener – Spare Rib
30. Amanda Sebestyen – Spare Rib
31. Shaila Shah – Spare Rib, Artrage
32. Dorothea Smartt – Spare Rib
33. Alene Strausberg – Spare Rib
34. Helen Taylor – Spare Rib
35. Georgina Todd – Spare Rib
36. Jill Nicholls – Spare Rib
37. Roger Ely – PS
38. Carole Woddis – Women’s Review
39. Chris Barlas – Gambit, P&P
40. Ed Berman – book exts
41. Peter Ansorge – P&P
42. Jonathan Chadwick – various
43. Albert Hunt – book exts and NS
44. Deborah Phillips – Women’s Review
45. Susan Croft – Women’s Art
46. Richard Tomlinson EST – book exts
47. Anthony Hozier – Red Letters
48. Noel Greig estate – Platform
49. Lloyd Trott – Leveller, Platform
50. Roger Perry estate – various inc photos
51. Steve Gooch – Platform, P&P, The Leveller
52. John Ashford (Ford) – P&P, Time Out
53. Stewart Trotter – P&P
54. Allen Saddler – P&P
55. Ann McFerran – The Leveller
56. Paul Brightwell – Leveller, Gambit
57. Rob Ritchie – Platform
58. Carole Spedding – Spare Rib
59. Jatinder Verma – SCYPT, Artrage
60. Julie Wilkinson – SCYPT
61. Bryony Lavery – SCYPT
62. Clive Barker estate – Gambit
63. Howard Brenton – Gambit, P&P
64. Roland Jaquarello – Platform
65. Max Stafford Clark – P&P
66. Cath Greenwood – SCYPT
67. Gulshun Rehman – Artrage
68. Julie Holledge – Spare Rib
69. Bill McDonnell – Theatre Notebook
70. Sandy Craig – The Leveller
71 Roger Howard – Platform, P&P, TQ, TRI etc
72 David Edgar – P&P
73 Geoff Gilham est – SCYPT
74 Brenda Prince – photos
75 Roy Kift – Gambit
APPENDIX 2: Example of fields used for indexing
Publication: Spare Rib
Issue number: 100
Article: Shortlist: Plays
Author: UNS = unsigned
Pages: pg 42
Keywords: prostitution, female objectification,
Events and show titles: The Sixth Day (devised). How Do I Look (devised); Mama’s Gone A–Hunting by Tasha Fairbanks; Bohemian Rhapsody by Sue Jamieson. Dialogue Between a Prostitute and One of her Clients by Dacia Maraini. Breaking Through by Timberlake Wertenbaker
Companies: Oxford Women’s Theatre Group. Siren. Spare Tyre. Monstrous Regiment. Womens Theatre Group
UFH Related interviews: JH, S, KC (i.e. Julie Holledge, Siren, Kate Crutchley)
Venues and Producing Bodies:
Other items of interest:
Filename: SR 100 shortlist001